Category Archives: Faith and Spirituality

A TRIP TO POZOS, MEXICO

Photo courtesy of Catherine Marenghi, 2017

Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

— Emily Dickinson 

On a recent trip to Mineral de Pozos, Mexico, I bought a flute at a museum of musical instruments. Luis Cruz, who owns the museum, El Venado Azul, makes and sells instruments like those once played by the indigenous people. The flute, called a tlapitzalli, sounded so beautiful when the museum guide played it, I had to take it home.

The other instruments at the museum were gorgeous, too: the long, wooden rainsticks filled with sand, called chicahuaztlis; the eucarinas that imitate the sounds of the birds; the ear-pleasing rattles, called ayacaxtli; and the small, hand-carved wooden drums, called huehuetl and teponaztli.

At the end of the tour, the guide played the large thunder drum for us. It sounded exactly like the loud, booming thunder of Mexico.The sound of the  drum, and the rhythms he played on it, made us all want to dance. It was a powerful and spiritual moment, a reminder of the music that’s in all of us, and the joy, and the power music has to move us, and connect us to each other in the dance.

Before we went to the musical instrument museum, our tour guide, Dali, took us to a museum where we learned about the once-thriving silver mine in Pozos. We saw the old, water-cooled jack hammers the silver miners used to break the rock, and the carbide lamps that allowed the miners to see in the deep, dangerous shafts.

The lamps were lit by the gas produced by mixing calcium carbide and water.

We gazed across a landscape of cactus, agave, and pepper trees. In the distance, we saw the ruins of the old, stone buildings where the women and children separated the minerals — silver, gold, copper, zinc, and mercury — from the rocks. We walked among the ruins of the old Catholic church, which is now open to the sky and wind.


Photo by Catherine Marenghi, 2017

As I looked inside the old sanctuary, I remembered the stories about how difficult it was to get the indigenous people inside of the buildings for worship. It made no sense to them. They always worshipped in nature, their feet connected to the earth, their eyes aware of sun, and sky, and the position of the bright stars. And they danced. That’s why the churches all have courtyards  — they helped the missionaries to woo the indigenous people inside.

It struck me as both ironic, and a form of poetic justice, that now, the sweet, yellow xotol flowers that grow everywhere in Pozos, and the long, bending grasses, have replaced the yellow gold of the altars, and the priests.

There were several reasons for the town’s demise: the Mexican Revolution in 1910; the anti-Catholic government that met with fierce resistance in the militantly Catholic town; and the water pollution caused by the flooding of the mines. One day, the miners dug too deep. The mines flooded, and it was impossible to correct the damage. The mines, born in 1576 by the Jesuits (the the first Europeans to visit), closed in 1928. The population of Pozos dwindled  from 70,000 to a few thousand.

Dali said there’s someone in Pozos who still mines his own silver and gold. Although the law prohibits people from digging under their property, he’s doing it, anyway. Apparently, he’s doing fairly well. For every ton of rock, he gets a gram of gold (isn’t that like life?).

Pozos was declared a “magical town” by the Mexican government in 1982 because of its rich history. Developers want it to be another San Miguel de Allende. It’s slow going, but there’s a promising arts school now with classes in painting, music, and ceramics that is attracting visitors.

There are a few art galleries in Pozos, and a few restaurants, like the Posada de las Minas (Inn of the Mines), where we had lunch (and amazing salsa). Mostly, though, Pozos is what the Mexicans call a pueblo fantasma — a ghost town.

I liked being there — hearing the instruments, looking into the deep shafts, walking through the ruins, and learning more about the history of Mexico.

As we were leaving, a 9-year-old boy who was riding his bike down the same deserted cobblestone street I was walking on, stopped to ask me, ¿Viniste a ver las minas? (Did you come to see the mines?)

His friendliness, and the pride he had in his town, reminded me of why I love Mexico — the kindness of the people, the spaciousness of both land and heart. The dance.

ON ATHEISM AND DIEGO RIVERA

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Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

A few weeks ago, a friend and I went on a tour of Guanajuato, Mexico.

Our tour guide, Dali (named after Salvador Dali), was born and raised in San Miguel de Allende, and educated at the University in Guanajuato. He was knowledgable about the state’s capital city and its rich history, and this made the tour fun.

The first place he showed us was Diego Rivera’s childhood home, and the museum that was built next to it in 1975.

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At the museum, we learned about Diego Rivera’s family, and his upbringing, and saw some of his paintings (unfortunately, most of them were unavailable for viewing because they were being restored).

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As we looked at the paintings in the museum, Dali told us a story about how Diego Rivera came to be an atheist.

He told us that when Diego Rivera was a five-year- old child, he wanted to know why his twin brother had died. His parents and teachers told him that his brother’s death was God’s will. “God wanted another angel,” they told him.

The young Diego Rivera rejected this explanation, and later, he told people that he became an atheist at age five.

This did not make him popular with the higher-ups in Catholic Guanajuato. Although as a young man he was a promising painter, and longed to go to Europe to study, the city officials refused to give him a scholarship.

Rivera found a way to go to Europe, anyway, and he became Mexico’s most famous painter. After his enormous success — in part, due to the murals he painted in Mexico and the United States — the Guanajuato town officials wanted to open a museum, but he refused to let them.

Later, after the town officials issued a public apology, Rivera consented, and the Museum of Diego Rivera was built adjacent to his childhood home.

Over lunch at the town’s beautiful Jardin, I told my friend that the story about Diego Rivera’s atheism bothered me. I said it reminded me of something William Sloan Coffin, a former pastor of The Riverside Church in New York City, said in the eulogy he delivered after his son, Alex, was killed in a car accident.

Rev. Coffin said, “when a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said — that the death was God’s will.”

“For some reason,” he said, “nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels.”

Was it God’s will, he asked later, that no one put up guard rails on the road where Alex was killed? Was it God’s will that Alex had one too many beers the night he attempted to drive home?

Was Diego Rivera wrong, I wondered, to refuse to believe in a God who would will the death of a child, and take him away from his mother?

How could such a God be called “good”?

Sometimes I think atheists are better theologians than believers. At least they are able to say what God is not. In refusing to believe in a “cosmic vivisector” who would rip a child away from his mother and brother, they invite a more serious and thoughtful inquiry into the nature and purposes of a God we say is love.

Before we left the museum, Dali took us to see a duplicate of one of Diego Rivera’s most famous murals (the original is in the Diego Rivera Museum in Mexico City).

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We learned so much about Mexico’s history from this one mural, which is crammed full of historical figures, and people who were important in Diego Rivera’s life.

The biggest figure, the one in the mural that towers over the rest, is Benito Juarez, the Mexican President who, in 1859, guided the nation to the separation of church and state, and started public schools. Juarez is the only Mexican hero whose birthday, on March 21st,  is celebrated in Mexico.

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Two blocks from where I live, there is a wonderful park that’s named after him.

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Now I love it even more.

Guanajuato is a beautiful city, and after visiting the museums there, and the famous Juarez Theater, we were both left wanting to learn more.

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THE GATES OF HELL ARE ALWAYS OPEN, EVEN AT MIDNIGHT

 

“As my muscles weakened, my writing became stronger. As I slowly lost my speech, I gained my voice. As I diminished, I grew. As I lost so much, I finally started to find myself.”
          — Neil Selinger

On Sunday morning, the church bells in San Miguel de Allende are ringing wildly.

Carlito, my landlady’s skittish cat, is now happy to share the patio outside of the downstairs unit of the house where I’m living now in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.IMG_20170527_160828

In spite of the heat of our summer days, it stays cool here. Since I don’t have to work, I’ve been able to focus on a creative project for days.

I left the house only once this week — to pick up  a bag I’d ordered from a shop a friend recommended when I asked her where I could find a well-made, leather bag. I needed something big enough for a laptop, and with pockets on the outside for a cell phone, and a passport.

It was 9:30 in the morning when I got to the shop, and discovered that the store wouldn’t be open until 11. So I decided to walk down Pila Seca, away from the trendy shops on Zacateros, and find a place to have breakfast.

On Jesus Street, a few blocks away, I found a restaurant with a lush, indoor garden  where  hummingbirds come to drink the sweet nectar from the red hibiscus flowers, and the sugar water from the glass feeders that hang along the sides. IMG_20170612_153144

As I sat in the cool, green space of the garden, eating gingerbread pancakes with hot applesauce, and drinking fresh orange juice, and coffee — all for $5.00 —  I stopped to write in my journal:

Forget the afterlife. This is paradise enough for me.

The best thing I’ve found in San Miguel, though, is the vibrant artist and activist community that’s here.

I’ve met so many intelligent and creative women  — visual artists, photographers, political activists, and writers — who are passionate, growing, and curious.

They are proving to me that these years can be the happiest and most creative of our lives.

Jane Fonda is right, I think: the metaphor for ageing is no longer the arch: “you’re born, you peak at mid-life, and decline into decrepitude.”

The new metaphor for ageing, she says, “is a staircase that represents the human spirit as it continues to evolve upwards, bringing us into wholeness, authenticity, and wisdom.”

Even with physical challenges, we can still grow, and realise our potential. We can flourish.

Last week, I had coffee with my friend, Eli, the woman who introduced me to San Miguel Allende. She and her fiancé led the personal growth retreat I participated in last October, when I came to San Miguel de Allende for the first time.

When Eli and I were hiking along a trail in the amazing silence of El Charco, a botanical garden and ceremonial space about forty-five minutes away from San Miguel, Eli suggested that moving here might be the answer to my prayers.

As in the Paul Simon song, she “planted a seed in my brain that still remains, in the sound of silence.”

As we drank our cappuccinos last week, she told me I should be proud of myself for making this change.

I told her that moving here didn’t require too much courage, since I was so drawn to this city —  the music and art, and the friendliness and beauty of the Mexican people  — and I was ready for an adventure.

I  told her that I didn’t come here to escape Donald Trump, but neither was I sorry to be away from the noise in the United States.

We talked about the many opportunities that exist in San Miguel de Allende for political action.  And the alliances that have formed here as a result of shared concerns about what’s happening in the United States — the cuts to programs that benefit human beings, the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and the 20 percent rise in hate crimes against already vulnerable populations, since the election.

“I’d never wish Trump and his gang on anyone,” said San Miguel activist, Cate Poe, “but I have to appreciate the new ways this travesty has brought us together. After five months of house meetings and political actions, now we have each other.”

So, yes:  I’m proud of myself for letting go.

Letting go of stuff.

Letting go of certainty.

Letting go of the familiar.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a Slovak proverb I heard quoted by a Jungian psychologist a few years ago. The saying is, “The gates of hell are always open, even at midnight.”

The Proverb was shocking, at first, but the more I think about it, the truer it is.

The saying speaks to what I learned at the personal growth retreat last October. In a moment of clarity, I saw that the quality of my life was totally up to me.

Eight months ago, I didn’t even know this joyful place existed.

As Eli likes to remind me, I didn’t even have a passport.

Now I have a passport, and an outside pocket on a new bag to keep it in.

And a not-so-skittish cat, who is scratching at the screen door, wanting to come in.

Even the cat knows, as Joni Mitchell sings in Down to You,

“It’s down to you….
You can crawl, you can fly, too.
It’s down to you.
It all comes down to you.”

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KIDS, TRUCKS, AND THE LOVE OF LIFE

LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL:
Kids, Trucks, and the Love of Life 

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I met Francisco, a mixed-race, bilingual, three-year-old, at the Geek and Coffee in Guadalupe two weeks after arriving in San Miguel de Allende.

Adjacent to the coffeehouse, there’s an enormous yard with picnic tables set in the shade of gigantic palm trees, brightly-coloured lawn chairs that are perfect for reading, and a children’s playground where parents bring their kids to play while they relax with an iced latte or cappuccino.

Francisco’s mom was untying a large, golden retriever from a metal stool the dog was about to pull over, when I noticed her children, and said, “hola!”

Her son came over, and immediately began talking to me in that spontaneous, open-hearted way that kids sometimes do — as if he’d known me all of his life.

When his mom saw how happy I was talking to him, she gave me a warning:

“He’s going to want to talk about trucks,” she said.   

Right away, he showed me his yellow dumpster truck with the big scoop attached, explained how it  worked, and said he wondered what would happen if a persona got picked up in the scoop.

I told him that would probably be dangerous for the human being.

Next, he showed me his other truck, which had a recycling logo on the side.

When he’d shown me all the doors that opened and closed, he moved closer to me, and began to tell me what seemed like a serious story in Spanish until he yelled out the last part of the story, and howled with laughter.

He looked at me, waiting for my response; but, unfortunately, my Spanish was too limited then to get the joke.

I told him I noticed that one of his trucks was a recycling truck.

He wanted to know what recycling was.

I explained that recycling is when you use something, like plastic, over and over again. For example, instead of throwing your plastic bags away, you can give them to the people at St. Paul’s Church, and they will make mattresses out of them for children who don’t have mattresses to sleep on.

If you use things over and over again, instead of throwing them away, then there’s not so much garbage in the ground, and it’s better for the environment— the earth, the trees, and the animals  — and it’s better for human beings, too.

It was hard to know if that explanation made sense, but he stood still for a while, contemplating it, and thinking about it, before he ran off to play with his friends in the playground.

His mother and I talked for a while about our recent moves to San Miguel de Allende, and how much we loved the city, before she ran off to prevent her two-year-old daughter from chasing the golden retriever she’d untied out of the gate leading to parking lot.

I wanted to say goodbye to him before I left, so I yelled across the yard, “Adios, Francisco!”

He looked puzzled. Who was shouting his name?

When he saw me waving, he yelled back in a loud voice, “Don’t forget what I told you about trucks!”

Everyone in the yard was grinning.

I assured him I would not forget what he told me, and, in fact, I thought about trucks all the way home. Now, I can’t help but notice each one:

The yellow dumpsters with forklifts; the fanciful trucks in the windows of the art galleries; the small pick-up trucks that carry vegetables down the narrow cobblestone streets to the local markets and grocery stores; and the flatbed truck my friend and I saw the other day that was stacked high with coffins, all wrapped in black cloth — a sight you’d only see in Mexico, where death is so much more in the open than it is in the United States.

But, so is the love of life more in the open in Mexico than it is in the United States. Every  week there’s another festival, a new reason to celebrate in the town square, and another reason for fireworks at 5 a.m.

As I walked home from the Geek and Coffee after meeting Francisco, I thought about trucks; but I also thought about the beauty of children, their innocence and trust, the passion and excitement for life that exists in the youngest of children.

I thought about how eager they are to connect with us through stories, especially the ones that make them howl with laughter, and the sweet, patient way they look at us, waiting to see if we will get the joke.

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Don’t forget what I told you about trucks!

 

LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL

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At the hotel where the San Miguel Writers Conference took place in February of 2017, I sat by the pool, and enjoyed talking to a friendly  older woman who, I soon found out, was Naomi Klein’s Mom.

It was a cool moment.

Ever since the election of Donald Trump, I’ve paid more attention to Naomi Klein  — not only because of her writing on climate change (she’s the author of  “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate”), but because every time I heard her talk, I went away with a reason to hope.

I think she talked many of us back from the edge of despair during those difficult, post-election weeks.

I told her Mom, Bonnie Klein, that every time I listened to her daughter, I went away feeling better.

As we watched her four-year-old grandson playing in the water with his grandfather, I asked her about Naomi’s spiritual background, and enjoyed our dialogue about the left-leaning Judaism that  influenced her.

When her grandson came out of the pool, cranky, and needing a nap, we laughed about the joys of these golden years, which include sending kids back to the care of their nannies or parents when they get cranky.

I was happy that week, talking with the local people who were glad to help with the Spanish, dining with my friend who came with me to the conference, taking workshops, writing and sharing poetry, and listening to the addresses of the various writers (among them Mary Karr, Judy Collins, and the poet, Billy Collins) who encouraged us to put our stories into the world.

“There is a place in movements for people who know how to tell stories,” Naomi said.

20170216_103542“Your voice wants to make a sound in the world,” the poet, Judyth Hill, told us, “but remember to write about what you’re for, not only about what you’re against.”

Naomi agreed: “Make space for what you want, not only for what you’re resisting,” she said.

In the evenings, we listened to the music in the hotel lobby. There was a good piano player who played the Great American Songbook (Gershwin, and Cole Porter), and a guitar player who played and sang my favourite Mexican song, “Cucurrucucu Paloma.”

Music and art are well integrated into the culture of San Miguel de Allende, and this is part of what drew me to this beautiful, multi-cultural city.

One day my friend and I were shopping at a local organic market, and we were startled to see four men carrying a casket down the street, followed by several guitar and violin players, and about a hundred people.

It was a somber moment, and yet we could feel the sustaining power of the music that is so much a part of the culture, and the life of the Mexican people.

The colours are amazing, too: the green walls with white accents; the oranges and reds of the old buildings that line the narrow cobblestone streets; the roof top gardens where bright pink bougainvilleas topple down over the orange brick walls; and the indoor courtyards with white lilies and red hibiscus that surprise you inside of rustic doors.

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It was for the music and the art that I decided to move to San Miguel — but also for the economics: I learned I could live there cheaply, without a car, and the horrendous traffic of L.A..

It was bittersweet saying goodbye to the music students I had for so many years; still, something else called to me.

It was hard to explain.

“What? Why Mexico?” so many people asked me.

(Subtext: “Is she crazy?”)

During the weeks before I moved to Guadalupe, the neighbourhood where I live now, as I sold or gave away most of what I had, a line from a Jack Gilbert poem, “Tear it Down,” kept coming to mind. He wrote:

“…Love is not enough.
  We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time.”

We only have so many years on this earth. Will we spend them merely surviving, or will we take the risk, and answer the call to flourish? Will we live for security, or adventure? Will we follow the guidance of the indwelling spirit within us, that sense of inner knowing, or will we get caught up in what other people think we should do or say? Will we accept the status quo, or will we be like Naomi Klein and Judyth Hill, writers who call humanity to a different way of living?

20170401_134342There are problems in San Miguel, as there are problems in every city.

However, as I sit this morning at my favourite new hang, looking out the window at the colourful mural across the cobblestone street, and listening to the sweet melodies of a spanish guitar, I’m glad that I didn’t listen to the naysayers (including the naysayers within myself).

I am grateful for the poet who told me I should insist — but, shouldn’t we all insist? —  while there is still time.

 

WHY I MARCHED (SINCE YOU ASKED)

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“When the sun came shining, then I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving, and the dust clouds rolling,
A voice was chanting as the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.”

— “This Land is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie

I marched in the Women’s March in Los Angeles on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration, because it was the most patriotic thing I could think of doing in response to the election of Donald Trump.

Flag-waving and excessive displays of nationalism are not my thing. I feel, like millions of other people in the world, that this is a time for global cooperation, and creative alliances. It’s a time for a change of consciousness. It’s a time to see ourselves as brothers and sisters, as Jesus called us to do (and every other sane and thoughtful person who ever lived on this planet).

Donald Trump’s America First campaign, which, notes Susan Dunn, “echoes the name of a 1940s anti-Semitic national organization that wanted to appease Hitler,” makes me cringe.

Still, I marched — for our democratic values; to protect our hard-won rights, including reproductive rights and voting rights; and to show my solidarity with the most vulnerable among us.

In the beginning, the Women’s March on Washington was criticized for being a white woman’s march. It was heartening, therefore, to hear the speeches by Tamara Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour that morning, three women of color who were brought in by the original organizers (as Mallory explained in a Breakfast Club interview), to lead the historic March, when the numbers reached 100,000.

Before leaving to catch the train going to downtown LA that morning, I wrote Carmen Perez’s words in my notebook:

“Injury to one is injury to all. We are not helpless. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are who we need.”

It was a sunny day. It was the only sunny day, in fact, we’d had for weeks. For one day, in the middle of weeks of rain, the sun came out, as if to wink at us, to let us know that Mother Nature was on our side.

The Metro Station at Universal City, where I went to catch the train, was jammed, with hundreds of people waiting in line to get tickets. However, moments after arriving, I heard a Metro employee shouting, “It’s free now! You can all ride the train for free!”

We took the unexpected gift, and moved together through the green turnstiles, and down the stairs, where we waited on the platform for the train going to Pershing Square.

We crowded as many of us as we could into the Metro, packing ourselves in like bits of styrofoam in a giant cardboard box, until not one more would fit, and we let the doors close.

A mother with an infant in a stroller, a six-year-old daughter, and an eleven -year-old son, stood next to me.

She told me she was taking all of her children to the March because she wanted them to know that during a dark time, she stood up for herself and her rights, and for them. “This is big,” I told the girl, “you’ll be able to say, ‘I was there!'” and she grinned.

It was touching to see how supportive the boy was of his mother. When she told him they should get off at the stop before Pershing Square because of the crowds there, he insisted, “No! Let’s go to Pershing Square. That’s what you wanted to do.”

“This is an adventure!” he shouted.

He was my new hero.

I opted to get off at the 7th Street Station, and walk to Pershing Square. Although I was too late to meet up with friends, I enjoyed talking to people there, marching, and taking pictures of the signs.

There were many men at the March, and I met several fathers who brought their daughters. “They feel empowered,” one of them told me.

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It was a festive atmosphere. The signs were great fun.

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It was an historic moment, “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history” reported The Washington Post.

In her article for the Nation, Joan Walsh noted that more bus tickets were sold for the Women’s March on Washington than for the inauguration.

According to recent estimates, as many as four-and-a-half million people marched in over 600 cities around the world. 700,00 to 1,000,000 marched in Washington.

People in Belgium, Ireland, and Antarctica made their presence known.

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Large numbers of the disabled community participated virtually.

On the train going home, I couldn’t help but notice the smiles on the faces,  the upbeat conversations, and how everyone’s mood, including my own, had brightened from a day of being together.

“So, you marched. What’s next?” a friend asked me the following day.

“I’m writing thank you postcards to the congressmen and women who are resisting Trump’s policies —  people like Maxine Waters, and John Lewis,” I told her, and sent her the link to the Women’s March list of 100 actions.

I’m also being more conscious about supporting efforts to link movements so that we’re not divided between white and black, and gay and straight. As Tamiki Mallory said, “we need to respect each others’ justices. We can march for reproductive rights, and for racial justice.”

Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, wrote in a recent op-ed piece that, in spite of her initial cynicism, she decided to  participate in the March. “Cynicism will not build a movement,” she wrote,  “collaboration will.”

On the evening of the March in LA, I was inspired as I listened to the speeches from the March on Washington, including a speech by Gloria Steinem, who is as amazing at eighty-two as she was at twenty-two.

“This is a day that will change us forever,” she said, “because we are together. Each of us individually and collectively will never be the same again. When we elect a possible President, we too often go home.

We’ve elected an impossible President. We’re never going home. We’re staying together, and we’re taking over…and we’re never turning back.” .

Most definitely, we are never turning back.

I confess I had to laugh this week when Donald Trump told Fox News reporter, Bill O’Reilly, “California in many ways is out of control.”

As if that were a bad thing.

As if this were not a land that was made for you and me.

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Resist!

THOUGHTS ABOUT HOPE ON CHRISTMAS EVE

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 “…Even a map cannot show you
 the way back to a place
 that no longer exists.”

Sandra M. Castillo,  “Christmas, 1970″

Last night, in LA, the rain came down hard.

I heard it for a long time, as I was having trouble sleeping, being worried about — well, everything.

It’s hard not to look back on the holidays, and remember happier times.

I feel the loss of my father, who died in July.
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I was used to the routine: decorating a small tree for his room; and making my way up the coast with a plate of oatmeal cookies I’d made from my grandmother’s recipe for the aides and nurses who took care of him.

Now, there is emptiness.

Emptiness is not a bad thing, but there’s so much pressure this time of the year to fill it up — to react like the jazz musician who hasn’t learned that silence is part of the music, that it’s okay to let space go by, that listening is half of the art.

Lisa Marion, a writer friend, suggests getting rid of the Holiday shoulds. I don’t want to go to the parties, or decorate this year, but I need not feel guilty, if I read her correctly.

Possibly some of us need advent, the time of  waiting, before the baby bursts into the world. We could wait until Christmas actually starts, on December 25, and celebrate the 12 days afterwards, she suggests.

This makes sense; there is something comforting about living by the liturgical year, the rhythms of grief and joy.

The only thing I’m sure I want to do is attend the midnight service at All Saints Church to hear the music, be with friends, and hear our new Rector, Mike Kinman, preach. He has a gift, and always manages to be both comforting and motivating at the same time. He has a bit of the holy madness, the sense of urgency, that characterized the prophets of old.

I was trying to explain to someone this week why many of us, especially people of color, Muslims, and women, feel vulnerable right now, and why we need space to grieve.

“Then go and have a good cry. Go to the crying room. Here is your Wambulance. What a waste of a life,” he said.

“You don’t think segments of our population are vulnerable?” I asked. “And whose life are you saying is a waste? Mine? Are you saying my life is a waste?” I asked.

If my life is a waste, then what did he think about Jesus, who spent his life loving and caring for the poor, the marginalized, hated Samaritans, social outcasts, and vulnerable women?

As I listened to the downpour last night, I finally gave up worrying, and “had a talk with God,” as Stevie Wonder put it.

In the morning, equilibrium returned, and a sense of clarity.

As I watched the gray sky turning to blue again, and the evergreens standing tall and open to air and the morning light, I realized something:

Christmas isn’t about what we’ve done in the past, it’s about what God is leading us to do now, for the future.

It’s about standing with the marginalized.

After all, It was to the marginalized, the shepherds living in the fields, that the message of hope first came.

The shepherds, as Drew Hart reminds us, were marginalized, not only by  Rome (along with the rest of Israel), but, due to their low social status, they were marginalized by their own people.

And yet the good news of God’s revolution came to them.

The life-affirming message of “peace on earth and goodwill to all” came not to those with the most, but to those with the least.

As I ponder this, I notice that a red-throated hummingbird with tiny, flashing red wings has landed in the bare branches of a nearby tree. He looks like a shiny little Christmas ornament. He has filled up the emptiness with his dazzling beauty.

allans_hummingbird“We can feel sick at heart—we would be fools not to—but despair is not an option,” writes Robert Kuttner.

This – at least right now — is Christmas enough for me. 

 

PRAYERS FOR RESISTANCE

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These are the  comments I made at our COLORS (Racial Justice Ministry) open house on Sunday, November 20, 2016, on the first year anniversary of my involvement in COLORS at All Saints Church in Pasadena:

About a year ago, I went to the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. One of the exhibits in particular fascinated me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The exhibit was about the different resistance movements that existed in the first century, around the time of the Jesus movement.

There were many resistance movements in the first century that were against what  Jesus scholars Marcus Borg and Dom Crossan call “the domination system of the Roman Empire.” However, according  to the exhibit, all of these movements, with the exception of the Jesus movement, were exclusionary. The  Jesus movement was the only resistance movement that welcomed everyone. (Martin Luther King noted that Christianity was a blend of many myths and influences, but what was unique in it was the social element.)

I’ve been thinking about this in light of my experience this last year working with the COLORS ministry.

On the Sunday after the election, I felt traumatized. However, after hearing Mike Kinman’s powerful and comforting sermon, and attending a COLORS meeting afterwards,  it occurred to me that possibly the greatest gift God has given to us is each other.

Jesus didn’t divide us. He didn’t leave instructions on who should be left out. He didn’t make anyone register before dinner.

I believe our strength is in each other. Our strength is in our diversity.

On my first year anniversary with COLORS, I am most grateful for this ministry, and will keep this gratitude in my heart as we move forward in the days ahead.

A PRAYER FOR RESISTANCE 

Gracious God,

We thank you for your liberating presence here.

We thank you for the gift of this community, for Mike Kinman, and Eric Law, and the leadership of COLORS. 

Empower us in the days head to take bold and liberating actions on your behalf. 

If there is anyone here who is discouraged, may we bring them to hopefulness. 

If there is anyone here who is traumatized or afraid, let them know they are safe with us, and always welcome. 

You have shown us that beyond the cross, the lynching tree, the internment camp, the man-made walls, the unspeakable cruelties so many of us have suffered, there is nothing that can separate us from your love.

Keep us mindful of your will for us so that, ending divisions here, we might be a true witness of the spirit and teachings of Christ, who extended a radical welcome to everyone, and taught us that we are all precious in your sight.

 Guide us in the days ahead so that our attitudes and actions will be aligned with your divine will. Empower us to resist all forces that would divide us, oppress us, or deprive us of the freedom we need to grow and flourish. 

Keep our hearts cheerful, confident that you are with us, as you promised, even unto the end of the age. 

Amen.

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A trio of anti-racist speakers  who shared their life challenges and wisdom at a COLORS open house in 2015: Regina Moses, the first black female school principal in Pasadena; Shizzi Akazaki, who survived life in a Japanese internment camp; and Lydia Lopez, who worked with Cesar Chavez and continues to fight for the rights of Latinos.

I love you all. You are beautiful.

A Tribute to Rob Meurer

 

14484619_10209408058732713_6873369879369793826_nA friend, Rob Meurer, died last week in a tragic accident. He was killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street in front of his house in Studio City.

On the days following his death, I tried, but failed, to post anything about Rob on Facebook. I felt too raw. Too tender. Too shocked. Or maybe it was because I knew I needed to make a more thoughtful tribute to this gifted musician and generous person who taught me so much about art, and the dedication it takes to live a creative life.

On the morning of the day Rob died, I read a meditation about the importance of finding that “indwelling spirit,” or sustaining force within us that can carry us through times of sudden change — when events happen so fast we don’t have the time to adjust, or integrate the changes into our lives. The message helped to steady me as I dealt with Rob’s death, and how fast it had come, and how shaken I was.

Rob was a terrific musician, and he blew us away with his music every other week at the Unitarian Church of Studio City, where we met over ten years ago.

Sometimes he sang the music he wrote with his long-time collaborator and friend, Christopher Cross (Rob played keys and synthesizer on the album that won Cross a grammy in 1979).

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Other times he sang Bob Dylan,  Joni Mitchell, and Peter, Paul and Mary songs — “River,” and “Stewball,” and  “With God On Our Side.”

He was brilliant, and funny, and constantly made us laugh.

The work he did with Beth’s, his wife’s, project, the Rising Star Children’s Musical Theater Troupe, was an inspiration all its own.

Every time I saw one of the productions, I went away thinking about how lucky the kids were to have someone so creative and knowledgeable to work with and learn from.

14433143_10154597776821289_1919633696169282078_n       This is Beth, Rob, and “Audrey” in “Little Shop of Horrors”

Rob and I stayed in touch mostly on Facebook this last year, although our paths happened to cross the day before he was killed.

We lived in the same neighborhood, we both liked to walk, and he was on his way to the store when I was walking home from Trader Joe’s with a bag of  groceries.

I congratulated him on the musical he’d written that was being performed in Chicago. He told me the audiences loved it, but the reviews were not good.

“Many plays and movies that don’t get good reviews, initially, go on to be successful,” I said. ” “I didn’t think you were supposed to read the reviews.”

“The producers read them,” he told me.

Oh, right, money, I thought.

In an interview with the Daily News, Chris Cross talked about what Rob said to him when a project they’d hoped would be a commercial success had not worked out the way they wanted it to. ”Rob often said we should keep going, ‘because that’s what we do,’” Cross said,  “His love of the craft was as deep as anyone I’ve ever known. He knew why he was here.”

My most enduring memory of Rob (besides him letting me use his car for several months when I moved to Studio City ten years ago — In L.A., who does that!? ) is of Rob singing Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom Flashing” in church one 4th of July weekend.

“Tolling for the aching whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing, ” he sang.

It was the best cover of the song I’d ever heard. And it was so Rob, a Bernie Sanders supporter who was always rooting for the underdog, always standing against the forces — political or religious —  that would divide us.

Rob’s wife, Beth, asked us to light a candle on what would have been Rob’s 66th birthday last week.

As I lit the candle, I read a poem by Lisel Mueller I’d heard that day that  reminded me of Rob’s passing, and of what the meditation I’d read earlier said about change, and how change can empower us and help us to grow if we don’t resist it, if we take it in the right way.

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IN PASSING
by Lisel Mueller

How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom:

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious

And I made a vow to keep going — to keep creating. Because that’s what Rob taught me. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re here for.

 

STANDING WITH MUSLIMS

My first piano students were relatives of Anwar El Sadat, the Egyptian President who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 for his participation in the Camp David meetings with Menachem Begin that resulted in a peace treaty with Israel.

I’d never met people who practiced Islam before; however, over the years I grew used to the sound of the device in Mona’s and Mohammed’s  home that reminded them to pray, and the preparations they made each year for Ramadan that included periods of fasting.

The children’s mother, Mona, was a beautiful woman, slender and petite, with thick, dark hair and dark eyes that shone with the light of  kindness.

Her children took more after their tall father, Mohammed  (the nephew of Anwar Sadat), but they were also good looking and bright.

Once, during a piano lesson, I asked young Mohammed about the sound I heard coming from the device that, I realized later, was there to remind them to stop and pray, but he didn’t want to talk about it, and so I stopped asking questions.

Mostly we laughed and joked, and played music.

I never talked to the children’s parents about anything other than music and their children’s lessons until after 9/11.

The week after that horrible tragedy, while friends in New Jersey were smelling the stench of death in the air, Mona invited me to stay for lunch after the children’s piano lessons were over, and I accepted. As she set the sandwiches, oranges, and lemonade on a table on the patio in their backyard, I sensed that something was pressing on her. Her smile had disappeared behind a cloud of worry.

The first thing she said when we sat down to lunch that day was, “My religion is a religion of peace.”

Listening to her talk about her faith and the Muslim community she was a part of, I had no reason to doubt her. For years, I’d experienced the peace and tranquility of her home, where there was never a hint of fanaticism.

I’d enjoyed meeting Anwar El Sadat’s sister, a journalist, when she came to visit, and the brief talk we had about her travels and writing.

Besides, I’ve long felt that extremists within Christianity are as dangerous as extremists within Islam, and I’ve often been in the position of having to defend my faith against those who associate it with violence and destruction.

Some Christians, like some Muslims, have no qualms about using violence and terrorism to promote their religious beliefs or ideologies.

After all, after 9/11, George Bush announced that God told him to invade Iraq. For many of us, this was morally repugnant.

As I listened to her talk, I realized how similar our views were about religion as an instrument of peace and justice.

I left that day feeling that we were sisters, and felt closer to her than I do to many Christians.

My own spirituality deepened and broadened as a result of our talk, and I look back in gratitude for the risk she took in opening up to me.

I think of her so often — her graciousness and beauty — as I listen to the ugly things that are said about Muslims.

After the Paris attacks, a Facebook friend announced that anyone with Muslim friends should de-friend him immediately.

Politicians are making efforts to keep Syrian refugees, who had nothing to do with the Paris attacks, out of our country, because of assumptions that all Muslims are dangerous.

Donald Trump, the Republican forerunner, said that Muslims should be required to wear arm bands, similar, many have noted, to those the Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany. More recently he’s proposed that all Muslims be banned from entering the country.

“We have no choice,” Trump said, “we must be vigilant!”

A few days ago, I spoke with a friend who worked for many years for Church World Service, an organization that helps refugees. He told me that the vetting for refugees is already tough.

“Many people think it’s too tough,” he said. “Refugees already have to wait for several years before they can be relocated, and now there’s talk of making them wait an additional year.”

Obviously, that will be too late for many of them.

My friend said, “if we won’t take in refugees, then I think we should take down the Statue of Liberty, put it on a battleship, and return it to France.”

At least we won’t be hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another.

And yet in the midst of all this vitriol there are touching expressions of love, too.

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I’d like to think that this hospitality, at core, is who we are.

I do agree with Trump about one thing: we must be vigilant.

We must be vigilant against the bigotry and hate that Trump spews. We must be vigilant about the way he uses fear to manipulate his supporters. We must be vigilant to sort out truth from lies.

“Yes, security was a legitimate concern then, as it is now,” wrote Nichol Kristof in the New York Times, reminding his readers of our refusal to admit Jews into the country in the 40s, “but security must be leavened with common sense and a bit of heart.

To seek to help desperate refugees in a secure way is not naïveté. It’s not sentimentality. It’s humanity.”

Prayer

Gather up
In the arms of your pity
The sick, the depraved,
The desperate, the tired,
All the scum
Of our weary city
Gather up
In the arms of your pity.
Gather up
In the arms of your love—
Those who expect
No love from above.