The Intersection of Justice, Equity and the Transforming Power of Love

Rev. Benjamin Meyers, Minister, Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo

Rev. Benjamin Meyers, Minister, Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo

Some thoughts from  Rev. Ben …

John Scalzi is a Straight White Man who has a website called Whatever … I’m staring at the asphalt wondering what’s buried underneath.
A member of our congregation sent me the link to this site after I told him I was going to preach this sermon on “Intersectionality and the Transforming Power of Love.”  In his tagline to describe the content of his site John Scalzi says he’s been “Taunting the tauntable since 1998.”

I want to share something from his entry from May 12, 2014 in which he uses a very intriguing way to talk about white male privilege…(I know, this has the possibility of sounding like a turn-off, tune-out the minister topic, but bear with me…this is good…)

John Scalzi writes:

“I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they/we/I usually react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is an incorrect word to use for straight white men, it’s just that it’s not their word. So, when confronted with the concept of “privilege,” they/we/I usually fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.

So, the challenge, says John, is: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?”

Here goes…

The difficulty for us, especially for those of us with lower degrees of difficulty in the real world, is how to see these differences more clearly and not shy away from bridging the gaps between us, and others?

How do we see beyond our blindness of privilege, and reach beyond the buffers of blessings of our given lives and learn to stand in solidarity with others facing degrees of difficulty we are only beginning to truly see and feel and understand? How do we use the gifts of OUR lives to aid others caught in the oppressions of the real world? How do we make a difference in this very different world we now find ourselves?

The great human rights advocate, Grace Lee Boggs, said,

“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”

But is the world getting more connected or more fragmented? Facebook, in conjunction with the University of Milan …announced that there were only 4.74 “degrees of separation” among its …users…. That contrasts with the famous ‘six degrees of separation’ that Yale researcher Stanley Milgram found back in the 1960s. Social media, we are led to believe, are bringing people closer together.

A study published in the American Sociological Review found [that many] Americans say they have no one they can talk to about important matters. Imagine, not having a single confidante you may safely turn to in times of critical need … or just if you need basic information. It confirms the thesis of Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, that we’re becoming more socially isolated, even as the world gets more wired.

In fact, the phrase “online community” may be an oxymoron, like “Jumbo Shrimp” or “Unbiased Opinion.” … Researchers at the University of Wisconsin put teenage girls in stressful situations, like solving mental arithmetic problems, meanwhile measuring the girls’ levels of cortisol, a bio-marker for stress, and oxytocin, a hormone associated with feelings of well-being and trust. During the test, the teens were permitted either to text their mothers, or to call mom on the phone. It turned out that the phone conversation, and the soothing tone of mother’s voice, lowered stress levels in the girls. Texting had no such effect.

The study confirms my own unbiased…prejudices. Call me retro, but I still prefer chatting with a real live person on the telephone, rather than interacting with a voice-mail robot or typing in two dimensions while living in the multi-dimensional world of relationship. The world has gained in efficiency and cost-savings, but lost a dimension that’s warm and comforting and connected. This is not to say that there’s expediency and benefit in texting short messages and sending information, electronically. It’s just that these are not always the right tools to use if what we’re needing is connection.

It appears that we need an human presence—the shelter of each other—to feel whole—and to know the fullness of living beyond the bubble of preferred comfort levels. There’s no digital substitute for a hug, a handshake, a smile or a word of encouragement.

This is one role that religious communities play in our culture, as well as civic organizations and, of course, bowling leagues. And clearly, merely attending a church, mosque or synagogue doesn’t automatically mean you feel known and accepted and connected. You still have to do the work of building caring bonds.

It is still true that in order to HAVE a friend, you have to BE a friend; but my point is that meaningful relationships and spiritual growth are possible in congregations and similar affinity groups in a way that cyberspace just won’t allow.

How much of the vulgarity of American culture is due to the fact that we’ve become a nation of strangers? How much of the incivility in our politics can be traced to the breakdown of respectful person-to-person communication? How do we learn these skills if they are not applied in our daily lives? The good news is that the cure for this malady is readily available. Through everyday acts of kindness, and by reaching out to others in a spirit of unity and cooperation, we can begin to re-weave the fraying fabric of community.

Indeed, the mathematical algorithms that measure “degrees of separation” across the planet show that when we reach outside our personal comfort zone, for example to encounter someone from a different race, a different religion, or a different political viewpoint, our actions have a multiplier effect.

One person who breaks through the proverbial chasms of privilege and prejudice can lower the level of estrangement in ways unseen or unfelt. This is how we weave the invisible fabric of our connectedness. But perhaps you didn’t need a university study or a mathematical analysis to tell you what the world’s religions have affirmed for centuries. The best way to bring our world closer together—to lower the degrees of separation and oppression and to level the playing field of the real world—is to build real bridges between our divisions.

Adam Gopnick, a writer for the New Yorker magazine who covered the massive marches and demonstrations—the largest in the history of this country which occurred just weeks ago says:

“Community is the only cure for catastrophe. Action is the only antidote to anger.”

By practicing the core values of faith and principles, we continue to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, turning strangers into friends and enemies into learning partners, one by one by one.

We must remember the haunting and prophetic words of the Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller, speaking of the rise of Nazism in Germany,

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—/Because I was not a Socialist./Then they came for the Trade Unionists, / and I did not speak out—/Because I was not a Trade Unionist./ Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—/Because I was not a Jew./Then they came for me—/and there was no one left to speak for me.”

If we want hope to survive in this world today…then EVERY day we’ve got to build the bridges and do the dance that keeps hope alive.

Let us rise beyond the places where we are and Pray, Stand, Walk, Work, Move, March, Teach, Reach, and SING ON, together.

Let us dare to Hope, and by our actions, help hope survive.

Amen. Blessed Be. Salaam and Shalom!

– Ben Meyers

© 2017, sermon and photograph, Rev. Benjamin Walker Meyers, Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo, California

half-done things, a poem

fullsizerender-19the peace of the blue dawn
writes its script across the days
in a never-ending poem
……….[telling the story
of my love for half-done things
the bud before the bloom,
the fiction roughly outlined,
the crescent moon in saffron hue,
the child with all his promise

© 2017, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

TWO NEW PROMISING BEAT BOOKS: “The Cambridge Companion to the Beats” & “First Thought: Conversations with Allen Ginsberg”

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This no doubt feels like an event for many people. It certainly seems so to me. I already have my pre-orders in. According to the Amazon blurb:

The Cambridge Companion to the Beats offers an in-depth overview of one of the most innovative and popular literary periods in America, the Beat era. The Beats were a literary and cultural phenomenon originating in New York City in the 1940s that reached worldwide significance. Although its most well-known figures are Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, the Beat movement radiates out to encompass a rich diversity of figures and texts that merit further study. Consummate innovators, the Beats had a profound effect not only on the direction of American literature, but also on models of socio-political critique that would become more widespread in the 1960s and beyond. Bringing together the most influential Beat scholars writing today, this Companion provides a comprehensive exploration of the Beat movement, asking critical questions about its associated figures and arguing for their importance to postwar American letters.

&

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Amazon on First Thought: Conversations with Alan Ginzberg

“The way to point to the existence of the universe is to see one thing directly and clearly and describe it. . . . If you see something as a symbol of something else, then you don’t experience the object itself, but you’re always referring it to something else in your mind. It’s like making out with one person and thinking about another.” —Ginsberg speaking to his writing class at Naropa Institute, 1985

With “Howl” Allen Ginsberg became the voice of the Beat Generation. It was a voice heard in some of the best-known poetry of our time—but also in Ginsberg’s eloquent and extensive commentary on literature, consciousness, and politics, as well as his own work. Much of what he had to say, he said in interviews, and many of the best of these are collected for the first time in this book. Here we encounter Ginsberg elaborating on how speech, as much as writing and reading, and even poetry, is an act of art.

Testifying before a Senate subcommittee on LSD in 1966; gently pressing an emotionally broken Ezra Pound in a Venice pensione in 1967; taking questions in a U.C. Davis dormitory lobby after a visit to Vacaville State Prison in 1974; speaking at length on poetics, and in detail about his “Blake Visions,” with his father Louis (also a poet); engaging William Burroughs and Norman Mailer during a writing class: Ginsberg speaks with remarkable candor, insight, and erudition about reading and writing, music and fame, literary friendships and influences, and, of course, the culture (or counterculture) and politics of his generation. Revealing, enlightening, and often just plain entertaining, Allen Ginsberg in conversation is the quintessential twentieth-century American poet as we have never before encountered him: fully present, in pitch-perfect detail.

Celebrating Sixty-seven Years on the Razor’s Edge

Om or Aum the mystical or sacred syllable in the Indian religions, which symbolizes the all-encompassing basic substance: God, Allah, Being, Source, Light, whatever is your preferred pointer.

The Hindu Om or Aum symbolizes the all-encompassing basic substance: God, Allah, Being, Source, Light, whatever is your preferred pointer.

“Rise, awaken, seek the wise and realize. The path is difficult to cross like the sharpened edge of the razor, so say the wise.” Katha Upanishads, verse 1.3.14

SURPRISED TO HAVE MADE IT TO SIXTY-SEVEN.

photo-on-2014-03-31-at-17-08In gratitude today, I celebrate sixty-seven years of life, forty-seven years with my world-class son, and sixteen years of survival beyond my medically predicted expiration date.

About a week or two after the CitySon Philosopher was born.

About a week or two after the CitySon Philosopher was born, Gravesend, Brooklyn, N.Y.

In 1999, I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) and given two years to live. (No, I have never smoked in my life.) Thanks to the boundless patience and kindness of my son and the compassion and good offices of an extraordinary medical team, I’m still here, sometimes home-bound and always bound to toting an oxygen tank. These complications don’t keep me from enjoying the CitySon Philosopher, my beautiful, smart, fab and funny daughter-in-law, and the friendship of many including my friends from our Group for people with life-threatening illnesses, my neighbors, the members of our spiritual congregation/social justice network and my arts community of poets, writers, artists, musicians and bloggers.

With cousins Dan and Chris, like brothers to me.

With my cousins Dan and Chris, like brothers to me, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York

Regarding the latter, I hold Jingle Yanqui (no longer online) most especially in heart. Her vision for forming a cohesive and supportive online poetry community has facilitated a network of poets I could not have hoped to manage on my own. It makes up for being unable to take part in off-line poetry readings and groups.

With Mom circa 1980, San Francisco

With Mom circa 1980, Park Merced in San Francisco

Without a doubt, I cherish the friendships and shared values among The BeZine core team members and guest contributors. They rock … and they’re helping to rock the world into peace.

Senior year of High School

At my Aunt Yvonne’s: junior year of high school when being a writer and poet was just a dream, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York

This is perfect. Unable to find out who created it. If it's yours, please let me know and I will credit or take it down as you like.

This is perfect. This is exactly what it feels like to have the writer’s eye and ear. Different perspective. I love this illustration. Unable to find out who created it. If it’s yours, please let me know and I will credit or take it down as you like.

Celebrating poetry, prose, music and art with you through your books and blogs numbers among my most treasured gifts. Thank you for your honesty, for sharing your wisdom, your joys and sorrows, your laughter and pain and very human folly, your faith and despair, the rough knobby wool of the human condition. As my workload and commitments have expanded over the years and my disease progresses, I don’t get to visit as often as I like … but I do peek in on you and you continue to endear yourselves to me.

LESSONS FROM THE SHARPENED EDGE OF THE RAZOR

Over the past few days, I have been thinking about life lessons learned from years of living – as you do too – on the razor’s edge:

  • We are not meant to compare ourselves with others. Our beauty is absolute, not relative.
  • Freedom is a state of mind. It requires a recognition of  Madison Avenue values and programming and a disconnect from them and from any other received values that are not consistent with our own inner truth.
  • Committing art is spiritual practice.
  • We are meant to immerse ourselves in beauty: family, friends, flowers, music, poetry …
  • As long as we live on this earth, we have to make a living, but we were not meant to be wage-slaves. Find the balance between making a living with making a life.
  • Health is a relative thing: We will always be more-or-less healthy. We may have to modify our activities because of health challenges and/or aging, but as long as we’re alive, there’s no reason not to stay engaged.
  • When we receive a terminal diagnosis, it takes time to process and to deal with the shock. Eventually we find our way to peace and continue our lives, albeit within the limits of disability. The terminus – as you can see from my experience – may be a long way off.
  • The only difference between people who are living with a terminal diagnosis and those who are not is that the former are no longer in denial.
  • Don’t turn good time into bad by worrying about what is an inevitable part of life. There comes a point when we accept that things are just the way they should be even though we don’t understand the whys and hows.
  • As long as we insist on identifying with the painful experiences of our lives, with the insults received at the hands of others, we feel desolate and somehow less.  The order of the day is reframe and reinvent. The need is to rewrite our stories.
  • People who are at peace with themselves are never cruel. If someone hurts or has hurt us, it’s because of their own pain.
  • Best policy: let go, trust yourself and get on with life.
  • Consciousness is not the mind attached to the brain. It is a Light independent of the physical. We may not always have form or human personality but we have always been and we always will be. The challenge is to be a worthy spark of Being.
  • Love – true love – is not romantic love. Love is found by seeing the reflection of Being in ourselves and all life. It is the ability to recognize the sacred everywhere and in everyone, even in our frail and fallible selves, in the most unfortunate conditions and the most unfortunate people.

May every day be a rebirth for you in the light of Love.

In metta,

Jamie

Metta – the Buddhist practice of holding self and others in loving kindness, a value shared by the world’s religions.

A sweet kind photo-grid made for me today by my cousin Dan. Meaningful, memorable photos all.

A sweet kind photo-grid made for me today by my cousin Dan. Meaningful, memorable photos all.

Family photographs are under copyright.  Please be respectful. The Om illustration is in the public domain.