Friday, January 23, 2009

Strong at the Broken Places

A response to Maithri and all the gentle souls who gather in the spirit of peace at the Soaring Impulse

"The yellow star? Oh well, what of it? You don't die of it ..."

(Poor Father! Of what then did you die?)

from Night, Elie Weisel

Elie Wiesel, in his darkest days and deepest despair, never gave up. In fact, he got so angry at god that he argued daily with him. This is why he is a survivor. Not because he escaped the death camps with his life, but because he cared enough to become a witness. To tell his own story in the form of a cautionary tale and to stand up every waking day for peace and human dignity in this most imperfect of worlds.

Strong at the broken places.

Elie Weisel. A living testament not only to the human capacity for endurance but to the alchemy of the human spirit.

For pain, if not translated, becomes its own religion.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides.” Elie Weisel.

If someone in a room tells a joke at the expense of another and we laugh or even watch those around us laugh while remaining silent, who in fact is doing the telling?? If we choose expedience over truth who is doing the telling? If we choose to sacrifice a designated person or group for temporary relief from our own existential unrest, who in fact is doing the telling?

For this is how lies are spread and bigotry takes hold. One can only commit acts of violence by dehumanizing, objectifying, labeling an individual or group as “other”. In the process, the oppressed are inevitably damaged and often destroyed. But it is the oppressor who without doubt loses her/his humanity.

If we are unwilling to look at our own brokenness, if we don’t find a way to infuse our personal pain with a larger meaning, suffering soon becomes a way of life. Reflected in the chaotic world of a child trapped in the cycle of abuse or in the epic annihilation of a people caught in the crossfire.

The state of Israel, which shelters survivors of one of the worst genocidal campaigns in modern history is today one of the most virulent perpetrators of racism. Just as some victims of abuse become violators, Israel has migrated through the looking glass, from colonized to colonizer, perpetuating a never ending cycle of violence.

The conflict in Kosovo had its roots in eugenics and racial nationalism.

The protracted massacre in Rwanda was fanned by the polarizing impact of colonialism which mythologized racial stereotypes to its advantage.

And Congo. I have no words.

Racism is complex and deep. I'm glad we are talking about it.

Strong in the broken places.

We are each one of us survivors. What do we make of our salvaged lives? That is all that matters.

Unless we realize the gift, we become strangers in a strange land, sleepwalking through our days, merely keeping time.

Strong in the broken places.

I have the deepest respect for Barack Obama – for his intelligence, his grace, his call to service and for his extraordinary ability to motivate millions to reimagine and repair this tired and tattered nation.

However, I am disturbed when he fails to articulate a clear and identifiable vision. During his candidacy, Obama spoke so eloquently of hope, but did not say hope for what or how. De facto, he became a tabla raza on which his supporters projected their hopes and their dreams. I am sorry that Obama did not reveal more of himself. And I regret that the constituency didn’t ask the questions that begged to be asked. It is because of this failure to have an authentic conversation that so many today feel disappointed, forgotten, betrayed.

Obama is a man who as a boy straddled multiple worlds and became fluent in the vernacular of all of them. In order to remain safe, he learned to be cautious. In order to be valued, he learned how not to offend. These skills finely honed make for deft maneuvering in the political sphere, and a facility to negotiate and inspire. Unfortunately this cross border training also results in ambiguity in human relations .

One cannot be all things to all people. And there comes a time when we must take a stand for love and inclusion, which of necessity means taking a stand against hatred and bigotry.

I fear that we have become complacent about our democracy. We go to the polls every four years, perform our civic duty and retire to the numbing comfort of television (fill in your narcotic of choice). We count on our leaders to save us. We have forgotten what we the people constitute the source of political authority. It is up to us to reinvigorate our commitment to community and articulate our vision to our elected representatives. Like every other living thing a democracy requires daily tending.

The word postracial has been widely used to describe this presidency, this moment in time. In my opinion, it is wishful thinking to believe that we can expunge the stain of slavery simply by electing a man born to a Kenyan father. That we as a nation have taken this step is a measure of the collective progress we have made. We have opened a door to a dialogue about the deep wounds we have sustained. We have arrived at a new threshold to potential healing.

Strong at the broken places

James Cone, an African American scholar, professor and author of The Cross and the Lynching Tree, insists that in order to come to some kind of reconciliation on race, we must break the silence. We are inextricably bound to each other in a matrix of violence unless and until we can talk about those things that are “deep and ugly”. He goes on to say, “America needs to understand itself as not being innocent.” He sees hope in exorcising our shared demons and becoming “beloved community” only when we speak out against hate and oppression.

It is delusional to even imagine that we are living in a post racial world when our GBLT sisters and brothers are denied a seat at the table.

Rick Warren is a person who hides behind “faith” to preach fear, exploits his pulpit to sow seeds of division. It was unfitting for this man to give the invocation at the inauguration of such an auspicious journey.

In contrast, what a delight it was to partake of the words of compassion, tenderness and playfulness so deeply rooted in the black American experience delivered by Reverend Lowery. He didn’t deny the common struggle because he has lived it. Reverend Lowery was the longtime president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which he co-founded in 1957, with the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth. His uplifting message was truly the highlight of the day for me.

“God of our weary years, god of our silent tears, thou, who has brought us thus far along the way, thou, who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray…

Restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these…

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.”

Strong in the broken places.

Reverend Lowery is a strong advocate for equality for the GBLT community. He speaks unwaveringly in support of the disenfranchised.

"Remembering the voices who have told us to wait on justice, we dispute the notion that issues of race and nationality are so overwhelming that to fight for another issue of injustice is to water down the movement, For the storehouses of God's justice do not run low, and we must recognize the interconnectedness of all forms of oppression if we are ever to achieve the kingdom. The realm of God is at hand."

Many people did not hear what the openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson said as he delivered the invocation at Monday’s We Are One inauguration concert.

HBO's broadcast started after the invocation and Robinson's microphone wasn't turned on.

Strong at the broken places

Robinson began, with this:

"O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will bless us with tears –- tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS."

He asked God to:

"Bless us with patience and understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah."

And, he prayed:

"Please, God, keep him (Obama) safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace. Amen."

I’ve printed these excerpts from Rev Robinson’s offering in the interest of giving a voice to the silenced.

It is in the habit of maintaining the illusion of separation that our natural impulse for connection is lost.

Ubuntu in Zulu means a person is a person through other persons. An attempt at an expanded definition has been made by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

This post was inspired by Maithri at The Soaring Impulse and by Magnetbabe at Field Lines. I have tried in vain to stick to blog lite. But these issues are too critical and our time too precious. It is the spirit of love and unity that I write these words today. I hope that they are helpful in advancing our dialogue.

Ferry me across the water,
Do, boatman, do.
If you've a penny in your purse
I'll ferry you.

Christina Rossetti

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


a pre inaugural musical offering

Rockin out with Stevie at the Lincoln memorial

Woodie Guthrie reincarnated.

Pete Seeger at 89 years of age. Proud survivor of the first great depression, the Dust Bowl days, the McCarthy inquisition. "An inconvenient artist” banned from commercial tv for decades. Tireless troubadour for international disarmament, civil rights, and environmental justice.

Still subversive after all these years. With a twinkle in his eye, and with Mitch Miller diligence, he led the crowd in call and response of the Woodie Guthrie classic This Land is your Land. Seizing the opportunity to inject the original lyrics of the song that have been diluted and whitewashed over the years. Eerily poignant today:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Rocking out at the Lincoln Memorial on a bright winter day with Stevie Wonder, Usher and Shakira.

Stevie Wonder, transcendent spirit, consummate muse, transmits his Innervision, a chance to move to “Higher Ground” on the stage at the Lincoln Memorial. The hallowed ground where Marian Anderson sang in 1939 after being barred from Constitution Hall and where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Stevie on objective optimism.Being optimistic doesn't come by just being there. You've got to see both sides of it so I think I'm pretty objective. Obviously, I know the other side of the coin. I know there are haters, but I think that hating is unacceptable if we want to move forward. We have to find a common goal and a common bond. I think that we can.”

Obama responding to a Rolling Stone interview question asking him to identify his musical heroes. "If I had one, it would have to be Stevie Wonder.”

An ebullient crowd. Shaking off the oppressive mantle of fear, embracing the audacity of hope.

Even though times are hard and unimaginable damage has been done, we take this moment to celebrate together the beginning of a new day. In the open air in a place prepared by a common narrative, we celebrate how far we’ve come together and we gather up our strength for the journey ahead.

Yes we do

Yes we do

Yes we do.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Going to the Radio City Christmas Show was a family tradition when I was growing up. Each year about this time, we would faithfully take 3 subways from the South Bronx where we lived to Radio City Music Hall in Rockefeller Center. We usually arrived early so we could find seats close to the stage. Mitten clad. Bundled from head to toe. Watching our breath crystallize in the frosty air. We waited eagerly on line with all the other families. Lines in NY are usually long but surprisingly orderly… for the most part. Invariably, someone at this much anticipated event would discover a long lost aunt at the head of the queue 15 minutes to show time. New Yorkers are anything but na├»ve. Everyone knew what was going on but overlooked the peccadillo because after all, it was Christmas. If we were lucky, the chestnut vendor would roll his cart up the street. We would pry off a mitten and warm our fingers against the steamy bag. Crack open the compliant casing rodent style to get to the coveted morsel.

The show was spectacular. Pure magic. Sitting in the front row, we were mesmerized by the synchronized high kicks, the dazzling costumes, the “mighty Wurlitzer” organ pipes chiming stereophonically. The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers was a grand precision number. Meticulously choreographed, human phalanxes kaleidoscopically morphed into starbursts, then converged into a razor sharp line. The performance climaxed as a cannon set off a human chain of dominoes, each dancer collapsing into the one before her.

The Rockettes are not usually associated with “serious” dance. To dispel any misperceptions, here are some remarkable facts about the dance company. During the Christmas season, the group has performed five shows a day, seven days a week, for 75 years. Mark Franko, chief dance critic for the New York Times, described their work as the most “complete abstraction as it is possible for the human body to attain.”

When I heard the Rockettes were coming to the Mall of America, I suggested to my husband that we go to see them. We are not mall goers. In fact, we go out of our way to avoid these curious homogenized meccas of commerce. Curiously, this time, Chris offered no resistance. It was easy to find the dance site, since there was a healthy crowd gathering. The Rockettes were as glamorous as I remembered them to be. Luckily I had my camera. This time I would not leave the experience to memory.

I love candid shots of people. I’m pretty brazen about it. I eased myself through the barricades behind the security line and started clicking the shutter. Here are the results. I hope you enjoy the photos.

More to come soon on rituals and traditions, old and new.

With best wishes to everyone for a new year filled with peace, joy and inspiration.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


There is a crack, a crack in everything.

That's how the light gets in.

---Leonard Cohen

Young girl listening to music at Notre Dame