Thursday, December 1, 2016

Living in the Tension ~ by Shelly Tochluk

Living in the Tension: The Quest for a Spiritualized Racial Justice ~ by Shelly Tochluk, 2016

For many, spiritual and racial justice principles go hand in hand.  Yet, although seemingly compatible, tensions often arise when people try to live out their associated values and strategies.  Further, there are those who sit solidly on one side of either spirituality or advocacy and fail to see the connection between the two.

Spiritually-oriented people often say:
People focused on politics and social justice activism are angry, wounded, unhealthy individuals who sabotage their own efforts by using antagonistic and divisive language, including terms like oppression, privilege, and supremacy.
On the other hand, racial justice advocates often say:
People focused on their spirituality as part of their personal growth are trying to escape into transcendence or a false "kumbaya" experience and deny their ongoing role in continuing personal and institutional racism, privilege, and the reinforcement of an unjust status quo that operates through interlocking systems of oppression.
Why do these tensions matter?
There is a vast potential of untapped transformative power waiting to be released if activists and spiritual people of various racial backgrounds build and strengthen bridges between their differing principles and expectations.
How can this book help?
Each chapter tackles one tension-filled theme and asks:  What happens if one side of the tension is ignored?  How can a both/and approach allow spirituality and racial justice efforts to support one another?
Chapter 1:  Transcendence and Race Consciousness
Chapter 2:  Self-Acceptance and Self-Improvement
Chapter 3:  Personal Healing and Political Action
Chapter 4:  Common Humanity and Group Differences
Chapter 5:  Belonging and Appropriation
Chapter 6:  Inner Truth and Accountability

Shelly Tochluk wrote an essay titled Grounding, which describes her life’s philosophical and spiritual foundation.  The 17-page PDF can be printed out, if you are interested.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Picking up Compassion again

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life ~ by Karen Armstrong, 2010

Back in 2014, some of us started working our way through this book. We got all the way to August and the 8th step before the project dwindled down to only Shirley and me.  Here's what we wrote about each of the eight steps we did:
Overview ~ Practice Compassion
Preface ~ Wish for a Better World
The First Step ~ Learn About Compassion
The Second Step ~ Look at Your Own World
The Third Step ~ Compassion for Yourself
The Fourth Step ~ Empathy
The Fifth Step ~ Mindfulness
The Sixth Step ~ Action
The Seventh Step ~ How Little We Know
The Eighth Step ~ How Should We Speak to One Another?
The Ninth Step ~ Concern for Everybody
The Tenth Step ~ Knowledge
The Eleventh Step ~ Recognition
The Twelfth Step ~ Love Your Enemies
Joy @ Joy's Book Blog has set up Compassionate Sunday for a year of "a process for developing personal compassion to engage in compassionate community for a more compassionate world."  She has set up a link list for those willing to discuss their progress in blog posts.  "Or," she says, "you can join the discussion in the comments or on Facebook, where I’ll post a link to this post to anchor a discussion."  As of today, she's off and running with it.  Here's a link to her First Step: Learn about Compassion.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Kashmir Shawl ~ May 2015

The Kashmir Shawl ~ by Rosie Thomas, 2011, fiction (India)
It is the eve of 1941 and World War II is engulfing the globe. Newlywed Nerys Watkins leaves rural Britain to accompany her husband on a missionary posting to India, but when he leaves her in the exotic lakeside of Srinagar to take on a complicated mission elsewhere, she discovers a new world.  Here, in the heart of Kashmir, the British dance, flirt, and gossip against the backdrop of war and Nerys soon becomes caught up in a dangerous liaison.  By the time she is reunited with her husband, she is a very different woman.

Years later, Nerys's granddaughter Mair Ellis clears out her dead father's house and finds an exquisite shawl — a kaleidoscope of silvery blues and greens.  Wrapped in the folds of this delicate object is a lock of a child's curly hair.  With nothing else to go on, Mair decides to trace her roots back to Kashmir, embarking on a quest that will change her own life forever.
Kashmir is in the news today!  Accusing al-Jazeera of "cartographic aggression," India has taken that news channel off the air.  "India says maps used by the channel are incorrect, as they show the region of Kashmir as divided between Pakistan, India, and China.  Kashmir is claimed by both India and Pakistan in its entirety but has effectively been divided since 1948."

Click on map to enlarge it
Although I thought I was reading about India in this novel, I was confused enough that I looked up "Kashmir" to find out whether it's part of Pakistan or India or what.  That's when I discovered today's article showing that both countries claim that area, even now.  (And apparently, so does China.)  This book, then, is giving us background for the still-volatile place that is Kashmir.  I also found this helpful map, showing Srinagar near the top of India.

Author's web site
Novel's opening lines
Party with the characters (at Essencia Island)
Answer a question or two (or make up your own) in the comments:
1.  Which character could you relate to best?
2.  Were there any other especially interesting characters?
3.  Was the book different from what you expected?
4.  Was location important to the story?
5.  Was the time period important to the story?
6.  Would you recommend this book?
7.  What did you like most about the book?
8.  What did you like least?
9.  Did you like the way the book ended?

If the video quits working, view it on YouTube:

Monday, April 13, 2015

Chapter 5 ~ Why ask why? ~ Socrates Café

The quote at the beginning of this chapter is simply "?" — and it's signed Anonymous.  Questions, lots of questions, so let me share a few we can discuss.
  • "Is it possible to be too curious?" I ask out loud.  (I don't know, but he asked the same question three times in this chapter, pages 195, 198, and 199).
  • "Is it possible to be too curious?" I again ask the Philosophers Club members.
  • "Is it possible to be too curious?"
What do you think?  Is it?  One youngster said:  "But I can't help it. ... I feel like I have to try to answer it.  I'm too curious!"
  1. "We need to start asking:  Is this really the best way to ask this question?  Or are there other ways, ways that might lead to more fruitful answers?" (p. 194).
  2. "Does anyone have the right to be ignorant?" (p. 200).
  3. "Is all education a process of making someone less ignorant?" (p. 202).
  4. "Is it possible to envision a society in which the gap between rich and poor is much less dramatic than it is now?  Are you responsible for the well-being of your fellow humans?" (p. 209).
"Implicit within the 'Socratic virtues' is this injunction:  You can only attain human excellence if you also strive to make it possible for your fellow humans to do so too" (p. 210).

What will you remember about this book?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Chapter 4 ~ What's it all about? ~ Socrates Café

The author starts this chapter at a senior center, so here's a photo of two feisty seniors who eat at my table at our senior living facility.  I asked them before sharing, but you can see they were having fun on St. Patrick's Day.  So what's a self?
"I don't think a self is something that can be defined, but can only be revealed.  Our self is who we are, what we say, what we do.  Our self is a perspective, an approach, a disposition, not a thing.  It is a work in progress," said one of the Socrates Café participants (p. 154).
It's also "something he [Socrates] couldn't escape from, even if he's wanted to" (p. 155).  Sometimes, a person "discovered who he was by first discovering who he most definitely was not" (p. 157).  At the end of that session, a student said, "If we'd had discussions like this at my university, I'd soon have a Ph.D. in philosophy" (p. 155).
Does it seem to you that philosophy professors tend "to treat philosophy like a museum piece that only they, the experts, could discuss with authority" (p. 158)?
A few more questions this chapter raises:
  • Can "good" be a what?
  • Can "handsome" be a what?
  • What about "words"?  Someone said words are "our articulated thoughts" (p. 184).
  • Another said, "Becoming is just as much a what as being is" (p. 185).  Do you agree?
  • "Is a unicorn a what?" (p. 187).
As one person said, "I'm starting to wonder if I have any idea what's what" (p. 187).

"I am and always have been one of those natures who must be guided by reflective questioning."
— Socrates (quoted on page 143)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Chapter 3 ~ Whom do you need? ~ Socrates Café

Friendship is the subject of this chapter, and I'm thinking of best friends I've had over the years.  Here are some quotes and questions that came up in this chapter:
  1. "In what way does one person become a friend of another?" — Socrates (p. 90)
  2. "What are friends for?" (p. 102).
  3. "Their friends fill some need ... they are in some sense useful." (p. 102).
  4. "What is a good friendship?" (p. 103).
  5. "What constitutes a failed friendship?" (p. 103).
  6. "Is there such a thing as a destructive friendship?" (p. 103).
  7. "How are friendships formed?" (p. 103).
  8. "How are friendships different from other types of relationships?" (p. 103).
  9. "How are friendships formed and how are they broken?" (p. 103).
  10. "Can a book be your friend?" (p. 103).
  11. "Goethe said that friends 'enhance each other' ... To me, a friend is someone who accepts you when you're at your very worst, but inspires you to be a better person.." (p. 103).
And then there's the question of having a conversation with yourself:
"You can't be silent to yourself, even if you are silent to everyone else.  I may not talk out loud, but I still talk to myself.  I still have conversations with myself inside my head, even if no one else can hear me.  I can't turn off the voices in my head" (p. 115).
What do you answer when someone asks whether you see a glass as half empty or half full?  (p. 116)  I kind of liked the idea of a fourth "R" to go along with the first three:  Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmatic, and Reasoning.  The author mentioned noticing "an extreme and pervasive self-absorption and intolerance among people," saying:  "We hadn't just become the 'what's in it for me' society; we'd become the 'to hell with you' society" (p. 130).  Do you agree?  Then he talked about "pessimistic fatalism and helplessness" and the people who transcend all that (p. 130).  On the next page, he asks himself:
"What precisely can I do to realize my dreams?  What steps do I have to take?  What sacrifices will I have to make?  Am I willing to make them?" (p. 131).
Let's end this list with love, okay?  The young woman there with him, apparently just the two of them that day, shared her definition of love.
"Love is a response.  Love is something to be expressed, to be demonstrated, and it leads to this sublime place that is within us but also transcends us.  But this place is very, very hard to reach" (p. 139).
And then a grin spread across my face as I read the last sentence of this chapter, after the author considered asking her, "How do you know when you're in love?" (p. 141).  But he didn't ask.  Not then.  He wrote:
"I wait until nearly two years later, after we're already married" (p. 141).

"Understanding human needs is half the job of meeting them."
— Adlai Stevenson (quoted on page 89)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Second Quarter Queries (We Make the Road by Walking)

If you feel comfortable doing it, compose honest and heartfelt replies to one or more of these queries and share your thoughts with us.

1.  Here is the meaning I find in the stories of John the Baptist, the virgin birth, Herod's slaughter of innocent children, the ancestor lists, the coming of the Magi, and Jesus in the Temple at age twelve.
2.  Here is why Jesus' parables, miracles, and teaching about hell are important to me.
3.  Here is how I respond to Jesus' care for the multitudes and Jesus' attitudes toward Caesar.
4.  Here is my understanding of "the kingdom of God."
5.  Here is what it means to me to say, "I believe in Jesus.  I have confidence in Jesus."
6.  If you have been baptized, what does that baptism mean to you?  If you have not been baptized, what would it mean for you to choose to be baptized now?
7.  What do you appreciate most about this learning circle?