Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Balancing solitude and community at the Brass Monkey

I'm contemplating carving out some solitude and sacred space in the next month of holiday madness. Whenever I choose to spend a chunk of time alone, especially on a day that is typically spent in community and celebrations, I often get concerned looks from friends. They ask, with a slightly alarmed "suicide watch" look in their eyes, if everything is alright. I receive many invitations so I won't have to be alone, which I am thankful for. I don't take it for granted that I choose to be alone, while others may truly be lonely.

But there is a difference between being alone and lonely. There is a need for solitude that we're missing, especially in this season as Advent and holiday parties loom.

I had dinner Friday night with my friends Paul and Jen. Trying to find a place close to a concert at the Wiltern, we met for burgers at the Brass Monkey. Shouting above karaoke renditions of "Sweet Caroline" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," we talked about solitude, and how important it is for understanding who we are in community. Paul, a friend and fellow INFP, gave me this quote from Bonhoeffer: "The mark of solitude is silence, as speech is the mark of community. Silence and speech have the same inner correspondence and difference as do solitude and community. One does not exist without the other."

I had just read an excerpt of "Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes" by Robert Kull in Whole Life Times. His observations resonate with what I've been reading and mulling from Eckhart Tolle about living in the present, letting go of ego and being true to who I am, despite outside expectations. (Italics mine)

Kull writes, "To be fully human we need relationships with other people, with the nonhuman world, and with our own inner depths. In solitude we have the opportunity to explore all these domains of relationship. We are also spiritual beings and may feel called into solitude to seek communion with a numinous presence we can directly experience, but not clearly define. ...

"I’ve learned that the core of my loneliness is not separation from other people, but feeling disconnected from myself. Solitude provides a respite from the demands of social life and creates a space for personal healing. Paradoxically, spending time alone can soften our sense of alienation from others. ...

"We can never really know what contribution we’re making; we can only be true to our deepest calling and trust we’re doing what we’re meant to do. I’ve found my desire to contribute to the lives of others deepens in solitude.

"We each have a social identity, a persona held in place by our interactions with other people. In solitude this persona begins to lose solidity and dissolve. The process is sometimes terrifying and there are few easy escapes. Solitude challenges us to face our inner darkness and to discover we’re not identical to the conception we often have of ourselves. ...

"Yet the world will always be exactly as it is in each moment — no matter how much time and energy we expend denying this simple fact. If our plans for the future are not grounded in joy in this moment, our lives go unlived. ...

"... we need inner transformation. Solitude evokes the spacious wonder of living in a sacred world."

(Photo by Gini Snavely)


~by Mary Oliver

Every day
I see or I hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for --
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world --
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant --
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these --
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Power of women and perseverance in 'Pray the Devil Back to Hell'

From the L.A. Times: "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" is the story of how an entire country went from madness to sanity, prodded by women who would not be denied. It's a marvelous documentary detailing how the everyday became extraordinary, "how ordinary women," in the words of one of them, "did the unimaginable."

As directed by Gini Reticker and produced by Abigail E. Disney, "Pray the Devil" uses its brief 72 minutes to tell one of the truly heartening international political stories of recent years.

The nation in question is Liberia, a country that by the year 2002 had seen some 200,000 people die in ongoing fighting centering on dictatorial President Charles Taylor and the various rebels who wanted to replace him.

~ Read the full review by Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

Showtimes on Moviefone

(Photo courtesy Pewee Flomoku / Fork Films)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Peace that passes understanding - Ethel, Frankie, old hymns and paramedics

How often are we given the opportunity to test our faith? To say, "I believe this is so," and the next breath have that statement challenged? To understand what peace that passes understanding really is? In "A New Earth," Eckhart Tolle describes it as accepting the present moment for what it is. How when, in disaster or war, "they lost all ... found themselves with 'nothing.' ... Then suddenly and inexplicably, the anguish or intense fear they initially felt gave way to a sacred sense of Presence, a deep peace and serenity and complete freedom from fear. ... 'the peace of God that which passeth all understanding.'"

It was only moments. After the passing of the peace, which at All People's Church means hug upon hug upon kisses on cheeks, when young and mostly old circle the room checking in on one another, affirming to each other through touch, or words, or both, that we are loved. African American, Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic: All People's is one of the only places I have truly seen that picture.

It was moments after 70-something Frankie stood up during the time of sharing joys and blessings and said how thankful she was for Ethel, who was speaking that day. For Ethel's life and wisdom of 92 years. For her son Lonnie who was in church with her, to sing "Because He Lives" especially for Ethel. It was after Lonnie took the microphone from his mother and thanked the small group of faithful from his home church for their prayers and thoughts while he was sick, and during the operation that put a pacemaker in his heart. It was after Thurston, whose daughter died last year, stood and asked the congregation to check out his pew, where Mandy and I sat with another woman, and Luke took the mic and made a comment about "Charlie and his angels."

It was after Ethel was helped up the steps to the front of the church, and I watched in amazement as she spread out her papers and notes, and leaning against the pulpit, adjusted the microphone to her level and started talking about the historic moment of Barack Obama's election, and the beauty of the mix of people celebrating with him in Grant Park. Ethel just recovered from an operation, 36 days in the hospital and internal bleeding.

After Ethel had written a letter a few weeks ago, telling me that how after the last physical attack on her body, "I felt so sorry for myself until I saw a picture on TV about the people of Haiti trying to live through four fierce tropical storms, and another of a crowded highway of people going back to Galveston -- not to pick up their lives, but to see absolute devastation. I decided I have so much to be thankful for." She quoted Eckhart Tolle, a book she had read in the hospital, "One thing we do know: Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment."

After Ethel shared about her 40 years working with the poor in Mexico, and asked if anyone had experienced a miracle, a personal miracle. She described a day in Mexico, working with Futuro del Oro. How the sky was so blue, and the clouds looked like they had been painted by an artist. How she had been just another Gringo working to help in Mexico, but that was the day she no longer saw the dirt and unpaved roads, but recognized people she knew and loved and called friends.

After Frankie helped Ethel back to her seat, and Ethel paused, flashed a toothy grin and said, "Getting old is for the birds."

Frankie's son Lonnie stepped up to sing. He began in a low, powerful baritone, "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living, just because He lives."

As Lonnie moved into the second verse, he knocked the music off the stand, and started to lose his place in the song as it was picked up and put back in front of him.

As his voice regained volume, we collectively breathed easier and relaxed into the song. Moments later he yelped, grabbed his chest and leaped away from the music stand. Everyone sat up at attention, unsure what had happened. Seconds later he screamed, a horrible sound between a shriek and a holler and dropped the microphone. He seemed to be getting shocked.

Everyone took action. A command to turn off the microphone was followed, someone thought it might be setting off his pacemaker. Lonnie moved back toward the stand to sing, but as he started to sing again, he screamed in terror, clutching his chest again. I told Mandy someone needed to call 9-1-1, and then realized I needed to call 9-1-1. As I waited for my mobile to turn on and dialed, I was raising my voice above the din, asking for the church address in a panicked screech, watching in horror as Lonnie jumped and yelled, saying he was seeing sparks every time it happened.

While answering the paramedic's questions over the phone, I tried to be calm and clear above the sound of everyone else. Lonnie sat back in a chair now, his shirt unbuttoned. How old is he? I looked around while people shouted different numbers. I locked eyes with Frankie. 55, she said clearly. Is he clammy? She laid her hand on her son's forehead, and so did Mike, who nodded. Has he changed color? the voice on the phone asked. He's African-American, I said, dark-skinned. I don't know, maybe he's a little red. I started to panic as Lonnie continue to scream out and ask what was happening to him.

I watched other people gather in groups to pray. I went outside to listen for the ambulance sirens. I did not have the peace that passes understanding. I looked at Frankie, a mother listening to her son being attacked from within. She looked terrified and helpless, but not half as panicked as the rest of us.

How many of us were thinking "all fear is gone," at that moment?

After the arrival of five paramedics and a few minutes of working on Lonnie inside, they took him to the ambulance and sped away, assuring Frankie they wouldn't leave until she knew exactly where they were taking him.

The rest of us gathered in a circle, to hold sweaty palms and pray for Lonnie. One of the women led the prayer, thanking God that Lonnie was with loving friends and family when this happened, and asked God to be with the paramedics and doctors who were treating him.

Coming down off the adrenaline, we were all visibly shaking. Mary, a woman in her late 80s who remembered me from the couple of months I had come to church last year, hugged me tight, then whispered in my ear, "Don't be scared away! This doesn't happen every week." God, humor is so necessary in those times.

We continued the end of the service with communion. I watched as many of the church fed each other a bite of wine-soaked bread and hugged. We sang, and then, because everyone agreed Lonnie would want us to, we listened as a woman and her two teen-aged kids played a magnificent song on African drums.

I haven't heard an update on Lonnie or Frankie yet. I don't know Frankie well, but I do know she is a strong woman, who has already survived one of her son's death from AIDS. I know she is surrounded by loving family and church family. And I suspect she really does believe that because He lives, she can face tomorrow.

***UPDATE: I just heard from Mandy that Lonnie is doing well. We're still not sure what exactly happened, if / why the pacemaker was shocking him. She also heard that he was apologizing as he was wheeled out to the ambulance. ***

(Photo: Rebecca and Ethel)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Africa, and world, celebrate Obama victory

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - For many across Africa and the world, Barack Obama's election seals America's reputation as a land of staggering opportunity.
"If it were possible for me to get to the United States on my bicycle, I would," said Joseph Ochieng, a 36-year-old carpenter who lives in Kenya's sprawling Kibera shantytown, a maze of tin-roofed shacks and dirt roads.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared a public holiday Thursday in the country of Obama's late father, allowing celebrations to continue through the night and into a second day. From Europe and Asia to the Middle East, many expressed amazement that the U.S. could overcome centuries of racial strife and elect an African-American president.


"At a time when we have to confront immense challenges together, your election raises great hopes in France, in Europe and in the rest of the world," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a congratulations letter to Obama.

Skepticism, however, was high in the Muslim world. The Bush administration alienated the Middle East by mistreating prisoners at its detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and inmates at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison—human rights violations also condemned worldwide.

Some Iraqis, who have suffered through five years of a war ignited by the United States and its allies, said they would believe positive change when they saw it.

"Obama's victory will do nothing for the Iraqi issue nor for the Palestinian issue," said Muneer Jamal, a Baghdad resident. "I think all the promises Obama made during the campaign will remain mere promises."

But many around the world found hope in Obama's international roots.

"What an inspiration. He is the first truly global U.S. president the world has ever had," said Pracha Kanjananont, a 29-year-old Thai sitting at a Starbuck's in Bangkok.

(Read rest of article here.)

Democracy: Obama's election inspires in Iran

From Babylon & Beyond at the L.A. Times

Mostafa Eqbali, a 54-year-old merchant in downtown Tehran, is exactly the kind of middle-class, middle-of-the-road Iranian whose loyalties and attitudes have generally determined his country’s direction.

The election early this morning of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency pierced through his preconceptions about the world.

“Let me tell you that now I believe in American democracy,” he said excitedly. “Honestly, I did not think that Obama would be president. I thought that the invisible hands of the big trusts and cartels would not allow a black man to be president of the United States.”

(Read the entire post here)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting 2008 - Dr. King's vision

Marian Wright Edelman, President and founder, Children's Defense Fund:

"On the ballot this morning was a Black man for President of the United States, marking the culmination of a long evolutionary struggle for political empowerment among disenfranchised Americans. My fellow voters—of all races in every corner for America—will consider Obama’s presidential candidacy on the basis of his proposals, his vision and his intelligence.

This is a world-defining and nation-defining election. This morning as I stood in line to vote, I was moved by the realization that finally this is the day on which my fellow Americans are willing to do what Dr. King envisioned: vote for a President based on the content of his character rather than the color of his skin."


The Onion election coverage

I'm a little tense this election morning. I couldn't figure out what to eat for breakfast having just made so many decisions that will hopefully affect the outcome of our society, so I opted for pudding. The sugar rush REALLY helped the nerves. If you too need a little comic relief, check out The Onion.

There were too many good stories to highlight, ("Confused McCain Pretty Sure He Just Voted For Pat Buchanan," "Voting Machines Elect One Of Their Own As President," "Obama Undertakes Presidential Internship To Ease Concerns About His Lack Of Experience") so here's the landing page: TheOnion.com

Obama flipped the bird? Then so did Rumsfeld, the Dog Whisperer, and a baby

From Web Scout:

You may have seen today's bombshell video of Sen. Barack Obama extending his middle finger and scratching his face as he congratulated opponent John McCain on reaching the end of his campaign. The video was all over YouTube and the Drudge Report, which in turn linked back to this April post from our own well-loved political blog Top of the Ticket -- the older video shows Obama making a similar gesture as he spoke about then-opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton.

But with all these birds taking flight, and the partisan screaming that follows, I felt I needed to step forward on this issue.

There's a long tradition of middle-finger activity by many great citizens of all ages and nationalities. Below you will see innocent birds by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Cesar "The Dog Whisperer" Millan, beach volleyball star and Olympic gold medalist Todd Rogers, a woman on a British TV show, Tom Petty and a baby.

~ Read the rest of David Sarno's post and see the videos at Web Scout.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sundance honors Wysocki

I am surrounded by brilliant, talented friends, and once in a while, the world FINALLY recognizes this.

From Variety:

Jonathan Wysocki will receive the Sundance Institute's Lynn Auerbach Screenwriting Fellowship for his project "All Fall Down," a satirical look at the U.S. after 9/11.

Wysocki will pocket $2,500 and will have a script reading produced through Sundance's Screenplay Reading Series. Scribes Tom Perrotta ("Little Children") and Susannah Grant ("The Soloist") will be enlisted as mentors.

(Read the rest of the brief (a sentence or two) here.)

(Jonathan on the right, a photo from his Tibetan travels)

Joseph Campbell - The Power of Myth

I never want to over-underline a book, defeating the purpose of finding the one meaningful sentence or passage, but I'm having a hard time putting down my pen, and I'm only in the introduction by Bill Moyers.

Here's some of my underlined passages so far:

"To him (Joseph Campbell) mythology was 'the song of the universe,' 'the music of the spheres' -- music we dance to even when we cannot name the tune. We are hearing its refrains 'whether we listen with aloof amusement to the mumbo jumbo of some witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture translations from sonnets of Lao-tsu, or now and again crack the hard nutshell of an argument of Aquinas, or catch suddenly the shining meaning of a bizarre Eskimoan fairy tale."

"He (Campbell) wanted to know what it means that God assumes such different masks in different cultures, yet how it is that comparable stories can be found in these divergent traditions -- stories of creation, of virgin births, incarnations, death and resurrection, second comings, and judgment days. He liked the insight of Hindu scripture: 'Truth is one; the sages call it by many names.' All our names and images for God are masks, he said, signifying the ultimate reality that by definition transcends language and art. A myth is a mask of Good, too -- a metaphor for what lies behind the visible world. However the mystic traditions differ, he said, they are in accord in calling us to a deeper awareness of the very act of living itself. The unpardonable sin, in Campbell's book, was the sin of inadvertance, of not being alert, not quite awake."

Russian radio and freedom of speech in the time of Putin

"...the leading instrument of enculturation and inundation under Joseph Stalin was a broadcast technology called radio-tochka, literally “radio point,” a primitive receiver with no dial and no choice. These cheap wood-framed devices were installed in apartments and hallways, on factory floors, in train stations and bus depots; they played in hospitals, nursing homes, and military barracks; they were nailed to poles in the fields of collective farms and blared along the beaches from the Baltic to the Sea of Okhotsk. ...

"In 1990, a few refugees from Soviet radio decided to start a station in the capital that would combine straightforward news, discussion, and even call-in shows that allowed people to say precisely what they wanted—a plan that might seem a banality elsewhere. The founders called the station Ekho Moskvy, Echo of Moscow, and they set up shop in a tiny, overheated single-room studio situated just a couple of blocks from Red Square. Echo went on the air on August 22, 1990, with an extended news program, including an interview with one of the young leaders of the Moscow reformers, Sergei Stankevich, and then played the Beatles song “All My Loving.”

"At the time, Echo of Moscow seemed merely part of the greater phenomenon of expanding press freedoms, the logical outgrowth of a movement spurred by the Kremlin leadership. Now, eighteen years later, in the authoritarian ecosystem of Vladimir Putin, Echo of Moscow is one of the last of an endangered species, a dodo that still roams the earth....

"Venediktov is a standard-issue type of the Russian intelligentsia, with thick glasses, a wry, knowing manner, and frizzy Bozo the Clown hair. As an interviewer, he is as aggressive as the young Mike Wallace, but a great deal more cerebral. As an analyst, he is incisive and cocky, well satisfied that all his predictions will, or have, come true. More important, he has been an extremely adept politician when it comes to fending off the complaints and demands of the Kremlin and protecting his reporters. The walls of the Echo studios are covered with photographs of the dignitaries who have come to be interviewed, and Venediktov seems undaunted by all of them. Many of his questions begin with chesty prodding: “Kak eto mozhet byt’ ”—“How can it possibly be . . . ?” When Bill Clinton went on too long with an answer, Venediktov kicked him under the table."

Read the rest of "Echo in the Dark" at the New Yorker website.