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Fall Harvest

Jun20

by: Mary Agnes Rawlings on June 20th, 2017 | No Comments »

The earth has yielded its harvest; God, our God, Blesses us.”  Psalm 67:7

Today I return to writing about God’s gifts in our lives!   It seemed to me that everywhere I turned this summer I heard retirement conversations going on and those same conversations caused me pause.  My cousin Charlie, my brother in law Larry, my friend Herman all talked about the event with an excitement which made me stop and think.   Questions surfaced, Do I want to retire?  When? Why? What would I do if I didn’t go to work?  Questions swirled through my mind, an endless and consuming battle raged inward.

Without advanced warning;  I awakened  in the middle of the night to this small peaceful space within me. I realized in that moment I was finished with paid work!  From that point each day in prayer, clarity came as friend and deep comfort surrounded my spirit.  Of course I am done I said to myself; I have worked for many long years.  Years of providing for our family in a small yet consistent way I had done my part and it was time to let go.

The surprising thing is that when I let go an amazing thing happened.   When I spoke with my boss he seemed open and aligned in agreement with a decision I had already made.  As I write this meditation we are in discussion about my departure date!  It certainly hasn’t been the way in which I thought it would happen; but like so many things in life transformation happens in the twinkling of an eye!

As I anticipate fall harvest I feel a deep connection with the earth.  This season of life is when one is able to see the abundance of what the earth has brought forth.  Being a farmer I realize sometimes a crop seems small while other years are abundant and overflowing.   The same seems true for a life.  Some years seemed more fruitful than others; some years seemed as though the earth’s parched dry wind stripped the ground of life itself.  Yet as I ponder the terrain I realize that my one constant has always been the sense that God is with me.  No matter what the circumstance or the challenge I experience God’s loving presence in my prayer and meditation on life and the harvest becomes a deep sense of gratitude for what I have been given.  The opportunity to live- grow- and love more deeply than I ever anticipated or thought possible is the real harvest in life.

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Haitian Mourning Rituals and Just Don’t Wear Red!

Jun16

by: on June 16th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Upon hearing news of the death of an older cousin, I immediately recalled times spent in the lakou (yard) of his late grandmother, whom everyone knew as Aunt Boots – the family matriarch and piercer. I call her that since she had done all our ears at the most tender age to assure the making of girls in Haiti. I remember running around freely with the scent of roasting coffee beans swarming us. She had a coffee and peanut butter business. On Saturday afternoons, grownups sat on wicker ladder-backed chairs, catching up on the latest news, and family matters. This was a refuge where we, as children, were allowed to be children who played while being repeatedly told to stay clear of the huge cauldron that fumigated the entire neighborhood.

I had not spoken to this cousin in ages, yet felt the need to attend the funeral — shameful that I have been something of a delinquent family member because the last time I saw him eons ago was at another cousin’s wedding. Nearly a decade ago, his brother had made the trek to Boston from Montreal without fanfare to attend my maternal grandmother’s funeral. He came he said, “because you show up for family.” The diaspora may have spread us all over the Americas and the rest of the world, but that did not mean abandonment when it matters.

"Cendre" Painting and photo: Gina Athena Ulysse

Putting aside all my other responsibilities, I suddenly grew melancholic, focused on a sense of duty – a commitment to not only properly show up, but be fully present. I made the call to offer my condolences. His brother quickly pacified my obvious deep sense of regret. He was happy to hear my voice despite the occasion. It was a peaceful death, he told me. In the week that followed, I became hyperaware of some Haitian mourning rituals. Conversations with my mother were about who’s who in our large family tree as well as periods of mourning, cultural codes concerning dress and proper behavior at funerals. I found myself making tons of phone calls for plans for an extended family road trip. Who could take off work? Who would drive with whom? What kind of car should be rented? Of course, there would be a kotizasyon, give whatever you can. It’s not about the amount. C’est le geste qui prime. Indeed, it is the gesture that counts.

My first memory of anything related to mourning in the family ironically has to do with the food served at receptions held after wakes and funerals. I seem to only remember that we were served finger sandwiches or patés flaky savory pastries. The adults drank té jenjanm (ginger tea) or coffee, always black, with or without sugar. There was also Cola Champagne, Tranpé (moonshine with bitter herbs, usually cerasee), Prestige–our national beer, and Rhum Barbancourt. The young ones were guaranteed hot chocolate. Sometimes, our infamous pumpkin soup made its culinary appearance.

What color am I supposed to wear? I was uncharacteristically concerned with being respectable. Rebel me sought motherly advice. She had been shopping for stockings and trying to find the right outfit. “Well, it depends,” as she began a litany of mourning dress codes in Haiti, “If you are immediate family, you wear black. Young children can wear white, or black and white, or even grey. You could wear purple, if you want, or a print. Nothing too bold. Cover your shoulders. These days, these things don’t matter as much because people wear anything to funerals. Just don’t wear red!” I had a conversation with her godchild, the deceased’s brother who underscored this point, “absolutely no one should wear red unless you are the killer or assassin of the dead person”. In deeper mourning than I knew, I opted for black.

During the wake, as his pictures flashed across the screens, the weight of the loss was evident in the faces of his wife and children. Incessant tears welled up and streamed down already stained cheeks. Pictures of him with school buddies growing up in Haiti. Mother reminded me that his nickname was Little Lion, a play on his name Lyonel. Wedding pictures. More talk of the aunt who could not attend but had played matchmaker. Pictures of him holding his newborns, with friends, coaching a youth soccer team, at his job. He was always smiling and loved to laugh. As he peacefully rested in a casket, his youngest brother demanded if anyone knew whether Death was male or female. With his usual bravado, he dared anyone to answer. What would he do if there was ever an encounter? “Death keeps taking too many of your own,” he lamented. How would he express his anger? His brutal honesty and fierceness demanded our attention in different ways. In so many instances, I found myself choking up on tears. There was an abundance of love.

At the service, his pastor offered a beautiful sermon. A dear friend recited a fitting eulogy while his children and nieces paid him greater homage. Everything had been delayed by weeks. His family generously waited because people would be traveling from afar to pay their respects. Amidst this despair that resonated, some of us were reconnecting in new ways. It took this moment for us to gather again. There was also laughter among the tears as memories of siblings, cousins, came through to reveal the ties that bind immigrant communities despite the thousands of miles that separated us. To be sure, we are far from a monolith. These days, the diasporic lakou has been redefined composed of an even wider range of family structures, incomes, livelihoods, and tastes. We represent and inhabit different social worlds and religious practices. Now, there were new generations born on this side of the water who had never been to our beloved Haiti. Family stories became quilted tales that could only be woven together from different bits by those who had been there back in the day. We all know only too well that memories fade.

The last day, in a private chat with his eldest brother, I realized why I have been flooded with such sorrow. “Gina,” he said, “don’t you remember when we used to come to visit you and your sisters before we migrated? We use to bring you candy and cookies and we would hide them in our pockets, we made you run around looking, but you knew they were there.” I went to the funeral, not out of obligation, but the purest form of gratitude because my departed cousin was part of my most salient recollections of happiness in an elusive childhood.

Back on U.S. soil, in these times when we are too cavalier about the dead, his younger brother offered these last words, “in our culture when a death occurs, it becomes everybody’s business.”

Violence Begets Violence

Jun15

by: on June 15th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

We at Tikkun were glad to hear Senator Bernie Sanders unequivocally condemn the shooting by Bernie supporter, James Hodgkinson, who injured five Republicans, one of them a Congressman, who were part of the Republican Congressional group going to play a for fun annual baseball game with Democratic Congresspeople in Washington DC this morning, June 14th. In his statement, Senator Sanders said: “I am sickened by this despicable act. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society, and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only be obtained through nonviolent action and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values.”

We at Tikkun are fully aligned in our opposition to violence of any sort and condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We do so on spiritual, religious, and ethical grounds. Human life is sacred and should be protected and helped to flourish. This is a central teaching of the Bible and of Judaism through the ages. We also oppose it on strategic grounds. When anyone who could be seen as connected to liberal and progressive causes engages in violence, (against property even, but especially against human beings) he or she creates a new opportunity for the most reactionary forces in our country to pass new laws restricting free speech, to bring indictments against social change activists, to incite law enforcement to use excessive levels of violence, and to build popular support for new measures of repression.

While we agree with Sanders on most of what he said, we are also aware of statements made by others that have picked up  the notion that violence runs against American values or is in some way oppositional to what America stands for in the world. We will soon be celebrating Independence Day, July 4th, in which many Americans will celebrate the violent revolutionary uprising against the British and sing songs like the national anthem with its praise of “rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and set off firecrackers to relive that violence. The sad fact is that the United States of America has consistently used violence to achieve its policy aims, invading other countries with troops (Korea, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the list goes on), training South and Central American police and military at the “School of Americas” in Ft. Benning, Georgia, in the use of violence and torture to defeat populist movements challenging undemocratic governments, , the Obama and Trump administration’s’ bombing from drones or airplanes civilian populations (e.g. these past many months assaulting the people of Yemen as part of our growing alliance with the reactionary and repressive and human-rights-violating regime in Saudi Arabia), and the policy of the Obama presidency to select individuals to be assassinated by drones and without trial in countries around the world who are suspected of being or aiding terrorists (and in the process, murdering at least several thousand non-combatant civilians). It sickens us to listen to the hypocrisy of those in the media who talk about this latest (immoral) assault on government officials as if it is somehow outside the path of violence that has been part of American society and celebrated as such by many.

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Seeing Double: A Middle Eastern Comedy of Errors

May22

by: Henri Picciotto on May 22nd, 2017 | 1 Comment »

In the 1980′s, few Americans knew much about life in the territories Israel had occupied in 1967. Fewer still understood the PLO’s historic offer to settle for a state in less than half what had been Palestine. Yet in 1989, the San Francisco Mime Troupe produced Seeing Double, a mistaken-identity farce that argued for a two-state solution. The seeming unfitness of the genre for the topic proved the secret of the show’s success: laughter allows room for hope.

Twenty-eight years later, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is better understood, but no closer to resolution. Indeed, decades of US military and diplomatic support for Israel’s actions and its “facts on the ground”, have made a solution increasingly unlikely. Last summer, the writers of Seeing Double decided we would update the play, to fit today’s harsher realities and to address the U.S. role.


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A House on Shaky Ground: Eight Structural Flaws of the Western Worldview

May19

by: on May 19th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

 

Imagine living in a home with structural flaws in the foundations. At first, you might not notice too much. Every now and then, some cracks might appear in the walls. If they got too bad, you might apply a new coat of paint, and things would seem fine again – for a while.

But suppose your house were in an earthquake zone? Some of us who live in California know what it’s like to call in a structural engineer and be told the foundations need to be retrofitted if the house is to survive the Big One. Sometimes foundation work is necessary if there are hidden flaws that our home is built on.

We can think of our civilization’s worldview as a cognitive home that we all live in – an edifice of ideas that’s arisen layer by layer over older constructions put together by generations past. Our global civilization is facing the threat of its own Big One in the form of climate change, resource depletion, and species extinction. If our worldview is built on shaky foundations, we need to know about it: we need to find the cracks and repair them before it’s too late.

Our worldview is the set of assumptions we hold about how things work: how society functions, its relationship with the natural world, what’s valuable and what’s possible. It often remains unquestioned and unstated but is deeply felt and underlies many of the choices we make in our lives.

We form our worldview implicitly as we grow up, from family, friends, and culture, and once it’s set, we’re barely aware of it unless we’re presented with a different worldview for comparison. The unconscious origin of our worldview makes it quite inflexible. That’s fine when it’s working for us. But suppose our worldview is causing us to act collectively in ways that could undermine humanity’s future? Then it would be valuable to become more conscious of it.

In researching my book, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, I excavated the hidden layers of our modern worldview and found that many of the ideas we hold sacrosanct are based on flawed foundations. They are myths that emerged from erroneous assumptions made at different times and places in history. They’ve been repeated so frequently that, for many people, it may never occur to question them. But we need to do so, because the foundations of our civilization’s worldview are structurally unsound.

The good news is that, for each structural flaw, there is an alternative principle that offers a solid basis for long-term, sustainable flourishing. Our best hope for civilization to survive the Big One is to recognize these underlying defects, and work together to reconstruct a worldview with more secure underpinnings. Here are eight deep flaws I found, along with alternative principles that, together, could create a foundation for a flourishing civilization for future generations.


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Staying Open to Life despite Losses

May9

by: on May 9th, 2017 | 9 Comments »

When I sat down to count the number of times that I lost a friendship by actions of another, I didn’t imagine I would reach the number 29 in the last 27 years, almost all of them close friends, or other people with an ongoing connection, who chose to sever contact with me. Each a story of its own. Some with reasons I understand. Some without any reason ever told to me, though surely with a reason that made sense to that person. The worst was a condensed period of two years during which I lost seven of seven close friends, and then had no new ones for more than six years. The most recent last month, during my visit to Israel, one of the extremely few people in my life I was sure beyond any doubt was a friendship for life. No more.

I decided to write about it when a friend who heard about it wrote: “Wow. Just Wow. It’s a miracle, and a testament to your tenacity, that you continue to trust and to open your heart.” Even though I know that such cutting off is traumatic, and that I have endured most likely a higher-than-usual rate of these, reading this response I realized more strongly that what I was doing, how I was responding to life, was perhaps something useful to reflect about publicly. Specifically, a look into what is making it possible for me to trust and open my heart, and how far does this openness go.

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When Effects Are Invisible: From Comfort to Freedom

Apr10

by: on April 10th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

“When a behavior becomes the norm, we lose our ability to view it as dysfunctional.” Jeff Garson, Reflection #42, Radical Decency (URL temporarily inactive).

“To reinforce the majoritarian dream, the nightmare endured by the minority is erased.” Ta Nehisi Coates, My President Was Black.

What is it that makes the existing global system continue to function with our ongoing participation, when so many of us know how close to the edge of catastrophe we are? Without pretending to know the “answer”, I have figured out some bits of it that make sense to me.

For some of us, it’s because we actually buy into the system’s values and ideals, and we feel aligned with it, or because we recognize it as not working, and yet don’t believe anything better is possible. For some of us, it’s because we feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the necessary changes, both individually and globally, and thus buy into the illusion that we can opt out of the system and just have our own very individual lives, as best we know how. And for some of us, it’s because we don’t even know the significance and effects of our actions, especially collectively. Much of the time, all these factors combine to give us an internal foundation of either acceptance or resignation that sustains our capacity to continue to make choices that are destructive to self, others, and/or the web of life.

Looking at it that way, I can have more compassion for all of us – very much including myself – for all the ways that we uphold and sustain that which we may wish to be different. It’s with this kind of compassion that I want to share two vignettes that in the most concrete and personal way illustrate some of the challenges we have about seeing the direct and indirect consequences of our actions. Along the way, my hope, as always, is to also provide a guide for action for any of us who want to continue to walk the path towards turning the tide and learning to steward life and all the resources of this one planet for the benefit of all. Although the vision is, as always, on a system level, the choices that we make are, by necessity, personal, and their individual effect, usually, minuscule beyond our own small sphere of life. Still, from my own experience, these kinds of choices are life altering in the only direction where we have complete power as human beings: internally.

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A Plea For Compassion

Mar12

by: Jeff Grande on March 12th, 2017 | 8 Comments »

Day after day, I wake up to one mind-numbingly tragic shooting incident after another, immediately followed by politicians and civic leaders giving their speeches. The give their inevitable soundbites, standing in front of makeshift flower-laden memorials, about stopping the epidemic of violence in America. They always talk about the need for better police training, more police officers, gun control, more prisons; in short, the rhetoric dances around the symptoms, tacitly avoiding any mention of the true root causes of these tragedies.

I stand with both American police officers and citizens who are victims of senseless brutality and killing. Each group also must contend with being part of a system that pits one group against the other, defining an agenda of division rather than the unity which must exist for our nation to truly solve these problems. Every time there is an incident of violence, we either blame one group or the other.

We talk symptoms.

Political and civic leaders don’t speak enough about the root causes that create the conditions for this violent behavior.


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A ‘Moment’ for our Movement: The Work of Creating a More Perfect Union in 2017

Mar10

by: Karin Swann-Rubenstein on March 10th, 2017 | Comments Off

Following the now-famed Women’s March on the day after President Trump’s inauguration, speculation mounted about whether we were seeing a real “movement” or simply a “moment” of reaction from an outraged electorate. Since that day, there’s been no dearth of citizens speaking up, in town halls, airports and on city streets. People who never imagined themselves “protesters” have seized the reins of citizenship suggesting that surely somethingisgalvanizing America. But the question is an important one,doesthis yet qualify as a movement?

Since my days as a student at UC Berkeley in the 1980s, the question of what makes a movement has always intrigued me. I noted the vast difference between the Iran-Contra protesters, characterized by fierceness and all-black garb and the masses, and 20 years prior, of tie-dyed youths who turned out for the summer of love. The Civil Rights movement was something different altogether, and ultimately the force that most powerfully redefined the politics and consciousness of our deeply divided country in the 1960s.

What strikes me most about what we see emerging today is that the vast majority of protests in recent weeks have taken place inreactionto President Trump’s initiatives, mobilized largely by a strong “anti-Trump” sentiment. Looking back at movements that have proven successful, however, I question whether this axis for organizing is enough?


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Review of Preludes and Fugues by Emmanuel Moses, Transl. Marilyn Hacker

Mar6

by: Paige Foreman on March 6th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

“Who built the church where the whole world huddles?”

The cathedral’s heavy wooden doors were wide open, inviting the world inside for the Washington Bach Consort’s free noontime organ and cantata performance. I crossed the threshold and was surrounded by van Gogh stained glass. Swirls of twilight purples and blues surrounded outlines of dark, quiet church towns and sunlight streaming through yellow glass illuminated figures of Christ. The outline of a labyrinth twisted beneath my feet as I walked down the aisle and sat in the front pew.

People in pews, stained glass windows, pipe organ.At noon, the cathedral’s great pipe organ roared to life with music. Bach’s Fugue in F major shook the very foundations of the church, and I thought of the organ as an actual heart beating life into the church through contrapuntal veins. A fugue builds up like a storm cloud as a musical theme is examined in different voices that eventually all intertwine with each other towards the end, almost losing control of itself.

The crowd applauded at the end of the fugue and J. Reilly Lewis, the director of the Bach Consort and a master organist, stepped out to conduct the cantata. He was a warm, charismatic man with silver hair and a great sense of humor. Lewis was my own music teacher’s mentor and I was told that I absolutely had to see him conduct. Lewis was a brilliant interpreter of Bach and his orchestra used authentic Baroque instruments.

One month later, my music teacher was flying back to Washington, D.C. for Lewis’ funeral. I saw the last noontime concert Lewis ever conducted at before he died of a heart attack. He had vanished beyond what Emmanuel Moses calls, “the impassable threshold,” in his Preludes and Fugues poetry collection translated by Marilyn Hacker.


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