Sowers

IMG_2666.JPGInspired by Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower

We all seal the day with the prayer of our ways
Our speech, our work, our tools and play
We pray ceaselessly the intent of our will
And we only only sometimes come to glimpse
The shape of what we mean.

But we shape on
We form the world
Known and unknown
Seen and unseen
We build castles and crowns
And blood and war
We shape schools
We shape seeds
We shape thoughts and tiny dreams
And though we form daily all possible futures
We sink into thoughts that run in patterns
Or ways turn to ruts
And we can’t stand the shape
Of our oft repeated days
Nor of others’ dreams.

We dream ourselves separate
We dream ourselves seeming
The material of thought makes the material of being
We shape the world and it shapes us
We become manifold
Or
We become none.
I struggle to write one true line
I work to make one true shape
I dream to make one true design
One true word
Or sound
Or movement
That reflects this mind
That must not remain

entirely mine.

A Crack in Reality

I pour ideas into my heart
there they pulse
and move apart
I breath them out
pull others in
Your ideas
And mine
and her’s
and his

We seek them often
to free ourselves
from what we can’t believe simply is
and we mourn that we can’t capture the world
or even ourselves

Truth may be
but it has no cages
nor peace to offer
Yet on we pour
ideas into that breach
that is life
a crack in reality
this we are
a glimpse by creation
of maybe
something more

The Demands of Moral Principles and the Seduction of Violence

I swear I will not dishonor

my soul with hatred,

but offer myself humbly

as a guardian of nature,

as a healer of misery,

as a messenger of wonder,

as an architect of peace.

–Diane Ackerman “School Prayer”

Two men died intervening to protect two Muslim women being harassed on a train in Portland. They died protecting the lives of two strangers being treated horrifically by a white supremacist terrorist.

The ideas of the terrorist led him to kill. The ideas of the heroes led them to make a choice to put their bodies in the breach and their ideas led to them sacrifice themselves for others. There is no greater moral choice.

These two men are my latest moral teachers. Here is what I’ve learned through them and others:

May we all be willing to place ourselves in the path of violence to take the blows for another and to pay with our lives if necessary. This is the moral choice that brings violence to its knees. Violence needs to feed on violence. It compels a reaction to sustain itself. When we call for violence against the antagonists and the peddlers of racist, xenophobic, religiously intolerant ideas we feed violence its sustenance. We fall prey to the same seductive idea that the terrorists we claim to fight do—we imagine ourselves the heroes. We believe our violence is right, that only our “right” violence can fight their wrong violence. We become infected with the same idea at the root of all violence—that our violent control is correct and good. We begin to believe we are the righteous, and thus we fall victim to the curse side of the promise that “all things are possible to those who believe.” Twisted by our belief in our righteousness, we become the villain—all the while the while believe we are the hero.

Some will say: “But we had to fight a war to stop the Nazis!” No, we didn’t. The war was the result of allowing their rise to power. That occurred not through violence but through democratic elections. The people elected not only Hitler, but gave his party the power to rewrite all laws and control the entire state. The people made their moral choice to accept the violence in order to see the world “made right” in their minds.

A lot of people who did not support Hitler’s party had to passively accept the systematic exclusion of foreigners, religious minorities, and the disabled, at a time when these were only ideas. The full violence of the Nazis erupted when the masses refused to refuse to participate. The moral decision of masses was to accept these ideas rather that refuse them. They refused to confront their friends, their neighbors, their own family. They would rather not make scene, not make a stand that might carry a price. The sum total of those decisions led to the rise of the Nazis and fueled the death of tens of millions and the suffering of the world.

We don’t need to punch the white supremacists. We need to refuse them. We need to collectively reject them AND their means everywhere. We can fight without violence. We can show in mass to their rallies and refuse them space and volume. We can confront racist ideas whenever we hear them, even when its hard to do so. We can confront those we love who passively repeat these ideas, and we can work to sway those we love who seem receptive to them. When we hear a slur we can confront the person and call others to do the same. We only have to have the courage and moral gumption to make that choice. We need to proactively arm ourselves not with weapons of violence but the readiness of moral actions that fights, not perpetrates, violence.

In the end its not the terrorists with guns, bombs, or knives we need overcome. It’s the idea at the core of all violent philosophies—that we can fix others and the world if we just kill, or violently control, the right people.

People around this terrorist knew he was racist, I can’t help but think they likely knew he was also unstable and violent. Perhaps had they taken action when he first fell into these ideas, there would have been no victims on Friday.

May I work to ensure that I will not be a passive accepter of violent, racist, or intolerant speech or ideas. We need one another to be brave in small things so others don’t have to pay the price for being brave in the ultimate things.

We need to not imagine ourselves heroes. We need to think ourselves human and humane.

Wonder and Words

“Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge.”

– Abraham Joshua Heschel

The desire to doubt, so that we might not err, is great. But doubt is only defense. We must be more than critics, especially of ourselves. Wonder, the state of curious awe that is receptive to experience without judgement, takes us deep into the world, deep into ourselves, and deep into our encounters with others. It is in the depths of wonder that we draw from the wellspring of inspiration. Wonder is generous and it is our most native state. We wondered before we spoke.

Our words come after wonder. Those words move us from the solitary to the social. Whatever else we are, we are beings that must speak and must be heard. Our society, all societies, are built on this fundamental human truth of language. The ebb and flow of our everyday occurs in a current of sounds that we instinctually imbue with meaning, and through these we navigate ourselves through life.These sounds transmit the very vibrations of another’s being through air, their inflections, their meter, their volume, their very presence is encountered. Our voices attune our bodies to one another.

When we write, we condense these sounds to shape and form, letters, words, lines—to preserve and transmit our ideas through time. This process organizes our thoughts, it assembles them, imparts a force and life to them that has no limits in space and time. It also strips our literal voice and physical presence, making our meaning more obscured, and making a permanent artifact of what was a process and an experience. Our words go forth minus our bodies—minus our being. They live a life apart from us. When we read another’s words we are left to consider their inflection, their meter, their volume, the timbre and tone of their voice that is now alien to us. Even the words that we find most precious leave much of their essence inaccessible to us. We fill the absence with our own voice, or an imagined voice. We hear but an echo but find it precious still. We must meet the other without their presence and attune our minds outside of time and space. This is how the written word built the modern world. It has power, and worth, and a price.

The words we write or speak are the worth we offer to others, and the words we hear or read are the worth that we receive. We are responsible for both. The richness of our lives may be measured by the richness of this exchange. To whom do we turn our attention? What stories do we share? Whose works do we read? Whose air do we share? These questions cause me to wonder, and cause me to cast off the cautiousness of private contemplation in order to offer my own words—not to measure their worth, but to invite a richer exchange of ideas. It is not without risk. I hope it is not without worth.

Whatever the worth of words may be, and I believe that value to be great, the worth of a single person is infinitely greater. Let us enrich the wellbeing of each other and the world with our words. Let our words impoverish none. Let us never silence our voice, turn our ear, our eyes, or our bodies when they are needed to uphold the worth of another. Let our words have worth, and let us wonder richer selves together.