Category Archives: Martin Luther King Jr.

Being Bigger Than the “Veil”

Shifting Our Perspective to Seek Solutions for Racial Equality

“I’m on my knees looking for the answer. Are we human, or are we dancer*?”

-from the song Human/The Killers

I saw a moving, one-man play written by Alexa Kelly, and performed by Brian Richardson, at my local library about the life of W.E. DuBois. It was called A Man for All Times .

Poet, author, editor, activist, Dr. W.E. Du Bois believed that literacy and education were tools to help us lift the veil. The “veil” was what he called the racial divide in our country. W.E. DuBois helped found the NAACP and his newspaper, The Crisis, was a vital catalyst, support and contributor, as well as critic, of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a complicated man who quested for world peace, convinced it was the key to equal rights for all people.

He strived to bring his fellow countrymen and those around the world, their basic inalienable human rights. He was a civil rights leader who died the night before Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream speech.”

Hearing this fact about the timing of his death, I started to cry. There is a torch that is passed in clear daylight that remains invisible to the eye that is “veiled.”

Watching the documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro,” based on James Baldwin’s writings, it became apparent that what Mr. Baldwin, an eloquent, beautiful and courageously observant author had to say in 1965 is just as pertinent today. Essentially, the veil over our eyes prevents us from really looking at the inequality that is perpetuated consistently on a vital portion of our population.

When we look at the human condition, greed and privilege are too tempting for those who already have what they perceive as power. It is hard to resist and, unless we shift perspective, we won’t be willing to give our “privilege” up, even if it means moral bankruptcy.

In the documentary, James Baldwin also suggests that there is a gap between what we want to be seen as and what we are. This causes problems in the home, which spurns us to create scapegoats outside of ourselves, to blame our unhappiness on, to put someone else down in order to build ourselves up to where we think we ought to be.

The problem comes from the belief in a “me”. My ego will never be appeased, it will always think it should have more. Ironically, what we are is actually more than what we conceive ourselves to be.

“We look at life from a viewpoint of seventy or eighty years. But if the reference point were seventy or eighty billion light years, what would our reference point be then?”

- Sailor Bob Adams/author/teacher of non-dualistic perception

What if the question to the answer we are seeking is, “Who are we beyond the veil?”

What if we woke up, not just to realize that the world isn’t white, or black, but that we are, “DANCER”*? It is an investigation.

Are we just these temporal bodies or are we something that dances within everything? What if the awareness inside of us in this present moment is something that is looking out from everyone’s eyes simultaneously? Our seeming separation from one another and the planet we live on, causes us to strike out, to attempt to dominate everything. But if we are everything, we do not need to go to all that trouble or to make that much trouble for everyone else.

Martin Luther King understood that retaliation escalates hostility. What may have woken America up, momentarily, during the Civil Rights Movement was seeing people, men, women and children being attacked and not striking back. There was an alignment with a love that is vaster than ignorance and hatred.

I remember a friend telling me about being in a restaurant where a huge, tattooed biker stood outside the window watching him with venomous hatred. He had gone outside and said something like, “I know you hate my guts and that you probably wish I was dead. I am not challenging your beliefs.  I just want to know how you came to have them.”  The man had been braced for a fight but found himself telling my friend his story.  At one point, he said the man’s eyes went out of focus and, when they came back, he seemed to be in shock.  Here he was getting to talk about his pain. He was talking to my friend, oblivious or despite the color of his skin color, telling him something he may never have gotten to share with anyone, even himself.  After he finished, he actually said, “Thank you.”  This was a form of empathetic martial arts.  My friend said he doesn’t know if it changed that man’s life but it changed his. He had grown up with violence and had been all about conflict up until that point.  Now, he realized that being able to shift the conflict, staying centered in peace was a path he could take.

The mind tends to divide. The heart can unify.  What we are goes beyond the veil.  By each of us meditating on being bigger than a body confined to a timeline, we can connect to solutions that will allow us to see one another clearly, finding a way to prosperity that does not require someone else to pay a price that we would never be willing to pay.

MLK and “interrelated structure of all reality.”

How MLK stayed connected to love.

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by the Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.- a man who utilized his stream, or what Mooji would call, “the cosmic current of existence,” to help expand our universal understanding.  MLK was a man of action. His actions were blockbuster without having to shoot his way into enemy territory, punch out the bully or watch as the villain plummeted from a great height. Instead he actively connected to love, to the energy and awareness that manifests as all of us, to help us to see, feel and experience this, “Interrelated structure of all reality.”

You could say that MLK was selfless. He was willing to sacrifice even his life to get us to know that our differences are not only skin deep, mere pigmentation, but that our true Self includes everything that we perceive, and can conceive.

Again, I will quote Mooji to show how the actions of MLK stimulated a whole generation to work together towards our greater freedom.

“If you study and learn as a person, you can only function as a person- maybe as a good person, a skilled person- but when you awaken… you start moving as a whole environment. When something arises that needs to be done, that need is recognized, and a movement to fulfill it begins, and other streams join in until it becomes a river. You see how the forces join together.”- Mooji

How did MLK do this?  Martin did not allow himself to be defined and filled in with hatred of injustice but he would daily pray to be used by love, to live in the manner of love. He made sure to perform regular services for others. He strived to stay in good bodily and spiritual health. He meditated on the teachings and actions of his spiritual leader.  Most importantly and the hardest of all, he prayed for the oppressor.

His knew that love was a non-dual reality that transcends our limited clinging to the black and white.

This morning I ran across this Joseph Campbell quote:

“The Indians addressed all of life as a “thou”- the trees, the stones, everything. You can address anything as a “thou”, and if you do it, you can feel the change in your own psychology. The ego that sees a “though” is not the same ego that sees an “it.” And when you go to war with people, the problem of the newspapers is to turn those people into “its.” “ – Joseph Campbell

Matt Khan in talking about surrendering to love says it starts with taking a vacation from concern.  Not denying the things that are wrong or unjust, just taking a vacation from filling ourselves, our mind and body, emotions and cells with what is wrong.  Allowing ourselves to connect or surrender to love allows for solutions to our concerns to come through so when we come back from vacation, we can get back to work refreshed.

We are all a perception away from being able to act as a unified field.  The victory of MLK is not a victory for the church, or for one people but for all of life.

He knew who he was and his most constructive actions came from that knowing that he was, “free at last.”

Today is a chance for reflection and for being aware of the work that needs to still be done.  Still, in the midst of it all, may we be able to connect to love so that our concerns can be faced without anxiety but with the expectation of solutions we will usher in together. 

 

Thanksgiving for living signposts

“E pluribus unum”- out of many, one (the motto of the US).

“Devise means for removing the Inconsistency from the Character of the American People,” and to “promote mercy and justice toward this distressed Race.” -Ben Franklin (His last public act was to send Congress this petition asking for the abolition of slavery and an end to the slave trade. Feb 3, 1790)

 Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving cartoon

George Washington was the first to call for a national “public thanksgiving and prayer”, but each state celebrated this holiday at various times. In September of 1863, in the midst of our Civil War, Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote to President Lincoln urging him to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday to unite the country. Lincoln listened and by October, issued a proclamation that set aside the last Thursday of every November as “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

This week, Julia and I drove out to Iowa from New York to celebrate Thanksgiving with her mom and family. On the way, we listened to episodes of a podcast called On Being with Krista Tippet. People have been trying to get us to listen to this podcast for a long time. I bring up the show because as we strive to avoid talking about politics around the family table today, it is important to explore within ourselves the roots of why our communication has broken down.

ON Being

To explore what has divided us in the hopes of uniting us, I will share some quotes and thoughts from two of the On Being Podcasts we listened to. 

Vincent Harding

Vincent Harding was a leading figure in the civil rights movement as well a close friend and occasional speech writer for Martin Luther King Jr. He said that “the phrase “civil rights” never adequately described King’s vision or the human transformation that it stirred.’ The movement, he reminded us, “was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; it aspired in biblical words to a “beloved community,” not merely a tolerant integrated society.”  The question for us now, is “how to carry on democratic conversation that in a sense invites us to hear each other’s best arguments and best contributions so that we can then figure out how do we put these things together to create a more perfect union. To develop the best humanity, the best spirit, the best community, there needs to be discipline, practices of exploring. How do you do that? How do we work together? How —to go back to our conversation —how do we talk together in ways that will open up our best capacities and our best gifts?”

Isabel Wilkerson

Author Isabel Wilkerson, reminds us that that there were 246 years of enslavement here in America, that is 12 generations of enslavement. “You think about those cotton fields, and those rice plantations, and those tobacco fields, and on all of those cotton fields, and tobacco plantations, and rice plantations were opera singers, and jazz musicians, and poets, and professors, defense attorneys, doctors — I mean, that’s — this is the manifestation of the desire to be free and what was lost to the country…we’re so very divided, and there’s such a focus on “other.” And “other” can mean all kinds of things. And so people will often say, “Why is it that those people do that thing?” The only answer to that question is, “Why do human beings do what they do when they’re in that situation?” And it calls for radical empathy in order to put ourselves inside the experiences of another and to allow ourselves the pain, allow ourselves the heartbreak…”

People’s concerns go beyond the economy now. When the chief political strategist for the White House is a member of a white supremacy group, and when CNN broadcasts the question posted by a member of the alt-right asking ‘If Jews are people…”, we have to wonder what Benjamin Franklin would think of his beloved America? We short change ourselves when we try to suppress our diversity.  “By the people, for the people,” is the America I hold in my heart.

Vincent Harding suggested that when we find we are “operating in a situation,” that is, “very, very dark all around,” what we need are “some signposts, some lights that would in other peoples’ lives help them …Live human signposts.”

Fortunately there are many  signposts for us.  We can also rise above our differences to shine out for one another as we gather round a table of gratitude for what we have and what we can share. As a beloved community, we can be a light to the world. 

I am Thankful for you!

Over-lighting ‘The Big Short’ on the shoulders of pressurized giants

“I have a feeling, in a few years people are going to be doing what they always do when the economy tanks. They will be blaming immigrants and poor people.”- from The Big Short

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”

– Proverbs 31:8

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”- MLK

MLK poverty quote

After watching the movie, The Big Short, I had the feeling that each of us is needed to provide an alternative to the titanic cynical corruption that has taken over the heart of our economy.

Yesterday, Julia and I went to support an annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration that had been neglected by the white community, even though the public, including the clergy and congregants of several institutions have been invited every year.

I was singing in a preschool beforehand and Julia and I were both tired and a little cranky going in. Ushered into the middle of a cozy row, we were cracked open as a group of women called the First Seventh Day Adventists Ensemble began to sing. I have heard amazing gospel choirs and been blown away by technique and admired the passion behind the songs.  This was different; this cut right through complacency and struck a nerve and a chord with Julia and I who sat crying while they sang. Their song wasn’t a finger wagging but women standing up and singing about love seeing them as valuable, as whole, someone worth making a sacrifice for.

We uphold the great leaders who were willing to sacrifice themselves to raise up our humanity beyond fear, greed and hatred. This celebration reminded me that beyond all the posturing, and power-grabbing, there really are those who are dedicated to alleviating suffering on a daily basis. How many unsung mothers alone could fill the history books?  There are mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, strangers, who sacrifice themselves for our good because they believe in us and what we have to offer.

At the end of the celebration the advice was to become pressurized, like a submarine.  Become pressurized on the inside so you can handle the pressures that are coming at you from the outside.

It is easy to feel insignificant, to cling to our bubble of comfort, to become annoyed at change or at being asked to make an effort. There were certainly more white folks in attendance yesterday because one person made an earnest appeal.  We were cranky going in and felt cracked open and expanded on the way out.

May you be pressurized. Know that you are worthwhile and valuable!

martin-luther-king-quotes-sayings-3

Speeches of Acceptance – worth the gold

After a successful weekend in Kansas City at the Folk Alliance International with amazing musicians from around the world, Julia and I got to watch the Academy Awards.  What struck us were some of the acceptance speeches. JK Simmons started by telling children to call their parents.  Then, without anger or histrionics, an actor, a writer and musicians stood up, not for themselves alone but for their particular portion of humanity.  Beyond the nit-picking of behavior and evaluating performances and dresses, people from around the globe were treated to earnest concern and bravery.  With the overlapping of these speeches alone, the bridge towards our collective humanity gets a boost in production.
That was worth the price of watching.
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 “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s time to have wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.” – P.A.
http://youtu.be/OteoFQvQczc
We stand in solidarity with Commons, John Legend, MLK and all of those who long to see this truly be the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“…the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the Civil Rights movement marched on, 50 years ago. This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation, but now it’s a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects a kid from the South Side of Chicago dreaming of a better life to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion, and elevated by love for all human beings.
Thank you. Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the voting rights, the act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you that we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on.
“-
from Commons and John Legend’s acceptance speech at the Oscar’s.
 
“I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here,” he said. “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.” – Graham Moore
 “Call your mom. Call your dad. If you are lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call them. Don’t text, don’t email, call them on the phone. Tell them you love them and thank them and listen to them as long as they want to talk to you.”- JK Simmons

Happy MLK Day! Wedging ourselves into the doorway of love

This weekend Julia and I had the pleasure of playing at a Folk Festival.  We were part of a songwriting competition.  We were grateful to be asked and got to play under a huge banyan tree, a living backdrop that made this the most amazing stage we have played on. We really allowed the songs we sang to not be about us exclusively and had a wondeful time. It was a pleasure to connect with so many beautiful songwriters and the people for whom music appreciation is not only a lifestyle but is life manifest.
The three judges announced their favorite three songwriters and we were happy for our friend who was among them.
Now, while I personally went though a sadness of not “winning” and noticed the thoughts that go with that dissappointment, I was keenly aware when one of the winners said to me, “You two (Julia and I) get to play together. Many of us have tried to make that work and weren’t able to. You are the real winners.”
The next day what stuck me was that it is great to win and to be recognized in a certain light, to be able to put things on your resume, but what is most vital is the ability to come back in with your love and delight, to honestly connect to the people around you, to see them, to build them up.  We all seemed to play from a relaxed place the next day and we got to hear some amazing songs from the heart.
All of this seems relavant today as I think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all of the men and women and children who persevered through doubt, sadness, humiliation and death to uphold their love and the belief that we can all be together, free to share the songs of our hearts.
Surely our troubles are very small compared to many who have plunged into the frey for freedom. Still, our struggles can seem insurmountable in the moment.  Here is to the bonds of friendship, family and even strangers who see our light and help us get back to a place of joyful strength.
My friend, the poet Ashby Lankford shared this MLK quote:
 
“I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”
-MLK
While this is more pertinent today, it holds up and holds us up.
We may see ourselves as winners or loosers but beyond all labels or external acknowledgement, it is about wedging ourselves into the doorway of love, to let the light come through as long as we can.