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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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Practice in a Time of Fear

“To practice the dharma is not about overcoming fear altogether or pretending that we are fearless; instead, it is to change the way we react to moments when we’re afraid.”

~By Dharmavidya David Brazier

Camp Séance Diorama by Grace Downer Gurley
©2017 All Rights Reserved, Used with permission

As we prepare for Halloween, it seems there are a lot of scary faces and pumpkins around.  I mostly chose fun characters on Halloween. Once I remember having a scary costume. Being a teen was hard. When it was time to stop trick or treating, I stood in the front yard. Trick or treating was never something I enjoyed. Going up to strangers’ homes and knocking on doors was the scariest part of Halloween then. That one Halloween,  I dressed as a ghoul or as death. I never quite knew what it was myself. I stood and waited in the dark for cars to pass then posed as a statue.

Who knows why I chose to do that. Perhaps I was trying to deal with my inner fears of being discovered as a lesbian. It could have been my dealing with a death wish I had because of my first bout of real depression. I didn’t get along with my parents. Living in a closet is hard as an adult and one’s teenage years are their own kind of hell. I was afraid of being found out for who I was. That was the real fear. It was a reasonable fear too because in the 70’s of the South, and sadly even now, the threat of being shot was and is very real.

We learn early in life to be afraid of anything that has caused us pain. In its healthiest form, this is a good way to ensure our survival and create the conditions necessary for safety and well-being.”

~by Pilar Jennings

 

It took years of prayer, journaling, and counseling to accept that my biggest nemesis is fear. When there is nothing to fear, my mind tends to make up things. In Pilar Jennings’ article, Fear, she discusses how hard it can be in this day and time to discern something causing an illusionary fear and what is a real fear. Her article offers some important points for all of us to consider in this volatile world.

©2017 Day of the Dead, Art by Kay Larch  Used with Permission

All feelings come and go, and are by their nature ephemeral. But if we don’t train our minds to see that, we end up riding life like the old roller coaster at Coney Island that threatened to hurl people from their seats every now and again. 

~by Pilar Jennings

 

In the practice of prayer and meditation, it is oftentimes fear that distracts. One of my favorite Bible verses comes from John where Jesus encourages disciples to take courage because he has overcome the world. That is a good prayer for centering oneself when fears get out of hand. Yet, it is also important to face the reality of our personal fears so that we may lead a more full life.

There are many ways we can face our fear. Creating a journal has been a vital way to deal with life for many people. Sometimes you can talk to a friend, a priest, a lama, or counselor and that helps. Being honest about our fears is the hardest thing in the world to do. Why? Because it makes us vulnerable. When we are vulnerable many think we become weak. Instead, being vulnerable gives us to the strength to move through the fear or overcome the fear. Sometimes, we see that we had no reason to fear at all.

During this Halloween, I encourage you to think about what fears are in your life. Because I am still transitioning from living in Sylva to living in Beech Mountain, my fears are in my face. I live in a new place. My church is new, my community is new, and I don’t have snow tires yet. That doesn’t mean that my life is over. It doesn’t mean that I won’t have friends. All this means is that facing my fears means I can stop seeing the changes as scary and begin to see them as what they are. Merely changes. There will be new friends, new joys here in this place of solitude. All I have to do is look for the light.

 

2017 Used with Permission

 

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Please check out the Tricycle Magazine articles referenced:

The Gift of Fear  By Dharmavidya David Brazier

Fear by Pilar Jennings

Day of the Dead Coloring Book can by ordered by contacting Kay Larch in a private message.

Samhain Fun is carved by the same artist who designed my book! Jennifer Lynn

 

 

 

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Meet the artist – Jennifer Lynn

Finding Home, Robin’s debut novel

The cover of my debut novel is so great I want to introduce you to the artist, Jennifer Lynn. I met Jen through mutual friends online. At the time I was displeased with the cover offerings and felt none represented my story at all. I jokingly said to Jen that I wished she would design a cover for my new book. Imagine my surprise when she said yes and jumped on it!

I was still in the process of correcting some edits in the final manuscript at the time. As a result, there wasn’t a good copy of the book ready for her to read. She was okay with that and suggested we Skype and talk about it. I gave her a brief description of the book without suggesting anything particular. The cover you see above perfectly fits the book. In addition, her painting reminds me of my Grandma Poplin’s home, but in a mirror image. Jen knew nothing about this. Her intuitive sense of design and color made this book a work of art.

Jennifer Lynn, or Chef as her friends call her because of her extensive culinary skill, is an award-winning artist and illustrator for 40 years. She studied fine art at Wilfred Laurier University in Ontario Canada where she studied under 3 different artists in residence including the great Canadian Artist Michal Manson whom she studied under for 7 years. She then travelled extensively and developed key elements from many artists around the world. Today she has returned to Canada and has re-established her work in Ontario. She is also a member of Federation of Canadian Artists.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jenniferlynngallery
Webpage: www.chefjencanada.com
Twitter: @chefjencanada
Instagram: chefjencan
Email: jendechef@gmail.com

… Read More

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Release of Debut Novel – October 19, 2017

My debut novel is now released! Release! Ahhh what a great word. Excitement abounds as I announce that my new novel is now available. It was released on October, 19. This date is special to me because it is the birth date of my maternal grandmother. She was a reader and the one grandparent who I would talk to about reading.

It took forever to come up with a blurb. I told my friends that it was easier to write the entire novel than to try and write the small blurb that would get another interested in reading the book.

In Robin’s debut novel, the characters search for meaning in life and a place where all belong. A  story that is a reminiscent mixture of Fried Green Tomatoes and At Home in Mitford, this novel portrays a loving sense of community and home. The rural North Carolina town of Pleasant Quarry becomes a place where all belong.

Readers of the book need to know that I am a country loving person. I grew up in the country around some of the best folk you can ever imagine. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t hard things going on in the South then, because I grew up during the Civil Rights Movement. The only thing I knew growing up was that I wanted to be a hippie because they focused on peace and love.

We grew up around people who told the truth and loved music. It was only later that I began to see and understand the greater struggles around me.

©JRobin Whitley – Rural Haywood County, NC

The community where I grew up focused on loving each other and protecting their children.

I’m sure this is one of the reasons I love rural settings so much. When you live in a rural setting, there is no need to be fake or put on airs. If someone did that growing up, it was always because they were “gettin’ too big for their britches.”

There were gays and lesbians in our community although I didn’t know them personally. I did not know of anyone being mean or unkind to those people. As a result, it was only natural that I wanted to grow up and live in a rural place. Later, I learned that the KKK was still active and that people in the area could hate many kinds of different people, I moved to the city for a time.

Still, my heart belongs to a more rural place. My love of nature and quiet is central to my well-being. For those of you who live in a city, I hope you will catch a glimpse of a place (maybe a time) that gives you pause from the busy-ness. For those who live in the countryside, I hope you recognize your neighbors and way of living. Most of all, my hope in writing this is to tell a good story.

Used with permission

 

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