Spirituality

Juneteenth: Freedom From Bondage

Juneteenth: Freedom From Bondage

Today is Juneteenth, the day that commemorates and celebrates Union soldiers who landed in Galveston, Texas in 1865 and emancipated Texas slaves, two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery.

Can you imagine an African American slave learning that she was free from oppression, that his chains were forever broken, that they could leave the plantation?

For some of us, imagining comes fairly easily if we’re still shackled to a hurtful relationship or a harmful behavior. Far too many of us hide behind personas because we believe others want us that way. We make choices that are not really ours because we don’t know what it’s like to choose without fear of being shamed or denigrated in some way.

The Rev. Dr. Irie Session, a Christian Church, Disciples of Christ clergywoman and resident pastor for New Friends New Life, a Dallas non-profit that restores and empowers trafficked teen girls and sexually exploited women and their children, spoke at my church yesterday. More accurately, she preached a rousing sermon at Cathedral of Hope, United Church of Christ, about freedom and how the very air of freedom is often silent.

Rev. Irie focused on the Bible text of Acts 16 that describes a slave girl “who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future (Verses 16-26).”

As the story goes, the unnamed slave girl made a lot of money for her masters. But her spirit would not and could not remain silent (You can read the passages for yourself.) As a result of her expressing her true self, spiritual circumstances were arranged to later unchain and release all the prisoners locked up with Paul and Silas, the two men with whom she traveled.

We read all about their freedom but not the slave girl’s. We don’t even know her name. In fact, we never read another word about her.

What keeps you silent?

I believe the slave girl represents anyone who struggles to name the things that keep them chained. While today is Juneteenth, this idea of finding freedom from bondage goes way beyond African Americans to include all people of color, sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender or religious affiliation.

Rev. Irie asked, “Where in your mind are you experiencing oppression?”

How am I holding myself back with sabotaging thoughts of doubt or inferiority?

Am I afraid to speak up for fear of rocking the boat?

Could I be withholding or shaving off bits of my truth so that someone else looks good or remains unsettled?

In this post, the first one in six months (but I’m baaaack now!), I’d like to issue a challenge for you:

Go figure out who you are.

Do whatever it takes.

Then be that person.

No matter what.

Find, as Rev. Irie said, a way out of “no way.”

If you don’t, if you choose to remain chained to whatever holds you back, you are living beneath your privilege, she says, because “human beings were meant for freedom.”

Let freedom reign.

And Still I Rise

“And still I rise,” Maya Angelou nearly cries out the refrain in her achingly beautiful poem that feels wholly comforting to souls that wake weary these mornings.

I wrote Angelou’s words in my journal on January 16th, the day we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. On that day, so many gave pause to honor the man whose eloquent voice rang out, “I have a dream,” in what seems a lifetime ago when considering today’s tumultuous times.

On August 28, 1963, when King called for an end to racism and for civil and economic rights, I’m sure many dared to hope as they hadn’t for a very long time.

And now, here we are, perched hesitantly on thin branches as the new president threatens hopelessness again. Oh God, I pray it isn’t so.

Maybe this 10-day-old period of rushed presidential edicts will turn into an eventual time of quieter order and understanding–miracles do still occur. In the meantime, we cannot ignore the real civil uprising that is occurring in cities and towns across our still-great nation.

The people need to speak. They need to be seen. They need to raise their voices against what seems at the moment like abuse of power.

Now is a time for care and caution. As a person in long-term recovery, I am not immune from rapidly accelerating thoughts that can lead to wrong action. I urge all my brothers and sisters in recovery to stay vigilant on their respective recovery paths and to stay “prayed up.”

Remember too that no one can take your joy or change you without your permission. Hear the rest of Angelou’s words:

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

In the Daily Word  on January 16, the passage about the word Dream, read, “I must act, pursue, and above all else, live in faith-filled awareness.”

I must remember that my life is about action now, not passivity laced with complaint. The latter was a part of my old life.

Today, I have a dream. I have a purpose. I will rise.

From James 1:25: “But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.”

A Savasana Gift

If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliche that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal. ~ John Lennon

Yoga practitioners say that savasana, or corpse pose, is a favorite because it is a restorative pose that often concludes a yoga session.

I certainly look forward to the few moments of savasana that wrap up my Thursday night practice. Usually, I melt into relaxation after an hour of stretching and pushing my body to its physical limits. Last Thursday, however, I received an unexpected gift while “practicing” the corpse pose.

I had a vision.

I “saw” my abdomen as a smoothly hollowed out, bowl-like space, as if the edges dropped off below my sternum and rose again at my hips. Oddly enough, I didn’t freak out. I had the sense that all I was supposed to do in that moment was breathe into the space.

That’s it. Just breathe. I remember being vaguely curious about when I would fill the space and with what. Or even whether I would be the one to fill the bowl to its capacity again.

Weird, right?

Along with the mild curiosity, I remember telling myself that all was well. Nothing was unusual or off about having a bowl-gut.

I hadn’t told anyone about my vision until last night when my sweetie asked about my blog topic. Just speaking the words, “I had a vision” felt weird, like I’ve gone a little bit cuckoo, as my friend Helshi says.

When I remember what happened before yoga that night, things begin to add up.

Recently, the Interfaith Peace Chapel at my church–Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ–was tagged with some pretty hateful graffiti aimed presumably at our primarily LGBTQ congregation.

In addition, the Texas lieutenant governor, held a press conference announcing that a bill–turns out it’s SB6–would be introduced prohibiting transgender people from using restrooms reserved for the gender with which they identify. There is much idiocy and insanity in this bill, particularly the statement that it protect women and students.

Five people were killed and eight injured during the terrible tragedy at the Fort Lauderdale airport last week.

A hate-crime beating in Chicago was videoed and posted on Facebook.

A terrorist attack killed 39 in Istanbul on New Year’s.

Peace, where are you?

Give me an epiphany with a little e.

Last Thursday–the Day of Epiphany–while many Christians and others celebrated the manifestation of Jesus in their lives, I had my own little epiphany. My vision of the concave space represents filling myself with love and all its byproducts like generosity and kindness, peace and patience, gentleness and respect, trust and presence and so much more.

May my bowl, my vessel, be filled to overflowing so that none of the evil stays with me for long. Instead, let me be called to pray.

Let me be urged to focus on goodness.

Let me summon the belief–and hold it tightly–that God is working through even these evil times.

Let me continue to wait for moments to pour from my bowl of love, for God has chosen each of us to be his people and to spread one gospel.

It’s love. It’s always love. Now and forever more.

Peace be with you, my friends.

2017: Let’s Do Some Spiritual Shifting

Whew! Thank God THAT year is behind us!

While there was much that was bright and brilliant about 2016, we had to spend an inordinate amount of time looking for it. So many of us are bone-weary from the animosity that flanked the presidential election season regardless of whether our preferred candidate won or lost.

It feels like so much more was lost than won.

I propose that we make 2017 a return to decency and respect.

While it’s a relief to draw a deep, cleansing breath now that our shiny and new 2017 is here, there is damage from last year that needs repairing.

Please know that I’m not writing about politics, but about taking responsibility for one’s humanitarian footprint. In other words, leaving the past behind, how do you wish to care for and connect with your fellows throughout this year to make it a better one than last?

At my church, we’ve kicked off 2017 with a sermon series called Time to Shift. While the focus is on growing our church and its ministries and our individual walks with God, the series has a deeply personal call as well.

I think the time is absolutely right for a spiritual assessment of massive proportions. It IS time to shift.

It’s time to go deep, my friends. It’s time to see what we’re made of. It’s time to learn and grow, and yes, to shift.

Can I get an amen?

Some of you know that I was baptized for the first time last October. As a new Christian and new member of Cathedral of Hope, United Church of Christ, I am passionate about all things Jesus.

Here’s my big HOWEVER: I cherish the notion of individual spiritual sanctity. Whatever your path, I honor it. I hope you share it with me, especially if you agree to move into a shift.

As you begin to take your spiritual practice to a new level, I offer these seven ideas to support you:

Let music, dance, works of literature or art tingle your senses and offset the negative voices of news reports (or any negativity, for that matter!).

Stand firm in your power. No one else will state your case as well as you can.

Believe that you are valuable and worthy. God does, so why shouldn’t you?

Plant your feet in today and keep them there. If you find your mind wandering into “what ifs,” look at your feet.

Honor who you are always. Do not try to be anyone else for anyone else. Ever.

Love wildly and freely. Love big. And please, by all that is holy, love beyond those who look, act, vote like, or eat in the same restaurants as you.

Finally, should you ever feel the need to complain, stop it. Instead, find a solution, or at least a beginning idea.

May you have gobs of courage, hope and faith in 2017, my dear peeps. Big love to YOU!

Political Theater Lacks Compassion

Positive reinforcement word Compassion engrained in a rock

Like most of you, I feel disgusted with the daily tabloid-like fodder coming from the presidential candidates’ camps. Decency, respectability and admirability, like Elvis Presley, left the building weeks ago.

Political theater? We’re living the 2016 version of The Nightmare on Elm Street only this is no dream and Freddy Krueger is alive and well–he just has better hair.

Oh, I’m no Hillary fan either, except, she at least has  a comprehensive plan to address substance use disorder and addiction.

But even that topic, which is dear to my heart, takes a back seat to what is really missing in this election cycle.

Compassion.

The theater playing before us is not meant to be a laughing matter but it certainly is a joke. The joke’s on us–and it’s a cruel one–because we’re losing so much of what makes America great.

We need not lose ourselves too.

We have to dig deep

I’ve been tuning out a lot of news lately. I try not to watch the political back-and-forth too closely. I’ve decided that in this final month before the presidential election, I’m going to reach for the one thing that Jesus thought was “the dominant quality of God,” according to author Marcus J. Borg.

That quality, even more than holiness, is compassion.

In his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, the Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith, Borg describes Jesus as a political rebel-rouser. He showed/demonstrated how to defy those who followed the lead of ridiculous men, even those who were rich and powerful.

“For Jesus, compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God,” Borg writes. “These two aspects of compassion are combined most clearly and compactly in a single verse . . . ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate.'” Luke 6:36

Jesus walked a walk of decency, compassion and reverence for people, not the possessions or status symbols that leaders and rulers of the time worshiped.

Jesus eschewed the rules of the day in order to be the Golden Rule.

It’s time for us to do the same

Admittedly, my view of the political theater is from the cheap seats. But I know this: there was a time when our country’s leaders were admired and emulated. Children were told they could grow up to be the president.

The presidency was held in high regard. Today, many believe it is little more than something to be mocked and derided.

It’s a sad situation with no single, nor simple solution.

Sometimes we must be our own solutions. We must take the lead, be the change.

Between now and November 8, a little less than one month from now, I intend to lead with compassion, the highest quality of Jesus, Gandhi, the Buddha, the Dalai Lama and other people of Spirit.

Then I’ll cast my ballot along with what will hopefully be a good majority of Americans. Political theater: the show must go on.