“To the home of peace
to the field of love
to the land where forgiveness and right relationship meet
with longing for earth’s children
with compassion for the creatures
with hearts breaking for the nations and people we love.
Open us to visions we have never known
strengthen us for self-givings we have never made
delight us with a oneness we could never have imagined
that we may truly be born of You
makers of peace.”
I had an unexpected experience in Palestine last month. Witnessing day in and day out the systematic oppression of Palestinians and the conditions under which they are forced to live caused me to see, really see, the systematic oppression and discrimination of people of color, especially black people, here in the United States. I often find when I visit a new place or experience a culture outside my regular context, I seek out something from my context to associate with the new experience in order to understand it. My association with what I witnessed being done to Palestinians and their resistance to such racism was immediate: the Civil Rights movement. I saw my high school history textbook brought to life before my eyes. It was like the veil was lifted and I could suddenly recognize the struggle of black people as I watched white supremacy, racial profiling, discrimination, and countless other dehumanizing acts play out against Palestinians. But I also realized, the parallels I saw between the Palestinian struggle and the black struggle were not reflecting encounters left to the textbooks detailing my country’s past, they were bearing the truth of my country’s present.
Our propulsion toward progress in the U.S. is plummeting when it comes to race equality—we are regressing, and as we do, resistance is resurging. We are seeing healthy resistance, such as protests, meetings, and organizations calling for the dismantling of discriminatory structures and racially-charged systems succeeding not in bringing about the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all, but the thriving of the select and the increased striving of the many. We are also meeting unhealthy resistance to intransigent social structures, such as the retaliation witnessed last Thursday against Dallas police officers and civilians. Whatever the form, resistance is revealing the status quo in this country is intolerable, it must change, and the time is now.
Witnessing the status quo in Israel where the vast majority of people passively accept living in apartheid with the Palestinians and the political structures that keep the racial discrimination in place — despite the fact most of them disagree with the blatant inequality and persecution of the Palestinians — I could suddenly see ways how I have been passively accepting the status quo here at home—the sociopolitical structure that keeps people of color, especially black people, from living equally with other Americans and thwarts them from experiencing the full-fledged freedoms all people deserve and all Americans are led to believe are theirs. I realized my previous method of living out love through kind interactions with all people, compassionate listening, and seeking to see people in an equal light in order to bring about a world of such love, compassion, and equity was all well and good—and needed—but not enough.
It was good enough to me for a time. It was what I had the energy and heart for, and I gave myself grace for that. But now my heart has expanded. After what I witnessed happening to Palestinians my heart has finally connected with the realities of oppression faced and resistance embraced by my black neighbors at home. In this I also discovered my energy source is greater than I knew existed; energy far beyond what I imagined myself capable of experiencing. A depth of compassion that has ignited a fire within me to act here, in the U.S., not only in Palestine/Israel, which, previously, was taking all the energy I had.
As the New York Times described, “The shooting [Thursday] was the kind of retaliatory violence that people have feared through two years of protests around the country against deaths in police custody, forcing yet another wrenching shift in debates over race and criminal justice that had already deeply divided the nation.” I am a staunch pacifist and do not support violence as a means for bringing change and making peace. All the while, I find myself wondering about the good that can come out of this, for, I also believe goodness is resilient and no acts of maliciousness can ever stop it from penetrating that malice. So, I find myself wondering, will this act provide what is necessary for the status quo to be shaken from its static state? Might this intensified resistance serve in breaking more people free from their passivity in order that we, together, might make a far bigger, better dream and reality for ourselves. The numerous protests, vigils, and meetings I have heard about on the news and been invited to participate in would suggest so.
So how do we partner in bringing this bigger, better dream to life? As always, it begins with ourselves. I met a woman at the coffee shop where I often go, her name was Nicole. She asked what I was working on, I told her this blogpost. Since she had shown interest and openness, I asked her, what was her personal perspective as a black woman on what needs to be done to bring change and equity? She spoke truth that rang bright and clear within me, ‘We have to reflect on the inside to change the outside.’ It begins with self-reflection. One question to start with could be, “What are my beliefs producing?” Beliefs of all kinds—people, religion, race, culture, politics, you name it. Are they drawing you toward others or are they pushing you away? Are they opening you to love, or closing you in fear? What is driving you? Changes within ourselves change the way we engage the whole world. Nicole added, 'Wayne Dyer said, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” For, as Jacques Lusseyran, French political activist and author, astutely identifies, “Our fate is shaped from within ourselves outward, never from without inward."
So, I strongly encourage you, look within yourself, take some time for genuine self-reflection at this pivotal moment in our country's story, in your story. What do you believe? What do you need to change? What light are you already shining? What gifts do you have to help bring about the equity and fullness of life particularly for black Americans right now? Who can you parter with? And, most importantly, as you reflect within, look with mindfulness—non-judgmental observance. Be compassionate and gracious, while honest. This will make it less scary and it will help you hear more clearly and truthfully. Whatever you discover, if it calls for change, which it likely will, you do not need to fear the unknown that rests on the other side of that change. Yes, it will be new, perhaps make you vulnerable, but you will be free. Free because you will be all the more living in and living out of love. And thus free to act and be who you were made to be: an equal, empowered, righteous, serving member of the human family.
A companion for your inward journey of self-reflection:
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasures
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.”
“Today I pray for the families of those killed. And I pray that I (and every white person who claims antiracism) will find the strength to overcome all that we've internalized (and externalized) to really act in a way that changes this horrific reality.
I pray for the strength that we will actually map out a strategy that we can stick to. I pray that we find the strength to sacrifice. I pray for the strength that we will love ourselves enough to end our complicity with state sanctioned murder.”
-Prayer offered by Martin Friedman, friend and travelling companion on my Interfaith Peace-Builders Delegation