Light In Action

Is Violence our Religion?

What religion is most dominant in the world? Is Islam on the rise accompanied by its US shadow Islamaphobia? Is Christianity flying high with curving right wing? Is it atheism? Buddhism ? No. Truthfully, it’s the religion of violence: our belief that war (with Afghanistan… Japan… Iran… or___ _blank) will bring peace. A belief, worldwide as far as I can see, that military strength brings security. Even Quakers succumb to it. “Be tough.” “Get the upper hand.”

I first understood this idea from Walter Wink, who died last year. He explains how Redemptive Violence is the dominant religion in our society. Redemptive Violence is the belief that when someone offends us, violence towards them is appropriate and can heal the victim. How are we taught that violence saves us?

Most of us watched TV starting at a young age. Cartoons and sit-coms are quite violent. The average child who has had 40,000 hours of screen time by age 17, has viewed some 15,000 murders. What congregation can hold a candle to that inculcation into the Dominant religion. No wonder so many of our 17 year olds easily register for the military. Now we have MP3 and dramas that sell violence as pleasurable and entertaining. They want to fight villains like Darth Vadar and Popeye.

Everyone remembers Popeye the sailorman? Wink reveals the plot, “In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a screaming and kicking Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oyl, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth. Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honor Olive Oyl’s humanity, and repeated pummellings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.”

So the US drones on a similar trajectory as Popeye (or are we Bluto?). We conquer Germany, and then fascism rises its head again. We fight Al Queda in one country and then invade another country endlessly fighting around the world like Popeye from one episode to another. We appear to vanquish the enemy, but violence never brings us peace. It’s delusionary. Wink again, “Our origins are divine, since we are made from a god, but…We are the outcome of deicide.” Even our religion, the death penalty of Jesus, is infused with murder. This Domination Religion is found everywhere.

How is it that this Autumn seems so gorgeous in the midst of living Under Domination? By Domination system I don’t mean exactly apartheid regime. It’s a more subtle form of mind occupation, it’s the ocean of violence and the acceptance of violence all around. It’s bittersweet to see such beauty in the world of Domination. The wind tussles a yellow leaf back and forth over the river’s edge. A seagull soars from a bridgepost and cuts spirals in the sky. Wildlife seems so tame to me after absorbing the Pillars of Violence humans live and breathe. We are savage in our violence. The wind moans through the copse of trees, and despite the stiff breeze the yellow and red-tipped leaves hold onto the dancing branches for dear life.

“I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.” G Fox 1680s

 


Divine Chemistry

 

In high school I avoided chemistry as much as I refused to eat kale. But most teens don’t understand what’s good for them. I guess I couldn’t get past the chemistry of Scarlett and Rhett. What I never knew was how the falling leaves is all about chemistry. The glamour, God’s beauty pageant displayed by trees, is all about dyeing leaves.

We deal with chemicals all the time: Zoloft; Omega 3 s or is it Omega 9s? A friend of mine died attributing some of it to being exposed to Agent Orange in the US against Vietnamese war. Some chemistries we love. One is the changing of the chlorophyll in our trees each fall. My friends parade around the open market with bright scarves tucked under their hair; my son flips across Harvard Square the street on his skateboard. At the end of October we garnish our bodies with body paint and wear outlandish costumes. At the end of winter we have Mardi Gras and carnivals sprayed with sequence and sparklers.

But none of this awes our soul as much as the beauty of a gum tree or maple in the fall as the leaves change. Did you ever learn how the colors change? Chlorophyll uses summer sunlight to manufacture sugars to eat. Chlorophyll is green, and works with 2 other pigments in nature’s palette. The leaves have carotenoids which produce yellow and orange. Carotenoids are also found in carrots, corn, daffodils and buttercups. Anthocyanins are the reds and live in the watery liquid of leaf cells. Anthocyanins inhabit red grapes, plums, blueberries, strawberries, etc.

Rainfall, temperature and food supply can influence the multi-colored fanfare. But the color change is mainly dictated by the increasing length of night. As night grows longer and cooler, the biochemistry begins. The veins that carry fluids into the leaf gradually close off and a layer of cells form at the base of the leaf. The clogged vein traps sugars in the leaf and anthocyanins produce. With warm days and crisp (not freezing) nights, the most exhilarating colors emerge. During sunny days lots of sugars are produced in the leaf, but the closing of the vien prevent the sugars from moving out. Once the cells form a wall, separation is complete. The anthocyanins can’t escape, tissues that connect to the branch are sealed, and the leaf is ready to fall.

And to think that it’s all due to chemistry. If I were the leaf, would I be so happy with my fate? Would I primp and puff out my anthocyanin each fall? Nay. I’d probably be like my teenage self in complete protest each year. “I don’t want to give all my sugar to the tree every year. Why do I have to fall to the ground and replenish the forest floor.”

Even now, I try to be a follower of nonviolence. That means I’m willing to sacrifice my individuality for the benefit of the whole. It may seem for a time that my leaf is getting all the acclaim. I’ve lots of sugars stored in me that are walled off from the tree. But I won’t last long if I’m cut off. Without connection I fall. I think the lives of glamorous rich, Christy Walton (wal-mart) or Kamprad (Ikea) are like shining anthocyanin. As the nights get cold, even the brightest leaf falls.

How can I live gracefully, willing to contribute, not taking offense if my sugars are walled off earlier than others? Biochemistry doesn’t explain everything. I’m still stretching as I live and live beside others. Nurturing a human life seems more complicated than a flashing bright leaf tumbling down. But then, what do I know about Divine Chemistry?

 


Witch New Year?

Halloween is first seen in the 1500s as a Scottish version of All-Hallows-Evening. Centuries before that, the Celtics called the festival Samhain, a term meaning ‘summer’s end.’ Christians began observing All Saints’ Day on November 1 in 837. By the 1100s many believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints Day. To avoid being recognized by a wandering soul who might visit you the day before November 1st, Christians could wear masks and costumes for disguise. In Ireland the turnip was carved into a face at Samhain to remember the souls that died that year. Here in New England the Puritans (and Quakers) took no part in these rites; not until the Irish/Scottish immigrations in 1800s did Halloween become assimilated into society.

The burning of witches happened from the 1300’s up until the end of the 1600’s. Anywhere from one million to 9 million people were executed, starting in Germany but spreading in ferocity all over Europe west to the British Islands and south to Italy. 85% of the people murdered, usually burned at the stake, were women: old women, mothers and young girls. 900 were destroyed in a year in Wertzberg, Germany. 400 were put to death in one day in the town of Toulouse. How did this mass execution explode beyond control--even gaining in virulence well into the “Age of Reason?”

The witch-hunts were campaigns organized and legalized by Protestants, Catholics and state governments. The unquestioned authority, Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of Witches, was written in 1484 by 2 priests, Rev. Kramer and Sprenger. For three centuries this book on demonology sat on every judge’s desk to guide their ‘legal’ rulings.

Witches, according to the Catholic priests in the Malleus Maleficarum had a pact with the devil. Women accused of witchcraft were examined (usually under torture) for 3 crimes.

1. Sexual impurity: Has she engaged in any unusual sexual acts? Has she ‘enticed’ any men into adultery? Does she control her own reproductive organs? Is she choosing not to have children? Even without any outward action, is she a threat to men?

2. Power to influence health: Does she possess any medical skills in herbal remedies, in being a midwife, or try to influence any villagers’ health when they are ill?

3. Grassroots organizers: Are they seen as leaders of the people although they hold no power?

The Church associated women with sex, and all pleasure in sex was condemned, because it could only come from the devil. Witches were accused of giving contraceptive aid:

Now there are, seven methods by which they infect. . .1., by inclining the minds of men to inordinate passion; 2., by obstructing their generative force; 3., by changing men into beasts by their magic act; 4., by procuring abortion; 5, by offering children to the devils. . .

The Malleus again declares, “When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.” And finally, “All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in women is insatiable. . .And blessed by the Highest Who has so far preserved the male sex from so great a crime…”

The wise women, or witches, had a host of remedies which had been tested by years, even centuries of use. Many herbal remedies developed by witches are used today by pharmacologists: pain-killers, digestive aids, anti-spasmodics. The healer’s methods were as great a threat to the Church as her results, for she relied on her senses not on doctrine, she believed in trial and error, cause and effect. She was an empiricist. Even respected healers must die: in 1563 the distinction between a bad witch and a good witch was dropped and they all were publicly executed.

Interesting how today we are still fascinated by warlocks and witches. Wicca is an accepted religion but few people know about it. Some interesting facts are that the Wiccan New Year begins on October 31st; this date is the half-way point between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. In the USA about 770,00 witches or pagans exist, 70% of them female and 70% of them under 45 years old.

Currently in US history we have our own witchhunts. Blacks are imprisoned, the death penalty is spreading, the pharmacies and HMO’s control who receives medicine. “Those who are ignorant of their history are doomed to repeat it.”

Who are the witches?

Where do they come from?

Maybe your great-great grandmother was one.

Witches are wise, wise women they say.

There’s a little witch in every women today.

California folksong


Poems for a Forecast

WINTER

Cold, spiny.

Wind that sucks the sap from your skin

The sky itself is frozen blue

Yet i am safe while i can light one soft candle

My mind can burrow further than the cold can freeze

My eye can dance on the ice even when i dare not open the door.

For the strength of God rests in seeing beauty even as the last leaf is blown away from the trembling tree.

 

Alabama Thunder Storm

What is my work today?

Sew together peanuts and corn that cling to the palate;

Cup my hands bowl-like to dowse in clean water;

See the first oily leaves of bean sprouts in the garden.

Do they portend a bright future?

 

I mend my heart by giving to others.

No disaster can ramrod my hand which I stitch to yours.

The storm, by nature, is quick in its fury.

Hope, by nature is weak. The mangrove trees dip their leaves in watery soup.

Storm after storm their roots shoot up and around, ebbing and rising above fragility.

 

The work is easy even as my feet are covered in mud.

What I give is not haphazard, but a rare epiphyte

Even the blind one knows her work is to notice.


Forgiveness after Murder

Nancy & Diana exude compassion

Kim Odom is a friend who lost her 13-year-old son because of a drive by killing. She speaks openly about the pain and need for forgiveness in order to help others.

She, and a group called Mothers for Justice and Equality are looking at how do you offer curricula to our youth to prevent violence, inner and outer.  Odom believes each person, saints and murderers, are worthy. “It’s about the value of life, not just about stopping the killing.” Bullying can lead to arson; targeted abuse can lead to suicide.  Odom wants to take a peacebuilding curriculum with juvenile offenders to help teenagers before incarceration. She is heaven-bent on changing the cradle to prison pipeline talked about in The New Jim Crow (the cradle to college pipeline.)

Our cities are killing fields. US foreign wars and increasing poverty claims many lives. But in the Boston area these neighborhood murders are preventable. In 2010 in Massachusetts 48 people were killed because of family violence. That same year 72 lives were claimed on the streets of Boston. 2011 was less of a bloodbath: 63 street murders and 27 family killings. The pain for survivors like Kim and the Odom family is immense.  So many of our resources are overtasked:  police, court system, hospitals, detective units, safety officers, public health all at cost to our communities.

“After he [son Steven] was killed I was so depressed I couldn’t leave the house.” After 2 days of seclusion some neighbors and friends had a candle-light vigil at the Odom house. With the love surrounding her, she couldn’t hide. After many prayer meetings, Kim Odom gained perspective. “I was determined…I didn’t want anyone retaliating. God is in the midst of us. Steven’s death will not be in vain. God will redeem the pain, the tragedy, and our sacrifice. Ephesians 4 says, ‘In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

How to endure the darkness, when the sky
Is totally eclipsed by evil, when
Foul grinning Chaos spreads its reign again
And all good things in senseless ruin lie.
Must we be hard as stone?  It wears to dust.
As stiff as oaks?  But they untimely break.
As pitiless as steel?  It turns to rust,
And time from Pyramids will ruins make.
In violence, decay, starvation, need,
What can endure?  Only the Living Seed.  (K. Boulding)

After losing your child to a speechless crime, grief comes in many shades, all of them tinted with anger. Outside her house after Steven was killed, lots of objects in memory came to the place where blood was spilled. There was a mound of teddy bears with candles and cards and photos. It resembled a gravesite. Friends covered it with plastic when it rained. Then it appeared ghastly, like Steven’s body was covered up right there. “It was too much for me to bear the site of what that mound represented. I expressed to others the need to take it down. We had a tree planted in that spot to replace the stain of death with a symbol of life.”

Then Kim tells me about what she calls the ‘algebra of prayer.’ On one side, the first side is praying for the victims, the family, the innocent ones. But when you pray for that side you can’t complete the formula without considering the other side. With discipline and struggle Kim wants to pray as much for the offender, his (or her) family and those that enabled the act. Kim works to pray equally on both sides. The answer to her algebra comes out as peace.


For-Give-ing to Whom?

There’s 3 types of forgiving. The first type comes like a sharp pebble in your shoe. Usually I wiggle it around a bit, I tap my shoe trying to shift the stone so I doesn’t poke me. This pebble is when I’ve said something unkind, or maybe when I’ve ignored someone who wanted my time. These small transgressions happen every day. If cooperation sets the stage for raising children, forgiveness is the engine that allows for cooperation. We actually forgive our children everyday, several times a day-- when they break things, keep us awake, make us late, interrupt an important phone call, lie to us, etc. Parents should take a lot of credit. Every parent knows about for-give-ness, whether they apologize or not. We forgive so we can start afresh, we turn our mindset around, so as to make room for love. We forgive so as to love even when we sacrifice plenty.

A second type of forgiveness that’s demanded of me is when I cheat and cause damage even to dear friends. I jumped ahead of an acquaintance in line so they didn’t get those Red Sox tickets. I lied. I gave away my extra desk, and kept the best one for myself. I borrowed without asking permission. As a mother I trespassed into my teenager’s room to sniff out any contraband. I refrained from telling you what I knew. I hurt you. So I ask for forgiveness.Read more


Four deaths and a Bird

The hot summer gusts bow to a rain squall. A hard rain pours into the ground and the air is sharp and ivory. A bluebird flickers among the cedar tree out my window. His eye like a wet stone, fixes on a reality I cannot know. Boston has seen humid days, but the sultry weather has thunder-headed into a storm. Three women were killed in Dorchester this week: Genevieve Philip, 22, Kirsten Lartey, 22 and Sharrice Perkins, 22. Another man Raschad Lesley-Barnes, 24 was killed on Aug 15th at 2 pm outside Dudley Square library. Four deaths in 4 days.

On Sunday Aug 12 four girlfriends were driving together, in a red sedan after a picnic in Franklin Park. At 10:30 they were dropping Sharrice off at her house in Dorchester when a series of shots killed three of the four women.

Kirsten had graduated from St. Johns College and  died on the same day as her father’s birthday, August 12th, 2012. Agabus Lartey, pastor of the Family Life Fellowship church, lost his daughter on his 55th birthday; he lost his wife to cancer in 2010. He said. “This is purely animalistic behavior. This is not human.” Genevieve Philip had her own beauty salon business and was the mother of a 5 year old girl. Genevieve’s mother said, “We’ve just told [the girl] that her mother will be at the hospital for a very long time.”Read more