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ANCarroll

A Contemplative Crafter

Mom

Today’s is Mother’s Day…and I just lost my mother.

There is little to say, no Top 10 lists of what mom taught me that adequately capture everything I learned from her during our time together. Instead, I’d like to share the words I wrote for her funeral service, words that celebrated our mother-daughter time together and reveal some lessons I learned during her life. There are many more lessons I am learning from her after her death, but those are for another mother’s day.

 

July 2, 1947 - March 5, 2015
Mom
July 2, 1947 – March 5, 2015

Encapsulating a person’s life and meaning in a few pages is a difficult task, and it is near impossible when that person had a passion for life as boundless as my mother’s. Mom was feisty, tenacious, rebellious, protective, fun-loving, and she carried a palpable energy with her wherever she went. She was stubborn, never at a loss for words, and was constantly trying to feed people. She was an outstanding teacher, mentor, and friend. While her accomplishments were many, I think mom would agree that her greatest accomplishment was our family.

Her life was far from easy, although you would never know it—because she rarely complained. She lost her father at 14, her mother at 21, and her health problems began at 29. Mom’s parents were never far from her mind, especially her mother, whom she spoke of often. She always told me that while you may get used to living without your mother, you never get over the loss, and that she missed her mother every day. While I sympathized with her sadness throughout the years, I now fully know the constant sorrow she lived with, and understand more clearly the relationship she and I had, and the bond she nurtured within our family.

My relationship with mom always seemed influenced by her desire to prepare me for life without her. Our mother-daughter activities were, I think, different from other mothers and daughters. At a young age, mom sat me down and showed me how to pay bills, how to balance a checkbook, how to create a budget, how to do laundry so that clothes lasted years. The three greatest lessons she taught me were how to “cook”—or rather, how to dial and place an order— how to accessorize properly, and how to calculate a price on a designer sale item in my head. When I was sick and stayed home from school, she rented movies for me, like The Exorcist and Psycho. I asked her once why she would ever show films like that to a child. Her answer: she didn’t want me to be afraid of scary situations.

As I grew up, she pushed me hard so that I knew I could achieve things on my own and perhaps to let me know that whatever limit I thought I had, I was capable of more than I was aware. We fought like mothers and daughters do, and she told me that during these fights she felt pride, because she knew that if I could tell her off, I could stand up to anyone. Mom spent her life teaching me how to be self-sufficient and to survive on my own, how to be independent and assertive, and how to reach deeper inside myself to find abilities and strengths I didn’t know I had.

Mom also shared her love of literature, art, music, film, good food, travel, and fashion with me. We swapped books, visited museums, discussed films and spirituality, and went to plays. We danced like crazy, and laughed—or rather cackled—like fools. Mom tried to teach me to knit—it never really worked, I took up crochet instead, but that love of craft came from her and her mother as well. She also encouraged my free-spiritedness, and made sure I stayed quirky as I grew up.

We talked every day, even when I didn’t live at home, and we talked about everything—those things you would never tell your mother, I shared with her. She was critical, as mothers are, but her critiques were aimed at relatively superficial things. When I shared things that a mother might want to judge her child about, she never criticized me and that meant everything. One of my college friends captured my mother and my relationship perfectly I think when she wrote “it was like you [two]…always had a funny secret that the rest of the world was not quite in on.”

I have read that one of the most important decisions you make in life is the choice of a spouse. As with everything else in my mother’s life she selected a high quality man to be her husband of 46 years. My parents met when they were teenagers, and, I can report that even after more than 50 years of knowing one another, they were as deeply in love as ever—holding hands wherever they went, frolicking in the pool, and generally engaging in behavior that prompted me more than once to say “I am in the room.”

My mother and I often talked about what a good man my father is and about their relationship. She told me how much she appreciated him, especially in light of the difficulties that came with her heart condition. They might have overwhelmed someone else, “but not your father,” she would say. Dad describes mom as the whole package—smart, funny, beautiful, supportive, and full of joy—“Whatever stupid joke I told,” he said to me recently, “she always laughed.”

One of the best gifts my parents gave me was the model of a great partnership. My parents were a solid team, no one was more important of the two, they accepted the other person for exactly who they were (faults and all), and they never turned away from one another during stressful times. They also doted on each other constantly: mom would get dad’s breakfast ready, and fix his hair so, as she said, he wouldn’t look like Albert Einstein when going for coffee in the morning; dad would DVR the shows mom liked to watch, and sometimes drive mom around while she ran errands—even when the one errand she wanted to do turned into five before they’d even left the driveway.

Our family time together was special to mom as well—there was never “my parents” and “me”, there was always “us”. We were a rowdy group, who could devolve into tear-inducing laughter at the drop of a hat, and the amount of noise we made at any given time was really astounding, especially considering there were only three of us. We traveled a lot as a family, spent time at the beach in Maine every summer, took day trips here and there, and enjoyed lazy afternoons by the pool. Weekend habits cultivated in my youth become traditions as I grew up: dinner or breakfast out, and a movie on Friday or Saturday night. As an adult, not having plans over a weekend never bothered me—I genuinely loved spending time with my parents.

We spent the day before mom’s surgery together hanging around at home, and that night the three of us watched Downton Abbey together in my parent’s king-size bed. I can’t think of more perfect way to spend our last evening at home together as a family.

After we brought mom to the hospital and got her settled in, there was a brief moment between the end of the doctors’ visits and the time they wheeled her to the O.R. I remember mom and dad looking at each other and sort of smiling, then she turned to me and said: “When you come to visit me, make sure you look cute—there are lots of eligible doctors here.”

As a religious studies scholar who researches suffering, the most comforting meditation on death I have encountered describes death as a metamorphosis—it is not an end, but a change in state from one thing to another. Mom told me over the years that she wanted to be cremated because she wants me to carry her everywhere I go so that we can stay together. Then she found a company that makes diamonds from cremated remains and was excited at the thought of becoming a piece of my jewelry. While the physical change is the most painful part of this experience, mom will be around, just in a new form. She will still be there to greet in the morning and to wish good night in the evening.

The metamorphosis also applies to mom’s energy force, which was so large that her body may not have been able to sustain it any longer. Her spirit is fused with the universe, and the energy that she used to care for my father and me is working behind the scenes on a much larger scale to make sure things move in the right direction for us both. And now, as a spiritual entity, my mom can finally return to her mother, whom she missed so much while they were apart. I’m sure they have a great deal to catch up on.

Mom’s spirit will still be here as well. Whenever I go into hyper-organize mode and everything has to be “just so”—that’s mom. Whenever I display assertiveness and independence—that’s mom. Whenever I offer advice that may be a bit too direct but is something you need to hear—that’s mom. Whenever I make sure you’re well fed—that’s mom. Whenever I dance with abandon—that’s mom. Whenever I laugh so loud that the sound carries everywhere—that is, absolutely, my mom.

 

March 11, 2015

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

Richmond, VA

 

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Ghostly Matters (Avery F. Gordon)

Whenever I go to a conference (or a vacation if I’m lucky), I like to take some sort of tour of the area. Typically, my tours revolve around civil war history or ghost tours. People are more likely to understand my historical tourism, but they roll their eyes at the ghostly night walks I enjoy. Yes, the macabre tales of murder and mayhem are intriguing, but I take these tours more because I feel some sort of responsibility to visit with spirits who’ve suffered, to recognize their lives—which I’m not sure people quite understand. On a 2013 Memorial Day trip to New Orleans, I suggested that my friend and I take a tour of a couple of the plantations. When we arrived, she mentioned that she felt bad about being there, that maybe people shouldn’t visit such attractions because it attends to the lives of the whites more than the slaves. I told her that I toured plantations because I felt an ethical tug from the people whose voices have been lumped together into the single category of “slave,” that refusing to visit a plantation with the notion of boycotting the white slavers had the unintentional consequences of saying the slaves didn’t matter. And that’s why I tour plantations: because slaves matter. I deliberately use the present tense, because the history is not over, the energies have not faded away. Slave stories are at these homes and in the slaves’ descendents, and the slaves are still there on the properties, even though their names and personal information have been lost among catalogs of livestock, furniture, etc.

 

There are certain rooms of these homes that compel me take pictures but many more that don’t, mostly because my gut tells me to remember the feeling/energy of the room, forget the furniture. My experiences aren’t limited to plantations, abandoned mental institutions (long story) and sites of murders, disease, or torture have the same effect—not because of the stories that go along with the events, but because of something else. I have become physically ill in certain rooms of homes and other buildings, only to find out that something awful happened in that specific space. The energy of haunting is so alive that I sometimes wonder whose physiological response I am experiencing: the specter’s or mine.

 

Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008) is a beautiful book that does a wonderful job of explaining the emotions of haunting and the significance of receiving the haunting experience. Ghosts and hauntings are pop-culture goldmines these days, and I wonder if these movies and films represent attempts to get over the haunting and/or transform our encounter of the social/historical type of haunting Gordon describes by using fantastical, gratuitous violence so that we cannot recognize an ordinary experience of ghosts or haunting in our daily lives. On the one hand, the over-the-top pop culture presentations of haunting make it easy to neglect the consequential hauntings that have resulted from generations of spirit murder. On the other, this culture that celebrates slasher films also makes it oddly easy for people to turn away from true cruelty (i.e., real life instances), for example, the many members of the Academy of Motion Pictures who admitted that, although they voted for Twelve Years as Slave as best picture, they never saw the film because they felt the violence of slavery portrayed in the story would be too disturbing. How did American culture arrive at a point where audiences flock to see the Saw horror film series, but viewers label Twelve Years a Slave “too disturbing”? As Gordon points out, the ghosts don’t leave just because we ignore them or because we acknowledge something “bad” happened—ghosts demand engagement.

 

Gordon’s discussion of photographs as significant to haunting is an important thing to keep in mind as well, particularly in an age when imagery is everywhere. Her discussion of the Mothers’ use of photos during the Argentine junta reminds me of walls of pictures that family members created in New York City after September 11, 2001, when they were searching for survivors. Or the images of kidnapped children on the side of milk cartons. I recently watched CNN’s documentary on Whitey Bulger, which repeatedly showed photos of Whitey’s (alleged) murder victims alongside interviews with the victims’ families, still haunted by events that happened thirty years ago. The ordinary act of taking a picture suddenly becomes infused with a weighty significance (both photos that show people who are present and highlight those who are missing) and adds another dimension to Cvetkovich’s utopia of ordinary life. Ordinary life suddenly becomes an existence framed by loss, violence, and fear, and the last known photos of individuals or pictures of groups/families without those people have a different meaning to those who know the back-stories that fill the lacuna toward which the images point. But what of the people who don’t know what or who is missing from photographs? How does the ghost haunt them? Ordinary life is bursting with ghosts and haunting energy that leads to the (social) depression, invisibility, grief, and melancholia Cvetkovich, Williams, and Cheng describe. Where is the utopia? Where are the rights? Do ghosts have rights?

 

 

Gordon relates ghosts and haunting through and to women (Sabina Spielrein, Luisa Valenzuela, and Toni Morrison). Is haunting, then, an experience that women are well suited to intuit and feel/sense? I don’t think haunting is exclusively the domain of women, but there seems to be a sense of openness that might make women more accepting of ghostly encounters (unless, perhaps a man is taught by his mother not to reject such experiences as ridiculous). Or, speaking of mothers, do women (biologically designed to grow life) have a nurturing sense that makes us more likely to take haunting seriously, or to at least protect the haunting ghost from rejection and neglect?

 

Looking at the relationship between haunting from the other side, Spielrein, Valenzuela, and Morrison do the haunting as well. Spielrein haunts the lives and work of Freud and Jung (as well as the development of psychoanalysis and depth psychology), while Valenzuela and Morrison write narratives of historically situated haunting that haunt readers in and of themselves. Beloved is a difficult book to leave behind, and it becomes a “rememory” for readers itself. (While I haven’t read Como en la Guerra, it seems that rememory may apply to Valenzuela as well.) In this focus on the feminine reception and dissemination of ghost/haunting stories, is Gordon suggesting that women bear a particular responsibility in the transmission of narratives? She mentions that white women were the primary readers of slave narratives, but doesn’t explicitly state that passing on the rememory is women’s work. The implication of looking at women as the haunted/haunting ghosts, women as haunted writers, and women as haunted readers suggests that perhaps women play a larger role in the dissemination of rememory (or at the very least, perhaps they should). Writing about and reading of ghosts haunting conjures the rememory of the disappeared (or the rememory of spirit murder) such that energy responsible for the haunting can remain socially alive. Maybe there is a strength in women’s ability to handle ghostly encounters, and a ferocity in women’s ability to haunt as well.

 

We approach the events that caused ghosts as grievances that can be solved; however, haunting reminds us that the grief has an energy of its own. And that energy of haunting, if we are not mindful, can possess the living. Perhaps, possession is the only way to realize the sincerity and realness of the haunting; perhaps possession of the living is the forthcoming consequence of neglecting the ghostly encounter.

The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief (Anne Anlin Cheng)

The first real class day of Intro to Peace Studies, we spend time discussing the various types of peace that scholars have identified. People tend to assume that peace is peace, and that “peace” means no war or physical conflict. Charles Webel identifies three forms of peace: (1) strong peace—a utopia where everyone lives in constant harmony, (2) weak peace—where there is an absence of war, but discrimination, inequality, and oppression exist, and (3) imperfect peace—a relative strong peace punctuated by moments of weak peace that are recognized and corrected in order to return to the strong peace. Anne Anlin Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race, I felt, spoke to the affect weak peace has on those oppressed by the privileged. While Cheng does not offer explicit ways to correct weak peace, the evidence of the existence of weak peace in American culture seems to suggest that we can at least strive to correct these issues and aim for an imperfect peace.

 

Cheng highlights the effects oppression has on the groups living under the shadow of weak peace (i.e., internalization of rejection and performance of the stereotype). Part of the problem with weak peace is that those doing the oppressing believe they live in a strong peace full of harmony, yet, as Cheng points out, there is a systematic refusal to accept the grief that can disturb the illusion of strong peace. Grievances are acceptable because they can be “addressed” in a timely manner, while grief requires time, acknowledgment, and empathy. Grievances can be dealt with, and checked off the list systematically, which is really just like applying a band-aid to someone who needs surgery to remove or treat an infected organ. Grief, on the other hand, is difficult for the privileged to accept because acknowledging grief means (1) the grief and the events that caused the grief are real, (2) the events that caused the grief hurt people, and (3) the events that caused the grief need to be corrected, and that requires a great deal of time, attention, and patience. Grievance is a symptom of grief, and focusing solely on the symptom does not cure the dis-ease of grief.

 

While the privileged seem to believe that addressing grief means the destruction of their privileged position, not dealing with the grief and slapping quick fixes on grievances is the real cancer that stands to take everyone down, not just the groups being oppressed. Recognizing, addressing, and healing grief lifts everyone, not just the group experiencing the grief, and this can reconciliation of grief can be the process that initiates a more stable, harmonious, albeit imperfect, peace. However, learning how to cope, handle, and live with grief (because grief does not always disappear) means transforming our lifestyle. Change is scary, and it seems that when the idea of transformation comes into the equation, people (especially those in positions of privilege) fear that change means the loss of their privilege and, therefore, do what they can to stop it. Unfortunately, weak peace also transforms the lifestyle of those who are oppressed, leading to what Cheng describes: invisibility, internalization of rejection, and performance of the stereotype.

 

The culture of grievances (and the belief that addressing the grievance solves the issue) is a systematic enforcement of weak peace (i.e., hidden oppression) that leads us to find some way to work within a system that won’t accept us. That is, to play on level ground, the oppressed or the invisible have to perform the stereotypes they have been assigned. It’s a vicious cycle of stupidity that really just shows how “privilege” is an illusion that hides insecurity and fear. For example, as a white women, men can deal with me as long as I play the “dumb-blond” role. The fact that I can get things done by pretending to me stupid or showing a little cleavage is ridiculous, but it works and I am well versed in how to use that stereotype to maneuver through the world. When I drop the stereotype, that’s when problems begin. Once I demonstrate the fact that I have a brain or can actually accomplish a physically laborious task—I am the problem, because I take away the role the other (typically a male) is meant to play.

 

In the examples Cheng offers (i.e., Invisible Man, M. Butterfly, Flower Drum Song, The Woman Warrior, etc.) performance of the stereotype seems to indicate that there is nowhere else for the individual to go, and that authenticity leads to conflict at best, invisibility at worst. If we play into the stereotypes then we gain recognition because we live down to another’s expectation of us. One thing I wonder is: it seems that general idea behind stereotypes is that the stereotype is used to put down the “other,” but can’t the stereotype placed on the “other” also be used to alleviate the insecurity and fear festering within the one who insists on and uses the stereotype (i.e., those told they are privileged)? When I play the dumb blond, it makes men feel special and when I am myself, those same men feel useless and emasculated, because they have internalized the patriarchal myth that men are stronger/smarter/more important/more valuable/etc. than women. Can privilege be considered a stereotype as well, and if so, can the oppression of others be seen as performance of the stereotype of privilege? In other words, in the context of weak peace, privilege is an illusion that forces the oppressed into performing the stereotype to the best of their ability in order to get by, because the privilege have been duped into thinking that they mean more, and have more control, than they do.

 

Cheng indicates that internalization of rejection leads to grief, which leads to the performance of the stereotype—although I’m not entirely sure what leads to what, since the system seems to represent a spiral that heads more deeply into grief with every turn (no matter where you start). Cheng’s discussion makes me think that American culture is just an example of an abusive relationship on a mass scale. The victim is invisible, until s/her gives into the abuser; the victim is berated to the point where s/he internalizes the rejection directed toward her/him; the victim’s attempts to leave the cycle, and the stereotype, lead to explosive violence, which many times leads to the victim’s death. For example, the refusal of the African-American community in Ferguson to play into the “criminal” stereotype, combined with the choice to demonstrate injustice instead, may be read as an attempt to escape the performance of the stereotype of black male criminality, which of course had to be violently ended by the white police community, who had to engage in a performance of the stereotype of “absolute power” (associated with white maleness and police culture). How might the police department’s acceptance of the African-American community’s grief at Michael Brown’s unnecessary murder have changed the situation? How might the department’s own grief at their actions have changed the emotional outcome of the situation?

 

One question I have for Cheng relates to her selection of Freudian methodology. I wonder why she did not use Jungian analytical psychology (or depth psychology), whose goal is the reconciliation of trauma? Jung adamantly felt that in order to heal, an individual has to face all of those things that create the psychological and/or affective dis-ease, especially those things that are disturbing or that we want to keep invisible from our consciousness. He called this disturbing aspect the shadow, and emphasizes that, if we chose not to attend to the shadow, the shadow will get to us no matter what. That is, ignoring a full-fledged confrontation with the shadow causes more psychic damage than facing it. The experience first elicits fear because the shadow appears as a threat, when really the shadow is just trying to show us what we have to include in our perspectives of ourselves to truly heal. Requiring the “other” to internalize the rejection and engage in a performance of the stereotype, Jung might say, is the very thing that is helping American culture maintain a weak peace. These conditioned affective responses of oppressed cultures when faced with the demands of (or neglect by) the privileged, only keep the culture from presenting itself as unique, balanced, and healthy. Jung might point to Cheng’s distinction between grief and grievance and emphasize that honest and true healing requires acknowledging and feeling grief, not just resolving one grievance after another.

The Alchemy of Race and Rights (Patricia J. Williams)

In The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor (Harvard University Press, 1992), Patricia J. Williams draws on contemporary events to discuss her views and experiences of racism in everyday life. My first thought after reading the first three pages of The Alchemy of Race and Rights was, “Not much has changed in twenty-four years.” This made me wonder: what type of epilogue would Williams write for a 2014 edition of the book? Aside from this sad observation, three themes caught my attention: the place of (the) spirit, seeing/being seen, and polar bears.

 

(The) Spirit:

Williams addresses the commodification of humanity, or the selling of a fictionalized life to all willing to purchase it (chapter three), using terms like “buying one’s freedom” and/or “paying the price.” In chapter four, Williams introduces the term “spirit murder,” which she defines as the “disregard for others whose lives qualitatively depend on our regard” (73), and using various examples illustrates how we have successfully omitted personal responsibility from life, making the Cain and Abel motif Williams’ touches on (chapter three) our reality. “I am not my brother’s keeper” may be the motto of the20th and 21st centuries.

 

While Williams brings up the concept of buying freedom and paying the price, she does not, in the theme of spirit murder, mention the idea of “selling one’s soul” as part of paying for and/or buying what has been dressed up as freedom. We are responsible for refusing to acknowledge the spirit of humanity, yet, we have been tricked into releasing our own spirit and selling ourselves into a culture of commodification. Thus, we simultaneously ignore the indwelling Spirit (gifted to us by a God in whose image we are made), and we handover our access to spirit so that we may participate in a manufactured existence based on a system of constructed power. Everyone in the power imbalance has sold their soul: one side because they are bullied into choosing the lesser of two evils, the other, for the sake of wielding imaginary power that isn’t power at all.

 

Williams also mentions the removal of passion from law, which reminds me (rightly or wrongly) of a scene in Legally Blond. Elle Woods has just begun classes at Harvard Law, and one of her professors mentions Aristotle’s definition of the law: “The law is reason free from passion.” If passion is truly beyond the bounds of law, why then do we discuss “crimes of passion” or violent events erupting in the “heat of the moment”? While justice should be administered without bias, this certainly does not exclude passion or spirit from being involved in restitution. The passion I mean here is not the type of retaliatory justice Williams describes in chapter four (a product of fear and bias). Instead, I mean passion found in forgiveness, compassion/empathy, and reconciliation—a sense of spirit that has been removed from “law” and relegated to religion, even though the two areas are not necessarily separate. Passion is the energy of existence that ignites us to turn spirit murder into spirit celebration.

 

The book’s title refers to alchemy, a process in which fire (both physical fire and the fire of the spirit) transforms. For speculative philosophy, the goal of alchemy was to turn metals into gold and/or discover the key to immortality. Analytical psychology (i.e., C.G. Jung and depth psychology) uses alchemy in reference to the process of moving from lack of (self-) knowledge into a realm of conscious awareness of oneself as an individual in the world. While Williams seems to refer to the philosophical understanding of alchemy (163), it seems as though part of the narrative journey entails moving from a lack of knowledge (or a lack of spirit) into a conscious awareness (built on, or with the help of, spirit) of race and rights, both for herself and her readers. For Williams, this awareness seems built around seeing and being seen.

 

Seeing/Being Seen:

Williams threads her book with a discussion of her great-great-grandmother, her relationship to both this ancestor and the white slave owner who impregnated her relative, and her experience seeing reflections of herself (or, being seen as property and seeing ourselves, or others, through our own eyes). The blood that runs through each of our veins tells us a story about who we are, one that no one except our family knows about. It tells us about our resilience of spirit, what we’re capable of enduring and surviving. I am not just Alex Carroll in 2014, I have the blood of Polish farmers and factory workers in me, an Irish firefighter, a Scottish clan, and, among others, a grandmother who got her first job, after her husband died, when she was in her sixties.

 

When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we do it mainly to access our presentation to the world: Is my hair in place? Is my eye shadow smudged? Are my clothes clean? What I felt Williams call attention to, as she described seeing herself in NYC store windows, was not just a presentation but a reflection of the generations (good and bad) that contributed to making her.

 

When we look deeply at our reflection, there are times when we cannot recognize ourselves, most often when we are ill, exhausted, overworked, stressed, etc. At those times, are we even looking at ourselves, or are we looking at our blood, our ancestors refracting generations of weight and spirit murder back to us? Perhaps this is part of the problem, one that keeps us tethered to continued engagement in spirit murder, continued because we don’t know any other way of being. Or, is our inability to see the generations in our reflection a deliberate excision of the past from us, so that we believe we truly stand alone as individuals, and not on the shoulders of those who came before?

 

For example, Williams’ discusses violence incurred by the revelation that Beethoven was mulatto during a discussion between two young men (112). The perpetrator, who defaced the poster of Beethoven and then hung it as a kind of anti-icon for his African-American friend, claimed that he was aware of such dehumanization as a Jew, but ignored what that reflection told him about how to bear responsibility to others. The knowledge of the pain of generations seems to have existed in him, but the disconnection between himself and the pain of the generations that made him (one instance of spirit murder) lead him to create another incidence of spirit murder. Perhaps the action was a form of retaliation, a misplaced display of rage and pain that he could not show those who dehumanized his ancestors, so he directed it toward his contemporary. The incident itself points to the damaging effect spirit murder has on oneself, not just against others. The rage Beethoven’s lineage ignited in this young man reflects his inability to experience spirit revelation whenever it manifests.

 

The Beethoven incident points to the rage that accompanies seeing, while the conclusion of Williams’ book points to the rage of not being seen, of being ignored, and of forcing others to see you. One example demonstrates the desire to refuse the spirit (the Beethoven incident), while the other (Williams’ Dartmouth experience) presents the demands of the spirit. How do we know, in each and every instance, when anger is a product of ignoring the spirit and when it is an assertion of the spirit? Perhaps the criterion really is nothing more than the presence of dehumanization versus humanization. But, how do we fix this problem when spirit murder may be both external and internal?

 

Polar Bears:

The crux of spirit murder, passion, and seeing/being seen comes together in Williams’ concluding references to polar bears, including a brief vignette of two polar bears in captivity, who were depressed and/or went mad. While the anecdote may seem random, the images of captive animals and their madness dramatize the dangers of spirit murder, and parallel the freedom-without-freedom in which we exist. Captivity destroys the spirit, yet we insist on placing wild (i.e., free) animals into unnatural, restrictive habitats for our enjoyment. For some reason, we cannot tell that we engage in this type of behavior on a daily basis with ourselves and those around us. Those in power believe they are free and have power because they offer choices (that aren’t really choices) to others, and dictate when, where, and how others should live. These same so-called powerful people, however, cannot sense that the restrictions they place on others restrict themselves. As long as this cultural contribution to captivity goes unrecognized, spirit murder will prevail. We are living like the polar bears, in small habitats that we have constructed for ourselves, and in which we claim that one lives with the freedom of the spirit. How many generations have lived within these restrictions? Is there anyone who remembers what it is like to live in spirit and without spirit murder?

 

Part of the problem, it seems, is the belief that to achieve freedom one group must put another down, so that that “other” doesn’t impinge on the freedoms the powerful desire for themselves. By refusing to engage the spirit, however, those is power ignore the fact that there is enough freedom for everyone. Spirit does not shrink or dry up, there is enough for all. Spirit does not exist in a preset quantity, like a pizza that has only so many slices to go around. However, the perception of privilege prevents us from accepting spirit as it truly is.

 

Monday Meditation: Laugh…Every Day

We trudge through our days with To Do lists running through our heads: I have to email this person, respond to that message, correct this paper, write that recommendation, talk to her, get coffee at some point…and find time to buy my dinner, make sure I arrive here, here and there on time,…oh, then I have to get that done too! We get angry, sad, mad, sometimes glad–but that might only last for a second until we think of how tired we are, and hungry, and broke, and…and…and….

 

We get so wrapped up in the minutiae of the day-to-day, of the overwhelming seriousness of every moment, we forget that our purpose on earth is not to be chained to our desks, not to be mired in the gravity of each moment that passes. We are here for joy.

 

How many times a day does something ridiculous happen? How often is that thing that got you mad actually something that was beyond absurd and completely ridiculous…but you didn’t have time to laugh at it because you were too busy being mad at it? How often do you people-watch and laugh at the silly things kids and others do, especially when they think no one is looking?

 

Life really is ridiculous sometimes. And even in times when there are serious things happening…it’s still okay to laugh. In fact, laughter might help solve some of these serious things, laughter might increase the joy in the world and decrease the hurt over time, laughter might help you get through today so that you can rest up for tomorrow, laughter might make that last moment you spent with someone the best moment you had together.

 

How many times will you laugh today?

 “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”

― E.E. Cummings

Religion in American Society: Colonial Period to the Civil War

REL XXX

Religion in American Society: Colonial Period to the Civil War

Course Description: This course introduce students to major themes and movements in American religious history from the colonial period through the Civil War. We will consider Native American religions, the Revolution, slavery and slave religions, New Religious Movements, and immigration. The purpose of this course is to foster an understanding of religious diversity in early American history, the role of religion in the development of America, and the relationship between religion and aspects of American society.

Objectives: 

Course Goals:

During this course, students will:

  1. Develop a knowledge and understanding of relevant traditions, teachings, practices, and figures involved in the American society;
  2. Explore historical events that demonstrate various aspects of American religious history;
  3. Engage modern writers to understand contemporary thought and investigation into aspects of American religious history.

Learning Goals:

At the conclusion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify major teachings, figures, and thought within American religious history;
  2. Recognize aspects of American religious history at work in current events;
  3. Reflect critically on the interrelationship of religion and American society;
  4. Articulate the difficulties inherent in discussing religion in America.

Instructional Methods:

This course will consist of a combination of discussion, group work, lecture, and film that draw upon class readings and materials prepared by the students.

Required Texts:

The following required texts should be purchased from the bookstore.

  • Jon Butler & Harry Stout, Religion in American History: A Reader
  • C.C. Goen, Broken Churches, Broken Nations
  • Marie Griffith, American Religions: A Documentary History
  • David Hackett, Religion and American Culture
  • Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South
  • Peter Williams, America’s Religions: From Their Origins to the Twenty-First Century 
  • Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920

Readings marked with an ** in the course schedule are located on Blackboard under their respective module tab.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS

  1. Discussion Participation (15%)

Total discussion participation will be calculated on a 10-point scale (see RUBRICS in the COURSE PACK on Blackboard). Every day that you are present in class I will assign you a grade on the 10 point scale. Your final grade will be an average of every participation grade you accumulate over the number of class days we have (x/25). For those of you who are on the quieter side: aim to make at least one, thoughtful comment during each fishbowl discussion. Remember: quality trumps quantity.

  1. Homework (25%)

Homework (HW) for specified classes will be completed for respective modules on Blackboard and is due by the beginning of class (i.e., the time class starts). The purpose of homework at the beginning of class is to make sure everyone understands basic concepts from our reading material. The purpose of homework during the last third of the semester is to prepare you for discussion. The more prepared everyone is for discussion, the better our class discussions will be. Please see the COURSE PACKET on Blackboard for homework instructions and grading rubrics. Please see syllabus section on Late Policies for information on late homeworks.

NOTE: I will drop the lowest homework grade for students who complete every assignment (homework and journal) on time (i.e., no assignments are late or missed).

  1. Reflection Journal (25%)

Instead of writing a paper, students will keep a weekly reflection notebook on all readings. Entries should be a full 2 pages, double spaced (2 pages single-spaced if you wish to write your journal longhand–please be legible!). Journal reflections are due for each class meeting. If you submit your entry through Blackboard, please bring a copy to class with you for reference during discussions. Students who choice to hand write their entry may hold onto their reflection until the end of class. Think of it this way: you have already thought about the material AND written a comment about it, so all you have to do is look at your reflection, see what you wrote, and make a comment. That means, in a discussion all you have to do is look at the paper and there’s your class participation! NOTE: Journal entries are not summaries of the readings but are analytical, critical and constructive responses to the readings.

Please see the COURSE PACK for further information on journal specifics. NOTE: I will drop the lowest journal grade for students who complete every assignment (homework and journal) on time (i.e., no assignments are late or missed).

  1. Final Exam (35%)

One final exam will be administered on Blackboard. The exam will be open for two full days (48 hours) to be decided at a later date (dates depend on the course’s scheduled exam day). The exam will consist of two parts: (1) a section consisting of quote identification, short answer, fill-in-the-blank style questions (similar to the homework), (2) a section containing 3 short essay questions based on class material. The purpose of this exam is to demonstrate knowledge and mastery of material covered within this course. For detailed instructions on the exam see FINAL EXAM in BB where I will post more information in February.

Extra Credit Opportunity +5%

Students may elect to write one 5-7 page paper for extra credit. Extra credit will be applied to the Attendance/Participation grade. See the EC tab on Blackboard for more details. The EC paper is due the last day of class.

 

*****

Course Schedule:

Readings designated with ** are located on Blackboard.

Textbook readings are listed by the AUTHOR’S LAST NAME.

NOTES: This course schedule is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor.

Week 1:

1: Introduction to course and syllabus

2: Native American Traditions

READ: Williams, Ch. 1; Hackett, Ch. 1

DUE: HW#1

Week 2

1:Labor Day

2: African Religions

READ: Raboteau, Ch. 1

DUE: Journal #1

Week 3

1: The City Upon the Hill

READ: Butler/Stout, Ch. 2; Williams, Ch. 21; Griffith, Ch. 1

DUE: HW #2

2: Puritans

READ: Williams, Ch. 13; Griffith, Ch. 3

DUE: HW#3

Week 4

1: Colonial Religions & Violence

READ: Hackett, Ch. 3; Williams, Ch. 2 (pp63-74)

DUE: Journal #2

2: Challenges to the Mainstream I– the Supernatural

READ: Hackett, Ch. 2; Griffith, pp80-90

DUE: Journal #3

Week 5

1: Challenges to the Mainstream II–Quakers

READ: Williams, Ch. 15; Griffith, Ch. 3, 76-80; Butler/Stout, Ch. 3

DUE: Journal #4

2: Slavery & Religion I–African Religions & African Christianity

READ: Hackett, Ch. 4, 9; Butler/Stout, Ch. 4

DUE: Journal #5

Week 6

1: Revivalism & the Great Awakening

READ: Williams, Ch. 16, 17; Griffith, Ch. 6, Ch. 7 (115-121)

DUE: HW#4

2: Slavery & Religion II– Religious Life

READ: Raboteau, Ch. 5

DUE: Journal #6

Week 7

1: Religion and the American Revolution I

READ: Butler/Stout, Ch.5, pp 88-108; Williams, Ch. 22; Griffith, Ch. 10

DUE: HW#5

2: Religion and the American Revolution II

READ: Hackett, Ch. 6, 7

DUE: Journal #7

Week 8

1: The Feminization of Religion

READ: Hackett, Ch. 8; Butler/Stout, Ch.6

DUE: Journal #8

2: Discussion Day

Week 9

1: New Religious Movements: Mormonism

READ: Williams, Ch. 30; Griffith, Ch 11 (pp163-171); Butler/Stout, Ch.9

DUE: HW #6

2: New Religious Movements: Millennialism & Transcendentalism

READ: Williams, Ch. 28, 29; Griffith, Ch. 11 (pp172-82)

DUE: Journal #9

Week 10

1: Slavery & Religion II: Slave Life

READ: Griffith, Ch. 8, Ch. 14 (239-244); Butler/Stout, Ch. 11

DUE: Journal #10

2: Immigrants & Religion I: Catholics

READ: Butler/Stout, Ch. 7; **Donlan, “Evangelical Catholicism”

DUE: HW #7

Week 11

1: Immigrants & Religion II: Jews

READ: Williams, Ch. 38; Griffith, Ch. 9 (pp148-149); Hackett, Ch. 12

DUE: Journal #11

2: Slavery & Religion II: Resistance &Pro-Slavery Christianity

READ: Griffith, Ch. 13 (pp239-244); Raboteau, Ch. 6

DUE: Journal #12

Week 12

1: Women, Abolitionism, & Social Justice

READ: Williams, Ch. 24; Griffith, Ch. 14

DUE: Journal #13

2: Religion and the Civil War I

READ: Goen, Ch. 3

DUE: HW #8

Week 13

1: Religion and The Civil War II

READ: Goen, Ch. 4

DUE: Journal #14

2: The American Civil Religion I

READ: Wilson, Ch. 1, 2

DUE: HW #9

Week 14

1: The American Civil Religion II

READ: Wilson, Ch. 3, 4

DUE: Journal #15

2: Thanksgiving—No Class

Week 15

1: Conclusions

DUE: EC papers; Journal rewrites

TAKE HOME EXAM: Date TBD

 

Intro to Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution

 PSTD xxxx

Introduction to Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution

 Course Description: This course explores major thinkers and themes within the field of peace studies and conflict resolution by focusing on philosophical and religious foundations of 20th century peace and justice movements. This course further examines peace and conflict through an interdisciplinary lens and on personal, local, and international levels. Please remember: PSTD xxxx is not a survey of public policy, but rather an exploration into the meanings of peace and conflict as part of the human experience.

 

Objectives: 

Course Goals:

During this course, students will:

  1. Develop a knowledge and understanding of relevant traditions, teachings, practices, and figures involved with peace studies and conflict resolution;
  2. Explore historical events that demonstrate various approaches to peace and conflict resolution;
  3. Engage modern writers to understand contemporary thought and application of traditions and methods peace in the context of conflict resolution;

Learning Goals:

At the conclusion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify major teachings, figures, and methods of peace and conflict resolution;
  2. Recognize methods of peace activism and conflict resolution at work in current events;
  3. Reflect critically on the interrelationship of world religions, peace studies, and conflict resolution;
  4. Articulate the difficulties inherent in peacefully resolving contemporary conflict;
  5. Detect misinterpretations and/or misapplications of methods of conflict resolution in contemporary events.

 

Instructional Methods:

This course will consist of a combination of class discussion, group work, lecture, and film clips that draw upon class readings and materials prepared by students.

 

Required Texts:

Readings marked with an ** on the course schedule are located on Blackboard under their respective module tab. The following required texts should be purchased from  the GW bookstore:

 

  • Daniel Smith-Christopher, Subverting Hatred: Nonviolence in Religious Traditions, 10th edition
  • Mohandas Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha)
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, Calming the Fearful Mind
  • Albert Einstein, Ideas & Opinions
  • Leo Tolstoy, Last Steps
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., Testament of Hope

 

COURSE REQUIREMENTS

  1. Discussion Participation (15%)

Because this course fulfills the GPAC oral and written communication requirement, your participation in class discussions will be graded. Total discussion participation will be calculated on a 10-point scale (see RUBRICS in the COURSE PACK on Blackboard). Your final grade will be an average of every participation grade you accumulate over the number of class days held (x/28). For those of you who are on the quieter side: aim to make at least one, thoughtful comment during each discussion. Remember: quality trumps quantity. Talking a lot is not necessarily the same as contributing constructively.

NOTE: Chatting amongst yourselves while I am speaking or while a classmate is speaking is rude and unproductive discussion time. If I have to stop class to speak to you, this will influence your participation grade (there is such a thing as “negative participation” so be aware). Playing on your phones, etc. is also grounds for a lower participation grade.

 

  1. Homework (18%)

Homework (HW) for specified classes will be completed for respective modules on Blackboard and is due by the time class starts (i.e., 3:45pm/11:10am); NOT DURING CLASS. The purpose of homework at the beginning of the semesters is to make sure everyone understands basic concepts from our reading material. The purpose of homework during the last third of the semester is to prepare you for discussion. The more prepared everyone is for discussion, the better our class discussions will be. Please see the COURSE PACKET on Blackboard for homework instructions and grading rubrics. Please see syllabus section on Late Policies for information on late homeworks.

NOTE: I will drop the lowest homework grade for students who complete every assignment (homework and Journal) on time (i.e., no assignments are late or missed).

WARNING: There is a time stamp on everything submitted to Blackboard. If I notice that assignments are being submitted DURING class, I will suspend computer privileges for the entire semester.

 

  1. Reading Journals (20%)

Instead of writing a paper, students will write Journals on all primary source readings excluding background readings during the first third of the semester. Entries should be 400-500 words (no longer than 550 words) in 12-pont serif font. If you would like to handwrite your Journal: roughly two pages, double spaced (1.5 page single spaced). Journals are graded according to criteria that assess the entry’s readability, analytical quality, completeness, length, and content.

With the exception of the first journal entry, I will collect Journals three times over the course of the semester. Be sure to keep up with your Journal writing in the meantime as you will be asked to express the contents of your Journal in class. Review the prompts and at least make an outline while you are reading. This makes it easier to write for the collection days. Bring your Journals (entries or outlines) to class with you for reference during discussions. Think of it this way: you have already thought about the material AND written a comment about it. That means, in a discussion all you have to do is look at the paper and there’s your class participation!

NOTE: Journal are not summaries of the readings but are analytical, critical, and constructive responses to the readings.

Please see the COURSE PACK for further information on journal specifics. Here is a quick overview:

  • Journals will span readings from the first two thirds of the course. You will see “(Journal #)” along with the readings on which you will write.
  • I will post Journal questions on BB for each Journal. (See COURSE PACK for further details.)
  • With the exception of Journal 1, Journals will be collected in groups (see Course Schedule for dates). You may either post the Journals as you write them in BB, post all your entries on the collection day, or handwrite your entries and turn these in on collection day.

NOTE: I will drop the lowest journal grade for students who complete every assignment (homework and Journal) on time (i.e., no assignments are late or missed).

 

  1. Evaluation Paper (12%)

Students will write one 4-6 page paper (see Course Schedule below for due date) that evaluates material covered during the first portion of the semester. Further instructions for the paper will be posted on Blackboard under PAPER a minimum of two weeks prior to the paper’s due date.

 

  1. Final Exam (35%)

Students will complete one final 2-hour take home exam on Blackboard. The due date is TBD based on the final exam time as scheduled by GWU. The exam will be based on a case study of your choosing (“Introduction to Negotiation and Conflict Management” or “Introduction to Interfaith Conflict Resolution”) and will consist of 20-25 multiple choice questions, plus one short essay (you may chose from given options). The purpose of this exam is to demonstrate knowledge and mastery of material that deals with peacebuilding and conflict resolution. For detailed instructions on the exam see FINAL EXAM in BB where I will post more information later in the semester.

 

Extra Credit Opportunity +5%

Students may elect to write one 5-7 page paper for extra credit. Extra credit will be applied to the Attendance/Participation grade. See the EC tab on Blackboard for more details. The EC paper is due the last day of class.

* * * * *

 

COURSE SCHEDULE

 

Readings designated with ** are located on Blackboard.

[This course schedule is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor.]

 

Week 1: Introduction

Tuesday: Introduction to Course & Syllabus

Thursday: What is Peace & Nonviolence?

READ: **Webel, “Introduction: toward a philosophy and metapsychology of peace”; **Johansen, “Nonviolence: more than the absence of violence”

DUE: HW 1

Week 2:

Tuesday: Hinduism Intro

READ: Subverting Hatred, chapter 4; Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance: #8 (sections I &II), #68, #124

DUE: HW 2

Thursday: Gandhi & Satyagraha I

READ: Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance: #1, #2, #5, #6, #7, #11, #26

DUE: Journal 1

Week 3:

Tuesday: Gandhi & Satyagraha II

READ: Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance: #37, #47; #126; #141, 142, 143, #182 , #152, #157; **excerpt from Gandhi’s Way

(Journal 2)

Thursday: Buddhism Intro

READ: Subverting Hatred, chapter 2 ; **excerpts from Engaged Buddhist Reader

DUE: HW 3

Week 4:

Tuesday: Thich Nhat Hahn & Living Mindfully

READ: Thich Nhat Hahn, Calming the Fearful Mind: Chapters 3, 4, 5 (all)

(Journal 3)

 

Thursday: The Dalai Lama & Universal Responsibility

READ: **The Dalai Lama, select messages on World Peace; **The Dalai Lama, Five Point Peace Plan; **Tibetan Conflict

OPTIONAL: **Tibet-China Timeline, **Tibet Background

(Journal 4)

DUE: Journal collection, Entries 2-4.

Week 5:

Tuesday: Judaism: Intro

READ: Subverting Hatred, chapter 9; **Waskow, “Swords and Ploughshares as Tools of Tikkun Olam”

DUE: HW 4

Thursday: Elie Wiesel & Torah Study

READ: **Wiesel, Nobel Lecture; **Wiesel, “The Sacrifice of Isaac” from Messengers of Peace

(Journal 5)

Week 6:

Tuesday: Einstein, Pacifism, & Disarmament

Einstein, Ideas and Opinions: (from Part II): “The Disarmament Conference of 1932,” “The Question of Disarmament,” “The Pacifist Problem,” “Active Pacifism,” “The War is Won But the Peace is Not,” “Atomic War or Peace,” “On the Abolition of the Threat of War”; **Sharp, Making the Abolition of War a Realistic Goal

(Journal 6)

Thursday: No Class. Instructor @ Conference

Week 7:

Tuesday: Christianity: Intro

READ: Subverting Hatred, chapter 10; **New Testament, “Sermon on the Mount”; Tolstoy, The Last Steps: “Letter to a Non-Commissioned Officer,”

DUE: HW 5

Thursday: Tolstoy & Non-Resistance to Evil

READ: Tolstoy, The Last Steps: “From The Kingdom of God is Within You,” “Letter on Non-Resistance to Ernest Howard,” “From The Law of Love and the Law of Violence

(Journal 7)

Week 8:

Tuesday: MLK & Civil Rights in America

READ: King, Testament of Hope, Chapters: 1, 10, 11, 46

(Journal 8)

DUE: Journal collection, entries 5-8.

 

Thursday: Islam: Intro

READ: Subverting Hatred, chapter 7; **Abu-Nimer, “An Islamic Model of Conflict Resolution: Principles and Challenges”

DUE: HW 6

 Week 9:

Tuesday: Badshah Khan & Jihad

READ: **Kurtz, “Abdul Gaffar Khan’s Nonviolent Jihad”; **Johansen, “Radical Islam and Nonviolence”; **excerpt from Nonviolent Solider of Islam

(Journal 9)

 

Thursday: Muslim Women & Peacemaking

READ: **Kadayifci-Orellana and Sharify-Funk, “Muslim Women Peacemakers as Agents of Change”; **”Underground Woman: Sakena Yacoobi & The Afgahn Institute of Learning,” from Peacemakers in Action; **Dekha Ibrahim, “Transforming Our Woundness for Peace”

(Journal 10)

Week 10:

Tuesday: American Civil Religion: Intro

READ: **Bellah, “Civil Religion in America”; **Albright, “The Eyes of All People are Upon Us”

DUE: HW 7

Thursday: Alice Paul & Woman Suffrage

READ: **Dodd, “Parades, Pickets, and Prison,” sections IV, V, and Conclusion; **Graham, “Woodrow Wilson, Alice Paul, and the Woman Suffrage Movement”

(Journal 11)

DUE: Journal collection, entries 9-11.

Week 11:

Tuesday: Evaluation Essay Due (by start of class)

In Class: Game Day

Thursday: Religion, Peace, & International Affairs I

READ: **Fox, “Religion as an Overlooked Element of International Relations”; **Albright, “Faith and Diplomacy”

DUE: HW 8

Week 12:

Tuesday: Religion, Peace, & International Affairs II

READ: **Smock, Religious Contributions to Peacemaking (all)

DUE: HW 9

 Thursday: Terrorism I:

READ: **Smock, “Building Interreligious Trust in a Time of Fear”; **Cronin, “When to Talk to Terrorists”

DUE: HW 10

 

Week 13:

Tuesday: Terrorism II

READ: **Osama Bin Laden, “Truce Offer to the Americans”; **Osama Bin Laden, “Why We Are Fighting You”; **”What We’re Fighting For: A Letter from America”; **USIP, “Islamic Perspectives on Peace and Violence”

DUE: HW 11

Thursday: Terrorism III

READ: **Sorenson, “Nonviolent Resistance and Culture” (Skip sections on Abdul Khan, pp. 452-8: feel free to read them if you would like); **Holmer, “Countering Violent Extremism”; **Onuoha, “Why Do Youth Join Boko Haram?”

DUE: HW 12

 

Week 14:

Tuesday: Casualties of Conflict: Gender & Peacebuilding

READ: **USIP, “Gender, Conflict, and Peacebuilding,” pp5-30.; **Leymah Gbowee, “Child Soldiers, Child Wives”; **Ferstman, “Criminalizing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeepers”

Optional Reading: **UN Security Council Resolution 1325; **UN Security Council Resolution 1325–annotated version

 DUE: HW 13

Thursday: Thanksgiving Break; No Class

 Week 15:

Tuesday: Conclusions

DUE: EC papers; Journal Rewrites


FINAL EXAM: Take home exam. Further instructions to come. Dates TBD.

 

Monday Meditation: So Long, Joan!

Joan Rivers 1933-2014
Joan Rivers
1933-2014

 

 

 

 

Joan Rivers’ passing on Thursday, Sept 4 was surprising. I never actually thought of her as someone who would die…as crazy as it sounds. At 81, she was full of more fire than I can muster in a week!

 

 

Like Robin Williams, Joan Rivers was another presence that I grew up with. I caught a glimpse of her on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and saw a few episodes of The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, but my obsession with her really began with her day-time talk show, The Joan Rivers Show. Whenever I had a day off from school, I would tune in and guffaw at her snarky comments and comic timing. When she went on to do interviews at awards shows (I’m talking pre-Fashion Police) with her daughter, Melissa, I was glued to the TV: What would she say this time? Of course, she said what everyone was thinking. That is what made her so awesome.

 

from ladiesliveandlearn.com
from ladiesliveandlearn.com

 

If I missed Fashion Police on Friday night, I would curl up on the couch Saturday morning and catch the rerun. I couldn’t wait to see what came out of Joan’s mouth, and I loved the show’s kitchy segments. My favorite: “Starlet or Street Walker”–because, really, sometimes they do seem the same!

 

My mother and I loved Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? We used to record the episodes on the DVR and watch them during lunch when I was visiting over the summer. It honestly sometimes was like watching my present and future with my mother: the advice and the frustrations mirror our relationship. It’s creepy, yet humorous and comforting.

 

If you haven’t seen the documentary about Joan’s life, Joan Rivers A Piece of Work, I highly recommend it. It’s a charming, touching, and honest look at the life of a woman who didn’t seem to know what “slow down” meant. She was tireless. Her work ethic alone and her commitment to charity work were outstanding.

Joan Rivers 5--ifcfilms_com

I also enjoyed her fashion line that she sold through QVC. She had some great designs for older and younger women, things that were comfortable yet stylish. I love her jewelry designs–they are just fun! I had a great pair of sunglasses from her collection as well. They broke over the summer, I’ll have to get another pair.

 

What I love about Joan Rivers: she was feisty, she never allowed “no” to get her down, she had flaws and wasn’t afraid to talk about them, she was committed to her family and friends, and she absolutely seemed to love life. She was at the head of the digging crew, with the light on her head and the pick-axe in her hand, gouging out new terrain for comediennes, for senior citizens, and for the generations of women that came after her.

 

Joan River 6

It’s hard to imagine the world without her. It seemed like she was there when everything began, and she was going to be there when everything ended.

 

It’s amusing to think of her AND Robin Williams somewhere in the afterlife, sitting around, riffing off of one another, ripping the heavenly fashionistas to shreds. She’ll have more fashion faux-pas to deal with now—millenniums worth! I can only imagine what she might be saying to God, or any of the prophets, or to Elizabeth Taylor….

 

Joan Rivers just felt like the eternal grandmother, one who would give you great life advice, spoil you rotten, and tell you everything you never wanted to hear. I don’t quite think her spirit will ever leave the earth. Like Robin Williams, Joan Rivers was a boundless energy that cannot be contained. Every time you walk past someone on the street wearing something they really shouldn’t be, or see a celebrity that looks like a hooker, or (even worse) witness a “Bitch Stole My Look!” moment in real life or on the red carpet, we’ll all hear Joan.

 

I am proud to be a Joan Ranger, and I will keep fighting the good fight against fashion victims everywhere. But most of all, I try to live up to the model of the socially engaged, fearless, and grateful female that Joan Rivers set for us.

 

Thank you for the laughter, Joan!

 

 

 

Ethics in World Religions

 REL xxxx

Ethics in the World Religions

 

Course Description: This course explores modern concepts of ethics and their relation to five major religions; Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Course materials draw from various world religions such as primary religious documents, secondary literature, and case studies. We will consider religion as both a stimulus and barrier to moral change and discuss examples of modern moral issues as the encounter traditional religious ethics.

Objectives: 

Course Goals:

During this course, students will:

  1. Develop a knowledge and understanding of relevant traditions, narratives, teachings, and practices reflecting the ethical approaches of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam;
  2. Engage modern writers to explore contemporary applications of each religion’s respective ethical tradition;
  3. Examine the diverse application of ethical traditions between religions and within a single religion;
  4. Investigate various case studies concerning contemporary ethical dilemmas within world religions.

 

Learning Goals:

At the conclusion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify themes, thinkers, and texts belonging to Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam;
  2. Reflect critically on the place of ethics in religion in general, and in world religions in particular;
  3. Recognize the application of ethical traditions from the world’s religions in the contemporary world events;
  4. Understand why ethical views result in cultural clashes between and within religions;
  5. Detect misinterpretations and/or misapplications of one religion’s ethical traditions by another religion.

Instructional Methods:

This course will consist of a combination of discussion, group work, lecture, and film that draw upon class readings and materials prepared by the students.

 

Required Texts:

The following required texts should be purchased from the GW bookstore.

  • The Blackwell Companion to Religious Ethics.
  • Fasching, Dechant, & Lantigua; Comparative Religious Ethics, 2nd edition.
  • Regina Wentzel Wolfe, Ethics and Worlds Religions: Cross-Cultural Case Studies.
  • Anthony Weston, A Practical Companion to Ethics

Readings marked with an ** in the course schedule are located on Blackboard under their respective module tab.

 

COURSE REQUIREMENTS

Discussion Participation(15%)

Total discussion participation will be calculated on a 10-point scale (see RUBRICS in the COURSE PACK on Blackboard). Your final grade will be an average of every participation grade you accumulate over the number of class days held (x/28). Please note, discussion participation is tied to your attendance: if you are not in class, you will not receive any credit. For those of you who are on the quieter side: aim to make at least one, thoughtful comment during each discussion. Remember: quality trumps quantity. Talking a lot is not necessarily the same as contributing constructively.

 

Homework (15%)

Homework (HW) for specified classes will be completed for respective modules on Blackboard and is due by 3:45 p.m. the day of class (i.e., the time class starts); NOT DURING CLASS The purpose of homework at the beginning of the semesters is to make sure everyone understands basic concepts from our reading material. The purpose of homework during the last third of the semester is to prepare you for discussion. The more prepared everyone is for discussion, the better our class discussions will be. Please see the COURSE PACKET on Blackboard for homework instructions and grading rubrics. Please see syllabus section on Late Policies for information on late homeworks.

NOTE: I will drop the lowest homework grade for students who complete every assignment (homework and journal) on time (i.e., no assignments are late or missed).

WARNING: There is a time stamp on everything submitted to Blackboard. If I notice that assignments are being submitted DURING class, I will suspend computer privileges for the entire semester.

 

Reflection Journal (20%)

Instead of writing a paper, students will keep a weekly reflection notebook on select course (See Course Schedule below). Entries should be a full 2 pages, double spaced (2 pages single-spaced if you wish to write your journal longhand–please be legible!). With the exception of the first journal entry, I will collect journal entries three times over the course of the semester. Be sure to keep up with your journal writing in the meantime as you will be asked to express the contents of your reflection in class. Bring your journal entries to class with you for reference during discussions. Think of it this way: you have already thought about the material AND written a comment about it. That means, in a discussion all you have to do is look at the paper and there’s your class participation! NOTE: Journal entries are not summaries of the readings but are analytical, critical and constructive responses to the readings.

Please see the COURSE PACK for further information on journal specifics. Here is a quick overview:

  • Journal entries will span readings from September 5 through October 31. You will see “Journal #” next to the readings to be included.
  • I will post reflection questions on BB for each journal. In your journal entries, reflect on how you find peace and conflict resolution operating within the readings. (See COURSE PACK for further details.)
  • Journal collection days: (See below). You may either post the journals as you write them in BB or, as mentioned above, handwrite your entries.

NOTE: I will drop the lowest journal grade for students who complete every assignment (homework and journal) on time (i.e., no assignments are late or missed).

 

Case Study Discussion Leadership (15%)

I know you’re thinking: Ick (or some four-letter word equivalent). I get it. However, this is not as scary as it sounds. During our final third of the course, a group of 4-5 students will be responsible for presenting the case studies we read for class. The discussion leaders are not expected to solve the problem, only to provide a way for the class to dig more deeply into the situation at hand and explore the complexities of the ethical dilemmas at stake. I will circulate a sign-up sheet during the second or third week of class, so you will have time to check out the case studies to see which one you would like to present. See DISCUSSION LEADER on BB for more details.

 

Final Exam(35%) Date TBD.

One final exam will be administered on Blackboard. The exam will be open for three full days to be decided at a later date (dates depend on the course’s scheduled exam day). The exam will consist of two parts: (1) a section consisting of quote identification, short answer, fill-in-the-blank style questions (similar to the homework), (2) a section devoted to responding to a case study not covered in class (case study options will be posted the week before the exam). The purpose of this exam is to demonstrate knowledge and mastery of material covered within this course. For detailed instructions on the exam see FINAL EXAM in BB where I will post more information beginning in October.

 

Extra Credit (EC) Opportunity +5%

Students may elect to write one 5-7 page paper for extra credit. No more than one paper will be accepted. Extra credit will be applied to the Attendance/Participation grade. See the EC tab on Blackboard for more details. The EC paper is due the last day of class.

 

* * * * *

 

COURSE SCHEDULE

Readings designated with ** are located on Blackboard.

[This course schedule is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor.]

 

Week 1: Introduction to Ethics

Tuesday: Introduction to course and syllabus

Thursday: **Idinopulos, “What is Religion?”; **Schweiker, “On Religious Ethics”; DUE: HW #1

 

Week 2: The Narrative of Religious Ethics & Hinduism I

Tuesday: Comparative Religious Ethics, chapter 1; Blackwell, Part I, Ch. 2, 3; DUE: HW #2

Thursday: Comparative Religious Ethics, CH 5, pp137-59; Blackwell, Ch. 33, 34, 36; DUE: HW #3

 

Week 3: Hinduism II

Tuesday: **Das, “The Concept of Dharma;” **Dhand, “The Dharma of Ethics, the Ethics of Dharma”; DUE: Journal 1

Thursday: **Bose, “Sati: the Event and the Ideology,” **Brick, “The Dharmaśātric Debate on Widow-Burning” (Journal 2)

 

Week 4: Buddhism I

Tuesday: Comparative Religious Ethics, CH 6, pp165-96; Blackwell, Ch. 29, 30, 32; DUE: HW #4

Thursday: **Epstein, “Applications of Buddhist teachings in modern life;” **Evans, “Ethical Confusion” (Journal 3)

 

Week 5: Buddhism II & Judaism I

Tuesday: **Barnhart, “Buddhism and the Morality of Abortion;” **Florida, “Buddhism and Abortion” (Journal 4)

Journal Collection Day: Journals 2-4

Thursday: Comparative Religious Ethics, CH 7, pp205-229; Blackwell, Ch. 17, 18, 20

DUE: HW #5

 

Week 6: Judaism II

Tuesday: **Rackman, “Jewish Medical Ethics and Law;” **Crane, “Because…: Justifying Law/Rationalizing Ethics” (Journal 5)

Thursday: **Jotkowitz, “The Role of Theology in Contemporary Jewish Ethical Decision-Making;” **Jotkowitz, “Surrogate Motherhood Revisited” (Journal 6)

 

Week 7: Christianity I

Tuesday: Comparative Religious Ethics, CH 8, pp234-25; Blackwell, Ch. 21, 22, 24

DUE: HW #6

Thursday: **Simpson, “Transcending Justice;” **Badham, “The Contemporary Relevance of the Just War Tradition in Christianity” (Journal 7)

 

Week 8: Christianity II & Islam I

Tuesday: **Watts, “Just War, Pacifism and the Ethics of Protection;” **Fisher, “Can a Medieval Just War Theory Address 21st Century Concerns?”; **Zahl, Bell, Stiltner, “Just War vs. Technology” (Journal 8)

Journal Collection Day: Journals 5- 8

Thursday: Comparative Religious Ethics, CH 9 pp262-286; Blackwell, Ch. 25, 26, 28

DUE: HW #7

Week 9: Islam II

Tuesday: **Kelsay, “Islam and the Study of Ethics”; **Akpinar, “The Ethics of Islam” (Journal 9)

Thursday: **Oh, “Approaching Islam”; **Hamid, “Sexual Ethics and Islam” (Journal 10)

 

Week 10: Considerations for Ethical Debates

Tuesday: Weston, Ch. 2, 3 (Journal 11)

Thursday: Weston, Ch. 4, 5 (Journal 12)

Journal Collection Day: Journals 9-12

 

Week 11: Case Studies I: Marriage & Medicine

Tuesday: Ethics & World Religions, CH 4 (student presentation)

DUE for non-presenters: HW #13

Thursday: Blackwell, Ch. 53; Ethics & World Religions, CH 15 (student presentation)

DUE for non-presenters: HW #14

 

Week 12: Case Studies II: Women

Tuesday: Comparative Religious Ethics, chapter 10; Blackwell, Ch. 54

DUE: HW #15

Thursday: Ethics & World Religions, CH 1(student presentation)

DUE for non-presenters: HW #16

 

Week 13: Case Studies III: Culture Clash

Tuesday: Ethics & World Religions, CH 7(student presentation)

DUE for non-presenters: HW #17

Thursday: THANKSGIVING–No Class

 

Week 14: Case Studies IV: Ecology

Tuesday: Blackwell, Ch 47; **Tucker & Grim, “Overview of World Religions & Ecology.” From this link, use the left-hand tab to click through to articles on: Hinduism, Buddhism, Indigenous Religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Read each one (skip the links I did not list here).

DUE: HW #18

Thursday: Ethics & World Religions, CH 11 (student presentation)

DUE for non-presenters: HW #19

 

Week 15: Conclusions

Tuesday: DESIGNATED MONDAY–No Class

Thursday: Discussion Day

DUE: EC paper; Journal Rewrites

 

My Summer with Oprah: Wrap-Up

Over the course of the summer I revisited Oprah’s Book Club, in particular Oprah’s Way of Reading as a means of encountering the spiritual through the ordinary activity of reading and talking about books (fiction and memoir). This is a short and sweet wrap-up of this summer’s discussion, although by no means the end of the exploration.

 

I recently began a certificate in women’s studies. While being back in the classroom as a student is a bit of a drag, it was interesting to experience the graduate way of examining texts again: a way of deconstructing and pointing our problems in texts (or Martinez’s ego reading) as opposed to accepting the author’s voice as authentic, to finding yourself in the text, and to encountering the spiritual within the words on the page (Martinez’s ego reading). In other words: an experience of the intangible experience with the emotions within the narrative.

 

What we miss out when we ignore the intangible, the emotional, or the spiritual is a true and authentic experience not just of the text, and of the author as well. We escape a connection with another person, who we may never meet, but whose existence and experience in life has touched us. We need to remember to acknowledge that. This doesn’t mean that “academic style” reading is bad, it only means that we need to be aware that there is another way to read (and perhaps many other ways to read) and, especially, to connect with the text and its author.

 

Connection drives us, whether it comes through reading a touching memoir or moving novel and/or discussing that work with another person. Reading, particularly when considered through Oprah’s way can make the ordinary experience of reading an emotionally and spiritually significant event, one that inspires our daily lives, our relationship with ourselves, and our interpersonal life.

 

If I have any lesson to pass on from looking into Oprah’s Way of Reading, it is this: Be Open.

 

Be open to an encounter with whatever is beyond us as you read and speak about books. Be open to the idea that there is no up and down (i.e., heaven and earth) but a dual-level of experience where the spiritual seeks connection with humanity in the here-and-now. Be open to changing your perspective on an issue while reading a work of fiction. Be open to realizing you are others, and others are you.

 

Instead of judging others because they read what you might not deem “literary,” ask them what they find compelling about the work. Connect with them, share with them, and above all, remain open to inspiration in unlikeliest of places.

 

Depression: A Public Feeling (Ann Cvetkovich)

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Depression: A Public Feeling (Duke University Press, 2012) is Ann Cvetkovich’s exploration of cultural and social causes/influences on depression, which she offers as an alternative to the medical model of depression (which emphasizes medication). She combines a memoir (Part I) that discusses her experience of academic depression (writing her dissertation, working in her first job, writing her first book), with a critical essay (Part II) that touches on spiritual despair, colonialism and slavery, queer culture, and crafting.

 

 

 

Cvetkovich’s suggestion that a cure for depression is rooted in creativity, along with her inclusion of “The Depression Journals” (or, memoir) in the text, caught my attention immediately because it relates to my research into writing as a means of addressing psychological, emotional, and spiritual crises. My dissertation was a Jungian investigation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita, which he composed during a twelve-year oppression that left him unable to produce plays and publish prose works from 1927 to 1940. My thesis is based on a Jungian and Russian Orthodox religious/philosophical outlook on creativity, which argues that creativity is a psychological and spiritual catharsis that allows us to return to the depths of suffering, enter the crisis objectively, and resolve the crisis through the creation of art. Cvetkovich’s definition of creativity as something that can help move the mind around, into, or through an impasse (21) fits well with a religious and depth psychology perspective, even as she points out the existing tensions a creative-spiritual perspective has in academia. Cvetkovich also reminds me of the work done on the moral imagination, in particular, of Paul Lederach’s The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. For Lederach, transcending conflict comes through transforming anxiety and/or fear into hope through artistic means. Cvetkovich also implies a connection between creativity and hope in “The Depression Journals.”

 

Recognizing creativity’s connection to hope, Cvetkovich explicitly ties creativity to impasse, which implies that creativity exists along a spectrum between hope and despair, with “impasse” somewhere in between. Creativity cannot be removed from the equation, though its existence may be ignored, and the individual can adjust the use and influence of creativity, if she chooses. At the end of her memoir (Part I), Cvetkovich suggests that the creative solution to depression (for herself) does not lie in the external expression of the creative as an object outside the individual (i.e., the medical creativity it takes to build a drug that rebalances the brain). Rather, the solution lies in the experience of stepping creatively into the crisis and working with the chaos to alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression.

 

A medical perspective of depression conveys the idea that the depression happens to the person, while Cvetkovich’s approach to depression as a cultural product suggests depression as something done with and/or in the individual. A difference between these two views may impact the likelihood of resolving the depression: if medication does not work (and medication is what you believe will cure you), dealing with the depression might become more overwhelming. That is, if an individual places all hope in medication as the conclusive end of depression, and it doesn’t work, the individual’s experience of depression may worsen. On the other hand, Cvetkovich’s discussion of creative ways in which people handle living with depression (where depression is a part of the individual and life) offers a way of seeing the depression as something less like an enemy that needs defeating, and more like the annoying relative with whom you have to engage, even if you would rather not. You cannot get around it, so you might as well develop coping mechanisms that make depression’s presence more palatable.

 

Reading the options Cvetkovich presents for tending to the public/cultural aspect of depression in Part II, I felt a warming sense of “my academic research interests are not crazy.” Cvetkovich mentions the hostile trend toward the spiritual in academia. Coming from a religious studies background myself, the trend toward finding the spiritual in everyday activities is met with a similar hostility that I still don’t understand. Rather than being accused of bringing religion into a secular humanities subject, I have been confronted by demands to know where the spirituality/religious is in everyday activities like writing or reading. “What’s theological about it?” is a frequent question tossed to me, even though theology itself is done in artistic ways (i.e., iconography). It’s an odd thing to consider: neither side can find itself in the other. The location of the spiritual within the creative realm, I feel, is a great approach to dealing with either the private or public feelings of depression. I’m not sure if my random digression makes sense, but the crux of the point is: I strongly agree with Cvetkovich’s spiritual approach to the utopia of ordinary habit.

 

I see how the drudgery of everyday, ordinariness creates depression and anxiety in a population bombarded with messages that our lives should be X, Y, and Z. I certainly feel it, and know other people do. When I watch a movie or TV show, the ridiculous questions I keep coming back to are: Does this action hero go to the bathroom? When does that stylish woman do her laundry or clean her toilet? How does this twenty-something with that job pay for that apartment? These mundane yet necessary tasks make it seem like our lives are shabby in comparison to the glamorous figures onscreen. There is an odd need to “Keeping Up With the Jones’,” yet no recognition that the Jones’ are not real people.

 

At the same time, those tasks that seem mundane to one person are infused with an entirely different significance if they make up the content of someone’s professional life (i.e., maid, servant, cook, and housekeeper) and they remain things a woman has to do at home for herself and her own family. Does that professional experience increase the depression and anxiety brought on by ordinary habit? Cvetkovich does not say, but it could be worth exploring.

 

The areas of artistic expression that Cvetkovich offers (writing and crochet) as examples of the utopia of ordinary habit are exactly what I have encountered in my life. I see writing (i.e., fiction, memoir, journaling) as a form of therapy that offers a spiritual connection, if the writer is paying attention. Funnily enough, I am also a crocheter. I have an Etsy shop. My stock consists of projects I make when I’m trying to unwind (no pun intended—although I am cognizant of the bizarre process of taking a ball of yarn and purposely tying it into knots as a form of stress relief). The original stock for my Etsy shop came out of the crochet breaks I took while writing my dissertation in 2011-12. I started the shop in 2009 but it was empty until 2011—just when my stress of the job search and writing began. Last year, I starting investigating crochet as a form of meditation, and wrote a (still homeless) freelance article about meditative crochet as a daily, ordinary habit the average crocheter could convert into a calming spiritual exercise. I appreciate her including crafting in her book, because I think it too often gets overlooked as something women do to keep busy or to be domestic. The new approaches to crafting (particularly in the most recent feminist wave) represent a cultural reversal: taking the very tasks that were meant to confine women (which lead to “hysteria”) and transforming them into actions of freedom (which alleviate depression).

 

Cvetkovich touches on the public nature of crochet as a form of performance art, although I wish she had discussed the social significance of crafting as well. For example, coded messages female slaves incorporated into imagery on quilts used by the Underground Railroad, or quilting bees and sewing circles, which provided times for socializing and creating solidarity among women.

 

I would have liked Cvetkovich to include play/sport in her discussion of creativity and of the utopia of ordinary habit. She mentions individual exercise (i.e., yoga), but not group play or organized sports as a means of participating in the ordinary. Anyone with children knows that play is part of their day. We’ve done much to cut play from life as we age, and many women have told their children “I don’t have time to play with you now” when they are tackling household or work-related duties. As much as the brain needs crafting, the brain also needs play. Play creates solidarity and emotional bonds, and increases endorphins, which are important for emotional health. Play and participating in organized sport is not just about exercise, since play allows us to escape the bubble of cultural conformity that might contribute to depression. Play and sport also provide a means of approaching impasse creatively and in the spur of the moment, which might be helpful when confronting an impasse such as depression, both privately and publically.

 

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Monday Meditation: Find Bliss in the Ordinary

If we are to believe the cultural input we receive on a daily basis, we are all supposed to be thin, buff, stylish, well-groomed, well-accessorized, vacation constantly, own the latest gadgets, be constantly happy, and have everyone do everything we desire.

 

If we are to believe the cultural input we receive on a daily basis, all of the chores and errands we have to do are either done by others, are done by magic, or just don’t need to be done at all.

 

If we believe the cultural input we receive, and then compare it to our actual daily lives, we are likely to find that our lives don’t measure up.

 

Movies, TV, commercials, magazine, etc. are selling a utopia, not presenting life as it actually is. We are lead to believe that the small, ordinary aspects of life are impediments to our fabulousness and to our living an extraordinary life. However, sometimes the most extraordinary moments come through the most ordinary experiences, experiences we might overlook because they don’t match culturally created models of awesomeness. Sometimes, when we are in the midst of the most ordinary tasks, we can achieve moments of complete bliss and joy.

 

There is a sense of satisfaction in doing the laundry and knowing that things will be clean. There is something to be said for having an hour or so free when no one can bombard you with questions because you are food shopping, or running errands–supplying your family and yourself with things that keep life moving. The morning commute may be frustrating, but the painted sky and dazzling sunlight remind us that our rush-hour traffic is a small thing compared to the nature that surrounds it. Sweeping, vacuuming, or cleaning in general gives our brain a chance to rest and gives our body a chance to move, a chance to work out some of the stress we develop over the course of the day. Our morning cup of coffee or evening cup of tea are rituals that ease us into and out of our days, and sometimes provide us with the strength to keep moving along to the next moment.

 

If we believe the utopia cultural input tries to sell us, we are liable to treat these very ordinary moments as annoyances that impede our path to the good life. But, perhaps, the good life is in those ordinary moments, and if we ignore the ordinary aspects of our day, we are liable to miss something amazing.

20140709_134151_resized_1

Monday Meditation: Small Kindness

When we think of changes, we have a habit of thinking of BIG changes. We then tend to believe that if we take action, and that action only produces a small change, or a barely discernible change, then the effort was wasted—that the BIG change will never come. Then we give up because we believe our action doesn’t work.

 

Nothing in life occurs in a split second, but by the time we hear about something, we only experience the sudden, big result, and not the decades of work and failure that went into achieving that result. This sustains the belief in instant gratification, even though the big result wasn’t as sudden as it seems.

 

Every day that we undertake a challenge, every day that we devote toward improvement, every day that we expend the effort in the pursuit of love and goodness–that is one day closer to the BIG result. To make life better for yourself and for others, focus on the little things you do every day that influence people around you.

 

Focus on small moments of kindness, ones that may seem banal in the scope of your day, but which really have a larger impact than you think. Smile at someone, pay for someone’s coffee, give up your seat on a bus, laugh at someone’s joke, say “good morning.” Tell yourself you did the best you could today, tell yourself, even if you fall flat on your face, you did it with grace and style, tell yourself that even if something didn’t work today, tomorrow you’ll be one step closer to making it work.

 

Every kindness we share toward someone who has maybe never experienced kindness is one chip in a wall of hate. Every kindness we offer ourselves, gives us the strength to keep chipping away at the obstacle that blocks our path.

 

The more chips we cause, the more likely it is that the wall or obstacle will collapse. People and situations don’t change overnight, but if we invest in ourselves and in the strength of kindness, we can build up more often we tear down, we can tunnel through rather than give up—we can get to the other side.

 

Small moments of kindness help create big changes.

 

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”

― Lao Tzu

007

Stand with #Ferguson

[Updated]

I have been following the news out of Ferguson, MO like the rest of the country.

 

Watching everything unfold has been heartbreaking and disgusting. It’s like watching a dystopian film about 23rd century America or a zombie invasion, or like watching the episode of Tyrant when the president’s general wanted to roll the tanks out in the public square to “clear” (i.e. kill) gathering protestors.

 

I can’t put much into words–I only have physical feelings: overwhelming sadness for Michael Brown’s family, distress for the protestors subject to the police action, sadness reading my friends’ Facebook posts about the incidents, utter disgust and embarrassment at whites who use this as a chance to put down African-American communities, and complete helplessness because all I want to do is run into these crowds of people, hug them, cry, and tell them that I am sorry and that everything will somehow be okay, even though I don’t know if that’s true.

 

I can’t claim that anything I write now is worthy of the pain and anguish Michael Brown’s parents and family must feel, or that anything I write now will express the level of despair and sadness I feel.

 

Today’s news that Michael Brown was shot six times (twice in the head) was a punch to the gut. Six times.

 

People have been saying: Oh, this shouldn’t happen in America. Really?

 

Well guess what: whether it should or shouldn’t, IT IS HAPPENING IN AMERICA.

 

The number of deaths this year at the hands of police is out of control. One recent example is Eric Garner, who was killed in July after an officer put him in a chokehold. Despite Garner’s announcing that he couldn’t breathe, the officer did not release him. People filming the incident were arrested—an action I never thought was illegal, especially since the police have dashcams themselves.

 

Last time I checked, putting someone in a chokehold and shooting an unarmed man in the street did not fall under “protect and serve.”

 

Since when have we become a country that is beholden to the police? The police are not The Law. The police are supposed to UPHOLD the law. So why is it that the police seem to dictate what is and is not fair treatment of human beings? While not all members of the force fall into this category, no one will deny, I think, that there is a serious police culture problem that needs to be corrected in a massive way. When you read articles about the talks black parents’ give their young black sons on how to deal with the police, it’s completely disgraceful. If I were a member of the police force, I would be ashamed to know that citizens in the community I am meant to protect and serve had to prepare themselves in such a way.

 

How can we put our trust in an institution that infuses fear into society?

 

The newly ramped up militarized police force is beyond frightening. What we’ve got, as John Oliver commented, is a group of boys playing military with their new toys–that they some how received from the military? Somehow this “boys and their toys” attitude has been overlooked and permitted the rest of us…even if we didn’t know that it was happening. Since we can a police force roll down the streets in tanks and other armored vehicles? This is out of control. The situation almost feel like: well, we’ve got these new tools, let’s create a situation in which we can use them!

John Oliver presents it best:

 

We glorify and cheer killing in video games, movies, and on TV–I’m beginning to wonder if we can tell the difference between reality and fantasy anymore. In real-life, people die when you shoot them six times. In a video game, if you get shot six times, you get to start all over again.

 

Life is not a video game.

 

The question of whether violence in video games, films, and on TV leads to violence in real life is always hotly debated, and the general sense is that there is no correlation. What about this suggestion: violence in video games, films, and on TV has left us with an inability to feel compassion for others. Our increasing alienation of each other through cell phones, texting, etc. has also left us with an inability to know what human connection is really about. We have lost our empathy in such an intense way–the question now is: can we retrieve it, or is it gone forever?

 

I teach peace studies. I teach my students for fifteen weeks, twice a week, that everyone on the face of the earth matters. That every life is important, every life makes the world what it is, and that without each and everyone one of them, the world would be a much different place.

 

Michael Brown’s life is important. Eric Garner’s life is important. Trayvon Martin’s life is important. I write “is” and “not” was because they are showing us what we have to change. They have been generous enough to give their lives so that the rest of us can learn to be better. The good news is that we CAN CHANGE. We can get better. We just have to want to…together, not separately, but as a community.

 

What will I do in the wake of Ferguson? I will keep teaching love, keep teaching the value of life, and I will keep telling my students that everyone on the face of the earth matters–even if you don’t like someone, even if you are enemies: show love so that you can melt away the hate no matter how long it takes.

 

Every. Life. Matters. Period.

 

What will you do in the wake of Ferguson to make sure that every human being’s life is given the value it deserves?

 

#standwithferguson

 

source: www.wcnc.com
source: http://www.wcnc.com

Monday Meditation: Robin Williams

 Robin Williams (1951 -2014)

from http://www.forexlive.com
from http://www.forexlive.com

August 11 brought some shocking news: Robin Williams died. I laughed and cried through so many of his films. I grew up with Mork, was giddy about Popeye, begged my parents to rent Good Morning, Vietnam, thought about the side of life with don’t show with One Hour Photo, yearned to stand on my desk thanks to Mr. Keating’s life lessons on conformity, poetry, and carpe diem in Dead Poets Society, laughed and cried with Patch Adams, ached with What Dreams May Come, danced with Aladdin‘s genie, and had my soul exploded by Dr. Sean McGuire in Good Will Hunting. As much as I liked the comedic side of Mr. Williams, his dramatic side affected me most—maybe because I felt like we were getting a subtle glimpse of what was underneath the persona that wanted everyone to laugh.

 

 

Mr. Williams is not the first person to commit suicide. He probably wasn’t the only person who did so on August 11, either. But what his death can do, if there is a positive outcome, is help realign the ethic of care in our society.

 

We assume that just because someone has a lot of money and/or is famous, that person MUST be beyond happy. We assume that because someone makes us laugh when we hang out with them or see them at work that, when s/he goes home, life is a rip-roaring laugh fest. We assume that just because someone doesn’t constantly complain to us, that they have no problems.

 

None of these are true.

 

Money, power, and fame are concepts, not real things. The only thing we ever know about a person is what we see in public—living with someone opens your eyes to what their inner life is really like. And maybe, just maybe, someone doesn’t want to burden others with their problems or maybe doesn’t want to show people they have problems for fear of judgment.

 

Remember to check-in with each other, follow-up with someone when they seem down, and greet everyone (even strangers) with a smile. Listen instead of criticize, encourage rather than put down, and celebrate other’s victories (no matter how small they may seem to you because they may be HUGE for someone else). This may not end suicides, but it might help someone who feels overwhelmed by life.

 

And remember too, that your life matters just as much as Robin Williams’. You’ve touched many more people than you realize in life, they will all miss you, and life will never be as it was before—it may adjust, but it will not be the same. The world changes when a life goes out, and in certain ways that change is palpable…if you’re paying attention.

 

I will really miss the joy and thoughtfulness that Robin Williams brought to the world. I will miss the eternal lessons that seeped through his portrayal of characters that could only be portrayed by him, and no one else. His energy was so large—maybe it just couldn’t be confined in human form any longer. His energy is now dispersed throughout the universe, it free—and so is he.

 

Thank you, Mr. Williams. Nanu-nanu.

 

 

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