The Politics of Life and Faith

My friend from India, Reji, a Coptic Orthodox priest gave me this message when I left an ecumenical conference. I asked him, “If you could say ANY THING to the people in the US what would you say?”

I expected him to give me a beautiful spiritual quote on Christianity or living in peace together. He was an Orthodox priest and we were there to study, talk about religion and how we CAN get along even with differences. Here is his response:

“Tell your people to get out and vote. You may not think your vote matters, but for India, it decides whether or not many of my own people can afford to eat. We grow bananas near my town but we ship them to the US and then prices are raised so high we cannot afford to buy our own bananas.”

When there are no more hungry people,
When there is no more poverty (LOTS of artists in poverty)
When there are no more wars or violence against women, children, and those of different beliefs or different races…

Then, and then only will I quiet my voice.

When an artist can make a living doing what an artist does
When a painter can paint AND feed her family
A singer can sing and not have to compromise his or her integrity to make a living

Then, and only then will I quiet my voice.

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The above post is from a writing that I did in October of 2008 on my Redbubble Journal. I was new to the “blogosphere” and trying to find a safe place to write politics. Had hated them all my life until my friend from India gave me the above message.

I can’t say that I like politics any better, but what I do understand now is how political actions or statements can have far reaching effects. I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s journals as a nighttime meditation. His concerns about the political situation in the 60s resonates with now. Some of the things he discusses, I remember from the things I experienced as a child. Politics have always been a part of the life of what it means to be human. The word “polity” implies civility. Yet, our discourse is far from civil.

Mystics, contemplatives, and other spiritual greats of history always call for non-violent change. Choose justice, mercy, peace is a message that dates to Micah in the 8th century B.C.E.

[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

 Micah 6:8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

We can no longer be silent about what is happening in our world. At the same time, we must stop pointing fingers at each other. How can we change the conversation? Justice, mercy, kindness is my responsibility. Each of us must look in the mirror of our soul and start there. The only change we can truly “control” is how we act or react to life, events, and those around us. I can only begin political activism by starting with me. I choose to love my neighbor in respect, dignity, and mercy. Make your choice. Are YOU willing to change and “… do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

“There is no consolation, only futility, in the idea that one is a kind of martyr for a cause. I am not a martyr for anything, I am afraid. I wanted to act like a reasonable, civilized, responsible Christian of my time. I am not allowed to do this. I am told I have renounced this – fine. In favor of what? In favor of a silence that is deeply and completely n complicity with the forces that carry out oppression, injustice, aggression, exploitation, war. In other words, silent complicity is presented as a ‘greater good’ than hones conscientious protest – it is supposed to be part of my vowed life, for the ‘glory of God.’ Certainly, I refuse complicity. My silence itself is a protest, and those who know me are aware of this fact.”     ~Thomas Merton March 3, 1964[1]

[1] Merton, Thomas, et al. “Part V: Seeking Peace in the Hermitage 1963-1965.” The Intimate Thomas Merton: His Life from His Journals, Lion Publishing, 2000, pp. 215–216.

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Books and Community – Celebrating Diversity

On December 7th, I was honored to present my new book at the Watauga Public Library in Boone, NC. There were about eight of us total. That makes a great group for discussion. One of the challenges in promoting my book has been…well, promotion.

What I really want to promote is well-being, community, and love. Of course, it will be great if folks buy my books, then I can buy wood for the fire or save up for snow tires. But the reality is that I write because I must write. There’s a theme to my life that won’t let me go. Even when I paint or draw, it is with the hope to build comradery or open another’s eyes to the beauty of the ordinary.

Music is the same. I remember listening to Cat Stevens[1] records as a youth and thinking how this stranger could touch my heart, mind, and soul with one song. I was listening to his song, The King of Trees. As I look at the lyrics now, I’m not sure why this song set my imagination soaring so high. Part of it was the music I know. Trees have always spoken to me. Still, through that song, I knew that someone understood me in the world even though I didn’t know him personally.

 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” 
― Mother Teresa

 

 

Isn’t that one of the many reasons we read? To be understood or to learn to understand our own self? I read for many reasons, escape, to understand the world, to understand God, to seek to know how to live, for entertainment, etc. Books are my friends. It’s rare that I read a book twice, but I love seeing the binding and how it reminds me that the story lives in the book and somehow lives in my own life.

At the event on Thursday, I read from my new novel and made people laugh. We then began to talk about community because my novel, Finding Home, is about belonging to community. It is fiction, but this fiction is also based upon real, rural communities that I’ve lived in during my lifetime. These were places where people care for one another and look out for each other. There are places where people feel they don’t belong. I get that. My point in the novel is this, find the community where you DO belong. More importantly though, be the person who makes your community better.

In this day and time, we are losing a sense of caring for each other. I’m not going to attack social media, though I do believe we must choose better ways to use social media with an emphasis on the “social”[2] portion that emphasizes the welfare of others. When we talk about being social to each other, we most often imply a sense of respect and perhaps even kindness. While there are some of my friends who use social media to post political topics, most of my friends are seeking to remain connected (or become connected) to a community. Even those who post political things are talking about a community. This digresses a bit.

My point is this. Community matters. What does it mean to respect each other regardless of socioeconomic status, religion, political affiliation? Life. We are all in life together. While each person has a different set of circumstances to deal with, we all have more in common than we are currently acknowledging in this divisive atmosphere. Disagreeing with each other doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Letting those disagreements divide us is the action which needs to cause us alarm. Carl Sagan talks how each person is precious.

“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

My heart and soul have always believed in the goodness of humanity. Let’s choose to focus on what’s right with our communities. When people are in need, let’s lift them up instead of belittling others. This is not an easy thing to do with so many injustices happening in our world, but we don’t have control over the entire world, just our own actions. I believe in you and your goodness. I believe that when we embrace our own goodness and kindness, the world can deal with anything that happens. We need each other.

 

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

 

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