Friday, November 19, 2004

Opinions on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is coming, and for the first time in my adult life, I am hosting the big Turkey meal. There’s one problem: I don’t like turkey. (I like duck). I know I will receive lots of opinionated e-mails for saying this, but I’m a brave lady, and right this moment, there is no one in my sight. Therefore, I have the illusion that I can say whatever I want with impunity. So here goes: Turkey is pathetically inadequate compared to any other variety of poultry (especially duck.) It’s practically all white meat, and its legs and wings are bizarrely gigantic. In order to keep it from being dry, one has to baste it all morning or afternoon long. You have to put the rack in your oven down to the bottom and you can’t cook much of anything else in there while your turkey roasts. And what if it’s underdone by mealtime? Did I mention I have a phobia of food not being ready on time when throwing a dinner party? Did I mention my phobia of having people judge my housecleaning/cooking/hostessing skills in general? Especially my mother and assorted female relatives?

The good friends I turn to for advice when it looks likely that I might start making bad decisions said this: “Don’t try to please everyone at Thanksgiving. Everyone has his or her own favorite traditions from childhood. You will not be able to replicate them all. Just do your best and make sure the food is fresh and not burned. Try to have fun. And don’t overwhelm yourself.”

So what did I do? I sent out a group e-mail to my family (fourteen of them, going on fifteen—as of this writing Baby November is still not born). Among the many questions I asked was “When should we have the meal? Lunch or dinner?” Those family members who are parents of young children (my sisters and brothers-in-law) opted for noon; it’s too much of a hassle for them to try to eat a fancy meal at any time approaching bed time (5:30-midnight, in the case of Amelia, Emmett and Reese). But my parents said they wanted the meal at dinnertime. They said a lunchtime meal would knock them out and they wouldn’t have the energy for touch football, our family tradition (naturally).

I also foolishly mentioned my aversion to turkey in the family newsletter (“Why do people even bother with the whole buy/freeze/thaw/cook for twelve hours nightmare? Can’t we just pick the frozen bits out of the turkey pot pie?”) And received mostly agreeable feedback and votes for the much tastier and easier to cook duck, which I had proposed as the alternative. “Hooray for duck!” wrote one family member. “A much better national bird! Although both birds resemble our president: he IS a turkey and he ducks all the issues!”

However, one family member who shall remain nameless and unidentifiable said--poignantly but annoyingly--“if it’s not a horrible imposition, I’m a huge fan of a small, but whole turkey-one of my traditions is hacking off a leg and eating it.”

This one lone sentence sent me into a tailspin of despair and rampant people pleasing. For now I will have to serve turkey AND what Tom has taken to calling “duckey.” In the middle of the night, I am tormented by visions of me on Thanksgiving morning, basting, sweating, hacking at poultry, the duck undercooked, the turkey overcooked—or vice versa. And what about the apple pie? And the chocolate coffee cheesecake? And the garlic mashed potatoes for my parents but garlic free mashed potatoes for Katryna? And the green beans with almonds for Dave but almond free green beans for Abigail? And should there be a paper turkey centerpiece? Tom wants cranberry sauce in a can and to make sure that the can lines are clearly visible. Wait-- shouldn’t we acknowledge the genocide of the Indians at this point in time? And what about the Electoral College? Should it be abolished or not? My mother says yes, my sister Abigail says no. They are both brilliant students and teachers of US History, and if we don’t take this particular opportunity to have them each debate the merits of the system, we will have lost some crucial porthole into The Next Phase of our Republic. Why oh why did I ask anyone what they wanted? Why did I have to make this a democracy when a dictatorship has served hostesses of Thanksgiving perfectly well for almost four hundred years? Did the Indians ask the pilgrims if they liked corn pudding?

In the middle of the night, these thoughts swirl through my poor tired mind, alongside visions of Iran going nuclear, Condaleeza Rice taking over Colin Powell’s job, Tom DeLay getting away with criminal acts and poor John Kerry eating Chinese take out in his Senate office because he’s too ashamed and depressed to join his colleagues at the Capitol Hill luncheon. In the middle of the night, I carry on arguments with people who call themselves Christians and also voted for Bush. I point to all the Bible passages that support my side. I show them images of the powerless and downtrodden and beg them to have mercy. I dream of powerful men becoming impotent and crumbling into the arms of a loving God. I get it that we cannot come to God with our minds. It’s got to be our hearts. And no one can drag us there. I’m not even sure it’s a choice.

If my family can’t even agree on a time to have the Thanksgiving meal, what hope is there for peace for the world?

One of my favorite quotations of all time is by A.J. Muste, the great activist for peace in the 20th Century. He said, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” Peace is a lot harder than the alternatives. Staying with people you disagree with is one of the most difficult things to do, and as history marches on, the whole notion of staying seems to become less and less appealing. Isn’t that one of the messages of 1620 and The New World? If you don’t like the people you’re with, sail across the ocean and found a colony. Or get in a covered wagon and ride across the plains, found a homestead. If you don’t like your relatives, go to a spa for the holidays. If you don’t get along with your partner anymore, move out, move on.

Are we letting our compromising muscles atrophy? When do we acquiesce and cook two different birds? When do we say, instead, “I’m sorry. I know you’ll be disappointed, but it’s going to be duck instead of turkey.” I am curious about this process, and something convinces me that arriving at some answers in myself is the route to arriving at the answers for the greater community.

A few days after the election, a group of us gathered for potluck, singing and debriefing about the way things went down on November second. We sat in a circle and shared war stories (funny that we call them that, isn’t it.) One person had been a part of a program that brought the conversation across party lines, asking questions instead of arguing. And it occurred to me that the old truth that you can’t change anyone—they have to change themselves—might hold true for the political discussions as well. In my whole life of debating and arguing (the local pastime where I grew up, inside the Beltway of Washington DC) I have never once, in all my brilliance and determination and terrier-like adhesion to pet issues, EVER convinced anyone to believe what I believe. And the same holds true for me—no one has EVER been able to convince me of anything through intellectual arguments. The only time I’ve ever changed my own mind about some issue is when I’ve been asked questions, gently, when the questioner is full of non judgmental curiosity. As in, “What’s wrong with turkey? What if you got it pre cooked?”
“Hmm,” I would say, “That’s okay then. In fact, that’s a great idea.”

To counteract the swirling thoughts and the insomnia, Tom and I are hosting a project called Journaling For Peace. It will be an eight week course starting with a Day of Peace at our house in Northampton, where we will practice talking and writing and thinking from our own centers, our own hearts. Where we practice listening. Tom’s been trained as a mediator, a practice that’s all about finding the space in your self where compromise is possible, poking around at all the firmly held beliefs to see if there’s a little wiggle room. For instance, you might be passionately pro choice but not chose to have an abortion yourself, when the time came. Or you might be passionately pro life but rethink the matter when your sister’s life is threatened by a pregnancy. You might really like duck a lot, but if faced with the task of cooking it yourself on Thanksgiving morning versus reading the New York Times, you might decide turkey would be just fine after all. You get to see which is your attachment to essential truths and which is your attachment to being right. Those are rarely the same thing.

What if, instead of telling my conservative friend who thinks the Bible is the literal word of God and that George W. Bush has been chosen by God to save us from the scourge of Satan in the person of Saddam Hussein—what if instead of telling that person, gently but firmly that he is irrational and wrong, what if instead of that, I started to ask questions: “Why? Oh. Interesting. Tell me more.” What if I sat for a half an hour and without making rude faces or rolling my eyes, actually listened, as if I were listening to a friend whom I loved, telling me she really thought the Bay City Rollers were a better band than the Beatles? At the age of seventeen, I would have divorced this friend. At thirty-seven, I can forgive her ignorance and poor taste. What if I treated my Republican friend the same way? (Without my characteristic patronizing superiority—which is my gift.) Would the world really end if I let him keep believing his delusion? Probably not. And maybe he would, after getting to talk all he wanted without interruption, for half an hour, maybe he would return the favor and start asking me some questions. Either way, I would change. Either way, I would get to have my tight fist opened and begin to acknowledge that perhaps I might not have all the answers.

It’s so hard to know when to quite kicking and screaming about this election. Some days I want to give up, shrug my shoulders, say, “I lived through Reagan, I can live through Bush II,” and delete all the messages in my in box. Some days I want to weep about Tom DeLay getting away with his crimes against Democracy. Almost every day I feel powerless. Was there voter fraud? If there were, would I feel any better? One friend says the idea that the Republicans stole this election is comforting because then they’re not really in the majority. Another friend says the opposite: “Face it, we’re in the minority. I’m moving to Toronto where people think like me.”

What I’m hoping to get out of the eight week course, Journaling for Peace, is a place within me where I can rest in the knowledge that peace is possible. That change is possible. As that old hymn goes, “Let there be peace on earth and let peace begin with me.”

At the Cheer Up Post 11/2 party, our friend, Hal, read us this article by Michael Ventura from the Austin Chronicle last week: “Don't demonize people who disagree with you. That's how Bush and Cheney behave. Behavior is more important than belief. What does belief matter, if your behavior apes your enemy's? Behavior shapes reality. Belief merely justifies reality. Demonization creates demons. Your enemies are as human as you are. If you treat them that way, the outcome may surprise you.”

I want to learn how to shape reality through my behavior. What better use of my time is there? And what better way of practicing Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Musings Post 9/11/01

I am putting together a curriculum for an on line class called Journaling for Peace. After the Great Computer Crash of October Oh Four, I had to do some archeology of my own, sifting through old CDs of burned information to see what remained of my previous thoughts. I came across this peace, which seemed relevant.

Written October 2001:

I found it physically impossible to watch more than about three minutes of TV a day for the past few weeks. I think the human brain is not equipped to handle the information we were bombarded with day after day, or more like hour after hour. Yet like others, I found it strangely compelling, as if the watching of it would render it unreal, like the footage of Independence Day I'd thought it was when I first saw it. When I heard that the footage of the Palestinian kids dancing in the street that was shown ad nauseum on CNN was actually taken in 1991, I gave up on the commercial media. Since then, I’ve gleaned almost all of my information via the internet.

Dar pointed out to me that we really have to see the reaction to Sept. 11 as a victory for our own increased understanding of the complexities of cultures, religions, those who do things differently from the “traditional American family.” We have a new awareness that we CAN’T use violence to end violence. We now understand that the people of Asia are people we or our good friends have visited, lived with, learned from. That so many of us received countless versions of a petition awakening us to the horrors inflicted on Afghani women by the Taliban. We already knew that bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age, as some Bush officials suggested in those first terrifying hours after the bombings would only shuffle the rubble around.

Like many people, I am angry. Sometimes it’s hard to know with whom I am angry. Sometimes I’m angry with the unknown terrorists and sometimes I’m angry with the USA for being so rich and careless and cruel to the rest of the world. When something like this happens; when one is hurt, one gets angry. That’s a natural reaction.

I am a pacifist. And I think one of the greatest mistakes of the pacifist movement had made is to show a face of anger towards this country, its government, its people. It is easy to dismiss me when I am so angry that my face is contorted. It's easy to dismiss me when I’m chanting slogans. It’s easy to dismiss me if I look like a freak. It’s much harder to dismiss calm, reasoned individuals who have gathered together to gently suggest-or even insist on-peace.

We are the luckiest people on earth to be born to this land of plenty and opportunity. I believe it’s our responsibility to share our good fortune with each other and the rest of the world’s population.

I can’t believe it’s God’s will that thousands of people died. I can’t believe it’s God’s will that Israel should be covered in blood. The acts on Sept. 11 were the acts of people who believed they were doing God’s will. Theological questions are at the center of this. Once again, I am reminded that every issue and question at its core is a spiritual issue or question.

We should respond carefully and thoughtfully. It is not effective to kill a mosquito with an AKG. What is the point of bombing a country where the women are so disempowered they are not even allowed to show their noses? We should pray for our leaders and we should pray for the movement that sent these terrorists. We are all one. I certainly didn’t vote for George W. Bush, and I am no fan of his. But if he brings peace—true peace—-no one will be more grateful or more supportive than I.

Like all of you, I've been shocked and depressed and confused. But what's true for me always is true for me today. True North is smiling at people I pass on the street, keeping in touch with my family and friends, being grateful for the beautiful cloudbank over the Connecticut river at 7am, walking my dog through the cornfields down by the river and watching her hop over the squash vines. Rubbing her ears even if I'm so stressed that I see her innocent ignorant puppiness as irritating rather than winsome. Fearing the worst will not make your last days on earth happy ones. Not that these are the last days on earth, but if they were to be, I'd rather spend them laughing and dancing than frozen in fetal position in my closet. The Dalai Lama said:

"The Chinese took my homeland, burned our monasteries and killed our families. Am I to let them take my happiness and serenity too?"

Which isn't to say that I am taking my own advice (as usual). I am fearful as the next one. Katryna and I have been convinced that no one is ever going to come out and see live music ever again and that we will starve and Amelia will have to eat grasshoppers. But ke garne as they say in Nepal: what can you do? You can make a record. You can take the golden opportunity handed to you by the gods and by Rounder Records to put something down on shiny CD to remember this time in your life. You can keep a journal and hope that some of it makes sense so you can read the not-too-personal portions of it aloud to your descendants (assuming once again that the world isn’t going to end, that is). You can laugh when your sister sticks her tongue out sideways, points her knee in the direction of the door and pretends to hold a baton horizontally and then makes like Fred Flintstone into the vocal booth at the studio. You can rejoice as the four month old baby smiles her curly grin at everyone she encounters, not knowing anything at all about airplanes, terrorists, diets, the stock market, smart bombs or even diplomacy. She just knows that it feels good to be held and kissed; that it’s really fun to roll over even though it requires a lot of effort and grunting, and that every day has something so fascinating that the most compelling thing to do is just to watch it go by, and when you get the chance, reach out your hand and try to touch it.

"We must be the change we want to see in the world."-Gandhi

"The practice of peace and reconciliation is the most vital and artistic of human activities."-Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

America: She's Not Half Bad

On November second, I was joyfully optimistic. I wore my Red Sox cap all day and said, "God is smiling down upon Massachusetts." I said, "We're going to win!" and I believed it. I was ignoring the polls and counting on the fresh faced, passionate young voters I have encountered all over the country in the past four years. I was elated by the surge of interest in Democracy.

Tom got up at 5:30am to drive up to New Hampshire and volunteer for the Kerry campaign, standing with fellow Democrats in intersections with pro Kerry placards. A retired vet with a scraggly beard watched Tom and the other volunteers, limped into a nearby McDonald's and came back with styrofoam cups of coffee for all of them.

The other thing I was saying yesterday was, "No matter what, about fifty percent of the country is going to wake up broken hearted tomorrow." I was saying this to try to remember that even though it looks like we are a nation of red vs blue, Republican vs Democrat, insane religious fanatics vs thoughtful generous people, we are really all one. We really are; every piece of wisdom I’ve picked up over the years, from any and all philosophical or religious traditions, or even good old fashioned Yankee common sense tells me that.

Almost fifty percent of the electorate voted for John Kerry. He got 252 electoral college points and some fifty million votes. Heck, twenty five percent of the state of Utah voted for him! I'll go with that! So even though today I felt so sad and angry and fearful that it was difficult to pick up a pen, difficult to put on a smile, I take solace in some things.

I take solace in the fact that in a wartime election, in a climate of intense (partially manipulated) fear, the Republican Smear Machine only just barely worked against our sensible candidate.

I take solace in that fact that John Kerry will have a much more pleasant four years now. This war in Iraq is an abomination. We have invaded a country that never attacked u, nor was it planning to. We have killed over 100,000 Iraqis and lost over a thousand of our citizens and there is no end in sight. This war is illogical, irrational and morally repugnant. We need to find a swift road to peace. Had John Kerry been elected, he would have inherited this mess, plus rising gas prices, a bipolar stock market, and a deeply divided electorate. Not a picnic. My astrology teachers say that when predicting who will win an election, you look at the candidates birth charts. Whichever one has a bigger shit storm brewing in the heavens is the one who generally gets elected. Now, I do believe that had Kerry been elected, he would have helped raise respect for the USA internationally, been able to build coalitions, but then again, what nation at this point would want to volunteer its army to help us in Iraq? If Kerry had been elected, my anti-war friends and I would have had to yell and scream at Kerry to bring us to peace. Now we can just go back to bashing Bush, which we all have gotten pretty good at doing.

This is easy for me to say: I live in Massachusetts. My gay friends can get married. I don’t have even have a single Republican friend to irk me. And the truth is, I didn’t care a whit about Kerry’s well being; I just wanted him to be president, to ameliorate the global threat of nuclear terrorist, to make some sense out of the health care and social security messes, to balance the budget, to give a face of reason and justice to our country’s figurehead.

And I’ve been close to despair. We worked so hard! We did everything right this time! We raised so much money! We registered so many new voters! It’s tempting to throw it all in, cancel my subscription to the New York Times and go dig in my garden, ignoring the rest of the world. It’s also tempting to follow my good friend, Charrette, and convince Tom to move with me to New Zealand.

One of my all time favorite quotations is by Mahatma Gandhi:
"When in despair, I remember that all through history the way of
truth and love has always won. There have always been tyrants
and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in
the end they always fall." They always do. The mean part of me says, Bush will get his. Nyah nyah.

But at the same time, as angry and hateful as I feel, I also have to admit that this time around, I don't think Bush stole the election. He was properly elected, it seems. So I will acknowledge him as my president, something I haven't really done until now. I don't think he's evil. I think he's troubled and confused. I think he had a hard time as a kid, was probably dyslexic and struggled in school and has a chip on his shoulder against the intellectuals he came into contact with at Andover, Yale and Harvard. He's an alcoholic, who through his disease seems to have found a sort of spirituality. This I can understand and respect; after all, I am a Christian too.

But what I can't understand nor respect is the way the Republican Right has misappropriated Christianity. Both parties and the media seem to buy this lie: that Christians believe in fighting terrorists and Muslims, gays and women's reproductive rights; and that Democrats are Godless perverts who only eat French food.

My friend, folk singer Carrie Newcomer, a Quaker and an activist, told me this amazing fact last week during our Folk the Vote tour: The Bible has over 2000 references to the poor. If you were to cut out every time "the poor" are mentioned in the Bible, the book would literally fall apart. It would not hold together. By contrast, homosexuality is mentioned seven times. And never by Jesus. Jesus's ministry over and over again is about caring for those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder: prostitutes, adulterers, lepers, thieves and murderers. Oh, and the poor.

From the Book of John, chapter 21, verses 15-16:
Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

Jesus never once mentions homosexuality.

As a Christian, I believe Jesus died on the cross to show us that salvation is possible, and that it is ours if we only believe. But what that means to me is this: what Jesus proved was that if we can show up and actually be present even in the worst of circumstances, we will not die that particularly gruesome death of detachment that almost every human suffers, many many times a day. This includes tuning out, being in denial, sticking our heads in the sand. What Jesus did, and what He alone could do was to be absolutely present for his own life, his own experience. He said both, "My God, why have You forsaken me," and also "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." He was with his own anguish and he was with his murderers, with compassion.

WWJD about 9/11? The scriptures are clear: "if anyone hits you on your right cheek, turn and offer your left also." (Matthew 5:39).

In the restaurant in Lenox where Tom and I had lunch today, my fellow Bay Staters were furious.
"We should secede!” said one woman. “The People’s Republic of Massachusetts!”
Patty said, “Let’s get all of New England and the west coast to join Canada.”
Dave Hower said, “My friend Mike says the goal should be to get George W. to leave the Oval office in handcuffs.”

I say this. This is our country. Remember those 25% in Utah, the 48% in Virginia, who voted for Kerry. For that matter, think of the 41% in Massachusetts who voted for Bush. (Where are they, anyway? I never see them.) Even though we are in the minority, it’s just as much our country. Thank God for the Constitution which protects minority rights. There is much in the country to love, much to be proud of. So I plan to go out and buy a huge American flag and hang it from my flagpole. Then I will hang some Buddhist prayer flags along side it and get a huge lawn sign that reads: NO BLOOD FOR OIL. It’s my flag. It’s my country.

This is a time for stout hearts. This is a time for a long view. This is a time for courage, my friends. Invite a bunch of people over to your house and tell them to bring their best story of the campaign of 2004, their most hopeful encouraging story. Share food, share music, share Bush jokes. And keep planning the revolution.