Friday, August 29, 2014

Follow Justice Where It Leads

NOTE: I use "racial" identification only as is needed to deepen the discussion. All the names are pseudonyms. Some details have been modified or left out to protect people. None of the participants were patients or residents in any facility.

This past week, I facilitated a current events discussion with a diverse group of men and women who were age 70 and older. Of course, one of the items of discussion was Michael Brown and the events of Ferguson, MO. The discussion caused me to reflect differently on this week's Torah portion. In the moment, I translated the beginning of Deuteronomy 16.20 as  "Justice, justice you shall follow".

As people expressed their feelings, thoughts, and absolute confusion, August, a white male, started getting physically tense, then burst into tears. I looked to Rachel, his wife and sitting on his right, and Richard, a Black male friend sitting on his left. I understood from their nods and their pats on his pack that he just needed a few moment. So, I said to the group, "Let's just hold August with our thoughts; let him know he's safe and can share with us if he wants." Rachel asked if I would sing something. I chose a niggun (wordless melody) and those who new it joined me. 

As we finished, August caught my eye and nodded. In the silence, August softly said, "I am so sorry. So very, sorry." He looked up at Richard and around the room at the gathering of people he knew and many people he did not know. He did not hurry as he spoke or as he took in his surroundings. He shared pieces of his story growing up in the south, some of what he had been taught about Black people "anybody who wasn't White and Christian - Protestant!" He admitted that he "didn't have much regard for women until I met my wife. She made it clear that if I wanted to be with her, I was going to have to change my ways."

"Thank G!D he did!" 

We all chuckled, then August continued. "For a long-time, I held onto those beliefs. Sometimes, they still creep in, if I'm not careful. If I don't stop and say 'wait a minute! What's really going on here? What am I missing?" He closed by saying that seeing the police in Ferguson brought him back to the worst of times; the things he had done or watched and hadn't stop. "I'm a different man. That's why I feel so much shame." He couldn't believe that it was still happening; couldn't face that it wouldn't change before he died. "Are we ever going to learn?"

After a few moments, a Black woman rose and said. "August, no White man or woman has ever apologized to me for anything." She went on to speak of the stress of living with racism, the familiarity that White people assume with her, including assuming that she is "stupid, ignorant or both!" 

And, so it went around the room, one person at time, moved to share their story about grappling with the way others perceive them, the ways in which they do not know how to fit in, and the helplessness, anger and fear that can accompany such situations. Age, gender, race, culture, sexual orientation, "not knowing what it means to be White," faith - it was all there.. Though we ran over our time, no one left until everyone who wanted to had a chance to speak. When, that time came and there was no time left to do anything more than wrap-up. I spoke about Shofetim and how the Hebrew word "tirdof," most often translated as "pursue" can also mean "follow"; that maybe in this much more complex world it is a better translation because it speaks to individual as well as collective justice and collective as well as individual responsibility. 

"What we did here today, by listening to one another without judgement or recrimination, was to poke some big holes in some of what divides us so that we can better see one another as another human being with a story to tell, a lesson to teach, a heart that's been wounded, an apology to give or receive. I offer the possibility that in seeing each other beyond our assumptions, we heal ourselves as well as each other. We see much more how we are alike even as we maintain our beautiful rainbow of differences." Knowing they expected one more song, I sang "Wonderful World" and was so happy that they joined me.

Follow justice - not just pursue it. By following justice, you may discover that some solutions lay in hearts of people willing to share their stories AND hear the stories of others. Healing may be seen by some as a poor substitute for justice. However, when justice is not even a speck of light at the end of a long, curvy tunnel, healing may be the balm that makes waiting possible. 


Consider this special opportunity to support Sabrina Sojourner's contribution to a broader vision of who we are and can be: Living Whole and Complete is a collection of poems and essays that explore spirituality, love, heartbreak, culture, resilience and much more. Sabrina is also available as speaker, educator, artist-in-residence or facilitator for your community, school or conference. Contact othermadthoughts@ssellc.net 

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Elul Day 2: You are Dear and you are One

Dear One, 

How are you? What are you doing to take care of yourself? When was the last time you allowed another to do for you? When was the last time you closed you eyes - not on your way to sleep - and checked in with your body? Your heart? Your soul?

In the Torah (first five books Christianity's Old Testament), we are told to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19.18). A few years ago, as I was considering this commandment, it occurred that the underlying assumption - commandment - is that we love ourselves. I am fascinated that the Divine One expects that we will love ourselves.

As you begin your Elul journey of reflection, think about how you treat and regard you. Many of us talk a good game about self-care and having a balanced life - and don't practice it! If you are a supervisor or boss, and you are wondering why your staff is so burned out, I invite you to start with self assessment. I once had a boss who came to work sick, despite an organizational policy that required people to stay home when ill. Of course, other staff also came to work sick. Once, I happened to catch him needling someone who was sick to go home. 

Out of exasperation he said, "Why won't you go home? You are here against company policy!" 

I spoke up and said, "Because you come in sick and work all day against company policy." It took a few moments, however, he did turn to the ill person and tell them to go home. After that, the boss worked from home - though not all day - when he was sick.

I referenced this theme in my published Hill Havurah Rosh Hashanah remarks two years ago. It's always timely, especially this time of year as fall begins, as we prepare for the High Holy Days, as we face all the changes that seem more poignant with the winding down of the spiritual and secular years.

Reflection does not take as much time as you might think. Start with one to five minutes - wherever you can find them. It doesn't have to be a sitting meditation. I have a friend who loves to sweep during her five minutes. I have found washing rice a grounding, three to five minute meditation. Stare out window (not your computer screen). Close your eyes and give attention to how you are breathing. It can be that simple to start or to expand how you care for you. 

When you finish reading this blog, close your eyes and take a deep breath, filling your diaphragm, not just your lungs. Release the breath slowly to the point just before you need to inhale, then repeat a few more times before going to your next activity.



Consider this special opportunity to support Sabrina Sojourner's contribution to a broader vision of who we are and can be: Living Whole and Complete is a collection of poems and essays that explore spirituality, love, heartbreak, culture, resilience and much more. Sabrina is also available as speaker, educator, artist-in-residence or facilitator for your community, school or conference. Contact othermadthoughts@ssellc.net 

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rosh Chodesh Elul Day 2: Arise Awaken

Arise awaken
to the blessings of Elul!
An elegant alarm is Tekiah
tumbling down 
carefully or hastily
constructed 
Jericho style walls
protecting the heart. 
Refreshed
Heart turns.

Arise! Awaken!
to the promise of Elul   
Soul swoons to Shevarim
sighing 
almost crying 
deep is the longing 
to return.

Arise! Awaken!
to the work of Elul!
Defenseless is the mind to the
urgency of Teruah
now ready 
now turning to
return.

Arise! Awaken!
to the cleansing of Elul
Tekiah Gedolah!
soaks the body to the bones
every cell 
arising 
awaking
turning
to return.




Consider this special opportunity to support Sabrina Sojourner's contribution to a broader vision of who we are and can be: Living Whole and Complete is a collection of poems and essays that explore spirituality, love, heartbreak, culture, resilience and much more. Sabrina is also available as speaker, educator, artist-in-residence or facilitator for your community, school or conference. Contact othermadthoughts@ssellc.net 

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rosh Chodesh Elul Day I, Transition

The end of Av
The end of mourning
   at least for some

For all 
Release grip on reigns
Control is illusory
    we know
    we know
Move with the ride
To stand in transition
    our 30 day walkabout
    our 30 day reflection 

Your heart will whisper 
Divine secrets:
    You are precious!
    You are enough!


(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

We Ought Not Seek to Make the Whole World Blind - An Open Letter to ColorofChange

Dear ColorOfChange.org Organizers, Moderators and Supporters,

I sent you a comment on your website. However, from reading the message after it was submitted, it seemed it could be awhile before I received a response. So, I now write to you publicly because I am concerned about your petition to GoFundMe to take down the campaign for the Ferguson, MO police officer who shot Michael Brown. Most of my friends know I have a campaign on GoFundMe. However, I write because this is bigger than my campaign - or any one campaign on GFM.

It is so easy to be - and stay - caught up in the moment. I want justice for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many more than could be named in one publication. I want to be able to drive or walk down the street of Any Town, USA and not fear for my life. I want the women and men of color I know to be safe wherever they go. I do not want to have to worry about the group of white kids that may be following us. If we are arrested, I want us to make it to jail without harm and I want us not to die in jail. I want not to have to second guess the transactions I witness or experience for their fairness and equanimity. If I am lucky, I will be able to experience that on a continuing basis in my lifetime. However, I know that's a big, big if.

Still, in the moments I am able to stand beyond my own fear and pain, I want to do what I can to break they cycle of tit for tat. Cycles of rage and anger give birth to cyclones of rage and anger. It is as if we are all being run by the oft quoted and oft misunderstood "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth..." (Exodus 24.20). I have often heard it used to justify personal revenge, state executions, killing doctors who perform abortions, and much, much more - each of which is far from its meaning.

The underlying message is to judges and, with our system, to juries not to be persuaded by the status or lack of status of either party in their evaluation of the facts in front of them. I know that evaluation has not always worked in our favor as women (we come in all colors, shapes and sizes), children, LGBTQ people, men of color, or poor white people. The failure is due to the irrationality of feelings and the failure of the system to teach judges and juries to distinguish between their own feelings and the case under their consideration. The underlying principle is sound. A robust and well paid defense of the police officer MUST be met by a vigorous and exacting prosecution of that officer. If the prosecution falls Michael Brown, then it also fails the officer and our society. 

Take down the petition. Use your rage and the rage, anger of signers toward a constructive purpose. Start a GFM campaign for Michael Brown (or other aptly named) Scholarship Fund for the family members of those exonerated by the Innocence Project and/or killed by police officers... Raise money for victim services funds or to establishment or enhancement of mental health services in poor, rural and other underserved communities. 

We could raise money to support the development and distribution of a curriculum to turn MLK Day weekend 2015 into a national weekend of dialogue, conversation and education to begin the process of designing the just and equitable America we want. Among all of us, I am sure there are many ideas for ways in which the energy can be channeled. 

I know my position will not be popular with many, if not a lot of people. I also know there will be people who will mistakenly think I am taking sides with or against them. Everybody has and is entitled to their interpretation. I just happen to agree with Mahatma Gandhi. In seeking justice, we ought not seek to make the whole world blind.