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,


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.”




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.

Breathing In...Breathing Out

I arrived home and opened Facebook where several friends had shared live video footage from the ongoing efforts to stop the construction of the North Dakota pipeline through sacred tribal lands: police in riot gear, a few water protectors shouting at them. I started watching.

Shouting is not the same as holding a baton, ready to strike.

The image froze on the police, faces shielded, batons across their bodies. Though not as ominous, my mind shifted momentarily to the "peacekeepers" in The Hunger Games. On my screen the image of the police changed to a screen with a geometric pattern. Was the signal lost or blocked? By the time the video came back on, the police were moving, telling protesters to move south. Some water protectors faced the police, walking backwards as the police moved towards them. “Keeping moving south or we’ll arrest you.”

I start writing with the video on, though I can’t see it as I type. I only listen.

This is not what I thought I was going to write about when I opened a new post.

I turn to the video and see armored police vehicles. I think of Palestine.

I return to my page.

This morning I woke up grumpy. I had no excuse for my mood except that I was tired. The mood followed me through the day. It’s actually been haunting me for several days, coming and going as ghosts do. The source is a sense of loneliness, a desire for more constancy than my current relationships provide, a ghost that visits me periodically, even in times like now when I am being showered with love and love and more love from far and wide. I would like to befriend this visitor, Loneliness, but thus far we haven't hit it off.  

This afternoon I had a meeting at the local Tibetan Buddhist center. The friend I was supposed to meet with was tied up in a call when I arrived.  I had arrived a few minutes late, but my attention only focused on her lack of immediate availability. I could feel a foul mood sweep over me again – resentment, loneliness, anger, impatience, each out of proportion to my current situation. And on top of these, frustration with myself for feeling all those things.

I type now and hear chanting and the rhythm of a drum, what I assume is prayer. I turn to the image and see the chanters standing calmly, feet planted solidly the ground, as their voices sing words I understand only in the way one understands rustling leaves or rushing water: they offer soothing beauty.

I return to the page.

As I sat waiting and stewing earlier, it occurred to me that a few feet in front of me was a beautiful shrine, a room that for me is peace. I entered, sat down, crossed my legs, closed my eyes, and turned my attention to breathing. The aroma of incense lingered in the air as I started to take deep, slow breaths.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out, releasing anger.

Ah, yes, there are things I need to let go of.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out, releasing sadness.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out, releasing impatience.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out, releasing intolerance.

Breathing in peace.

Feeling my body relax, calm.

Knowing I am ready to offer something different to myself, to the world around me.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out acceptance.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out love.

Breathing in love.

Breathing out patience.

Breathing in love.

Breathing out gratitude.

Breathing in love.

Breathing out gratitude.

Breathing in love.

Breathing out peace.

Breathing in love.

Breathing out peace.

I opened my eyes, ready to meet with my friend. Ten or 15 minutes had passed.  She had just finished her call.

She apologized for being late. She apologized for a few other things from the last few months that she labeled as “failures.” If I had not spent time in the shrine, I feel certain I would only have given an insincere “It’s ok” in return. Having had those minutes to focus, I could tell her that her that her delay had been a blessing and that her perceived failures had also allowed me unexpected gifts.

The video behind my writing has ended. I am relieved by the quiet, but left wondering about the well-being of all whose faces and voices passed through my consciousness.

I want to be there. If the protests continue, if my presence is needed, I will go in a few weeks.

In this moment, I am far away. In this moment, I can offer no more than my breath, my calm, my prayer.

This afternoon as the meeting with my friend wrapped up, she apologized again for our late start. I assured her that the wait had offered a gift, sacred solitude, that unfolded into other gifts.

I carried them home: calm, trust, patience. I nearly allowed them to spill out, wasted, as I watched and listened to the video. And then I heard and saw the prayer.

I remembered my own prayer hours before in the shrine.

Now, holding peace gently, I leave my hands open,

ready to receive what may come,

ready to release what must go.  

Breathing in love.

Breathing out peace.

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