2016-02-09

It Must Be Said

Black lives matter. It must be said.

Look, there’s lead in the water in Flint, Michigan. Various people, including at least one of the leading candidates for President of the US, have observed that the Flint water crisis would have been handled differently if it had happened in a white suburb outside of Detroit. Flint is a very poor community and it is 57 percent black. It’s called environmental racism: protecting the environments of predominantly white communities much more than we do predominantly black communities.

For example – close to home: Last September, Bedford, NY officials obtained water sample results with very slightly elevated lead levels. They took 20 samples and 4 samples had lead above the recommended allowable of 15 parts per billion. The highest sample had 19 parts per billion. The city sent out a mailer explaining how that happened, and that they would be dealing with this by very slightly increasing their water treatment dosages. Summary: a few samples exceeded health standards; the worst was 19 parts per billion, 1.27 times the safe level.

Meanwhile: Flint, Michigan. The US Public Health Service announced that 26 water samples – out of 4,000 samples -- had lead levels above 150 parts per billion: 10 times the safe level.Volunteer teams have found that at least a quarter of Flint households have levels of lead above the federal level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) and that in some homes, lead levels were at 13,200 ppb: more than 800 times the safe level.

We treat black lives as not mattering. Black lives do matter, and it must be said.

The Flint story is partly a class issue, but not all racial disparities collapse to class. As Ta-Nehisi Coates explains:
“We now know that for every dollar of wealth white families have, black families have a nickel. We know that being middle class does not immunize black families from exploitation in the way that it immunizes white families. We know that black families making $100,000 a year tend to live in the same kind of neighborhoods as white families making $30,000 a year. We know that in a city like Chicago, the wealthiest black neighborhood has an incarceration rate many times worse than the poorest white neighborhood. This is not a class divide, but a racist divide.”
And in this country, black lives are treated as mattering less than white lives.

As best we can tell (many police departments do not report) blacks are less than 13% of the U.S. population, and yet they are 31% of all fatal police shooting victims, and 39% of those killed by police even though they weren't attacking. Between 2005 and 2008, 80% of NYPD stops were of blacks and Latinos. Only 10% of stops were of whites. 85% of those frisked were black; only 8% were white. Only 2.6% of all stops (1.6 million stops over 3.5 years) resulted in the discovery of contraband or a weapon. Whites were more likely to be found with contraband or a weapon.

A black college student has the same chances of getting a job as a white high school dropout. Voter ID laws are do not prevent voter fraud, but do disenfranchise millions of young people, minorities, and elderly, who disproportionately lack the necessary government IDs. African American children comprise 33.2% of missing children cases, but only 19.5% of cases reported in the media. Why is that? Why is it that a missing black child is much more likely to be deemed not worth reporting?

In 2009, bailed-out banks such as Wells Fargo and others were found to have pushed minority borrowers who qualified for prime loans into subprime loans, which can add as more than $100,000 in interest payments to a mortgage over the life of the loan. Among high-income borrowers in 2006, African Americans were three times as likely as whites to pay higher prices for mortgages: 32.1% compared to 10.5%. This kind of disparity has been going on for some time.

History presents us with windows of opportunity when a mass movement arises that can make change happen. The Civil Rights movements of the 50s and 60s was just such a window. And we are seeing that window again. Since Michael Brown died in Ferguson a year and a half ago, there’s a new awakening to the ways this country treats black lives as not mattering. We have a chance now to be a part of bringing about meaningful change.

Unitarian Universalists were there during the Civil Rights movement, standing up voting rights and civil rights. Five hundred Unitarian Universalists marched with with Dr. King in Selma to Montgomery, including over 140 Unitarian Universalist clergy -- 20 percent of all UU ministers in final fellowship at that time. We had a important role to play then, and we have an important role to play now.

We are a people of conscience. We are a people who stand for something other than our own comfortable complacency.

Many Unitarian Universalist congregations are actively making their neighbors uncomfortable. They are putting up banners that say “Black Lives Matter” on their property displayed to public view. They are doing this because if the idea that black lives matter makes a neighborhood uncomfortable, then making it uncomfortable is what we need to be doing. Many of the banners have been subject to vandalism, and theft. I listed a bunch of those incidents in my column a couple months ago. Just two days ago, Friday’s news included the story of our congregation in Reno, Nevada. They are now on their 9th Black Lives Matters banner, as each of the previous 8 has been stolen or vandalized.

Rev. Dan Schatz serves our Unitarian congregation in Warrington, Pennsylvania. One day he got a note from a neighbor:
“Good Evening: I am very upset at the signage that is outside of your church stating that “Black Lives Matter.” Since when has God chosen to see us by the color of our skin. The sign should be taken down and replaced with ALL LIVES MATTER. How will this nation of ours ever join together if we are constantly looking at everyone by their race. Unless you were actually there in Ferguson or in New York or Cleveland, you do not have all the facts. [signed:] A Bucks County Resident”
No, we don’t have all the facts. Even if we were actually there, we never have all the facts. But we have ample facts illustrating that this country treats black lives as mattering less than white lives.

And of course all lives matter. But you don’t show up at a fundraiser for breast cancer patients and start objecting that all cancer patients matter. You address the problem that you can.

When I imagine a loving presence that pervades the universe, I do not imagine that presence would say: “since skin color doesn’t matter, I want you to ignore all the evidence of ways that your fellow humans use skin color to discriminate.”

This nation will not join together in justice by pretending that everything is fair and equal when it isn’t. This nation will not join together in justice unless real wrongs are acknowledged and addressed.

All lives do matter, and in order to live in a world that better recognizes that, we need to attend to where lives are most treated as not mattering. That black lives do matter is what needs affirming in the current social context. "Black lives matter" challenges current presumptions that they don't. "All lives matter" is not nearly as challenging. It could be. But in the current social climate, "all lives matter" functions primarily to assert that the disregard of black lives requires no particular attention. The current disregard of black lives should just be left alone to continue.

Last summer, at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly 2015, the delegates adopted an Action of Immediate Witness that proclaimed:
WHEREAS, Unitarian Universalists strive for justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

WHEREAS, Unitarian Universalists have a goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

WHEREAS, allowing injustice to go unchallenged violates our principles;

WHEREAS, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained powerful traction in conjunction with recent tragic events involving, in particular, police brutality and institutionalized racism that target the black community;

WHEREAS, Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, Shelly Frey, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Kayla Moore, Tamir Rice, and Tony Robinson are just a few names of people who were recently killed by the racism that exists in the United States today;

WHEREAS, people of all ages and races are killed by law enforcement, yet black people ages 20-24 are seven times more likely to be killed by law enforcement;
WHEREAS, mass incarceration fueled by for-profit prisons and racially biased police practices drive the disproportionate imprisonment of black and brown Americans;

WHEREAS, the school-to-prison pipeline is an urgent concern because 40% of students expelled from U.S. public schools are black and one out of three black men is incarcerated during his lifetime; and

WHEREAS, we must continue to support the Black Lives Matter movement and Black-led racial justice organizations;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association calls member congregations to action, to become closer to a just world community, and to prevent future incidents of this nature;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly urges member congregations to engage in intentional learning spaces to organize for racial justice with recognition of the interconnected nature of racism coupled with systems of oppression that impact people based on class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and language;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly encourages member congregations and all Unitarian Universalists to work toward police reform and prison abolition (which seeks to replace the current prison system with a system that is more just and equitable); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly recognizes that the fight for civil rights and equality is as real today as it was decades ago and urges member congregations to take initiative in collaboration with local and national organizations fighting for racial justice against the harsh racist practices to which many black people are exposed.
Black lives matter. It must be said.

2016-01-27

Black Lives Matter

Confrontation in Ferguson, 2014 August
It started almost a year and a half ago in Ferguson, MO, when Michael Brown was killed. Or maybe it started almost four years ago in Florida when Trayvon Martin was killed.

In any case, it DIDN’T start 25 years ago when the nation watched video Rodney King lying unmoving on a Los Angeles street as officers continued to rain vicious baton blows upon him. The officers were acquitted – a familiar pattern – and that triggered the 1992 LA riots, but the nation as a whole did not take seriously that there was a SYSTEMIC problem here.

When Trayvon was killed in 2012, that was in my back yard – I was serving in Florida at the time and I joined with other UU clergy and other groups in protesting what had happened. I preached then about the evident racial bias and injustice. Two and a half years later when Michael Brown was killed, I admit I missed the nationwide social significance of reaction to that event.

When I say “it started,” of course I’m not talking about a callous and systemic and brutal disregard of black lives. THAT has been going on for about 400 years in this country. What HAS started quite recently is a social awakening to this fact. The alarm bells which have been a constant din in our country’s African American communities began to pierce the consciousness and conscience of the nation as a whole with the Trayvon Martin killing. And then, just as the nation was hitting snooze on that alarm, came the killing of Michael Brown. And at first I was not attentive to the significance of the response.

Our neighbor UU congregation in Westport, CT was more on the ball. They held a vigil of honor for Brown and of protest against police violence. I did not seek to organize any such response here. They held that vigil within a week, as I recall, of Brown’s death, and I thought, “Why this one?” Over the seven years, 2005-2012, white officers killed a black person on average almost twice a week. Blacks constitute about 12.3% of the population, but are 24% of all people killed by police officers in the US. (These statistics on police shootings, particularly of blacks, are likely to be significantly understated. Police departments self-report the numbers, and these are based on the reportage of only 750 of the 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the US.) So: just going by these woefully underreported numbers, we’ve been having white officers killing a black person twice a week. So why the outrage about Michael Brown?

The better question, of course, is: why hasn’t there been outrage all along?

To answer that question, we need to look at some history. In the history of the European colonization of these continents we call the Americas there are many places we could begin. There were centuries of enslavement of African peoples and people of African descent. Then, after the Civil War, Reconstruction represented an effort to make a serious break with that past. So for our purposes now, let's start the story with the day the US abandoned the hope and promise of Reconstruction.

That day, if it can be pinned on a single day, was 1898 November 10. On that day and for the next several days after, in Wilmington, NC, white supremacists violently overthrew the duly elected biracial city government, burned down the black-owned newspaper, and murdered as many as 100 black citizens. It was not a “race riot,” it was a coup d’etat by white supremecists. Hoodlums overthrew the legitimate government. The US government declined to step in, thereby tacitly signaling to the entire South that there would be no federal protection of black voting rights. And there was none for the next 67 years. When the citizens of this country learned that the US government did nothing to defend a legitimate government against insurrection, what could they have concluded except that it must be OK because black lives don't matter?

Lynchings were numerous from 1890 through 1930, and the nation as a whole declined any meaningful effort to stop them. Some awareness that the lynchings were going on seeped through to the country as a whole. Seeing no particular effort on the part of law enforcement at any level to stop these gang murders, what could a person conclude except that it must be that black lives don't matter?

We have an ingrained national pattern of regarding black lives as not mattering. Since about 1890 and the backlash against Reconstruction, our nation’s citizens get periodic news reports about something horrible happening to people of color: discriminatory policies, acts of hate, or acts of violence against people of color. We get these stories over and over and we see that neither our government nor our fellow citizens want to do much about it.

Yes, there was a Brown v. Board decision in 1954. There were the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, since rolled back. And things got better – some. Throughout all that and since: we have been getting stories of violence and injustice, and stories about the official response. When Trayvon was killed, Zimmerman was at first not charged, and he never would have been charged were there not substantial public outrage. Sanford, Florida Police “said that there was no evidence to refute Zimmerman's claim of self-defense and that Florida's stand your ground law prohibited law-enforcement officials from arresting or charging him.” You hear these stories over and over and something in your brain just goes: “Oh, must be that black lives don’t matter so much.”

Remember the Asch conformity experiments of the 1950s? The experimenters would line up 15 people. Only the one at the end of the line was actually the test subject. The first 14 were in cahoots with the experimenter. The experimenter would hold up a poster with two lines and ask, "Which of these two lines is longer, line A or line B?" It was very obvious that line A was longer. But the the first 14 people would say line B was longer. When the question came to the last one in line -- the one who was really the test subject -- one third of respondents went along with the crowd and agreed that line B was longer -- despite the clear evidence of their senses that it was not. We see the world around us acting in a particular way, and we figure they must be right. We are social animals. We are built to adapt ourselves to our social situation. That is our glory as a species – but it can become our biggest problem. We see a society that regards people of color a certain way, and we -- blacks as well as whites -- can’t help but share, at least partially, that regard. [1]

That same society has, in the last couple generations, also taught us not to say out loud that black lives don’t matter. But something in our brain nevertheless concludes that they don’t – or else how could our government, our fellow citizens, allow the way they are treated to continue? That’s been trained into the brains of the people of this nation for 400 years. Since the end of Reconstruction, it has continued to be trained into our brains -- but we are now trained to be somewhat less overt about expressing it. We don’t say anymore that black lives don't matter. We just keep showing it. And the message gets through.

In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Authority. The FHA provided mortgage insurance, but only for high rated neighborhoods. The presence of a single African American made a neighborhood low rated. So while the law didn’t say, “No mortgage insurance for blacks,” the effect was the same. And private banks simply didn’t give uninsured mortgages to African Americans. A system of contract selling sprang up in which white speculators would buy a house cheap, double its price and sell it to a black family under contract terms in which the interest rates were high, the seller retained the deed until the house was fully paid for, no equity accrued, and if a single payment was missed, even if it would have been the last one, the buyer lost everything, the house and all money that had been invested in it.
“In Chicago and across the country, whites looking to achieve the American dream could rely on a legitimate credit system backed by the government. Blacks were herded in to the sight of unscrupulous lenders who took them for money and for sport.” (Coates, 2014 Jun)
So if we have so-called “black on black” crime, it is because we had intentional, deliberate policies to herd people of color into proximity only with other people of color and equally intentional policies to prey on them to impoverish them.

Let me repeat some of the facts I have mentioned before – lest we forget:

In one study, thousands of identical resumes were mailed to prospective employers -- identical except only for the name. A black sounding name – say, Daunte Williams instead of David Williams – was 50% less likely to be called back. Fifty percent.

Bilking and plundering African Americans for profit and sport continues. Black car buyers are charged $700 more on average than white car buyers of the same car. When driving that car, multiple studies show that black drivers are twice as likely to be pulled over. When looking for a home, black clients looking to buy are shown 17.7% fewer houses for sale, and black renters learn about 11 percent fewer rental units.

Up until the recent move toward decriminalizing marijuana, penalties have been stiff. Blacks and whites used marijuana at similar rates, yet black people were four times more likely to be arrested for it. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 created much harsher penalties for possession of crack cocaine, used mostly by blacks, than for a quantity of powdered cocaine, used mostly by whites, that produced similar effects.

Overall, Blacks are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.

Doctors did not inform black patients as often as white ones about the option of an important heart catheterization procedure.

White legislators – in both political parties -- did not respond as frequently to constituents with black sounding names.

When Black men open-carried firearms as the Black Panthers did in the 1960s and 70s, gun control legislation passed, and when that perceived threat was gone and whites wanted to open carry, those controls were rolled back, and white people heavily armed in public are celebrated as patriotic guardians against government tyranny.

Meanwhile, government tyranny, in the form of its police officers, is a more realistic threat to African Americans. According to ProPublica analysis last October, a young black male is 21 times more likely to be shot by police than his white counterpart.

How is it that this goes on? How can we know this, however dimly we might be aware of it, and also know relatively little is done to rectify these inequities, and not conclude that, well, black lives just don't matter much.

So that's why there hasn't been outrage all along. It's because our long history has trained us to regard injustices toward people of color as simply the normal and irrevocable order of things. Blacks as well as whites were inculcated with a tacit assumption of white supremacy.

But the same stories that inured this country eventually started waking it up.

We watch movies like “12 Years a Slave,” and are rightfully horrified, yet stories of the horrors of 19th-century slaveowners also function to reinforce the idea that racism is a conscious bias held by mean people. Today it’s an unconscious bias perpetuated unconsciously by people like most of us who see ourselves as nice people. What we finally started waking up to was that those unconscious biases have real and deadly repercussions.

I don’t know why, out of the long history of abuses, a murder in Ferguson was the one that finally triggered a movement. Apparently this nation was simply due. If Darren Wilson had never shot Michael Brown, some other senseless murder would have triggered this movement of people to say, hey, wait. Black lives DO matter. So we’ve got to stop acting like they don’t.

There’s a growing recognition among white-identified people of the privileges they -- we -- are granted. A year ago, just after a grand jury announced its decision not to bring charges for Eric Garner’s killing, a hashtag “crimingwhilewhite” began trending on twitter. White people shared experiences of how they had been treated by police. Here's a sampling:
  • Arrested for DUI, cop took me to drive through ATM so I'd have money to bail myself out.
  • Friend w/ suspended license gets flat tire/pulled over in someone else's car. Cop says he will use my license (passenger)
  • Arrested for stealing street signs xmas eve back in high school. Probation waived as it would interfere with DRAMA CLUB.
  • Exhaled blunt smoke in a cop's face as I opened my door and then told him he couldn't come in without a warrant. He left.
  • Played with realistic toy guns my entire childhood, wherever we wanted.
  • My 13yo son and his friends were loitering at Walgreens recently. Only his black friend got searched for shoplifting.
  • Ticket for going 120. No license. Judge let me off. "You go to too good a school to be so dumb so I assume you aren't."
  • I dined and dashed-cop found me at the movies, I paid the bill and he left. I was rude but not arrested and not killed.
  • successfully shoplifted A LOT back in the day because nobody ever followed me around or assumed I was a risk
  • Got pulled over for a brake light out. Underage and drinking and blew over the limit. Cop let me walk to my friend's apt.
  • I was 20. Stopped by cop at gas station. Under the influence & underage. He flirted with me then let me drive home.
  • In high school I got in a 3 car wreck that might have been my fault. The cop told me it was the "illegal alien's" fault.
  • Shoplifted when I was a teenager. Was apprehended but never charged because I looked "like a good kid"
  • Someone very close to me assaulted a state police officer at a traffic stop once. Was out by 9 am and later beat case.
  • oh yeah the time I got picked up for the gun at school thing they let my mom come pick me up and take me home. No juvie.
The system cuts a lot more slack to people who look white. Breaks like these just don’t happen very often to people who look black.

We as a society have a long way to go. We Unitarian Universalists, as a people of faith, a community of conscience, have a role to play in helping that happen. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations are actively making their neighbors uncomfortable. They are putting up banners that say “Black Lives Matter” on their property displayed to public view. They are doing this because if the idea that black lives matter makes a neighborhood uncomfortable, then making it uncomfortable is what we need to be doing.

Let me say that again. If the idea that black lives matter makes a neighborhood uncomfortable, then making it uncomfortable is what we need to be doing.

Are we not a people of conscience? Are we not a people who stand for something other than our own comfortable complacency?

---
NOTE
[1]Cornel West, in his Ware Lecture at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in 2015, alluded to the fact that white supremacy infects the consciousness of black folks as well as white folks:
"I've got a lot of vanilla brothers and sisters that walk with me and say, Brother West, Brother West. you know, I'm not a racist any longer. Grandma's got work to do, but I've transcended that. [LAUGHTER] And I say to them, I'm Jesus-loving, free, black man, and I've tried to be so for 55 years, and I'm 62 now, and when I look in the depths of my soul I see white supremacy because I grew up in America. And if there's white supremacy in me, my hunch is you've got some work to do too." (UUA Ware Lecture)

2016-01-21

Pain Is Inevitable, Suffering Is Optional

Our thoughts can make trouble for us.

One day LoraKim told me my shirt was wrinkled. So I took it off and started ironing it. All the time I was thinking, “I wore it yesterday, and then I hung it up. I didn’t sleep in it, I didn’t throw it in a heap somewhere. What business does it have being wrinkled? Shirts shouldn’t get wrinkled just from being worn one day.” The iron was steaming, and I was fuming. It’s an inanimate shirt, and I was shoulding all over it. That’s the kind of thought I’m talking about. I was making myself unhappy when I could have relaxed into enjoying the experience of ironing. There’s a certain delight one can take in the swath of smooth warm cloth the iron makes. But I was having none of that on that day.

Accepting reality just as it is – not believing those judgmental thoughts that pop up about it – is the path to enjoying life. By learning to not identify with those thoughts that come along, by not taking them personally, we can simply find the thought interesting. Oh, there’s that annoyed thought, or Now I'm having a depressed thought. What used to be the nightmare is now just interesting – or possibly even funny.
“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” (George Orwell)
Acceptance is crucial for our well-being. And acceptance, as I said, does not mean resignation or complacency – but perhaps the question arises, how does it not imply that? How is it possible to have both acceptance and resistance – resistance to injustice, unfairness, needless cruelty?

There are various approaches to answering that question. Buddhism seems particularly promising since it puts such emphasis on acceptance. "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." The Buddha did not say that – not in so many words -- though people like me, giving dharma talks, often say that. What makes pain into suffering – at least, if it’s a relatively mild sort of pain – is that we don’t want it. “I don’t want this – I want this to stop,” – that’s suffering. But when we accept that the pain is there, when we just pay attention to it – focus on investigating the sensations – it doesn’t bother us. The Buddha did say something similar in the Sallatha Sutra:
“When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows; in the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, and laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental.”
The thought that life isn’t what we want it to be leads us to work long hours to buy more products which inevitably fail to satisfy. In the process of many repetitions of this cycle, we internalize the idea that the best life has to offer is continual grasping after more and more, that whoever dies with the most toys wins, that there is no escape from the misery.

The single-minded devotion to producing and consuming held up to us as happiness, leaves us with loneliness and alienation. Acceptance opens up the possibility of enjoyment. Without acceptance, there can be no equanimity, no peace – only a shifting kaleidoscope of anger, resentment, sadness, and fear.

I started a Buddhist practice including daily meditation almost 15 years ago. There’s a way to handle that anger, that resentment, that hurt, that isn’t repression, and isn’t indulgence either. It’s a practice of bringing the light of awareness on what is. It might seem like a very private, personal, even selfish pursuit – make yourself happy and never mind the rest of the world. This is where acceptance might look like resignation or complacency in the face of the world’s troubles, injustices, and cruelties.

It’s true that Buddhism has a reputation of being socially disengaged rather than engaged. In this regard, Buddhism and Christianity parallel. As movements, both Buddhism and Christianity include strands of engagement with the world, and strands of withdrawal into private salvation.

Private salvation is popular. In Christianity this often plays out as: get saved, accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, and then you are assured to going to heaven. The rest of the world may be damned, but that doesn't matter. You are getting to heaven.

There's the story of a young child at a fairly conservative, and Southern, Christian church who heard the preacher proclaim, "accept Jesus Christ as yo lord and master and yo will ha-ave uh-ternal li-ife." The child thought the preacher said "a turtle life." Take refuge in the father, son, and holy ghost and have a turtle life. Which does have a certain appeal. A turtle life affords a hard protective shell, refuge behind which allows indifference to the world. In the last 2000 years, many strains of Christianity have, essentially, promised a turtle life, with salvation as a protective shell for the individual alone.

To be the sure, the message also spoke of Christian love to one another. Christian love, however, has too often been taken to mean being nice to one's own family, circle of friends, and maybe, like the good Samaritan, the occasional stranger by the road. Christian love has too rarely been taken to mean opposing the structures of oppression that are cruelly breaking and prematurely ending the lives of more than a third of the world's population.

Yet Christianity also has a socially engaged version. Buddhism, too, has a privatistic version -- and also a socially engaged version.

Next: Socially engaged Buddhism

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "Acceptance and Resistance"
See also:
Part 1: Creating the Better, Accepting the Real

2016-01-20

Creating the Better, Accepting the Real

Acceptance AND resistance? Well, consider the Buddhists. We Buddhists are big on acceptance -- and lately many of us have been orienting toward social engagement and resistance to unjust structures and policies. Consider, for starters, this passage from David Brazier, The New Buddhism:
"Buddhist training has always to be seen in the context of the wider purpose. The Buddha's message has the potential to transform the world. The world today is in the grip of an orgy of greed. The rich become richer and the poor get poorer, and this is not new. The scale of it is new, however....[T]he gap between rich and poor has never been so great in the whole of history. Reforms of international commercial and trading arrangements are having the effect of transforming the whole world into a single market. In this situation, the scope for disparities of wealth have never been remotely so great as they are now, and the process is still accelerating. Buddhism predicts that greed and hate follow one another. The periods of greed are long and the periods of hate are short, sharp and vicious. The current surge of greed contains within it the makings of war. The greater the greed, the more devastating the war to follow. It is ironic that the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the demise of communism has created in the world precisely the conditions ... in which the inherent contradictions of the world greed system would become ever more glaringly apparent. If we do not want the world to be destroyed in a blood-letting orgiastic enough to compensate for the era of greed, then we need another way forward. The Buddhist solution to this is the creation and growth of Sukhavati [the Pure Land] in our midst. To create a country without territory, however, means to create a community of values. To hold a community of values together requires steadfastness on the part of those who participate. The pressure to rejoin the greed system is considerable....As times grow more difficult and dangerous, the need for courage and steadiness become greater. Such times will come. A Buddhist needs to be prepared so that the purpose will not be lost when the going gets tough. The citizens of the Buddhist community of values ... need to be steadfast and that means that our training has to be thorough. The purpose of Buddhist training is not a kind of 'I'm all right and never mind the rest' salvation. The purpose of Buddhist training is to make Sukhavati a reality."
Acceptance

First, let's look at the need for acceptance in our lives -- then we'll look at how resistance fits into that. For Unitarian Universalists, the third principle which we covenant to affirm and promote is:
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
Does that seem a little at odds with itself? If we truly accept one another exactly as we are, then how come we’re also encouraging each other to change and grow? Of course, one might point out that, when it comes to spiritual growth, it’s not about becoming other than what you are. It’s about becoming more and more yourself. Even apart from that, what you are is dynamic – an ongoing process rather than a static thing. Accepting that process isn’t at odds with encouraging that process to continue.

Besides, that’s just how it works. When we feel accepted for who we are, only then can we be encouraged to growth.

Accepting our fellow congregants is a part of the process toward accepting...well, everything. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation or complacency. It means we stop denying reality.

Let me tell you something about Byron Katie. Byron Katie was in personal crisis in 1986. She was suffering from depression and was in a halfway house for women with eating disorders. Suddenly she had an experience of awakening. These things sometimes just come out of nowhere. For her it came as what she called a discovery. She writes:
"I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment."
She has written a book called Loving What Is. She explains,
“I am a lover of what is, not because I'm a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.”
Her point is that our thoughts are so often judgmental. Our thoughts are all about what’s wrong with reality. This shouldn’t be that way, we think. This should be different; that should be different. Even when we have an approving thought – a thought judging something good – it typically comes bundled with a thought about how there really needs to be more of that something, and it needs to last longer. Even when we like things, our thoughts tend to go to its limitations.

That kind of thought is going to pop up: that is, thoughts that spring from the premise that you are a separated, isolated self filled with interests and desires. Most of our thoughts presuppose that the self is cut off from others and the world except insofar as others and the world function to satisfy or thwart those interests or desires.

We don’t make such thoughts appear. We don’t decide what to think before we think it – we just find those thoughts buzzing about in our heads. There are certain situations where you can make yourself think about a certain topic or problem to solve. You aren’t choosing the specific thoughts themselves; you are only putting yourself in a position to invite a certain subject matter of thought. Large portions of our day, however, we aren’t even intentionally selecting the topic.

Don't Believe What You Think

Things simply arise in our experience, and thoughts arise to meet them. In fact, the thoughts themselves just are one more thing that arises in our experience. Your thoughts are just something that happens to you, like the weather, like finding yourself stuck in traffic, like a telemarketer calling on the phone – or, for that matter, like a friend calling on the phone. Things just happen. Thoughts are one of them. But you don’t have to believe the thought. Don’t believe what you think. As Byron Katie put it:
“Thoughts are like the breeze or the leaves on the trees or the raindrops falling. Raindrops aren’t personal, and neither are thoughts.”
When we believe the thoughts, we are likely to suffer.

Next: Accepting reality is the path to enjoying life.

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Acceptance and Resistance"
See also
Part 2: Pain Is Inevitable, Suffering Is Optional