Change, Impermanence, and Living in the Present

It’s one of the best memories from that time in my life.  It was a routine that was simple, refreshing, and renewing.  In the evening, I’d walk Lincoln Road.  Some shops along the way were vacant. Others were newly remodeled.  Passers-by walked dogs; others skated by on roller-blades; a few were on bicycles. But there weren’t many people along the way.

I made my usual stop at the coffee shop called Gertrude’s.   It was named after Gertrude Stein.  I’d enjoy a cold beverage and sometimes a desert at a table on the side walk. I could feel the ocean breeze and breathe the heavy humid air.  It was the end of the day and time to relax.  As I was a regular fixture many evenings at Gertrude’s, people would stop, say hello, and chat a bit.  It was my spot.

I recently read a friend’s memoir.  She wrote of her childhood along this very same Lincoln Road.  She recounted similar warm feelings about the place.  But Gertrude’s wouldn’t have been part of her experience, nor young people on roller blades.  Her time along Lincoln Road was from an era perhaps forty years earlier than my own.  Lincoln Road as I knew it?  That wasn’t her experience.

Today, Lincoln Road is barely recognizable to me.  Gone are Gertrude’s, the card store, the book shop, and the other places I frequented.  They’ve been replaced by chain retailers.  Instead of a casual pace, dog walkers, and roller bladers, it’s now a fashionable neighborhood with different social mores’.

I’m writing about Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.  I lived in the area during the 1990’s.  My memories of evenings at Gertrude’s are from about twenty-five years ago.  Their recollection brings me a sense of warmth and happiness.  At times when I’m tired or stressed, I’d like to go back to those evenings.  I image walking Lincoln Road and the happy-go-lucky feelings I had there.  But it’s just a memory.  Lincoln Road remains, but it’s all changed.  Similarly, my recollection of Lincoln Road is far different from my friend’s childhood memories of the same place.  Both sets of memories are nothing like the Lincoln Road of today.

We know that things change.  Not only do places, styles, and ways of doing things change, we also each change, grow, and evolve.  Places change, are developed, and redeveloped. All this change, well … Buddhists call it impermanence.  Something about the word “impermanence” makes it seem noble to me. But my own experience doesn’t feel particularly noble. Instead, it’s as though something special has been lost.

Change is one of the most difficult aspects of life.  Most people have memories of times of happiness, contentment, or fulfillment.  Of course, like wine, with aging, these memories become richer and have a greater depth of flavor.  Our present situation just doesn’t seem as rich as times past. As we remember past events, it seems as though life was somehow better.  But there’s no going back to what was.  What was is gone and remains as a set of memories.  Those times and experiences are no more.

As for going forward?  We don’t know what to expect from the future.  Will it be good or bad, happy or sad, carefree or stressful?  There are no guarantees.  This makes change, life’s evolution and our growth, difficult for us.  We’d rather not change but stay with what’s comfortable and safe for us.

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to savor memories of times and places marked by happiness and other good feelings.  Such memories enrich our lives.  The problem is that when we become so focused on the memories, we fail to live fully in the present.

What made the evening walks along Lincoln Road such a special memory for me was that I was present to what I experienced.  In my memory, I can feel the ocean breeze and the heaviness of the humidity.  I remember people’s faces and even snippets of conversations.  I am able to remember those details because I was present in the moment and experienced it deeply.

Rather than being caught up in memories of the past, we are challenged to live in the present which we are now experiencing.  Recognizing that life is marked by impermanence, we can simply recollect and enjoy our remembrance of past events while living fully in the present. When we live in the present, fully aware, life’s changes aren’t a stumbling block to us.  By being in the moment as it occurs, we draw into us the awareness of life — and of living fully.  The experience of life changes moment to moment and becomes the natural flow of our lives.  We can savor it and find that the present is indeed very good. Perhaps it’s even better than the things we remember because the present is now.  It is alive with possibility.

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Prophetic Faith: The Spirit of Social Justice Today

We are living in a time of political discord.  This is true in many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and throughout the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.  To say that there are large segments of people in many countries who are dissatisfied with their political leaders is an understatement. In addition, the number of refugees in the world is greater than it’s ever been in recorded history. Rates of poverty are high, with more homeless people in developed countries than ever before.  At the same time, levels of wealth among the super-rich are beyond the conception of most people who are just struggling to get by.

Political and economic struggles are not new even though they appear to be extremely pronounced today.  There have been prophetic individuals who have called out the dynamics of economic and social oppression for exactly what they are.  One of these prophets was a man I met in my youth:  Dom Helder Camara, a Roman Catholic Archbishop of Recife in Brazil.  He visited my college. I was invited to be part of a small group who visited with him over lunch.  He was a quiet man with a penetrating gaze and piercing focus.  Working among the poor in Brazil, he is famously said:  “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

As many countries take steps to limit immigration, turn their backs on refugees, reduce spending on social programs, and stand by while millions of people suffer due to food insecurity,  there is a general societal expectation that churches and other communities of faith will help those in need through food banks and homeless shelters.  Indeed, communities of faith have a responsibility to provide tangible care. But more than tangible care, people of the Judeo-Christian tradition have a Biblical mandate to speak truth to power and advocate for the needs of those who suffer because of society’s injustice.

Throughout the pages of scripture, the Hebrew prophets routinely questioned the status quo and to name the ways the rights of people were being denied in society, including the rights of the poor, and of women, children, and immigrants.  The prophet Micah (chapter 3) accused the wealthy of “eating the flesh of the people.” Isaiah (chapter 3) charges that “the spoil of the poor” is in the homes of the wealthy. Ezekiel (chapter 18) exhorts those in power to behave honestly, generously, and respectfully.  The plea of Amos (chapter 5) draws our attention even today: Let justice roll like a river.  Yes, there is great injustice and immense suffering caused by governments and corporations.

While many people of faith see the need for societal and political change, knowing how to respond seems to elude most churches and religious communities.  We are more comfortable with the saintly actions of feeding the poor than the kind of advocacy which questions why the hungry have no food in the first place.

A  good friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Trish Greeves recently published an inspired workbook for congregations:  Prophetic Faith: Exploring Social Justice Advocacy as a Congregation.  In her work, the Rev. Greeves outlines a seven session process through which a local church or faith community can come to a greater understanding of the work of social justice advocacy.  This adult study begins by exploring private faith versus public practice and moves toward ways to increase public witness to the prophetic aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  While written with specific references to the United States, Prophetic Faith is easily adapted to international settings.

It is a challenge for faith communities to learn to step into the public sphere and to name the clear injustice committed today by politicians and many corporations. Greeves’ Prophetic Faith provides an accessible process through which congregations can realize the importance of social justice advocacy in public settings as a foundational response to faith.  It is without reservation that I recommend Prophetic Faith to you as a critical resource in responding to the times in which we live. As people of faith, we are challenged to be like Dom Helder Camara and question why it is that policies keep people in poverty and want and marginalize them to the fringes of society.

Prophetic Faith by Dr. Trish Greeves is available at: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_15?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=prophetic+faith+trish+greeves&sprefix=prophetic+faith%2Caps%2C144&crid=J6VY22454V8L

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Living with Racism: A White Man’s Perspective

It happened again.  Each time it happens, I am annoyed and not sure what to do.  I’ve learned that drawing attention to it doesn’t help. It just makes an awkward situation more awkward.  But I can’t ignore it.  Let me explain.

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A couple Sunday’s ago, my partner and I decided to take a little road trip.  We wanted to do something different, to change things up for the day.  We decided to visit a small city a couple hours from our home in Atlanta.  As small cities go, we knew it had some companies near it which brought some international people to the region and helped to spur the local economy.  We thought we’d check out the town, walk around and see what we found, have a couple of meals and maybe sample some craft beer.  It would just be a nice day trip.

Yes, in many ways it was a great day.  Near the city center, we found street musicians and artists and people enjoying a warm summer afternoon.  It was really relaxing.  But when we went to restaurants, shops, and pubs, something all too familiar happened:  the staff acknowledged me but it seemed as though my partner was invisible to them.  In these venues, the staff made eye contact with me, checked with me about ordering, and inquired whether I was satisfied.  I’m not sure how much he was aware of it as it happened, but I sure was.  Not being the quiet type, if he had something to say, he’d jump in the conversation.  But a couple of times I wanted to say, “Hey, why don’t you ask the Asian guy?  He’s the one paying for this.  Do you want a good tip from him or not?”

If you didn’t know, my partner is Chinese.  We’ve been together fourteen years.  Our time together has taught me lots about racism.

I want to be clear about some things.  I’ve had friends who were not white like me throughout my adult life.  My friends have helped me to understand some of the limits of my whiteness.  Without them, I probably wouldn’t have insight into some of the ways that being white creates privilege for me.  It’s not because they told me about this thing called “white privilege.”  Instead, I’ve often seen that I get treated differently than my friends who aren’t white.

I’m a good liberal.  I’ve always believed that people shouldn’t be treated based on their race and that all people have dignity because they are human.  But I also tended to think that it was “white supremacists” or members of the Klan who were racist.  When I was younger, I didn’t understand that simply by being white I participate in racism.  But I do.

When a waiter, a clerk in a shop, or anyone else acknowledges me and ignores my partner, I recognize that it’s a subtle form of racism.  To be sure, it stupefies me when my partner is the one buying something and I’m standing in the background and I’m still the person spoken to first by a clerk.  I’ve spoken to my partner about it and, to be honest, he often isn’t aware of it.  I’ve learned not to point it out to him.  Why bother him with it?

Yet, I think it’s worth talking about and writing about because most people don’t recognize or understand how far reaching racism actually is.  Racism isn’t limited to the ways groups of people who are not white are more likely to be stopped, arrested, or shot by a police man. Yes, non-whites are more frequently reported for suspicious behavior and find it more difficult to obtain a loan.  People who aren’t white are relegated to poor housing or less than adequate health care.  Yes, all those things are forms of racism, but racism also includes our day to day treatment of others and works its way to the level of whether or not we acknowledge the presence of a person.

While laws changed because of the Civil Rights Movement, racism remains and holds a firm grip on our consciousness.  It’s real and I frequently see it at work and experience some of how I benefit by being white in a racist culture.

Racism permeates all of our interactions.  It isn’t always direct, like a racial slur or a discriminatory action.  More often, it’s showing someone who looks like me preferential treatment because of skin color while those of other skin colors get poorer service or are simply ignored.

While it’s very tempting for me to be moralistic about racism and address racism as a sin against God and God’s creation, I’ll refrain from that.  Instead, I think it’s more important to consider the way that racism permeates our daily lives. To that end, I ask:  what do your day to day actions convey about your beliefs regarding people who are different from you?  If you truly believe that each person is fundamentally good, has self-worth, and as much of a right to life as you do, then you’ll treat each person with respect and work to overcome racism in society.  When enough of us understand this, racism and white privilege will begin to crumble.

 

Photo credit: art around via Foter.com / CC BY

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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