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.


Surrendering Our Hearts

On Ash Wednesday 2019, I was invited to share my reflections at church (based on Joel 2: 12-18, 2 Corinthians 5: 20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18). These were the words I spoke:

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Do not be like the hypocrites,” seeking external affirmation. In the first reading, we are told to “return to God with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, with mourning.”

I want to play with those words. Return to God with all your heart. Return all of your heart to God. Turn all of your heart in to God. Surrender.

I created this image shortly after speaking the words in this reflection.

I created this image shortly after speaking the words in this reflection.

With these words in mind, I offer an image: imagine a heart, perhaps your own. It is both broken and open. Broken open. Around that broken-open heart is another heart. And around that one, another. And another. All open, many broken in one way or another. The first heart, your heart, is nested in protection. Broken open, yet held with gentle care. The outermost heart is the heart of God, the heart of All, God’s heart that can hold the hurt that breaks us, God’s heart that can heal us, if we surrender our hearts to God.

Turn all of your heart in to God “with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” There is much to lament in our world. Racism, sexism, heterosexism, xenophobia, poverty, ecological devastation, sexual abuse, addictions, the school-to-prison pipeline. So many people lack access to clean water, clean air, adequate medical care, adequate educational opportunities, adequate housing. No doubt there are other things to add to the list. There is much to mourn and yet instead of mourning, we may allow our emotions to go only as far as anger, with our resulting actions rooted in something other than love; we blame whoever we perceive to be the problems. We mistake people for problems, even as we accuse “them” of doing the same. We may not allow ourselves to weep and mourn, because we’re fearful that we will be consumed by grief if we turn our hearts in to God. Instead of allowing our hearts to be fully nested in God’s, we may shrink our hearts, close them a little tighter every time we judge people as “wrong,” “stupid,” “heartless,” every time we call them names and mock them as we direct our righteous anger at them. As we determine who is right and who is wrong, we may seek the approval of other righteous folks, and refuse to engage in connection with those who we believe clearly don’t get it.

Maybe we engage a little, volleying accusations back and forth online or on the streets or in “dialogues” that are actually just talking at or yelling over. But these engagements aren’t connecting. They create distance between us, and keep us hanging in the painful, but sometimes also powerful, feeling of anger.

A nonviolent communication activity that I love to lead takes people through ways of responding to difficult messages. When we receive a message of shame and blame, we have four options: we can shame and blame back; we can direct the shame and blame toward ourselves; we can offer empathy and understanding to ourselves and/or we can offer understanding and empathy to the other person.

The movement from shame to empathy is profound. Sometimes as people go through the exercise, they wonder aloud if it’s ok to express empathy and understanding for a person with a perspective they find deeply problematic. Because we live in a shame and blame culture, we may think that if we don’t immediately express our righteous indignation, we are abandoning our values. And yet, if we are clear on our values, and those values include compassion, hope, love, kindness, humility, it is vitally important to practice them precisely in those places where we are sorely tempted not to.

Going to Palestine gives me many opportunities to try. On my first stint with Christian Peacemaker Teams, I started doing something that, when I remember to practice it, helps me turn my heart into God. In times of relative calm, when I am around Israeli soldiers, I repeat these words in my mind: “I do not hate you. I wish you peace. I wish you love. I wish you joy. I know you are more than what I see you doing.” This practice is not easy. It is exhausting. Sometimes my stomach churns and my head aches as I do so. As I let these words play in my mind, I also try to meet the eyes of those to whom I offer these wishes. Sometimes our eyes meet for a few moments of connection where I am not a CPTer and they are not soldiers, we are just human beings. What I know about those moments is that my heart experiences both breaking and healing simultaneously. I experience our interconnection and deep sorrow because the connection I feel is not the norm in that context. It is a fleeting moment of stepping out of hypocrisy and into integrity. Turning my heart into God.

I created this image in October 2015. It was one of the first heart images I ever drew.

I created this image in October 2015. It was one of the first heart images I ever drew.

When I am willing and able to sink fully into God’s presence within me, the response from the soldiers is often also more humane and human. Perhaps they are sinking into their divinity, too. When I stand fully armored in anger and righteousness, the response is one of equal or greater defensiveness: posturing and flaunting power, just as I, too, am trying to do. And yet, my truest power comes when I take my armor off, when I stand in a humble posture of trust in God.

I want to end with an example of someone who knows a far harsher reality than I. In the midst of the civil war in South Sudan, Bishop Paride Taban turned his heart into God and transformed his weeping and mourning into connection and joy. Instead of choosing righteous anger in response to the war, he chose to create the Holy Trinity Peace Village, “where individuals and communities can interact without threat or fear… People from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds learn peaceful coexistence there” (from Choosing Peace, edited by Marie Dennis) To stay grounded in the spirit of reconciliation and peace, Bishop Taban offers 28 words to say every day. Today, I offer his words to you. I invite you to say these words daily, to explore them, and to practice them:

Love, joy, peace, patience, compassion, sympathy, kindness, truthfulness, gentleness, self-control, humility, poverty, forgiveness, mercy, friendship, trust, unity, purity, faith, hope, I love you, I miss you, Thank you, I forgive, We forget, Together, I am wrong, I am sorry.

During this Lenten season, I invite you to let these words sink deep into your heart. Tears of weeping and mourning may wash over you.  I invite you to let these words reach the place of deepest connection within you, where your heart is reconciled to God and all of God’s creations, and let that connection guide your action with and for yourself and others. During this Lenten season, I invite you to surrender your heart to God.

Doing What You Need to Do


Sometimes doing what you need to means

            washing the dishes.

 

Sometimes it means vacuuming,

            if you’re lucky,

            even your cat.



Sometimes doing what you need to means

            seeing white flashing through the window,

            knowing you need to soak in it.

           

Stepping out to the strobe light night

                        barefoot,

            turning your face up,

            feeling pellets awaken you,

            surprising you with their comforting coolness,

                        rooted life swishing above you,

                        light canons bursting,

            reminding you that you are alive,

                        these elements live in you,

                        these elements birthed you,

            bathing in connection.

           

Stepping into the not-quite-warm fabric,

                        closest to grab still damp and salty from before,

                        salt from your own being.

                       

You are the salt of the earth.

            You are salt.

                        You are.

 

Stripping off wet clothes,

            looking at your image,

            seeing wrinkled green on your bare shoulder,

            leaf-ing it there

                        because

 

You are the salt of the earth.

           You are earth.

                        You are.


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