A Memory of Privilege and The Importance of Personhood

Emily DeTar, Traces of Privilege, 3

I’m fairly certain that everyone at some point has locked themselves out of a car. Well, two years ago, working at the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland, I went to a local store and locked myself out of my parent’s car. I stood looking through the windows at the keys, and had no idea what to do. I shook my memory of what my parents told me, went inside the store and asked for the local police department number. I called the police and explained I was locked out of my car and needed help. Within twenty minutes, they arrived. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders as we laughed about the mistake, and the policeman jimmied the car and got the door unlocked. We exchanged pleasantries, and I left.

Online later, I was explaining this to my black girlfriend Ashley, and she was shocked. “You did, WHAT?”
“Yeah, I just called the police. They came over and helped. They were really nice about it.”
“That would never happen.”
“Well what would you do?”
“Call AAA. But never call the police. A black woman outside of a locked car, trying to get in? I would get arrested.”

I was stunned silent, slowly realizing how truly she spoke. I thought back about the scene. I was in Beechwood, a suburb of East Cleveland that had a large black population. I just happened to be white. But just happening to be white, made a huge difference. I was never asked for my ID, or my driver’s license which I had on me. If they had researched the license number, they would have seen the title in is my parent's name and not mine, something that could have easily been suspicious if I was taken as someone not to be trusted. But I was trusted, because I didn’t appear as someone who was scary. I wasn’t threatening, because I was white.

Even more stunning, was the realization that it never occurred to me that it could be a bad idea to call the police. Growing up in a small town, I had been locked out of my parent’s car before. And my parents told me to always call the police. My parents taught me to trust the police, and that they would always help me. When I got locked out of my car, I had known about the national political discourse surrounding police brutality. I knew that when it came to larger events like murders or violence, that police should be questioned. But this was just getting locked out of a car? Why would anyone have trouble with the police with something as routine as this?

Having grown up with the perspective that no one should have trouble with the police about a minor thing like getting locked out of a car, is one of the clearest examples I have experienced about my own white privilege. People of color routinely experience themselves being read as threats, no matter the context. It could be something as small as giving a ticket in to see a movie or theater performance, riding a train or plane, driving their own car to work, or better yet walking. Those living in New York City know about the realities of Stop and Frisk, a policy to prevent the use and selling of drugs that has policemen stop people and frisk them for illegal substances. In practice, it means stopping people of color randomly on the street and frisking them, usually without their permission, and arresting them if there is any resistance. The countless numbers of stories of those who have been forcibly stopped, fondled, and arrested just for walking down the street in their own skin is unimaginable. It doesn’t matter how minor the action is, in wider society people of color are seen as threats and not people. And my experience as a person with white privilege had me grow up in a white bubble that made it so I didn’t see that reality for years, where I just trusted that everyone would be seen as people.

Being Unitarian Universalist, and believing that everyone everywhere is first and foremost holy and sacred, means that I am called to continually unpack the perspectives of my white privilege so I can clearly see everything in this life that limits the humanity of others. This is why saying "Black Lives Matter," matters. If we really believe that everyone has value and every life is holy, then we cannot be complacent in the illusion that our societies and systems treats everyone the same. We live in a world that does not treat everyone with the same sense of instinctual trust and respect as I receive by being white. Therefore, I must say black lives matter and work for a world that gives them the respect and trust they deserve on first glance.

In order to truly work for a world that gives everyone their holy respect, my faith calls me to constantly unpack my white privilege. Unpacking racial privilege for me, means consistently challenging my assumptions, making and quickly learning from my mistakes, and listening without defensiveness or interjection to the needs and realities of oppressed peoples. I know that this example is only a very small example of the privileges of being white, but it helps point to the larger reality of an unjust world we are called to change. May this memory help you to reflect on your own experiences of privilege, so that we together can work to uncover injustice and build a more just and loving world.

* * *
This is part 3 of an ongoing series, "Traces of Privilege," which explores privileges I possess, and what my faith as a Unitarian Universalist calls me to do about them.
See also
Traces of Privilege, 1: The UU Privileges and Purposes
Traces of Privilege, 2: Unitarian Universalism Has Class -- Meaning Economic Privilege
Traces of Privilege, 4: The Privilege of Working for Black Lives Matter


Consequences of American Racism

Rev. Meredith Garmon

America began with class division -- wealthy land-owners and oppressed poor -- largely imported from Europe. The American innovation was divide the lower class against itself by dividing it along racial lines. Poor whites were told they were better than blacks, while also told they unworthy of any better station in life.

The more whites were made to feel unworthy, the more they projected unworthy qualities on the group they were allowed to, and told to, despise. The more whites internalized that message, “You’re white, so if you just work hard enough, you’re bound to be OK,” the more they projected upon blacks the laziness they feared in themselves. White racism against blacks is always a version of self-disgust adopted in a desperate attempt to hold onto worth and dignity in the face of exclusion from the upper classes.

This begins to explain a few mysteries.

Martin Luther King brought his war on slums to Chicago for his 1966 campaign for open housing. He encountered greater hostility than he had ever seen. Rocks and bricks were thrown.
King, protected by supporters after being
 hit with a stone during a housing march 
in Chicago's all-white Marquette Park
neighborhood. -Chicago Tribune 
photo 1966 Aug 5
As King marched, someone hurled a stone. It struck King on the head. Stunned, he fell to one knee. He stayed on the ground for several seconds. As he rose, aides and bodyguards surrounded him to protect him from the rocks, bottles and firecrackers that rained down on the demonstrators. King was one of 30 people who were injured; the disturbance resulted in 40 arrests. He later explained why he put himself at risk: "I have to do this--to expose myself--to bring this hate into the open." He had done that before, but Chicago was different. "I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I've seen here today," he said. (Chicago Tribune, CLICK HERE)
What could account for this intensity of hostility from whites whose every economically-visible interest was unthreatened? Why were the lower and middle-class whites more virulently racist than the upper-class whose interests were more directly challenged?

Because if worth and dignity didn’t come from whiteness, they just weren’t sure where it could come from.

Over and over, a substantial portion of white lower and middle-class voters vote against their own self-interest and in favor of wealthy interests. That doesn’t happen in most other countries in the world. Why does it happen here?

Because here is where the idea of being white -- that is, learning to distance yourself from the interests blacks would have – even if, in reality, you did share those interests – was invented. "White" has meant identifying with the wealthy, identifying with a shared paleness over and against shared economic needs.

Why is the US unable to enact a fairer, much more effective, and even cheaper health-care system – a single-payer government National Health Insurance – while Europe and Canada and Japan have this eminently sensible system?

Because the US's specific heritage of racism taught us to identify with the wealthy, and the wealthy don't need national health insurance.

Why is the US unable to provide adequate public schooling, affordable housing for all, and progressive taxation?

Because the US's specific heritage of racism taught us to identify with the wealthy, and the wealthy send their kids to private schools, aren't at risk of homelessness, and don't want to be progressively taxed.

Why is it that when Black men open-carried firearms as the Black Panthers did in the 1960s and 70s, gun control legislation passed, and when that perceived threat was gone and whites wanted to open carry, those controls were rolled back, and white people heavily armed in public are celebrated as patriotic and freedom loving?

Why is it that the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 created much harsher penalties for possession of crack cocaine, used mostly by blacks, than for a quantity of powdered cocaine, used mostly by whites, that produced similar effects?

Because the national psyche has developed the longstanding habit of projecting upon dark skin color everything it is scared of, and is unconsciously convinced that black people doing a dangerous activity is much, much more dangerous than white people doing the same thing.

Why is it that the percentage of African Americans in prison is almost six times higher than the percentage of European Americans in prison?

Why is it that a young black male is 21 times more likely to be shot by police than his white counterpart?

Why is it that otherwise identical resumes yield a 50 percent greater chance of being invited for an interview if the applicant’s name is stereotypically white than if the name is stereotypically black?

Why is it that black renters learn about 11 percent fewer rental units and black homebuyers are shown about one-fifth fewer homes?

Why is it that blacks and whites use illegal drugs at the same rate, but African Americans are arrested on drug charges at a three times higher rate?

I think it's pretty clear why.

* * *
See also
Origins of American Racism


Unitarian Universalism Has Class - Meaning Economic Privilege

Emily DeTar, Traces of Privilege, 2

We Unitarian Universalists are not unlike many denominations in the US, who came from more wealthy beginnings. We may be a small denomination, and we may at times be financially struggling, but Unitarians once owned all of Harvard University, and have churches that date back to 200 years in different affluent areas of the country. This is not true for all of our members, and this is not true for all of our churches, but I think it’s important to recognize that within our denomination's institutions, we have economic privileges that factor into who might feel welcome in our communities.

Let me take a step back and think about what economic privileges are.

What I used to think, is that economic class was really only reflected by the money you had saved if any, or what budget you spent per month. Believing that economic class has to do with money in the bank, is itself a notion guided by my own economic privilege. The stark reality is economic ability is about much more about having the ability to accrue wealth.

Take losing a paycheck: If a family, that has other family members of wealth, an IRA, an existing credit card, and home lost a paycheck, it would be very hard, but there are a number of existing systems and places they can pull finances from. If someone who has been denied the ability to apply for a mortgage, consistently defaulted on loans and credit cards, and has been raised with families without any foreseeable saved income, that lost paycheck does mean that they lose everything.

How did some acquire the ability to establish good credit, and open a saving account over others? For many this comes from the family systems of wealth they inherited. For others, class and wealth is influenced by race, gender, ability, and sexual orientation. For others, it is actually where you are born, if you are born in communities that are already struggling, or ones with good school systems. There are a huge number of factors that lead to economic privilege.

For myself, I was born in a small suburban town, with two parents who had paid off their mortgage when I was young. I am white, went to suburban schools that made it easier to get into colleges, was able to gain work that didn’t sacrifice my education, and had parents able to sustain our family. All of these factors gave me economic privileges, and make it so I have economic systems working for me in ways that don’t work for others.

So what about Unitarian Universalism? We have a denomination which while it’s combined presence is new, has institutions that date back 200 years in the US, with an affluent history. While our faith communities are feeling the economic ache in present times, we have buildings that have accrued wealth, have churches that have been living in places of wealth for years, and even a denomination headquarters who is still able to be housed right inside Boston. These are all small realities, but they point to institutional wealth and privilege I believe we as Unitarian Universalists should be aware of.

More than our institutions, no matter what church you may belong to, class takes part in every activity we do. Take something as common as coffee hour. We need people to volunteer to bring in food, and we might assume that everyone can, but the reality usually is some can afford to and others can’t. Or if you have a church that spends money on staff to do hospitality, that can communicate the amount of money the church has that it’s members or visitors might not have. For me, when people say we don’t need food after service, I often wonder who that week is going go without a meal on Sunday because we didn’t serve food. Feeding others on Sunday is an act of faithful and community service, but that doesn’t stop from economic realities affecting it. Class issues in church life are unavoidable, and need to be thought through.

If that was just serving food, think about stewardship. Communities of faith absolutely need money, more than ever, to survive. But I believe it is important to be honest about money, to even up front ask for number and figures, while being conscientious of the different abilities of the community. It has been in my very limited experience, that congregations who don’t talk about their financial realities and budgets, end up perpetuating systems of classist assumptions much more, than congregations who are honest about their own communities struggles and needs.

This is what I feel our faith calls us to do: to be comfortable getting uncomfortable about money. In order for any justice to be served, we have to talk about the injustice of systems of economic oppression. Yet, if we as a faith are going to make a difference to fight systems of oppression, we also must sustain ourselves. We need to be honest and talk to one another about the needs of our faith communities, because only when we are able to build resourceful, caring communities that can sustain themselves in financially honest ways, can we be more upfront about combating economic assumptions, recognizing privileges, and combating disparity.

* * *
This is part 2 of an ongoing series, "Traces of Privilege," which explores privileges I possess, and what my faith as a Unitarian Universalist calls me to do about them.
See also
Traces of Privilege, 1: The UU Privileges and Purposes
Traces of Privilege, 3: A Memory of Privilege and the Importance of Personhood
Traces of Privilege, 4: The Privilege of Working for Black Lives Matter


Bound to Be Free: The Passover Spirit in 2016

Rev. Kelly Murphy Mason

Near the reflecting pool at Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC is a large slab of stone engraved with the motto: Freedom Is Not Free. Whatever individual feelings we might have about American military intervention in various foreign conflicts, the sentiment behind that statement seems indisputable. Most of the freedoms enjoyed by the majority of people around the globe have in fact been rather hard won. Historically, people have had to grapple to be free from their oppressors. Struggle almost always precedes liberation -- the wisdom teachings of the world’s great spiritual traditions testify to that. Unitarian Universalism, rooted as it is in Jewish and Christian thought, is no different here.

Earlier this month, the Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation of White Plains held its annual Passover Seder in Fellowship Hall, with scores of CUUC congregants in attendance. Throughout April, UU congregations across the country join with other churches in celebrating the Jewish festival of Pesach. For Jews in general, Passover is a household celebration – a ritual done at home, in the company of family and friends, following along with their chosen version of the Haggadah, that scripted retelling of the story of Exodus. Some of these have such titles as the “Pride Liberation Seder”, “Wellsprings of Freedom”, the “Freedom and Justice Seder”, or simply, the “Freedom Haggadah”. The theme of liberation remains constant in each, writ large on human history.

The Exodus event itself is epic: the Israelites are kept as slaves in Egypt, under the oppressive regime of Pharaoh, until Moses, sent by God, begins to broker their freedom. The LORD GOD wishes for God’s people to be let go from their bondage and start their sojourn to the Promised Land. In principle, the Israelites want to be free and to take their rightful place a Chosen People in the Promised Land. In practice, they have a number of qualms with the mode of their liberation, with Moses and his faulty leadership, and ultimately, with the inscrutable machinations of the LORD, their God.

As they pass through the Red Sea in triumphal procession, though, the Israelites are still ignorant of hardships that will face them on the far shore and the desert stretching beyond it. In his book To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner observes that Passover marks
“the season when the Jewish people was born – out of the confinement of Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea in a birth metaphor, into life and freedom…. it represents… the coming to life of an entire people.”
Like any newborn, the liberated Israelites are vulnerable to the elements, shocked by the newness of the world, and prone to fits of squalling. The infancy of Israel is not a comfortable time, least of all for Moses, who is confronted with serious concerns for his people’s survival. Remember that the Exodus story is replete with tales of mass infanticide – as a baby, Moses himself was floated down the river Nile to be spared the killing Pharaoh had ordered of the Israelites’ sons; also, the tenth and final plague the LORD GOD used to smite the Egyptians is the slaying of their firstborn. Israelite children are only spared because their parents marked the entryways to their homes with the blood of a sacrificial lamb, so that the plague would pass over their families.

According to Jewish scholar Arthur Waskow,
“the Pesach [or Passover] ceremony may be a way of dealing with dealing with the most intimate struggles for life and freedom in the family, as well as in the grand and glorious struggles of world history.”
In his book Seasons of Our Joy: A Modern Guide to the Jewish Holidays, Waskow notes that Passover
“intertwines the birth of children and the birth of freedom, as if to teach at the root of both is new potential, whether biological and personal or political and historical; as if to teach that the biology of spring and the sociology of freedom are in some deep sense the same.”
Indeed, every Passover meal leaves a symbolic place on the Seder plate for a single egg, signifying the possibility for new life.

Part of any Passover celebration involves giving children special roles to play, and our Seder here in the CUUC Fellowship Hall allowed a goodly number of them to participate fully in the ceremony. Using prompts from our Haggadah, the children got to ask questions about the elaborate ritual around the meal and then after dinner, they made a game of finding the piece of unleavened bread, the hidden matzoh called the Afikommen. Usually, the search takes some time, and last weekend, while we were waiting, my husband and I enjoyed retelling one of our favorite family jokes.

My husband Ben is Jewish, and whenever his parents host the Passover Seder in their home, it invariably involves a mix of Jews and Gentiles, our nephew’s cousins included. A few years ago now, when one of the young cousins grabbed a piece of matzoh and opened his mouth to take a sizable bite, his older sister told him: “Don’t get too excited – it looks much better than it tastes.” The adults all laughed, which prompted my father-in-law to remind everyone that the Jews call matzoh “the bread of affliction” for a reason. It’s a nice bit of Jewish humor, to be sure, but it communicates a deeper human truth about our excited, outsized, and often unrealistic expectations for the new.

Waskow calls Passover “the quintessential festival of newness, creation, creativity, freedom”, and notes that it celebrates
“the birthtime of the people and their ability... to emerge from slavery to freedom and from exile to self-determination”.
But the business of becoming truly self-determining involves a great deal of hard work; it involves surrendering the customary and familiar and striking out into unknown territory, some of it likely deserted. The forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert with Moses underscored just how momentous a shift had to happen in their consciousness and just how trying it can be for us humans to leave behind what we know best, even if what we know best is confining, degrading, or even oppressive. In very many cases, freedom can feel disorienting. Staying free can involve struggle against a host of powerful impulses.

Renowned psychologist Kenneth I. Pargament has done a great deal of research into a subject he has termed “spiritual struggle.” In the article by that name which he wrote for a handbook called Judeo-Christian Perspectives on Psychology, Dr. Pargament maintains:
“In Jewish and Christian thought, spiritual struggles are not simply... ‘life crises’ or ‘critical transitions’. Instead, they represent crucial moments of time, when matters of greatest value are at stake,”
values like freedom, for instance.
“According to most religious traditions, the pathway leading to the sacred is neither straightforward nor painless. It is, instead, marked by obstacles, difficult terrain, wrong turns, and dead ends.”
He catalogues three kinds of spiritual struggles: the interpersonal, the intrapsychic or internal, and the Divine. All three figure prominently in the story of Exodus.

It can be tempting to give that story short shrift in part because it has such an ambitious scope. As Dr. Pargament notes, Jewish and Christian scriptures alike “are replete with stories of conflict among families, friends, tribes, and nations”, but these can carry different meanings to diverse people at various stages of life. Yet all of them seem to contain natural prompts toward further spiritual development and greater spiritual maturity, albeit at tremendous personal cost.

Although he served in the Army during that conflict, my father never visited the Korean War memorial before he died. Sometimes I wonder whether that was related to any self-consciousness he had about only having served stateside. But my father enlisted in the Army; he was not drafted for the war. Enlisting gave him a way out of his tough New York City neighborhood and tougher family situation. At home, he was routinely subjected to his single father’s verbal attacks, physical assaults, and uncontrolled rages. I’m not sure if my father had many misgivings about his basic training or his drill sergeant, but I’m quite sure he was desperate for a new life. In the Army, he learned to box; he even won the Golden Gloves for his weight class. My father never made it overseas, but my father did make it to Texas and into the ring. He got a fighting chance at becoming his own person.

It’s possible that his stint in Texas was my father’s time in the desert, and while it was nowhere near forty years, I have no doubt that it was a transformative place and time for him. I’m also conscious of how largely Texas figures in the march of generations in my own family, where we have struggled to be free of some deeply troubled legacies, with a measure of success alongside a measure of failure. What Passover reminds me is that the movement toward liberation is lurching and often moves at a generational pace, which is to say, more slowly than any of us would like. Don’t forget that Moses himself was denied entrance to the Promised Land. In his reflection on the holiday, Rabbi Kushner is right to “carry the profound message that freedom is hard”, exceedingly so, and that we stand a chance at arriving at it only if we are truly bound and determined to be free, if we are willing to strike out with a tremendous sense of urgency, before our bread has even had time to rise, and entirely ready to face fresh affliction.

Our greatest hope for human liberation lies in our wanting something new and different for future generations – a better life than we ourselves have known, perhaps, or that we could even fully imagine. It requires tremendous love on our part. It means having children who may be strangers to the circumstances we may have known; it quite possibly involves breaking with history itself. It demands our whole-hearted embrace of the Passover spirit, with our becoming like those Jews Rabbi Kushner describes in gi, the ones who take the story of Exodus “personally”. Ask yourself: What would you do to be free – free in the broadest sense of the term? What compulsions or addictions or habits or ensnarements would you surrender? What assumptions and demands would you give up once and for all? What would you leave behind for good, in the service of freedom for years to come?

In my work both as a community minister and clinical pastoral psychotherapist, I often counsel people who need me to reflect back to them the depth of their desire to be free – of constraints and limits not of their own choosing. “Do people simultaneously experience ‘pain and gain’ from their struggles?” Dr. Pargament inquires. It seems they do.

One of my most memorable clients lived very near to my father’s old neighborhood in the city. Demographic shifts meant that it was no longer an ethnic Catholic enclave; now it housed African-American and Afro-Caribe families in multifamily dwellings. My client had worked for years for her mother, whom she called a “slumlord”; she had been horribly exploited in that family arrangement and now lived in alone in a basement apartment in one of her mother’s buildings, where she was expected to do unpaid property management.

Having grown up in the Black church, she was raised with the clear expectation that she would be a dutiful daughter. She was also raised with a potent, soul-centered connection to the Exodus story. On the weekends, she would go to local animal shelters, repeatedly, and visit the animals kept there. She wanted a dog, but the building policy – effectively, her mother’s – forbade her from getting one. Whenever she talked about playing with the dogs at the shelter, she lit up from within. I must have been smiling at the sight of that, because once, she got quite upset with me and demanded to know why I would smile at her predicament.

“Oh,” I said, genuinely surprised. “Do you not know where this story is going?”

“No,” she replied. “Where is it going?”

“You’re going to get your dog,” I told her. Understand that this was not a clinical intervention on my part; it was a flash of spiritual insight, born of my recollection of decades of Passover Seders, the Exodus story, and the promise life holds for people bound to finally be free.

“But dogs are not allowed in the building,” she objected.

“That’s right,” I told her. “So you’re going to move, and you’re going to get your dog. And that’s going to be your story.” And within months, it was. My client moved to another city, found an apartment that was quiet, peaceful, and bright, and brought home a pet she loved. She emailed me the occasional update thereafter, and while I was always glad to get word from her, I couldn’t have been happier that she had gone. That New York neighborhood had been her Egypt-land, in much the way it had been my father’s. As Dr. Pargament observes, “struggle may be a necessary precursor to transformation.”

Freedom has never been and will never be free, no. Freedom Is Not Free. Just the arduousness of preparing for and observing the week-long festival of Passover points precisely to that truth. Our CUUC Seder fell early this year, so there’s time yet for another Passover celebration. The first night Seder will be held on Friday evening, and then several more nights of Pesach will follow that. So celebrate at home, if you like, with family and friends; celebrate with your Jewish neighbors; celebrate with another UU congregation or local church later this month, even.

No matter what, though, be sure to celebrate Passover in your heart, for a little while at least, this year. Calling it the “season of our freedom,” Waskow notes that Passover can be commemorated
“not only as a celebration of God’s gift of freedom in the past but as an incitement of collective human action for freedom toward the future.”
Its message, he writes, is simple: “It is possible for there to be possibility.” Imagine that! Now - where will the Passover spirit lead you? What could it make possible, either in your life or in our world?
“Love: it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free;
be more like the [one] you were made to be.”
– Sigh No More, by Mumford & Sons


Grounding the Spiritual Path

Rev. Peggy Clarke

I studied in Ireland during the war. It was very intense and from time to time I was spiritually exhausted, completely depleted of hope. One morning our teacher put us in the van and drove quite a long way to a park. When we arrived, he told us to explore and be ready to leave in six hours. It was nice. I left my friends behind and wandered around. I sat on a big rock and wrote for a while. I got some ice cream. I followed a path through the woods to see where it would lead.

The path went on for quite some time but ultimately opened up and when it did, I was confronted by astounding Beauty. I stopped. There wasn’t any way for me to continue to move; I had been overtaken by the stillness of what was before me. The landscape was so silent, my stillness was the only appropriate response.

The park, it turns out, was Glendalough. What was before me was the majesty of two mountains and a clear, motionless lake that lay between them.

Earth, teach me stillness.

As I stood, silently, others came up behind me on that same path and each one stopped as I had. I think our resistance to motion came from profound respect for the lake and the mountains that stood still in that spot for millennia. We were demonstrating reverence to the gods of the mountains. It was a moment of veneration ultimately broken by some children running up behind and then around us.

I moved closer to the lake, sitting on the sand before it. I let the water, I let the mountains, I let the stillness heal me.

Earth, Teach Me Stillness.

My time in a war zone was particularly intense, but I’ve lived in other kinds of war zones. I suspect we’ve all had versions of war zones in our lives. Are there places in your life that feel that way? Places you need to get on your armor before entering, places you need to be armed and ready?

Our planet can be a difficult place. I wrestle with this reality, wanting so much for things to be different. I wish gentleness and compassion were at the core of the Earthbound experience, but suffering is also part of what it means to be alive. I fight to end it in a thousand ways, but I also challenge myself to confront it, to face into the reality of what life is on this difficult planet.

Many years ago I was watching a documentary. A polar bear was with her cub as the narrator told us the cub would starve to death soon if she couldn’t find him food. The lucky mama tracked a seal family hiding beneath the ice. Another mama and her babies. The polar bear slammed on the ice over and over again as the frightened seal hid her cubs beneath her trembling body. The polar bear couldn’t get through. She continued the long walk in the snow with her baby beside her, doing everything she could to find him something to eat.

There it is. Someone will die. The seal or the bear? Someone’s baby won’t make it. That’s our reality.

Earth, Teach Me Suffering. Earth Teach Me Caring.

In the face of that, my concerns can seem small. I might worry about money sometimes, but I’m not worried that my baby will starve to death. Humility, by definition, means “knowing your proper place”. Standing before the mountains at Glendalough or confronting the reality of suffering on this planet, I am humbled. I know my place.

Earth Teach Me Humility As the Blossoms Are Humble With Beginning.

This year, I’ve become completely committed to a dozen tulips planted right in front of my house. It’s been years since they were planted and I’ve never seen a single one bloom. It’s an annual tradition for a mob of deer to demolish them before they even get a chance. But this year is different. I have a new strategy and it’s working. Beautiful tulip buds are showing their heads, gently, slowly stretching through the soil, soaking up the sun and rain, and getting ready to open and let us all bask in their glory.

And every morning, I check on them. There’s very little I can do at this point. I found a way to keep the deer away, so now the rest is up to them. It is my job to wait in grateful anticipation.

Earth Teach Me Humility. Earth Teach Me Limitation.

In the wintertime, we enter a state of semi-hibernation. Everything slows down. Trees lose their leaves, annuals die and perennials shrink back beneath the ground. Birds leave town. Squirrels and raccoons and groundhogs make themselves beds they can sink into for a long winter’s nap. Even fish snuggle into the mud and wait for the cold to pass.

Then we begin to hear it. If we walked outside, we’d hear it now. The birds return. The chipmunks wake up. The ducks are swimming on ponds. The dogwoods bloom and the hyacinths fill the air with sweet perfume.

It doesn’t matter how difficult the winter was. Spring always comes. Life always returns. Color and light and new life are never far away, no matter how dark and cold and dead the winter feels.

Earth Teach Me Regeneration.

Long cold winters can happen at any time of year. Seasons of death or illness or loss of financial security or mental health can make any July feel like January. Long nights worrying about how you can feed your children or long days sitting bedside to someone you love or empty afternoons missing someone who is no longer sharing your days or nights can happen at any time of year and the riot of a freshly bloomed field of daffodils isn’t going to change that.

Only time can heal those wounds. Time and courage. The willingness to stand your ground even as the wind blows around you, even as storms brew. Healing comes from living through those painful days, from waking up in the morning and facing yet another difficult day, from going to bed even on nights you know there will be no sleep. Recovery is available when we weave time with great intentionality, when we risk honesty and vulnerability.

Spiritual restoration can be taught by the trees. I used to live near a tree that had caught a bullet. The tree was shot. That happened maybe 50 years before I got there. The tree, very slowly, almost imperceptibly, grew around the bullet. The tree stood its ground, remained rooted in Earth, and healed the broken places. The bullet remained. The tree remained. The tree continues to stand vulnerable to whatever is next. We can learn from the trees. We can learn the strength of vulnerability and the resilience needed to last a long time. There is power in knowing bad things happen, that loss is inevitable, that life is full of change and the unknown is a frightening, but not a permanent, place.

Earth Teach Me Resignation. Earth Teach Me Courage.

I believe that these qualities are all necessary these difficult days. We seem to be facing some major crises. The slow erosion of our democracy as big money purchases our national lawmakers; a renewed form of slavery for people of color that hides behind the criminal justice system; the gradual elimination of safety nets for the poor; and the exponential increase of carbon in our atmosphere altering Earth’s ability to sustain human life. Just to name a few.

If we are going to live well, live successfully, live joyfully and be effective agents of change in these difficult days, we will need to know stillness and resignation and courage and regeneration and limitation and suffering and caring and humility.

Earth Day is a time for gratitude for Earth and all the lessons we can learn from her. We do this every year. We remember our grief and we reconnect with the ground on which we stand. This is our work. Rejoicing, Reckoning, Reconnecting and Committing to Mother Earth.

Earth Teach Me to Remember.

So often when trying to reconcile the evils of the world with the idea that there’s a god in charge, one with all power who knows everything, who is just and merciful, the response is that god has given us free will, that if bad things are happening, that’s on us. I’m not going to get into the theological inconsistencies, but I do wonder a little about the responsibilities of that kind of freedom. That’s not the god I believe in, but the free will thing seems fairly apparent to me.

The birds seem so free as they fly above us, as they sing from their perches, as they leave town for the winter and return in the summer. They do experience a different kind of freedom than we do with our Earthbound bodies, but birds aren’t anarchists. They fly looking for food and materials to build their nests where they can lay their eggs and keep their babies safe. They fly to escape predators or to protect their own or to flee an oncoming storm. They experience necessity. They are free to ignore their own needs, as are we, but most of what they do is because they have an instinct to survive.

They also have an instinct to help each other survive. When geese are ready to travel, they find other geese also ready and they fly in a V pattern to make the trip easier on the group. The one at the front has the hardest job, confronting the winds and navigating their travels. They take turns, each leading the way for a time and each benefitting from the power of travelling together.

If one goose is having trouble, she will land and two others will follow. They stay with her until she’s well enough to travel again or until she dies. They don’t know her. They are just travelling companions. But they stay together in times of difficulty.

Earth Teach Me Freedom. Earth Teach Me Kindness.

People come to worship on Sunday, bringing their hunger and broken hearts seeking replenishment and healing. I know that feeling. That need for deep rest.

This week, we are celebrating Earth Day. Earth is everything around us and within us. Humans and other animals, other species all of whom can bring us rest. We can learn lessons from paying deep attention. We can find what we need in a field of flowers or a room of friends or under a 400 year old oak tree if only we allow ourselves to be healed. The ocean. The sunrise. The hoot of an owl. The leisurely blooming of the dogwood. It is here we find respite, on this shared land on this exquisite planet we find ourselves again.

Earth teach me stillness
            as the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach me suffering
            as old stones suffer with memory.
Rev. Peggy Clarke
Earth teach me humility
          as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth Teach me caring
            as the mother who secures her young.
Earth teach me courage
            as the tree which stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation
            as the ant which crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom
            as the eagle which soars in the sky.
Earth teach me resignation
            as the leaves which die in the fall.
Earth teach me regeneration
            as the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself
            as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness
            as dry fields weep in the rain.


Origins of American Racism

Rev. Meredith Garmon

America did not invent prejudice, or discrimination against people that, in any physical way including skin color, looked different. But we did invent the modern conception of race, and the racism based upon that conception.

The word “race” used to mean any other group of people. If you lived in northern France, the people a couple hundred miles south of you were a southerly race. Protestants referred to the Catholic race, and vice-versa. Nobles spoke of the peasant race. The emergence of the modern sense of race was a deliberate device of the wealthy landowners in the colonies in the 1600s.

Much of the manual agricultural labor of the colonies, at first was done by indentured servants that we would now call white. England’s anti-poverty program of the time was to deport their poor to America essentially as slaves, but with the provision for earning one’s freedom after 10 or 20 or sometimes as much as 30 years of labor. From what we can tell, when African slaves began showing up to work beside them in the field, the darker skin color aroused no animosity. Whether you had paler skin or darker skin, you were kept in separate quarters, supervised by an overseer, whipped as a means of “correction,” often underfed and underclothed, and stereotyped as vile and brutish and subhuman.

The two groups, both despised objects of the contempt of the bourgeoisie, saw each other as sharing the same predicament.
“It was common, for example, for servants and slaves to run away together, steal hogs together, get drunk together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together.” (Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, 1975, p. 327)
And sometimes European servants combined with African slaves to rebel against the ruling elite.

From the point of view of the masters, the workers that came from Africa cost more than the indentured servant workers from Europe, but they paid off in the long run because they didn’t have to be released after a certain period of time – and, as an additional bonus, the master also owned their children. For these reasons, African slaves were in demand, and the population of them increased through the late 1600s.

The increased numbers of African slaves combined with growing numbers European-born poor freedmen who had served out their time as indentured servants. The formerly indentured freedmen typically had no house or land. They were rankled by unfair taxes, by the greed of legislators who then, as now, were in the pockets of the wealthy, and by land use regulations that made it very difficult for them to ever own land. Freedmen with “disappointed hopes” and slaves of “desperate hope” were joining forces to mount ever more virulent rebellions (Thandeka, Learning to Be White 45).

Only then did the masters begin to draw the sort of race line that today is so familiar to us. They did it as a strategy against these rebellions. The new way of grouping people encouraged the European-born part of the rabble to think of themselves as “white” – as sharing something crucial with the landowners which the African-born did not. Thus the freedmen were co-opted into betraying their own economic self-interest to support the landowners’ interests with which they identified by virtue of their shared whiteness. It was a brilliant divide-and-keep-conquered strategy
“to separate dangerous free whites from dangerous slave blacks by a screen of racial contempt” (Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia 327).
The landowners’ strategy invented American racism as we know it.

The trick was accomplished by such means as passing new laws offering some protections to whites even while still indentured. As of 1705 in Virginia, any negro slave could be given 30 lashes on the bare back, but it was forbidden to whip a Christian white servant naked. The whipping happened, but the extra indignity did not – which helped the indentured begin to learn to be white, to identify with their oppressors against the even more oppressed. That same year, 1705, horses, cattle, and hogs were confiscated from slaves and sold to benefit poor whites. Any white was given the right to whip a black servant or slave. Slave owners were urged to bar their black slaves from learning the skills of a trade in order to preserve that work for white artisans.

In ways subtle and obvious, a dignity based on whiteness alone was created where nothing of the sort had been imagined 50 years before
“The gap between the wealthy and poor widened as a result of slave productivity. Thus the sense that poor whites now shared status and dignity with their social betters was largely illusory.” (Thandeka, Learning to Be White 47)
But that illusion was powerful. Being white meant despising blacks, which afforded this illusory dignity that kept poor whites from agitating for economic reform on their own behalf. Instead, poor whites adopted attitudes and behaviors to assist the landowners in keeping the blacks down.

We carry that legacy today.

I was a timid first-grader in North Carolina when one-day, on the school bus, a big third-grader asked me if I liked President Johnson. And I shrugged. And the big kid said he didn’t like Johnson ‘cause he lets – and here he used the N word – go to our school. The look of contempt upon his face made me feel such a relief to not be the object of that contempt. I learned to be white on that day. I was whited by a system invented in this country two and a half centuries before by landowners who wanted to suppress rebellion, a system that took on a life of its own and long outlived its original purpose.

* * *
See also
Consequences of American Racism


The UU Privileges and Purposes

Emily DeTar, Traces of Privilege, 1

Growing up in a small conservative Christian town, I often felt as if my faith made me an outsider, especially when others didn’t know what I believed in or why we were even a church, or when they said I wasn’t saved unless I knew Jesus Christ. However, over the years I have been blessed with dedicating my life to this faith, and I have noticed at times the privilege that comes with being a Unitarian Universalist.

While there are plenty of people who wonder who we are and why, I have never been targeted by police as a Unitarian Universalist no matter what UU symbols I wear or what phrases from our faith I speak of. I have never felt unsafe in public places or even in conservative areas because of my faith, mostly because our faith’s symbols are not tied to anything considered violent, threatening, or vastly different. I could almost never imagine any government official asking me to stop, screening me, or considering me a threat because of my espoused faith as a Unitarian Universalist. In fact, often Unitarian Universalist officials, between our UUA president to ministers and lay leaders, have felt comfortable, although challenged and sometimes scared, to be involved in social protest and political outreach because of our faith. While I have met many a Unitarian Universalist scared to protest injustice because of the repercussions of civil disobedience, I have very rarely met Unitarian Universalists who thought that they would be automatically recognized in protests or singled out because of our faith. I cannot speak for all UUs, but these are my observations.

There have been times, though, that I have felt scared because of my liberal faith, and so have communities. The church shooting at the UU church in Knoxville, Tennessee still shakes our UU awakening that we can be targeted. To many of our members in rural areas of the country, surrounded by conservative religious voices it can be scary to be a Unitarian Universalist. For many of them it might really feel as if our faith is discriminated against. However, the ways we get targeted because of our liberal values and LGBT inclusion, is not the same as the ways other faith traditions have historically and systemically been treated in the American religious landscape. I think there is an important difference between noting when we have prejudice and assumptions cast on us as Unitarian Universalists, and between faiths that have societal wide and government discrimination.

When different city governments debate whether or not a mosque can be built, the most famous example being the debates around building the mosque in NYC after 9/11, that is discrimination. I have witnessed a Sikh in line at the airport targeted for terrorism; that is discrimination. I have witnessed an orthodox Jewish woman publicly humiliated, her head covering forcibly removed by the TSA; that is discrimination. We have heard public figures calling all Muslims terrorists and urging a ban on any Muslim entering the United States; that is very blatant religious discrimination. Unitarian Universalists do not experience that kind of discrimination.

So what do we as Unitarian Universalists do with the knowledge of our own religious privileges in the US?

Our third principle calls us to, “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations”. This principle is one of the bedrocks of what it means for us to covenant as a liberal faith across religious beliefs. And from this steadfast affirmation of our faith journey’s in this life together, we are called to the internal work of acceptance, and the external work of preaching tolerance.

Acceptance is not as easy as it might sound. Our first step in responding to the privileges we carry as a religious institution, is to make sure our own words and languages about religious diversity do not perpetuate hate, stereotype, or appropriation. First, this starts in actively confronting assumptions various UU members might have of one another. We can’t cast all Christians as guilty of hate speech and discrimination, nor can we cast all atheists as God-hating. Especially not within our own churches! How are we to encourage one another away from easy stereotypes and toward truly walking with each other’s diversity?

Second, we must educate fully about the diversity and depth of different religions, and stop invoking rituals and worship practices that only touch on different religious meaning instead of giving different traditions the respect they deserve. Really teaching the rich fullness and diversity within each religious tradition, helps to give us the breadth and depth to combat the stereotypes of our society.

Third, once we have the education and tolerance within our walls, we can take the message of acceptance and encouragement into the streets and public sphere. We are called to combat narratives that only portray a hateful version of any particular faith, and we can share religious texts, rituals, experiences, and personal narratives to combat societal assumptions. We can use our religious privilege of not being easily targeted only for our faith, to speak out against religious discrimination of others and laws that enforce and privilege one faith over another.

As a Unitarian Universalist, there are many ways I can interact in society both politically, publicly, and personally that carry their own privileges. These privileges aren’t a mark of indifference or guilt, but tools we can use to encourage the world to grant all religions the same right of worship, freedom of speech, and freedom to practice without hate or discrimination. May our privileges be tools for fulfilling our purpose to encourage the spiritual growth not just of UUs, but of every single person everywhere.

* * *
This is part 1 of an ongoing series, "Traces of Privilege," which explores privileges I possess, and what my faith as a Unitarian Universalist calls me to do about them.
See also
Traces of Privilege, 2: Unitarian Universalism Has Class -- Meaning Economic Privilege
Traces of Privilege, 3: A Memory of Privilege and the Importance of Personhood
Traces of Privilege, 4: The Privilege of Working for Black Lives Matter


Burn, Burn, Burn

Rev. Michael Tino

The hellfire and brimstone that we need to fear is not a hypothetical construct faced after death—it runs our cars and heats our tea, moves our cargo and makes our medicine. We are burning our planet, burning ourselves. We fuel our economy with the flames of damnation.

Some of you have had the resources to be able to heat your homes or drive your cars without burning things. I thank and applaud you for using those resources in service to our planet. Of course, very few of us can afford those upgrades to our houses and cars.

But as much as we might try, it’s impossible to get away from burning things completely. Unless you’ve managed to grow all of your food yourself (and some of you are getting there, I know), your survival depends on food raised and brought to you using fossil fuels.

The industries that make the things we use every day—clothes, computers, phones—and even the things we rely on to survive—dialysis machines, eyeglasses, stents placed in clogged arteries, medicines of all sorts, prosthetic hips and knees—all of those industries burn fuel in their factories and warehouses.

And I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t take your medicine, wear glasses, or eat. That would just be ridiculous, not to mention hypocritical.

Today, I want to ask what this burning, burning, burning, is doing to our souls, to our spirits, to our relationship with the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.

We have become accustomed to a way of life that requires the irreversible destruction of resources.

Our planet is not replacing the fossil fuels we are extracting from her—at least not at anything close to the pace at which we’re taking them out.

We cannot put back together the shale deposits that we are fracturing with high-pressure fluids in order to mine their gas.

My car makes electricity when I brake, but they have yet to invent a car that can suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turn it back into gasoline. Note to chemistry nerds: I know that wouldn’t work anyway, trust me.

Indeed, I have come to the conclusion that the hellfire and brimstone that we need to fear is not a hypothetical construct faced after death—it runs our cars and heats our tea, moves our cargo and makes our medicine.

How do we get out of this? How do we extinguish the fires of hell?

Of course, we should start by burning a whole lot less.

But I believe that ultimately what we need is a fundamental re-orientation of our relationship to the planet. This belief is informed by theologians and environmentalists who see our domination of the planet and our willful destruction of its resources as extensions of systems of oppression that destroy human community.

Ecofeminists, for example, make the connection to patriarchial systems that devalue and dehumanize women. In treating the Earth as disposable, as burnable, we stake a power claim over our mother planet that relegates her to object, rather than agent.

Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether writes that ecofeminism calls us to re-examine our mentality of consumption. Ruether challenges us to
“reshape our basic sense of self in relation to the life cycle. . . The western flight from mortality is a flight from the disintegration side of the life cycle, from accepting ourselves as part of that process. By pretending that we can immortalize ourselves, souls and bodies, we are immortalizing our garbage and polluting the earth.” (“Ecofeminism: Symbolic and Social Connections of the Oppression of Women and the Domination of Nature,” in Gottlieb, Roger S., ed. This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment. New York: Routledge, 1996)
Rather than dedicating ourselves to the irreversible destruction of non-renewable resources, Ruether’s ecofeminism would call us to root ourselves in the cycles by which our planet renews itself. Burning wood, for example, is sustainable if we can grow trees as fast as we chop them down for fuel.

Feminist spiritual writer Charlene Spretnak places “post-patriarchial values” among the ten key values of a real ecological movement. She asks,
“How can we replace the cultural ethics of dominance and control with more cooperative ways of interacting? How can we encourage people to care about persons outside their own group? Ho can we promote the building of respectful, positive, and responsible relationships across the lines of…divisions?” (“Ten Key Values of the American Green Movement,” in Gottlieb)
How can we do those things? I think we know how to heal human relationships, don’t we? We know how to challenge human systems of oppression, even if that work is hard, even if that work is long, and even if we haven’t remotely finished it yet. We know how to start that work.

And deep down, we know how we must reshape our relationship with our mother planet, with this Earth. We know that we have to leave in the ground those flammable remains of forests and creatures who lived millions of years ago.

We must re-place ourselves in the cycles of our planet. Cycles of growth and decay, cycles of production and destruction.

We must re-balance our lives. Our thoughtless consumption must come to an end. Yes, that’s a hard one for me, too. It’s hard, but it’s necessary. Our relationship with our mother Earth is at stake. Our strand in the interdependent web has stretched as far as it can.

And we must also approach all burning with reverence, not with callous indifference. Here, we light a flame to symbolize sacred space—we must get to a point where the fire heating our home and making our cars go is equally venerated. What would it mean to us if every time we burned something—near or far—we treated it as an event worthy of reverence, an event worthy to be set aside from the ordinary? Can we do that? I think we can.

May it be so.



Rev. Meredith Garmon

"It is our quiet time. We do not speak, because the voices are within us. It is our quiet time. We do not walk, because the earth is all within us. It is our quiet time. We do not dance, because the music has lifted us to a place where the spirit is.It is our quiet time. We rest with all of nature.” (Nancy Wood, SLT #481)
Dear silence at the center of all,

You are there, the quiet behind the cacophony, the silence beyond the sound, the calm unspeaking awareness deep within all the words of self-protection from ourselves and from others. We would perceive your presence amidst the noise of our lives. From the silence at our center, there is peace. From the quiet abiding without as within, we are one.

From the place of love, we see suffering and rather than pushing it out of mind, we take in the pain, for only in presence to the hurting can we become a fully alive people of compassion.

Breathing in, we breathe in the world’s cries, its brokenness, its hurt.
Breathing out, we breathe out love.

Breathing in, we take in suffering.
Breathing out, we send healing kindness.

Flint, Michigan brought attention to lead in drinking water, yet this is nothing new. Children in minority neighborhoods have been exposed to lead from water and other sources, like peeling lead paint, for a long time. Black children have the highest risk of lead poisoning in the United States.

Breathing in, we grasp the damage and the injustice.
Breathing out, we orient ourselves toward compassion.

Immigrants seeking asylum face lengthy detentions in conditions that further traumatize people who have already been traumatized by the violence and persecution they fled in their home countries. Immigrants seeking asylum also have no right to a public defender, which makes a big difference. Mothers with children without a lawyer are granted asylum in 2 percent of cases, with a lawyer, in 32 percent of cases.

Breathing in, we feel their pain.
Breathing out, we breathe out love, resolving not to forget them.

Around the world, people are drawn to or pressed into violence and terrorism. Millions live in abject poverty, even as they look at the wealth which seems so far out of their reach.

Breathing in, their suffering is our suffering.
Breathing out, we are moved to respond in care and compassion.

Dear silence beyond knowing, guide our hearts and our hands, that we may be agents of reconciliation, of health and healing, of justice and peace in our world.



How I Learned to Love Spirituality

Rev. Meredith Garmon

Suppose you got serious about maintaining a spiritual discipline. You engage your practice daily; you do it mindfully, with intention to cultivate compassion, connection, nonjudgmental curiosity; you get together regularly with a spiritual practice group; and you develop your foundation with daily silence, journaling, and study. What then? What will happen? Suppose you keep it up consistently for a year, or 10 years, or 30 years – will you then exude equanimity and compassion while unperturbable calm inner peace and beauty continuously manifests as you gracefully, lovingly flow through your life?

Maybe. I offer no guarantees.

Spiritual strengthening doesn’t go like muscle strengthening does. Spiritual maturity is not a reliable product of putting in the time doing the exercise. The spirit has its own schedule. Committed serious spiritual practitioners can go for years when their practice just seems void and useless. Then they can hit a patch where they seem to be regressing. They’re acting as cranky, unkind, disconnected -- as withdrawn, on the one hand, or as controlling, on the other – as they ever had before they started any spiritual practice. There is no smooth curve of progress.

The Worst Motive

I started my primary spiritual practice for the worst reason: because an authority told me to. Fourteen-and-a-half years ago I was in Chicago trying to pass muster to become a minister, trying to prove I was good enough. I had just finished my first year of divinity school, and I was meeting with the Midwest regional subcommittee on candidacy.

“Get a spiritual practice,” the committee told me.

It is contradictory to take up a path of self-acceptance and trusting in my own inner wisdom because an outside authority told me to. Yet that’s what I did. It is contradictory to judge myself for judging myself too much. Yet that’s what I did, and still do, albeit somewhat more gently. Usually. I’ve now had a chance to talk with a number of people on a path of serious spiritual practice. All of us, or so it seems, began, as I did, in some form of contradiction. We felt broken, wrong, inadequate, and we thought spiritual practice would fix us. But spiritual practice isn’t about fixing anything – which is why there’s no smooth curve toward becoming fixed.

You're Not Broken and Don't Need Fixing

Spiritual awakening is about realizing that we aren’t broke and don’t need fixing. We aren’t broken and from the beginning never have been. It’s true that spiritual deepening does bring about some changes – but there isn’t any single change that it always brings about. And these changes are not the goals of spiritual practice. Any practice that has a goal is not a spiritual practice. Yes, there is a role to play for intending to cultivate the spiritual qualities -- but it is a rather small role, and attempting to measure progress toward such qualities is delusion. A spiritual practice will tend -- naturally, on its own, but irregularly and unpredictably -- to bring fuller recognition that we are not broken, that we are whole and perfect just as we are and always have been; and fuller recognition of our intrinsic wholeness will tend -- naturally, on its own, but irregularly and unpredictably -- to bring the symptoms of developing spirituality.

It’s hard to really believe that we are not broken and don't need fixing. Our culture constantly tells us we aren’t good enough, get better, buy this product, this treatment, this school, this exercise, this method.

Spirituality is about remembering the fact of abundance in the midst of the daily barrage of messages of scarcity. Will recognition of abundance happen if you do the practice? I can tell you there will be more ups and downs than the stock market. But over the long haul? Probably, yes. If you love just doing the practice, and you do it just because it is who you are, and not with any idea that you’re gaining something from it – if judgment about gain and loss, progress and regress, falls away and there’s just you, loving who you are and loving the way you, and the whole universe, manifest in and through your practice, then, yes. The fact of abundance will be clearer to you.


At the end of “Dr. Strangelove,” the bomber plane is set to release its nuclear payload, which will set off a nuclear conflagration to end civilization, but the release mechanism jams. Slim Pickens climbs down into the bomb-bay to fix the jam. He succeeds, and the bomb is released -- while he’s still sitting on it.

In the film’s most memorable shot, Slim Pickens is waving his cowboy hat and whooping as he rides the bomb down to his – and what will ultimately be the planet’s – destruction.


Maybe that’s what learning to stop worrying and love the bomb looks like. He does seem to be living in the moment.

That was such a striking shot when I first saw it because I knew if I were falling out of the sky riding on a nuclear bomb, I’d be freaked out in fear and despair: “My god, my god, my god, I’ve only got maybe one minute to live.”

But look at what Slim Pickens’ character is doing with his minute! Woooo-hooooo.

All of us are riding that bomb. Our time is so short before life blows up on us.

There’s something very pure about this – just one chance at every minute. This is it.