Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"I was in prison and you came to me"

Ever since I read this in the New York Times Magazine, two weeks ago, I have not been able to get it out of my mind:
One evening we were sitting in Highsmith’s basement apartment when the phone rang. It was Alphonso Prater, another interrupter. The two had a reunion of sorts when they joined CeaseFire; they shared a cell in the county jail 34 years ago. Prater’s voice is so raspy it sounds as if he has gravel in his throat. He told me that he became permanently hoarse after a long stint in segregation in prison; he had to shout to talk with others.
Imagine needing to talk with other humans so badly that your voice is wrecked for life. "Segregation" sounds at once so sanitized (instead of "solitary confinement"), and at the same time so historical (racial segregation), that it doesn't quite fit. But I get what it means. This man felt so alone and did whatever he could to make contact with others, to stay sane.

I got to the NYT Magazine article via the PBS site about their AMAZING documentary, The Interrupters. I recommend this movie very highly.

As my long-time readers will know, I became radicalized a few years ago by an interview on Fresh Air with Dr William Schwab about gun violence in Philadelphia. I felt like I had to do SOMETHING, and I started on a path.

I was already political, but I am trying to turn the anguish that I feel when I hear these stories into some kind of action, instead of ignoring it. There is a good link here on the Interrupters site about How we ignore the long-term effects of violence on children, adults and our communities.

I think part of the action, sometimes, is as simple (not easy) as telling or hearing the story. In another part of the Interrupters site, there is a display of the shrines for the deceased. I am always attracted to the shrines because of all the religious art and symbolism that is there - funerary art styles endure through time - and these shrines tell stories. We can hear the voices:

The interactive shrine sequence was the brainchild of the film’s outreach coordinator Anton Seals, who grew up in the south side of Chicago. ”I was thinking about all of the different friends I’d lost over the 38 years of my life,” he said. “People usually forget that these people had lives, that they’re humans, not just victims.” He sees the project as an opportunity to give people an outlet for self-expression, and to perhaps even spur them to action, such as learning more about violence or organizing politically.

Maybe the best way for me to help, to Do Something, is to LISTEN to the stories, HEAR the voices. The people enduring this violence and pain are humans suffering "...they're humans, not just victims." This helps keeps me focused on what I can DO:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 'The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:35-46
Is it enough? I don't know. But if feels less overwhelming if I think of the concrete actions I can take, and stay "right sized." I can welcome a stranger, and I can hear their story. That is how I can seize the moment, today.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent 2012

Update on my Lenten plan:

I am going to try a "Facebook Fast." We'll see if I can do it. So far, in the early hours of Lent, I've upped my Twitter reading.

As my first reflection on my Lenten prompt, "What prevents you from seizing the moment?" I've been thinking about distractions. I've been noticing for the past few months that my own mental distractions get in the way of really focusing on the important stuff: being present in the moment.

That was part of what clicked for me late yesterday afternoon, while I was perusing Facebook. I was distracting myself with political argy-bargy. And what that does is it makes me tired. It makes me not want to fight against what I see as oppression-in-the-making. In this case it makes me feel helpless. Which I am not. And that's what saps my ability to seize the day: the feeling of helplessness.

It was this story that pushed me over the edge, about the IN state rep who wanted to denounce the Girl Scouts of America (who are celebrating their 100 year anniversary in 2012). [my emphasis where added below]

In his e-mail, Morris said he had done "a small amount of web-based research" and had concluded the Girl Scouts was linked to Planned Parenthoodsomething both the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood deny.

Morris said that liberal Girl Scout leaders "indoctrinate" girls with Planned Parenthood principles and that the Scouts tout 50 role models, all but three of whom he said are "feminists, lesbians or Communists."

....And when time came for the House to adjourn, he [rep Bosma, who supports the Girl Scouts] asked all lawmakers who had been Girl Scouts — and seemingly every female legislator stood — to give the daily motion to adjourn.

As he left the House, Bosma was dismissive of the controversy: "I've been to the carnival before, and you don't walk in to every sideshow tent."

Do you see a connection there? Girl Scouts is a benevolent service organization whose primary focus is on helping girls to achieve their maximum potential, to become the best* citizens and contributors to society that they can possibly be. Is it any wonder that the women leaders in our country were girl scouts? Is there a problem with women being leaders???? I was a Girl Scout, my daughters are involved in Girl Scouts, and will not be distracted by this sideshow (despite the length of this post which may prove otherwise!).

I have maintained my Facebook Fast for a few hours, and hope to continue it! We'll see what I am able to accomplish during the time I would have spent there.

* The Girl Scout Law

I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Mardi Gras - Lent Starts Tomorrow

Happy Mardi Gras, All! "Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!"

It's that time of year again, Lent starts tomorrow. As wikipedia says,
There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigour during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbour). Today, some people give up a vice of theirs, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.

This year, these are the things I plan to incorporate into my Lenten Practice:

I plan to work on art projects. I have started an "icon" that I need to finish, so maybe this Lent is the time to do it. I have decided that when I get inspired to do an icon, or other piece of religious art, I should DO IT. And not be afraid of trying. [If I actually complete something I will be sure to post it here!]

During Lent two years ago, I tried an idea featured on SoulPancake: to create a piece of art that reflected something I was grappling with. You can see the result here! I had No Idea back then how prescient that experience would be. And it has changed my life. [No exaggeration!]

So, I'm going back to the same well again this Lent, and I'm going to try this prompt, "What prevents you from seizing the moment?" I don't plan to blog about this every day of Lent (Heaven Forfend!), but I'm going to try to make a practice of looking at it.

I may also try to work my way through the Psalms again, though I will be participating in a Lenten Bible study at my church, so maybe that's enough Bible for me. :) Link
Our Sunday School class is going to make sandwiches for our weekend Soup Kitchen to give to the homeless during Lent.

I am also going to put aside some money each week to help a new friend fund her service work in Southern Sudan. She is a nurse who will be helping out in a rural clinic, providing basic health care.

It looks like a lot when I write it out like that! May you have a Happy Mardi Gras, and an inspirational Lent.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

5 Years of Blogging!

Hi Everybody! Today marks the 5th anniversary of this blog. AMAZING!

It's hard to believe. I feel like I have less and less time to blog, but I still love this thing, and it helps me to keep posting.

Thank you for reading, I appreciate it very much.