Sunday, August 24, 2014

Loving My Neighbor As Myself

The vast majority of us, Christian or not, are familiar with what Jesus called one of the two greatest commandments: Love your neighbor as yourself. I suspect few people take the time to think about what this really means and how truly difficult it is. The commandment truly is great in that to do so is a great challenge and has great consequences if truly put into practice.

My heart has been aching in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO, the John Crawford shooting in Dayton, OH, and so many others, in a way it never has before. I have been aware of racial discrimination and the systemic racism inherent in our systems of governance and "justice" for years now. But it's never felt personal to me like it does now. What has changed? About 8 months ago, this white woman who has lived her entire life in a very white bubble moved into a neighborhood where about 90% of her neighbors are African American. No, I didn't do it on purpose to try to prove how color blind I am or what a good white ally I am. No, I didn't do it as an experiment or for material for a good blog post. I simply wasn't familiar with the city to which I was moving.

I have had Black friends for most of my adult life. But there is something very different about having Black friends within the framework of your very white bubble where you are still the majority, as opposed to being in a place where you are now the minority, feeling so uncomfortable and so conspicuously white, seeing the funny looks you get as you walk down the street, having teenage boys call you "snowflake" when you walk by... essentially occupying the space of 'other.' And while I may stick out like a sore thumb and be so far outside my comfort zone it's almost comical, I can say that I feel safer in this neighborhood than I have almost anywhere else I've lived in the last 10 years. My neighbors have, for the most part, been kind, friendly, and gracious. My neighbors.

MY neighbors. This, I believe, is why I feel the pain of what is happening to the Black community at the hands of law enforcement so much more deeply and personally than I ever have felt about racial injustice. Because it's no longer an abstract idea--it's my community and my neighbors. I experience the fact that, despite how nice the neighborhood is, the grocery store doesn't carry a lick of organic produce, and there's an armed security guard in a bullet-proof jacket guarding the entrance/exit. This isn't abstract anymore. It's not academic or even trying to do or say the right thing. It's my community, my neighbors. Once a week I volunteer at the abortion clinic down the street, escorting women into the building, shielding them from protesters. Women of all races and backgrounds come to the clinic, and many of them are African American. But almost all the protesters are white men, hurling racially targeted verbal assaults at them, and I can only imagine the pain and trauma being inflicted. And I am angry. Because these are my sisters. These are my neighbors.

It's pretty easy to love your neighbor when they look like you and experience the world in relatively the same manner that you do. It's a lot harder when you are a white person living in an inherently racist society, living in a shelter of white privilege (yes, even poor whites have white privilege), to really get the whole "love your neighbor as yourself" thing when it comes to what is happening in Black communities all over the country. I was listening to NPR the other day, and they were interviewing a DJ from the St. Louis/Ferguson area who had opened the airwaves to callers after the Michael Brown shooting. At one point in the interview, he made the observation that so many of the (white) officers who are policing communities like Ferguson are not actually a part of the community. They live somewhere else, presumably in the comfort of their white suburban homes and neighborhoods, then suit up to police communities that are not their own, communities filled with people who look different from them, and whose experience of the world is very different. They come in to enforce the law on those they perceive as "the other," and the other is always lesser-than.

I feel in my heart, more now than I ever have, what I have known in my head for a long time: We are One. Please understand, that doesn't mean I claim to understand what it's like to be African American. It doesn't mean I'm claiming to be color blind (and please don't tell me you are). It means that I care deeply, in a way I never have before, what happens to people who are different from me. Because even though we look different and have different experiences, we are all human beings. We are neighbors. We are connected to each other through community, and on a deeper level, through the cells in our bodies and the Spirit living through us. We are One. I feel the pain of injustice. I take it personally. Because you belong to me and I belong to you.

I encourage everyone whose experience is of that of the privileged majority (whether that be white, straight, male, wealthy) to go within and ask how you might move outside your comfort zone to expand your circle of love and compassion on a deeper level, to make "the other" your neighbor, so that we might, one by one, live ourselves into a world where we truly get that everyone is our neighbor, and more fully love and care for all of humanity as ourselves.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thoughts On Higher Education

Would you care to guess how many different schools I have attended since high school? Twelve. This includes both two and four-year programs, accredited and not, as well as vocational and specialized training programs. I have an associate's degree from a community college, an unaccredited bachelor's degree in Contemporary Spirituality, an accredited bachelor's degree in Humanities (the most specific major I could come up with when I put together all my earned credits from 5 other colleges/universities), a certificate in Nutrition, Bodycare, and Herbalism, and certification as a Life-Cycle Celebrant. I am currently a student at One Spirit Interfaith Seminary and I will be ordained as an Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister in June 2015.

You may be wondering why I'm telling you this, and I've probably already lost half of the four people who started reading this post to begin with. (Kudos to the two of you still reading.) I've been thinking a lot about the value of higher education. I only just received my accredited bachelor's degree a year and a half ago at the age of 36. I have friends in their late 30s and early 40s struggling with whether or not to go back to school for a degree. I watch brilliant, successful women struggle with their worth because of their lack of a piece of paper that society tells us is so important. I also watch friends with teenagers struggle with helping their kids make decisions about their futures that I don't believe most teenagers are even close to being able to make. I've watched the cost of attending college increase by 2 and a half times the rate of inflation in this country. I have friends whose every major decision in life seems to be influenced by the fact that they are strapped with student loan payments of multiple hundreds of dollars every month. And recently, my husband who has no more than a technologically outdated associate's degree and a couple of years of liberal arts courses got a promotion at work, where he is happy and thriving and making more per hour than I ever have.

I come from a family where there is a huge emphasis on higher education. Almost all of the cousins I grew up with have a minimum of a master's degree, and many are now teachers. My sister also has a master's degree and works in a specialized field within public and private schools. Simply by association, I have felt the pressure to conform, to get the pieces of paper that say I'm good enough. And although I consider myself to be pretty intelligent and I love learning, even in the context of traditional academia, I don't jump through hoops well, nor am I good at conforming to the expectations of others or what I perceive to be artificially constructed hierarchical systems of accreditation and approval. In recent years, my struggle to try to fit into somebody else's box has been excruciating.

The whole point of officially getting my accredited bachelor's degree was because after many years of fighting it or ignoring it, I decided to say "yes" to the call to ministry that I have heard my entire life. I believed the only way to do that was to affiliate with a particular denomination (pick a box) and get a Master of Divinity (M.Div). This degree is the equivalent of about two to three masters of arts degrees combined, costs $60,000 to $100,000, and from the tales I've heard from people who have gone through it (and experiences I've had with ministers who have earned their "proper" credentials), doesn't do a whole hell of a lot to prepare people for actual ministry. When I look back at my time as a young adult attending retreats and conferences with other Unitarian Universalist young adults back in the day, I realize that the most lackluster worship experiences were those led by seminarians. When I finally allowed myself to think outside the box, my life opened up in ways I never would have dreamed. I am now mid-way through a ministerial training program that is taking me on a growth journey I never could have anticipated, and is preparing me better or as well for true ministry as I can imagine anything possibly could. And I will finish this program having accumulated no debt, and paying only a tiny fraction of what that golden M.Div would have cost me.

Now, I am not opposed to higher education. In fact, all of my college experiences were important in their own ways--some because of what I learned in the classroom, some because of the relationships I formed, others because of all the learning that happened outside the classroom. I do believe that a liberal arts education is incredibly valuable. It opens people's minds and exposes them to new ways of thinking and learning and seeing the world. This is not the kind of value that has a dollar sign attached to it. Higher education is also important for people who have very specific career aspirations. My sister is a Speech and Language Pathologist, a profession which requires a master's for certification and licensure. She knew what she wanted to be, she did what she had to do, and I'm super proud of her. My brother, on the other hand, struggled through a BA in philosophy from an expensive private liberal arts college. Believe me, I think everyone should study philosophy. But I'll never forget the little cartoon hanging on the wall of one of my favorite professors. The cartoon read, "Careers in philosophy:" with a picture of a stick figure in a graduation cap pushing a janitor's broom. My brother went on to learn to fly airplanes and is now a pilot. I'm also super proud of him. The most professionally valuable educational experience and credential I have earned to date is my certification as a Life-Cycle Celebrant. A Specialized 6 month program that cost about $2,200 total.

So here's what I have to say about higher education for anyone who cares what my opinion is on the subject. College degrees in this day and age are over priced and overrated. Not everyone needs a college degree, and a college degree does not guarantee you a better life or more income in your lifetime. Community colleges are under valued and under utilized. I'm all for kids spending a few years after high school exploring their interests, taking some classes in a variety of subjects, and getting a little life experience under their belts before saddling themselves or their parents with crippling student loan debt for a degree that may or may not amount to much financial value. Non-traditional forms of education are also seriously under utilized and underrated. We need more creative thinkers and people who are finding that sweet spot between what the world needs and what makes their heart sing. We also need people to do the jobs that don't require degrees, jobs that require intelligence and talent and a good personality, but are jobs that people with degrees think themselves to be above doing. We even need people to do the jobs that require little intelligence or training, but they require time and effort, and we should pay people well for their time and effort. To receive specialized training for something you love and are good at is an awesome thing. Think outside the box. Listen to what your heart is telling you, if you can, over the roar of what society tells you you need to do to have worth. Do some research, think for yourself, and challenge systems of authority.

If education were free in this country (as it is in, for example, the Scandinavian countries), I'd say everyone should get a college education. But just like healthcare in this country, it's turned into quite the racket, keeping Americans bogged down in debt, nose to the grindstone. Because God forbid we weren't strapped with debt, had time to think about what matters most to us and the world, and had time and energy to do something about it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Doing Forgiveness

The following is an essay I very recently wrote for a project that one of my classmates and dear friends put together as a sort of yearbook for our 1st year class of seminarians at One Spirit...

Forgiveness is a fucking bitch, man. It’s also the Holy-Mother-Fucking-Grail. I had always thought of myself as a compassionate person because I’m vegan, I’m passionate about a number of social and environmental justice causes, and I have that super-hero, Leo personality that makes me think I’m destined to do great things in the world. I must be compassionate! Doesn’t having the desire to do the good or right thing and to make the world a better place constitute compassion?

When I really spent some time reflecting on forgiveness and what it takes to be a forgiving person, I realized that compassion and forgiveness go hand-in-hand. And man, was I one wretched, unforgiving son-of-a-bitch. Matthew Fox (one of my favorite theologians ever) says this of compassion: “Compassion is not sentiment but is making justice and doing works of mercy. Compassion is not a moral commandment but a flow and overflow of the fullest human and divine energies.” I got the first part about making justice. I’m not sure I really got the mercy part. And I was certainly living my life according to moral commandments. What I have recently come to understand is something about the “flow and overflow of the fullest human and divine energies.”

A Course in Miracles defines forgiveness as the healing of the belief in separation. I’m not sure I would define compassion much differently. When I truly opened myself to forgiveness, to understanding others as no different from myself, to accept the profound capacity we ALL have for fucking shit up, some profound shifts began taking place in my life. Some of it has involved some pretty intense Cosmic ass-whoopings, which I’m pretty sure were, if not well-deserved, at least necessary for beating the lessons through my thick skull (trust me, it’s thick). Some of it has been mind-blowingly wonderful. It has been healing and gratifying. I’ve seen myself break some pretty unhealthy patterns of behavior--rooted in separation, aka unforgiveness, aka a lack of compassion--that I had been repeating for years.

I’ve taken some scary steps to have some brave conversations that I never would have had before. I would have taken my damn ball and gone home and fuck-you-very-much. This, I’ve done in the past, and I now live with the regret of letting go of some deeply meaningful relationships because, how dare you mistreat me? How dare you not live up to my expectations?? How dare you be a flawed human being… like ME??? I’m learning that this forgiveness thing is not a one-time thing. It’s an attitude, an awareness, a way of being in the world and a way of DOING in the world. It is the way of compassion, and the only way to love. As I’ve started doing the hard work of accepting others in their flawed and beautiful humanity, it has enabled me to begin accepting my own broken, beautiful self. And WOW.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Razor Reboot

This blog is about to get a reboot. It's time to start blogging again and for real. I could have started a new blog, but I like this one. Anything written before 2014 was from Consciousness Razor 1.0 and the blog was described as follows:

Political, social and spiritual commentary from a passionate thirty-something feminist, vegan, angry, peace-loving, magickal, rational, hetero-partnered queer woman. Enter at your own risk.

"Feminism is not simply about achieving the power and status typically held by men. It's about protecting and supporting the rights of women of all classes, races, cultures, and beliefs."

"Veganism is compassion in action. It is a philosophy, diet, and lifestyle."

I'm proud of the little bit I've written before now, but I have been stepping more fully into who I am, and it's time for that to be reflected in my writing. Don't worry, it'll still be brash and full of profanity and unapologetically opinionated, because that's me. But as my first year of seminary nears completion, it is time for me to start exercising my ministerial writing chops. There will still be lots of feminism, veganism, some politics and other juicy stuff... it's just that the lens will be a little different, or perhaps simply more refined.

And so it begins...