Racism: changing this river’s course

Forces whose timing and movement we cannot fathom and must act on

Across the globe, a virus we cannot see exerts its gravitational pull towards safety, protection, distancing, isolation. We do not all have the same choice to hunker down.

An equally potent force pulls newly mobilizing white people alongside seasoned activists – to rise and move together with our neighbors – and “strangers” of color. 

(I am painfully aware I might well be marching alongside the same black man who I crossed the street to avoid on a city street at night six months ago.)

Often masked, sometimes social distancing, protesters flow like a river down streets emptied of automobile traffic by Covid-19 even before protests began: to grieve, rage, chant, home-school our children in the streets, make vivid the pain and we-are-doneness in a cultural body that perhaps is on its way to becoming one sensing, healing and awakening body after all. 

Young people lead once again, as they have on environmental justice. Often black youth in the foreground: kids likely to die of racism before Covid-19 threatened them. White children as young as preschool are getting newly inoculated with a race-appropriate version of “the talk” – a talk that has a moral compass.

We may be in a position to watch these events live-streamed…from within our home offices / home schools / home kitchens

or we may be in a position to march….

or to honk our car horns in support…

or, as my sister living in a high-rise for seniors in Berkeley…to light a candle on her 2nd floor balcony that may not actually be visible to anyone.

What is it that is happening on the sidewalks, in the streets?

Sidewalks and streets that have belonged to white people since the early days in America’s history?

How is it that our grief walks the streets, hundreds, thousands together, when we have not been able to gather to sit with our dying family members, bury our dead, witness wedding vows, eat, study?

How is it that strangers have emerged from siloed neighborhoods, the red-lined and the privileged, to walk together?

Washington Post reporter Marissa J. Lang writes

“They didn’t have a plan at first. Five friends determined to join protests over the police killing of George Floyd arrived in downtown Washington on Saturday with one goal: Get to the White House.

As they walked south toward the bright white pillars in the distance, the group began to call out to passersby — people out for walks or jogs, some curiously eyeing the young people brandishing signs and face masks, marching with their fists held high.

“Walk with us,” called Jasmine Grobes, 27. “Come on! Walk with us.”

By the time they reached the metal barricades around Lafayette Square, that group of five had swelled to nearly 50 times that number. “

If you want to move a river, dig a channel…the river will flow into it.

There is movement, a change in choreography: police and protesters reach out to one another in small moments even as tear gas and rubber bullets fly elsewhere. The channel that protesters, and sometimes police officers, are digging reclaims public spaces.

There are stunning and tantalizing examples of a different kind of listening and bridging that is taking place. 

There are messages everywhere: on signs, on fences – most notably on the security fence surrounding the White House.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish.”

“When do I go from cute to dangerous?”

“Racism makes our patients sick.”

“We all bleed the same color.”

“Racism is the pandemic.”

“Why do you hate me?”

“Am I next?”

“Enough.”

We don’t know if we are in Langston Hughes’ Final Curve, as much as we may long for it

When you turn the corner

And you run into yourself

Then you know that you have turned

All the corners that are left.

We cannot foresee the outcome of this moment of letting go and coming in.

This is a mass of “unorganized” humanity beginning to sense itself – what one theory of change says is the key to transforming consciousness. 

In this view we observe, observe, observe. We go to the place of greatest potential to listen with our minds and our hearts wide open.

The place of most potential is our own being - and so we practice

With modest, not grand gestures, we begin to lay a foundation for racial repair and reconciliation.

We recommit to practice, to owning and freeing ourselves from our personal and cultural history.

We wrestle with responsibility, shame, and forgiveness of self and other, one second at a time.

We walk together, dismantle the shared racial structures together.

We make changes of the heart and let them guide changes in the law.

 

This is how we dig the channel to move the river of racism.

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Banner photo by John Salvino

To explore your own stories about race is hard to do alone. If you are ready to let your mind and heart break open into a larger story, let’s talk about how the practices of Radical Inclusion can support you.

Post-script to Passover Seder

The Seder meals are over, the morals of the story linger on.

Tell the story to your children, we are instructed: how the Israelites went down to Egypt, were enslaved and then liberated. Tell the story at the proper time: it is step number five of fourteen parts of the Seder, which translates as “order.” Tell the story as if it happened to you, we are instructed. Elaborate on the story, we are told, the later into the night, the better. `

 

Children wise and wicked: different world-views of “me” and “us”

Early on in the telling, we find there four kinds of children to whom we may be telling the story: a wise child, a wicked child, a simple child, and a child who does not know how to ask.

The wise child asks, “What are all these laws and observances God commanded you?” And he is taught all the details of Passover observance, down to the very end of the Seder – as if he had actually asked, “What are all these laws and observances God commanded us?” – including himself in the community.

The wicked child asks, “What does all this work mean to you?”  In this instance the parent takes the child literally when he says “to you, and responds with a certain harshness because the child has separated himself out of the community.

Lively discussion often surrounds this section, what is called “argument for the sake of heaven,” rather than to prove a point.

What struck me this year is how the text rewards “we” and is harsh with “me.” 

The most obvious pandemic lesson brought home to us humans all over the globe, no matter our nation or tribe, is the deep factual reality of “we,” homo sapiens. Covid-19 is a story that is happening to the human species, each and all of us. There is no “as if” in the telling of this pandemic story. And while health outcome disparities by race and ethnicity have been documented for decades, they are front and center now. There is at least some ray of hope this recognition and documentation will drive more equitable access and elimination of bias as we rebuild our civic infrastructure.

 

Daled amot: the personal space/Zoom rectangle we each occupy? God also occupies.

Rabbi Sue Fendrick wrote a wonderful piece (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/go-ahead-have-a-shvach-seder/) in which she granted “a rabbinic permission – and/or psychological and spiritual authorization” to have “a mediocre, underwhelming, unremarkable, or even kind of pathetic” Seder under the pandemic limitations that govern our lives these days.

She used a term which I had never before encountered: daled amot, which translates as four cubits, the measure of our personal space: the space that we each take up as we keep our six feet (3.81 cubits) from one another.  Rabbi Levi Cooper provided some historical background, (https://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Judaism/World-of-the-Sages-The-four-cubits-of-halacha) noting that since the Temple was destroyed, God has dwelled in each individual’s four cubits. This indwelling presence is often spoken of as the Shechinah, the Divine Feminine.

Those little boxes on the Zoom Meeting screen? They are another form of the dalet amot of this pandemic time. Mostly what we see of one another on the screen is our faces. And when we take the opportunity to gaze softly at one another’s faces on the screen, we see how unique, precious, and  beautiful each one is.  To switch religious contexts, this is namaste: the God in me greets the God in you.

 

Stay in touch with what is important

May we draw ever more deeply from the well of our own wisdom and our trust in God. 

May we forgive ourselves and one another our foolishness.

May we be kind to one another, understanding how truly we are all kin.

May we be good neighbors and well-wishers.

May we be safe and protected from harm as we make our way through the unknowns of the coming days, weeks, and months. 

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Come as you are continues online, Wednesday April 15, 12-1:00 EDT on Zoom

The imperatives of social distancing invite us to co-create sacred and nourishing online refuges.

Come as you are to share an hour of nondual practice

… open-hearted and fearful,

… determined, weary and bearing gifts

Email me at ______ for the Zoom link.

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Banner photo from The Passover Haggadah, illustrated by Raphael Abecassis