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China Galland on Oh What Love Can Do: Karim… Archie Rison on Oh What Love Can Do: Karim… China Galland on Building Community: Cleaning u… China Galland on Three Generations Archie Rison on Three Generations
Resurrecting LOve: Dispatches from the Front:
Love isn’t only a cemetery or a documentary film I’ve almost finished or a book I published or my feelings for my children.
Can I love Donald Trump?
Love means I have to fill in the blank with the name of anyone I might think of as “my enemy.” I have to learn to love them too.
I hear that Sufis say that “the worst is the best.” Whether Sufis say that or not, Buddhists and Christians talk about it too, learning to love our enemies. Yes, even someone who seems like an impossible liar. What? Even free-form American 12-step programs say that we have to purify our hearts of anger or resentment, no matter how justified. That doesn’t mean that all is forgotten, that no injury occurred. It does mean that my intention needs to be that I’m open to compassion, even though I might fail to have it intially. It means that I can pick myself up and keep moving in the direction of loving kindness, I can keep moving in the direction of compassion.
My preference is to write someone off, ignore them. Not judging the person doesn’t mean giving up good judgment, or analyzing behaviour. It does mean not nursing negative feelings, not assuming that so and so is the incarnation of evil itself. Of course it’s more colorful and terrifying to imagine an other as without redeeming merit, a danger to all. I always loved being scared out of my wits – riding the roller coaster, diving off the cliff, you name it, whatever was forbidden, the question was could I get away with it? No.
Love is actually a choice, a direction I can move in, a breath that offers a moment of recollection, and a question:
What is my motivation? Am I in love or am I in fear? The honesty with which you or I or anyone answers this question determines one’s fate. Be honest.
Justified anger is easy and seductive. “But, but they, THEY…” we sputter. The most useful spiritual advice I’ve received to date is be willing to be 100% responsible for myself/for yourself. Emotions – whatever they are, anger or ectasy, they’re mine, they’re yours. The poet John Donne was correct, we are not islands, however, I haven’t been able to change anything that I’m not willing to be responsible for.
If I claim that YOU, whomever “you” might be, caused my anger, created my upset, whatever it is that makes me uncomfortable, then I just gave away my chance to change. I gave my power to you.
In this time of uncertainty and heightened emotions, whether from the upcoming holidays, the joyous occasion of a healthy child’s birth, or the elections, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one, it can be hard to find that moment to breathe. I’m off on the roller coaster of emotion that even a headline – true or false – can set off.
Breath is the antidote. Followed by another breath. In silence. The putting aside of the world’s siren call of seduction. Whether it’s three minutes locked in a bathroom stall in a work place or in my own room 30 minutes before I have to leave, I can choose to be quiet, I can put a buffer between myself and the stories that activate my life.
“Darkness is invisible light” is a phrase I came up with many years ago while researching dark or black matter in science. I’m not a scientist so this was a lay person’s attempt to grasp a concept that even science cannot measure. In some ways, even calling “it” dark or black matter is filler for the lack of being able to know what “it” is – that main stuff of which the universe is composed. Percentages vary over the years, but the bottom line remains: most of what the universe is composed of is dark to us, beyond what the human eye can see.
I consulted an astophysicist at U.C. Berkeley as part of my research on the Black Madonnas years ago. Black or Dark Madonnas are a mainstream European Christian Catholic tradition that white America has generally ignored in its eagerness to import “valuables” from Europe.
I asked him whether or not my phrase, “ Darkness is invisible light,” was scientifically accurate. He said that it wasn’t scientifically accurate in terms of how astrophysics would describe dark or black matter, still, he said it was roughly accurate, it was correct in a poet sense. I’ve used it ever since.
As the darkness deepens this time of year, I find it especially useful to reflect upon the scientific reality that occassioned my poetic shorthand – we live in the dark. We think we “see” but in fact our eyes can only perceive a certain spectrum of light and that spectrum is only 5-7% of what the universe is made up of. We can pick up the gravitational effect of dark or black matter, but we can’t get our instruments or our minds around “invisible light.”
The illuminated spectrum we see, we navigate by, what we describe as “real” is only a small percentage of what exists. 95% to 97% is “dark” to us. We says its invisible.
This is why I prefer to think of the Divine as “the Great Mystery.” I fall into human, anthromorphic descriptions of that Mystery too, as God, or God X or any of the ten thousand names by which that Mystery has been and is proclaimed by many. Male/Female, you name it, I sense that all that is is beyond what can be named, hence my use of the word Mystery .
As I told my students at the Graduate Theological Union, it’s critical to remember that Christ was not a Christian, nor was the Buddha a Buddhist. The religious traditions that sprung up after the lives of Christ and Gautama Buddha, for example, the two I’ve studied the most, were started by their followers well after their deaths. As far as I can tell, Christ and the Buddha came to love and be of service. They didn’t found institutions. They illuminated the human capacity for love, compassion, understanding, wisdom and service. They were activists even in their silence, in their retreat from the world, in their stillness, in the ways in which they nourished themselves even without food.
Thinking about Love
30 November 2016
The experience of cleaning the graves at Love Cemetery is a profound one. Maintaining this 175-year old African American cemetery with the local community is a deep meditation on life, death, and the soul of American identity. I will never forget it. One becomes newly aware of the generations upon generations that have been lost and remained unseen. In paying tribute to Love Cemetery and its survival, I had the overwhelming sense that there may be no more necessary and immediate work than searching for a way to honor those upon whose backs this country was built, people who were once enslaved. What is all the more profound is that in this act of honoring the past we may be touching upon an unexplored source of healing for our present time.
Going to Love Cemetery inspired me. Our theater company in Oakland, CA, The Ubuntu Theater Project, does site specific theater productions in found spaces. Part of our mission is to enliven spaces that have been forgotten by the community and to reveal the latent vitality therein. There is perhaps no space more important and more in need of re-vitalization and care than Love Cemetery.
The word Ubuntu comes from a Zulu proverb and means, “I am because we are” and “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” Our theater is made up of a collection of artists who are committed to creating compelling works that unearth the human condition and unite diverse audiences through revelatory work.
Three of us hope to come and help create a week-long intensive workshop with whole community, including the four universities whose students and faculty are helping at Love too. The workshop would include cleaning Love Cemetery and creating and performing a ceremony of honesty and intent – in which we might plant the seeds of hope for racial reconciliation in our country. If people are so moved. Truth, ragged as it may be, must be given its due; only then can reconciliation emerge. An offering.
Our purpose is two-fold. First, it would allow new people to enter Love Cemetery and experience what those who have intensely labored on Love know to be true—that the preservation of these cemeteries is essential to our cultural memory and healing.
In our workshop, this knowing would be expressed through song, recitation, movement or dance, poetry, ritual, prayer, even silence. We would co-create whatever emerges, be it a ceremony of celebration or a rite of mourning and loss. Secondly, throughout this week-long workshop participants – whether they are descendants, students, faculty, community member or volunteer, would have the opportunity to meld local history, education, creativity, and agency into a piece of their own creation that reverberates with personal and public significance.
Finally, the underlying theory of this project is that in order for us to heal as a society we must discover and work to reveal the invisible ways in which we are intrinsically bound. All the arts have this potential, theater especially. This Zulu proverb which we’ve taken as our name – Ubuntu – reminds us constantly of our invisible connection. Theater has the capacity to create an experience that excavates this essence of our being: that we are all intrinsically bound, not only to one another in our present time, but to our ancestors of ages past and the generations to come. If we do not take the time to value and seek new ways in which to honor our cultural history, we prohibit the possibility of healing for ourselves and we prevent it for the children of the future.
Love Cemetery is in many ways the epicenter of these past, present and future threads. If we can weave them together through Love, we offer ourselves an inspiring and very real possibility of hope. Most importantly, we offer our children and our children’s children the future.
Michael Moran, MFA
Ubuntu Theater Project
TONIGHT – Ghosts of Amistad film screening. 6pm, New Haven Museum
Felicia Furman’s newest post on “BitterSweet, Linked Through Slavery,” is superb, important, and nuanced, like her excellent documentary film, “Shared Histories.” Go to her website http://www.sharedhistory.org and buy the DVD “Shared Histories” and support Felicia’s work to fund scholarships for descendants. Felicia’s work as a white person who’s family once enslaved people is an inspiration for any and all who care about healing and reconciliation not only in the United States but everywhere.
In the blog BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery, we primarily focus on linked relationships between black and white people connected through US slavery—those descended from enslaved people or slaveholders who are linked by virtue of time, place or genetics. Finding a linked descendant from before the Civil War is powerful and empowering. We place a high value on these links because personal connections can create a compelling and intense desire for healing and reconciliation. But I would suggest that there is another link that joins many black and white people today that is an important yet unexplored piece of our national culture. This link occupies a more recent past, one which can provide another avenue of examination of slavery’s legacy and aftermath.
During much of 19th century US slavery, enslavers would often use the term “our family, black and white” to describe their relationship to the enslaved population. This…
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“No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is.”– Eduardo Galeano
Friends and family wrote and called me about the Love Cemetery cleanup this past Saturday, September 27th, 2014, in East Texas near the Louisiana border.
Archie Rison, one of our new volunteers, drove 400 miles round trip from outside of Dallas with his friend Obadiah Johnson, to help. It was one of the few cleanups that I’ve missed in many years. My cousins Philip and Sharon Verhalen were there with some of the Boy Scouts. Though Philip is the Scout Master, the Scouts who come do it strictly as volunteers. No merit badge. Over a dozen students from nearby Wiley College came, as well as a handful of students from East Texas Baptist University. ETBU faculty member, Dr. Sandy Hoover, chair of their history department, joined in again too. Members of the Marshall community, including one of Scout’s mothers came too. Without the vigilance and hard work of the Love Cemetery Burial Association, especially the President Doris Vittatoe, nothing can happen at Love, but that’s another story for another time. The behind the scenes work of organizing cleanups, sending in certified mail notices, and so forth goes on all year. Richard Johnson, Doris Vittatoe’s brother, moved back to Marshall a few years ago and has been a stalwart helper ever since. Archie wrote to tell me how it went: “I am so passionate about preserving the graves of my own ancestors that I regard helping at Love Cemetery as a part of my journey to show my appreciation. Though I’m not related to anyone buried at Love, I feel an attachment to these brave souls. They lived in a time when hope was a complicated task tied up with just staying alive. The least I can do is show up and help. Maybe this will influence others to do the same. Though I drove 400 miles round trip, I would drive even further for such a cause. “I was especially impressed by the students from Wiley College who turned out to help, there were a least a dozen of them. Remember NaQuita Elmore?” he asked. “She was with us last April when we came out to Love with Ysaye Barnwell (insert link? To video?). “NaQuita was the one who walked over a mile to find the cemetery last April. She led a handful of other Wiley students who hadn’t been there before either. She was just so determined to find us! They were all members of Wiley’s choir. They started singing while they walked and it turned out to be such a great experience that this past Saturday, she suggested that they walk again, and started up singing. “Once they got to the cemetery and started clearing the graves, they just kept right on singing. It was something! It was like being at a choir recital except it was outside we were all working together. It also reminded me of what I’ve heard and read about how people in slavery kept singing all day long, continuously, while they were out working the fields.”
9-28-14, Sunday, the next morning, I had a chance to talk to NaQuita again, the young woman from Wiley who’d gotten her fellow students together last April, when Ysaye Barnwell was here. NaQuita shepherded half a dozen of her fellow students out the road to Love and surprised us. There’d been a mixup on timing and we’d thought we’d missed them but they were not about to get left out. Just before choir practice on the 28th, NaQuita and I talked by phone so that I could hear more about this fall cleanup and what it meant to her. “Finding our way to Love in the spring was humbling. It pushed me to want to share this kind of experience with more of the Wiley students this fall. “You can see a thousand movies, but they can’t give you the actual experience. Walking the road to Love, we thought about how things were for our ancestors, what conditions they lived with. They didn’t have good shoes like we do. For them, if their feet hurt while they were walking, there was nothing they could do about that. I started up a song as we walked and before we knew it, we were at Love. We got busy, picked up a tool and started to work, clearing the graves. What if working in the fields was all you could do, everyday, in the heat? Think about that. A lot of people had no choice. Singing took your mind off your work. Imagine what those songs did for our people. It became a really great experience, a great bonding time with other Wiley students, with ETBU, and the Scouts. It showed unity, coming together, and what can be done when everybody joins in and helps. One of the ETBU students — Elizabeth — a white student, joined in as we were working and singing ‘Down by the Riverside.’ Racism still exists in our society, but then and there, it disappeared, color didn’t matter. Being out at that cemetery is so amazing. There was a shot gun barrel, a piece of a sewing machine leg left as grave markers. My mind was racing, wondering what happened during those times. It made me want to go find more of this history, grab other students, make flyers, let more people know about Love. We’re all coming back.” Love has taken on a life and an energy of its own. The process of making our documentary has helped seed a larger, inter-generational community. Reclaiming history, watering our roots, and singing are essential to it all.
I don’t know how to articulate what I see in these “warning stones” from the Fukashima disaster three years ago, these messages from the Ancestors. Nonetheless, I kept this photo and others knowing that I wanted to come back to this image and consider it more deeply.
The shape of the warning stone is striking, like a headstone only it’s marking the future, not only the past. The stones in Japan sit at the high water mark of centuries-old tsunamis. The words carved across its face tell people to build their houses only above this marker. Below, the stone says, in so many words: build your house below this marker and the tsunami will devour you.
I’m paraphrasing the warnings carved into the many different stones found again in Japan after the 2011 tsunami. Together they make up a rudimentary tsunami warning system. Ages past could not have predicted the nuclear disaster that’s still unfolding there. These re-discovered stones are being studied as part of the larger challenge of how we warn future generations of the dangers we’re leaving them.
Stones and stories, while appearing to be primitive technologically, may be the most effective way to alert future generations to the deadly stores of radioactive nuclear waste at Los Alamos, New Mexico, for example. Warning stones are part of an ancient inter-generational set of stories that scientists are now studying to see how to safely and effectively transmit critical information to future generations. It has to be simple, powerful, and effective. Even then, there are no assurances.
The headstones at Love Cemetery, indeed at any cemetery, are not generally stones that warn us of a natural disaster like a tsunami like these Japanese stones. Still, there may be fruitful parallels here. Today we have un-natural disasters, like Fukashima, like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which future generations need to be aware of.
Perhaps this October evening, it’s enough to reflect upon the resonance this image struck, this chord that reverberates as I look at it. It tells me that people in ages past left us signs, gave us information, carved warnings for us, gave us a symbol systems, maps in another way. It tells me that these ancestors were on our side, that they tried to provide us with what is needed for life to continue, for us to flourish.
And that we need to be attentive, to take care, to pay heed. To not dismiss old wives tales and warning stones, and myths. Perhaps those dragons guarding caves in stories were not enemies after all, but in fact, great ancestral friends from another realm, who protect us from the limits and errors of human kind.
If we will listen. If we will read their ancient signs.
The villagers who brought their children up studying their village tsunami stone and heeding its warning about where to build, survived. Other villages who ignored these stones were wiped out.
Love is so strong that it can cut into stone itself and love will take the time to do so. Moreover love will thoughtfully locate itself at the most critical juncture, at the balancing poing between life and death. Love locates itself at the boundaries, the outer limits, holds the extremities. Our ancestors took the measure, learned at great cost what it takes to live. Then they recorded the measure in stone, that we might live.
Halloween is upon us – all Hallowed’s Eve in the Christian tradition, All Saints Day the next, the Day of the Dead. Other say that Halloween is an ancient harvest festival that predates the churches by thousands of years. It’s part of the cycle of celebrations of harvest and planting. There’s more to Halloween than American trick or treating. The trick is to celebrate and give thanks amidst the hilarity and surprises, the silliness, the clowning, the mystery and the disguises; the treat is to encounter the unexpected, to let ourselves also have a genuine encounter with the spirit and the wisdom of those who’ve gone before.
It is good to honor these Ancestors known and unknown and to thank them, even for their warnings.