i want to check out all the books in the library

I want to go to the library and check out all the books. I know I won’t read all the books. But I never read all the books I check out, even when it’s a more reasonable number than “all the books.” Which isn’t even a number, really.

I want to check out all the books in the library and lie them out on the floor of my apartment (in stacks, because my room is very small) and I want to make intentional piles. Books I wish I had time to read. Books I really will make time for. Books I wish I myself had written. Books I wish had never been written at all. Books that look like they might cause me to experience an enlightened spiritual state and stay in it for the rest of my life. Books that genuinely look like they might end white supremacy and homophobia and genocide and depression and sexism and racism and environmental destruction. Books that were written only to make money.

These are just a few of the many categories I will make if I ever get around to checking out all the books in the library.

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bayard rustin, a. philip randolph, “allyship”, and the 1963 march on washington

State of the Re:Union on NPR aired a wonderful segment today on the great yet often skipped-over Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin. I had watched a fabulous documentary of Rustin called Brother Outsider in a most memorable class I took with Professor Elmo Terry-Morgan at Brown University called “Black Lavender: African American Gay and Lesbian Plays in the American Theater.” When I saw the film I was saddened, though not surprised, by how much I had heard about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and how I had never even heard the name Bayard Rustin. This in itself is an important story of how intersecting identities play out in the context of social movements.

Rustin was the one to introduce King to the ideas of nonviolent social action. He was the architect of the March on Washington, and many other nonviolent events, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. However, Rustin was also a gay man. What would it mean for the Civil Rights Movement to have a known gay man seen as a lead organizer?

I highly recommend you listen to the radio segment, or watch the film, for the entire story of Rustin’s full and complex life. Below I will just discuss one moment of the radio segment, but please know this is just a moment, not the story of Rustin’s whole life or identity.

Today’s radio program told of one crucial moment that made way for Rustin to be able to continue his work planning the March on Washington faced with a major setback: “The fall of the meticulous planning Bayard is doing: there are some things he has no control over. Bayard had been very frightened or worried that the gay issue would come up before the march. And Strom Thurmond [bitter enemy of de-segregation] took the floor of the Senate, maybe three or four weeks before the date of the march…and rails against Bayard and the march. He calls Bayard a draft-dodger, a communist, a homosexual, and includes details of his arrest. Panic spreads through the march’s office….But A. Philip Randolph would not be coward. Randolph calls a press conference because they have to deal with it, and Randolph, who qA nothing if not extremely dignified said that ‘how dare a segregationist like Strom Thurmond condemn someone for immorality. We stand by Bayard Rustin. He is our organizer. He is Mr. March on Washington.’ And it’s that moment really that is the end of using the gay charge against Rustin effectively. 

Activists disagree on whether the word “ally” is useful, or if it has been too watered down or become too problematic. Activists, especially in the context of organizing around rape and sexual assault, also have differing views on bystander intervention. However, if ever there was an ally move, what Randolph said at that press conference seems like the one. Standing by Rustin, having his back, and making it about the inhumane ideology of Thumond, instead of accusations against leader Rustin….to me it seemed like Randolph intervened in a way that not only saved the march and the movement, but saved Rustin from the pain and humiliation of yet another atrocious attack. Rustin went on to be the one to read the demands of the March on Washington after King’s I Have a Dream Speech. 

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Later in his life Rustin would go on to be active in the gay rights movement, and use his organizing skills there. Through a long-term relationship, he was able to build more positive connotations with his gay identity after being harassed by it for so long. There is so much to say about this individual. For now I would just like to honor how history (and uncovering parts of history that have been hidden) can demonstrate (despite all the terrible news we are inundated with constantly), distinct moments when good steps were taken in the name of justice.

was rumi a slow walker?

“The world is filled with people like Shams of Tabriz but where are the men like Rumi to see the truth in them?”Fundamentals of Rumi’s Thought by Sefik Can, page 67.

I think I must pass many wise people when I go throughout my day. Wise with a capital “W”. Wise about the ice on the pond and the gunshots and the meditation pillow and the swastikas and all the police who are not in prison.

I think I must pass many wise people, and yet we all walk so fast these days. How can I even have time to begin to see the truth in them?

It’s Black History Month… and I’m angry.

Amazing poem by Jasmine Mwanaisha.
Hell yes, Solidarity, Anger, Consciously choosing not be blind. Yes Yes Yes

READ ME TWICE

My eyes roll counter-clockwise as if to dial back enough time to catch myself from swinging.

My soul makes sounds for words my mouth hasn’t learned to form yet

This heavy burden grieves me

The weight of atrocity that some have the option to not see

Like changing the channel on TV – they can easily remove themselves from my reality.

But the reality is I’m still grieving.

View original post 610 more words

strait of gibraltar

tomorrow i will cross the border.

we all began there

somewhere

human beings

Became.

slavery became there

people

flesh and bones

stolen

taken

violated.

today

people journey north

from Mali, Algeria

across the desert

–for forty years?

they make it to the border

of Morocco

and with luck

they cross

with luck

they catch a boat

with luck

they don’t sink

with luck

they live a life in europe

of racism

prejudice

ignorance

violence

with luck?

i am packing

and in my backpack

is Frederick Douglass

Audre Lorde

Angela Davis

Martin and Toni.

i travel with a heavy heart

knowing how easy my journey will be

i travel

in return

to a continent i know

i once lived on

generations back

my ancestors

all of our ancestors

were once there.

i travel with a Jewish star

metaphorically tattooed on my arm

to a Muslim country

while Israel and Palestine

play with bombs.

i travel as a spiritual seeker

starving for religion

ritual

of any form.

but also

i travel afraid

of what I represent

my white face

my hebrew name.

we all began there

but i don’t have the memories

i didn’t suffer there.

tomorrow i will cross

the border

set foot on a continent

the skin of these feet

has never caressed

and i will close my eyes

and ask for forgiveness

and ask for ritual

and open my eyes.

quotes in tribute to dr. martin luther king jr.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I pulled some of my favorites books by African American authors off my bookshelf. I am sharing some quotes from these treasured works in tribute to MLK, the Civil Rights Movement, Social Justice, Racial Justice, and Liberation for all. I stand in strong solidarity with the marchers and protesters today who are linking the legacy of Dr. King with the current injustices as seen recently in Ferguson, Staten Island, and so so so many other places. I stand in solidarity and I mourn the loss and oppression of good and innocent people and I celebrate the incredible work and contributions in every walk of life that African Americans have been making for centuries. NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.

“Martin Luther King, Jr., had asked us to do something really hard. Many people felt he had asked us to do something impossible. He had asked us to embrace nonviolence as a way of life. When he died by the gun, for many, many people, in the Movement and out of it, there was a feeling of release. We can’t do it, many felt; we can’t live as nonviolently as Martin Luther King, Jr., did (and once again the white man–in the person of King’s assassin–has demonstrated why.)…Our communities did erupt in violence, many of them; several went up into flames….The rage, the laughter, the feeling of being relieved of a burden too noble for mere persecuted humans to bear. And underneath everything, the longing for the presence of the Beloved. Deeply missing him. The one who loved us and saw us and stayed with us, knowing he would not survive his blatant love for us; not survive his vibrant, dancing life.” Alice Walker, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, pp. 169-170

“You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter From a Birmingham Jail

“In a paradoxical sense, once I accepted my position as different from the larger society as well as from any single sub-society–Black or gay–I felt I didn’t have to try so hard. To be accepted. To look femme. To be straight. To look straight. To be proper. To look “nice.” To be liked. To be loved. To be approved. What I didn’t realize was how much harder I had to try merely to stay alive, or rather, to stay human. How much stronger a person I became in that trying.” -Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, p. 181

“Black people are victims of an enormous amount of violence. None of those things can take place without the complicity of the people who run the schools and the city.” -Toni Morrison

“YOUTH

We have tomorrow

Bright before us

Like a flame.

Yesterday

A night-gone thing,

A sun-down name.

And dawn-today

Broad arch above the road we came.

We march!”

-Langston Hughes, The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, p. 65

“The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.” -Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream Speech, March on Washington, 1963

coverage of paris shooting: more complexity, please. thank you omid safi.

I have been searching for articles written about the tragedy that occurred last week in France that offer a more holistic and nuanced understanding of what this means for the world. While the issues are so vast and no piece can do it all, when I read Omid Safi’s piece 9 Points to Remember on the Paris Shooting and Charlie Hebdo posted at the On Being Blog it felt closer to a heart-based approach than any news story I had seen previously.

So how do we process this horrific news? Let me suggest nine steps: 1) Begin with grief.”

Ah, yes. Instead of jumping to our brains and our “rational side,” can we not mourn the violence that seems so inescapable in our personal and global worlds?

As part of grieving, Safi makes a crucial point:

“We mourn the fact that our children are growing up in a world where violence is so banal. Even yesterday, on the same day of the Paris shootings, there was another terrorist attack in Yemen, one that claimed 37 lives — even though this tragedy did not attract the same level of world attention. There were no statements from presidents about the Yemen attack, no #JeSuisCharlie campaigns for them. Let us grieve, let us mourn, and let us mourn that not all lives seem to be given the same level of worth.”

Ahhh. “Let us mourn that not all lives seem to be given the same level of worth.” What makes the news? Which images are given most airtime? Can we mourn those who ARE given great media coverage, while also mourning those we DON’T know of? Those we know exist out there, but we might not know their names? This question relates to all sorts of conflicts: unlawful arrests and shootings of people of color in the U.S., survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, religious persecution of all sorts….there are the big names and cases we all know of, and then there are the thousands and thousands more that we don’t know of, but that STILL MATTER.

While he doesn’t discuss it, Safi offers a link to an article in Vox that shows the horrendously offensive images put out by Charlie Hebdo over the years. The Vox article ends with, “But the magazine that withstood so much and offended so many has finally been silenced. Today, visitors to the Charlie Hebdo website find only a single graphic. ‘Je suis Charlie,’ it reads.” 

This article makes Safi’s words even more important: “I try to resist the urge to turn the victims into saintly beings, or the shooters into embodiments of evil. We are all imperfect beings, walking contradictions of selfishness and beauty. And sometimes, like the actions of the Kouachi brothers and Mourad, it results in acts of unspeakable atrocity.”

Later Safi writes, “And as for the shooters, they have done more to demean people’s impression of the religion of the Prophet than the cartoonists in Charlie Hebdo ever did. If the shooters wanted to do something to bring honor to the Prophet, they could begin by actually embodying the manners and ethics of the Prophet. They could start by studying his life and teachings, where they would see that Muhammad actually responded to those who had persecuted him through forgiveness and mercy.”

This is a difficult time to be in the world. It is a difficult time to know what to think, which story to believe, or how to move forward. I think Safi’s 9 steps are very helpful. I think many of the comments on the article are also helpful, such as Maruf Khan’s statement: “There ARE thousands of Muslims in the streets of Paris standing side-by-side with their fellow French people of all other religions mourning and decrying this heinous act. We are all in this together. Muslims are just as much victims of such extremists. In fact majority of the victims of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Al-shabab… have been Muslims.”

Like most things, I feel the need to make the story more, not less, complex, in order to understand it. And while many of the comments on this article are loving, many are angry and hateful and accusatory of other commentators. On one blog post. How many more have been written about this issue? The power of words is fierce. Let us be careful of the words we choose. Let us remember that in Krista Tippett’s interview with Dr. Reza Aslan, Dr. Aslan aptly points out that we would never use the term “The Christian World” without immediately being more specific, and yet the term “The Muslim World” is used all the time. Dr. Aslan writes, “the connotations are that there is something monolithic.” And Islam is anything but monolithic.

Complexity. Complexity. Complexity. Peace for the world. Peace for our inner lives. Peace peace peace.

guitar lessons, jazz, rumi, and the power of history

Back in August, after playing acoustic guitar for over five years and not improving all that much, I began taking lessons with Diane Sanabria, a dear wise woman musician warrior who teaches not only songs but music theory, sense of humor, and life lessons. This afternoon at our lesson she didn’t just show me Travis picking patterns. She took me on a trip to New Orleans, elaborated on the history of African poly-rhythms that started stirring things up to create ragtime and eventually jazz. She honored the African origins that led to Merle Travis’ famous picking style.

She spoke about how much deeper the experience of learning a musical instrument can become when we also study the history and origins of musical styles. I was practically jumping out of my seat. And of course I was reminded of my all-time favorite On Being podcast, “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi,” when professor Fatemeh Keshavarz says, “I don’t think you can free people from the context in which they live. And I don’t think even if you try to do that, that that serves a useful purpose. I don’t see Rumi as detached from the Islamic context at all. In fact, I see his work as utterly and completely immersed in the Islamic tradition. I tell you, it would be hard to read a single ghazal, not even the Masnavi, which is expressly a work with theological and mystical intentions. But even a ghazal, it would be hard to read a ghazal and not find quite a few allusions to Qur’anic verses, to sayings of the prophet, to practices in the Muslim world, so I don’t think we need to separate him from his Islamic context.The way first I visualize this myself is that he goes through the religion, he lives it, absorbs it, and uses it in his way. So in the process, he subverts a lot of things. He changes a lot of things, reinterprets a lot of things, but he does not step outside of it. He lives in it.”

Just as we can’t extract Rumi from his Islamic context, and we can’t pull jazz out of it’s African American and African origins and suggest that because these productions of art are so transformative they must be somehow universal and therefore “neutral” (i.e. often meaning white-washed), my dear guitar teacher believes in the power of historical knowledge to bring added meaning to creative learning in real-time. And I agree with her. Finding a new way to do things comes from studying how it has been done and transcending that to create something new.

I think I will go practice my guitar now.

toni morrison at the bookstore

I work at a local independent bookstore. I love my job. After over three months, last night my manager asked if I could make a display. We have a spot where we generally do themed displays, either all of one author or somehow connected to one issue or genre. It’s always the manager or the owner choosing the display. This was a big deal for me.

If Barnes & Noble is struggling, you can imagine what a small independent bookstore is up against, with amazon, kindle, audible, etc. pulling business away. And yet here we are. Still working and still keeping the shop alive and vibrant. Something I believe is so important. The power of a local bookstore and suddenly my own power to choose which books are featured. (For most of my time working here my “Staff Pick” book has been “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, and copies have been selling, so I have had that opportunity. But this was bigger. A whole three shelves!)

I gave my decision great deal of thought. There is the question of what will sell. Which books we have too many copies of that we would like to move to make space for new books. Which books will make better holiday gifts. Which books are more expensive…i.e. will help our business. I considered several options though I knew I would end up executing my gut-instinct plan. Toni Morrison.

We have nine of her books, one of each copy, and I couldn’t think of a more brilliant, articulate, relevant writer to put front and center in our store. Who knows, maybe the display will be taken down by my next shift–because they won’t sell, or because they aren’t our priority for selling right now, or because they aren’t christmas-y enough, etc. But it means something to me that even for just a day people will stop and ponder Toni Morrison, her work, and what she has contributed to the literary and political canon at large. Maybe someone who has never read her will consider checking out “Beloved” from the library. Maybe a white mother will buy “The Bluest Eye” and read it with her grown daughter and discuss what their shared blue eyes have meant for their lives. Maybe someone will start a book-group. Maybe nobody will notice. These are the risks we take. Knowing nothing could happen. Trying anyway, for the slim chance that something just might.

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