The burden of our country’s past flowing into the present weighs mightily on us as a nation. The recent shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota are calling us once again to acknowledge a legacy we have yet to fully claim, and to reckon with what it means to belong to one another. My family continues to read Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States to our two sons, but we are also listening and reading so many other voices. Here are just a few…
Philando Castile was shot in a neighborhood just miles from my home. I awoke to the news of his death by watching the video his girlfriend streamed on Facebook. I felt shame and anger and despair at not knowing what to do. But, Courtney Martin’s column responds to that forlornness with a call to action. She challenges white folk who deny racism and who fail to recognize the inequity of our systems. And she plays out a conversation she’ll have with her own children for the rest of their lives:
“This country was founded, yes, on optimism and pluralism, but also on slave labor, exploitation, violence, dehumanization. Don’t get bogged down in the guilt or shame of this history, but know it. Your story, our story, is a part of that.”
“At birth, you are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class. In fact the greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by a cop and not end up dead when the encounter is over.”
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson speaks some hard truths that can’t be ignored. I’ll admit, it’s difficult not to be defensive reading this. I want to object, to scream out that all white people are not a monolithic bloc to be broad-brushed. But he’s speaking to truths, to realities I don’t know and don’t live. And so I’m listening deeply to his call, taking in his challenge, and recognizing that his op-ed is not just a condemnation, but a request for accompaniment to see with new eyes. The question is: How will I, how will we, reach out and grab his hand?
We here at On Being believe that words matter. That the language we use matters. The Seattle Times has produced an outstanding video series asking people about the terminology we use when it comes to race. Listen to people’s incredibly diverse and sophisticated ideas about these terms — whether it be “person of color” or “racist” or “white privilege” or “diversity” or even “politically correct.” They will open your eyes too.
As I noted in last week’s letter, Krista was going to do a Facebook Live chat on our page on Friday. Given the hard events of recent days, we decided to postpone this event. Instead Krista offers a listening alternative:
“This is my playlist for yet another collective moment in which we can at best, as Parker Palmer might say, not merely let our hearts be broken but feel them breaking open.”
Pico Iyer has written a marvelous little book on the art of stillness — and staying put. In our latest vignette from the Becoming Wise podcast, he talks about discovering outer stillness and the great adventure that is discovering the inner world:
“The point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or the mountaintop, but to bring that reality into the motion, the commotion, of the world. … And so one way or another, I always cut into my own clarity and concentration when I’m at home. And it reminds me why sometimes people like me have to take conscious measures to step into the stillness and silence and be reminded of how it washes us clean.”
“You want to cry aloud for your / mistakes. But to tell the truth the world / doesn’t need any more of that sound.”
Ahh, Mary Oliver reminds us that wallowing in our own self-pity isn’t what’s needed. There is an antidote. Just turn to nature, says Parker Palmer, to cure what “ails us human types.”
“A lot of people will say that runners run away from things, but I’ve always found that I’ve been running towards something. And I think that I’ve thought that for so many years because my love for running started with me running towards my mom. So, for me, I’m always thinking of my mom when I’m running.”
This week’s Creating Our Own Lives podcast features the story of Mallary Tenore. She talks about perfectionism, eating issues, and running towards her mother.
“Medina is different. Medina has always been different. Medina is a quieter garden. It’s a town that gracefully carries the gentleness of the Prophet. Medina is the place that the mystics from half a world away sing about lovingly and longingly.”
The bombing of a mosque built by the Prophet Muhammad in one of Islam’s three holy cities during Ramadan breached a sacred trust. Omid Safi laments the ugliness and the violence, but also calls on Western powers to acknowledge their roles in creating this vacuum and asks us to show love and mercy for a people and a land not covered enough in the news.
“We aren’t here to forgive. We are, in the Jewish faith, on the eve of Yom Kippur, which is the holiest day of the year, and we plead with God for forgiveness, and God forgives, I hope. But one thing He does not forgive: the evil I have done to other fellow human beings. Only they can forgive. If I do something bad to you, I cannot ask God to forgive me. You must forgive me.”
Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, died last Saturday. He was 87. Our team produced this special podcast for Becoming Wise featuring Krista’s 2003 interview with the man who stands in the modern imagination as a towering moral figure.
I write this latest letter with much humility. Please feel free to contact me or anyone on our team with criticism, advice, or feedback at [email protected] or via Facebook or Twitter.
May the wind always be at your back.