To My Muslim Brothers and Sisters

Dear Muslim brothers and sisters,

I see you.

I honor you.

I value you.

I thank you.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35)

I was in danger and you protected me.

These have been my experiences with you over and over again.

Sometimes I knew you and sometimes I came to know you

through the love you extended to me.

Sometimes even though you cared for me, I never learned your name.

Even if those weren’t my experiences,

still

I see you.

I honor you.

I value you.

I thank you.

Because you are worthy of all of these things simply because you are human.

After the massacre in Christchurch, I recommit myself to speaking up,

working for peace and justice for all people, including you,

saying no to hate by

saying yes to love.

I will do my part.

I will humbly do my part.

In response to the Mosque Shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand

Friday, March 15, 2019 evening

Twisty-turn stomach. I’m exhausted today because some part of my body wants to cry , to shake with grief over 49 dead and more injured in Christchurch, New Zealand, Facebook live video footage of the attack, manifesto of hate, praise for the president of my country by the shooter. The weight of it all is too heavy.

Another part of my body says, “No, it’s too risky. If you start to grieve, you may never stop. There’s too much. Too much. Too much to grieve. You will drown in it.”

And so I’m tired. My head hurts. My back aches. My throat feels a shrill scream stuck and waiting to escape whenever, however, it can.


This morning I led a Nonviolent Communication practice group session in which we practiced empathetic listening. This was a practice of receiving difficult-to-hear messages and reflecting back with care. Nonviolent Communication invites us, when we hear a message that is difficult, into four steps:

1) to reflect back observations that the speaker may be referring to in order to understand what is evoking the person’s feelings

2) to reflect back what stated or unstated feelings the speaker is expressing

3) to reflect back what needs or values are at the heart of the speaker’s experience, and

4) to seek strategies to meet the need(s) that are causing the speaker pain.

A seemingly simple process.

However, humans are not simple and our actions and the needs beneath them are often unclear. We’ve been taught that our needs aren’t important or that we should ignore them or deny them. We’ve been taught that we “need” a new car or the latest phone or to go to that one restaurant. Those aren’t needs. They’re strategies to meet needs for… autonomy or reliability? Communication or clarity? Adventure or health? Some other needs that every human being experiences?

We are trained not to go deep into our (or others’) feelings. If, by chance, we’ve been taught that we’re “allowed” to have feelings, we are very rarely taught to take the next step, to unearth the needs that are calling for our attention. Instead, we place blame on someone (including possibly ourselves), heap shame, deepen disconnection and discord, while the unspoken and unknown needs remain unspoken, unknown, and unanswered.

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Marshall Rosenberg, developed of Nonviolent Communication, said that everything we do is an expression of gratitude for a need met or a “tragic expression of unmet needs.”

Tragic.

Tragic.

Tragic.

What happened in Christchurch was tragic. And my head entertains a question that my heart, holding all its grief for the deceased and their families and friends and for Muslims around the world, is not ready to allow in yet: What were the feelings of a 28-year-old man that led him to enter into two mosques on a Friday afternoon during prayers and shoot dozens of people? What needs was he trying to meet?

I’m not ready to think about what was in that killer’s heart. I’m not ready to wonder what may lie beneath the rage that led to so many deaths. What may lie beneath the rage of others like him.

But after I have grieved with others, felt the love through our collective grief, filled myself with that love that buoys and gives strength to all of us as we live into our interconnection, I will share what I have received by considering these questions that are achingly difficult to consider:

How do we reach those hearts? How do we shower with love those people whose brokenness is so deep or whose shell of protection is so impermeable that they believe breaking others will somehow lead to their own well-being? Can our torrents of gushing tears find them, cleanse them, mend them? How do we even find the will to try when they have caused such destruction?

I hope that the will comes from a desire to express love unconditionally. Hope unconditionally. Curiosity unconditionally. When I am ready, I want to step into these challenging questions that a wise teacher of mine shared:

How much pain would I have to be in in order to do what he or they did? If I walked in his/their shoes, lived his/their life, would I have done exactly the same thing?

Deep within, we are not so different.

How do we honor interconnection not only with the victims, survivors, loved ones, but also the perpetrators?

How do we love them, too?


These questions reside within me and wait for my heart to be open up enough to let them in.


Inspired by Masters of Nonviolence

My heart is filled with gratitude as I begin to write. My mind is filled with hope. My body is energized, buzzing with the positive reverberations of music created together, harmonies that only happen when multiples voices unite in song.

I spent the last several hours at a celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I spent the last several hours with people who are deeply concerned about our country, about the well-being of every single person who lives in it. I spent the last several hours with people who are not only concerned, but are working for social, environmental, economic, and racial justice, and doing so through nonviolence.

I spent the last several hours listening to the words of my fellow Louisvillians, as they echoed Dr. King’s words and brought them into the realities of today.

It has been almost two months since I’ve written here. Two months in which I’ve left a full-time position, gone to Standing Rock in the midst of voices both affirming and disparaging the decision, spent a month with one sort of illness or another, sometimes one on top of other, retreated to a cabin in the woods, started teaching two classes on nonviolence, had a 29-year-old relative die of cancer and a new baby born into the family. I’ve refinanced my house and started to live into the new life I seek to create.

 

In my cabin in the woods, where I finally slowed down enough to listen to the quiet and insistent voice of Being, one of the clear messages I received, not for the first time, was that I must write. I must create.

Despite that, beyond what I’ve written above, I don’t much want to write my own words today. They’re still working their way through me, through channels that feel as jumbled as the tilling, loosening, and overturning going on in our country and world right now.

“We have arrived at the Revolution,” our MC said today. I believe her.

I want to be a part of the tilling that uproots those things that seek to choke out Life, pulls what needs to be cleared to make space for Love and Truth, prunes what’s growing out of control, and plants with tender care what will flourish and nourish us all.

I know that during the digging, uprooting, pruning, and planting processes, my words will come out eventually...when it’s time. So today, instead of trying to force my words, I will share some of the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King that I hope and believe will not only guide my writing, but also all that Life garden work.

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From Gandhi’s “The Doctrine of the Sword”:

I do believe that, where there is a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence…

But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will.

Nonviolence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means putting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant.

I invite even the school of violence to give this peaceful noncooperation a trial. It will not fail through its inherent weakness. It may fail because of poverty of response.

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From Dr. King’s “Loving Your Enemies,” 1957:

Returning hate for hate only multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you…But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

From Dr. King’s “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” 1967:

When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

From Dr. King’s “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”:

…the inseparable twin of racial injustice [is] economic injustice.

…any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of [people] and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried. It well has been said: “A religion that ends with the individual, ends.”

Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love, for Gandhi, was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months…I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.

…nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist.

…it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.

…the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing evil.

…[it includes] a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back.

…it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit.

…it is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice.

Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistent on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to sacrifice in the interest of mutuality… I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love.

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May you be as inspired and challenged by these words as I am. Blessings.