"I've come to believe that part of being who I am is being uncomfortable."
~ Claire Hoffman
"I've come to believe that part of being who I am is being uncomfortable."
~ Claire Hoffman
"Filmmaker, artist and writer Miranda July delivers a unique sermon that challenges our attitudes to strangers and asks us to be more adventurous and generous with how we interact with each other."
Take a Moment to Connect with a Stranger
by Miranda July
Grab hold of the nearest stranger. Don't take the stranger's hand, God knows where that's been, but grasp their arm, firmly. Don't let go until I tell you to.
Your best friend might meet this stranger at a rock show and they might sit in a parked car talking for hours and when they break up, 10 years later, the stranger, the one whose arm you’re holding right now, might call you sobbing at odd hours of the night, asking What did I do wrong? And you will say, You did nothing wrong. Practise this now, say: “You did nothing wrong,” to the stranger.
You may never meet this stranger again but you may, years from now, talk to the stranger’s grown child, in another country and never put it together that you once held his mother or father’s arm. It’s unlikely to come up. Incidentally, the stranger’s child will be very politically engaged, and you will do a lot of bluffing to keep up with the twists and turns of the conversation.
A few weeks from now, you might be at a restaurant with some friends and the people at the next table might be laughing incredibly loudly and with great frequency. And not at all innocently, you will think to yourself, they are laughing as if they are better than everybody else. The loudest laugher, the ringleader, has an especially arrogant cackle.
You imagine marching over there and punching the loudest laugher in the face, which is exactly the kind of fantasy you’ve been trying not to have. In an effort to apologise for the imaginary thrashing, you smile at the loudest laugher, who, you suddenly realise, is the stranger whose arm you held a few weeks ago.
This stranger might not have a drug problem now, but later, a few years after you become friends with the stranger, you will realise, with a sigh, that’s it’s best to take everything the stranger says with a grain of salt. Sigh now in preparation.
This is the first time you’ve touched the stranger, but the two of you might touch again, alone, in the dark. The stranger might ask you if that feels good and you might reply with an ambiguous mumble that the stranger couldn’t possibly understand, and you feel the stranger wanting to repeat the question, but deciding not to and now it’s too late for you to clarify your reply, which was affirmative. Confidentially, I would like to say to you now, It’s never to late.
This stranger will die, sooner or later, and you probably won’t be there to help the stranger let go of their life, which was made of many, many individual moments – this being one of them. Give the stranger’s arm a gentle squeeze right now, as if to say: “Go on, you can do it, just let go without really thinking about it,” as if life were a cup, or a rock, or piece of string.
You may let go of the stranger’s arm now.
I loved the Buddha’s teachings. I found them invaluable and still do. However, I mistook Buddhists for the Buddha and lost my way. Still, I was lucky and my eyes opened one day to the contrived righteousness of communal life. I understood that it was time to move on. Technically, I was free, under no physical and only gentle psychological pressure to stay. However, it took me a full year to extricate myself, to let go of my need for love and validation from this group, to give up the image of myself on a holy and righteous path and return to the plain truth that purity is an illusion, that there is no security and that I had to pursue my mundane way alone.
That in fact, I’d been alone all along.
There is life after a spiritual community. There is such a thing as natural community, not contrived to support your fondest wishes but to commiserate with on life’s hard byways. There is no preexisting group out there waiting for you. Real community forms organically, spontaneously. Prepare yourself for it by traveling light. People of like mind are not found in any particular monastery, school or social group. It’s rare to meet others with whom we truly commune. We know that. You know that. Locking yourself into a gated community, pretending you’re safe and sound, is a sure way to not bump into anyone intimately.
Get out there, vulnerable and honest. Admit you’re alone on your path through life and you’ll sooner or later meet fellow-travelers. You’ll share your insights as equals. Some of them may for a while become mentors or guides. Bear in mind though, that relationship will deteriorate the minute you abandon your discernment, the instant you stop taking your own risks.
Otherwise, how will you know when they’re speaking nonsense, as from time to time we all do? How will you realize that they’re manipulating you, as they might if they see you can’t hold your own? They might even be doing it because they love you.
How would you know what sort of love that is?
If we are to hold solitude and community together as a true paradox, we need to deepen our understanding of both poles.
Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one's self. It is not about the absence of other people — it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.
Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other. It is not about the presence of other people — it is about being fully open to the reality of relationship, whether or not we are alone.
~ Parker J. Palmer, from A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life
[Harvey Pekar] takes care not to show a writer's hand in his immense body of work, placing the emphasis on his exquisite eye and ear. This is where his genius resides: not in elaborate contrivance of baroque adventures, but in simply witnessing the marvellous abundance of astonishing phenomena surrounding him in his plain, ordinary human life.
Whether the musicality of a co-worker's chance remark or lyric quality to some mundane transaction, Harvey notices it and then writes it down so everyone can share his fugitive perceptions. Generally impoverished, his world is nevertheless rich in observation to the point where fiction is unnessecary; to the point where making something up is practically an insult to the stunning bounty of prosaic existence.
Every panel celebrates the worth of being who we are, and when we are, and where we are; the value of our individual lives and times, and of the shabby, legendary places where we live.
“I think that these three habits of mind, animisms, creationism, dualism, are present in all of us. They're not biological adaptations, they're accidents. But I think they're what make religious belief attractive and plausible and universal.”
“When people are less focused on self and the problems of the self, there is a kind of alleviation of stress. There’s nothing like reaching out and contributing to the lives of others to give a person, first of all a sense of significance and purpose.”
“In a moving and madly viral video last year, composer Eric Whitacre led a virtual choir of singers from around the world. He talks through the creative challenges of making music powered by YouTube, and unveils the first two minutes of his new work, ‘Sleep,’ with a video choir of 2,052.”
“There is approaching—and it is not so far off as it seems—a world arranged by the wisdom hid in the human heart; a world that is the organization of a strong and universal kindness; a world redeemed from the fear of institutions and of poverty. Even now, derided and discouraged as it is, socially untrained and inexperienced as it is, if the instinctual and repressed kindness of mankind were suddenly let loose upon the earth, sooner than we think would we be members one of another, sitting around one family hearthstone, and singing the song of the new humanity.”
This 39-minute film about a school in south Tel Aviv gets my vote for best Oscar-nominated documentary short subject. The principal and teachers of Bialik-Rogozin School enthusiastically embrace the challenges of educating children from all over the world, many of whom have experienced extraordinary violence, loss, and displacement. It is a remarkable and inspiring study of resilience nurtured by providing a safe environment, finding common ground in the midst of dizzying diversity, and igniting passion for learning.
“Pinki is a five-year old girl in rural India born desperately poor and with a cleft lip. The simple surgery that can cure her is a distant dream until she meets Pankaj, a social worker traveling village to village gathering patients for a hospital that provides free surgery to thousands each year. Told in a vibrant vérité style, this real-world fairy tale follows its wide-eyed protagonist on a journey from isolation to embrace.”
Learn more about Smile Train.
“If we say that a mosque or a community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom. We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam."
“The members of our military are men and women at arms, battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the strength of our American values which have already inspired people around the world. But if we don’t practice those values here at home, if we don’t practice what we preach abroad, if we don’t lead by example, we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy objectives. And we undermine our national security.”
“While some of [Feisal Abdul Rauf]’s a lot of attention, I want to read to you something that he said that you may not have heard.
At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf said, ‘If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind, and sou, Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad - Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, but I have always been one.’ He then continued to say, ‘If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all my heart, mind, and soul, and to love for my fellow human beings what I love for myself, then I am not only a Christian, but I have always been one.’”
“In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews, and Christians, and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that, we are Americans. Each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs of New York City that is off-limit to any religion. And by affirming that basic idea, we will honor America’s values and we will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant, and free city in the world.”
Most of us are perfectly capable of making distinctions within the Christian world. The fact that someone is a Boston Roman Catholic doesn’t mean he’s in league with Irish Republican Army bomb makers, just as not all Orthodox Christians have ties to Serbian war criminals or Southern Baptists to the murderers of abortion doctors.
Yet many of our leaders have a tendency to see the Islamic world as a single, terrifying monolith. Had the George W. Bush administration been more aware of the irreconcilable differences between the Salafist jihadists of Al Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States might never have blundered into a disastrous war, and instead kept its focus on rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan while the hearts and minds of the Afghans were still open to persuasion.
Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative is one of America’s leading thinkers of Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists.His videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God (or “zikr”) and reconciliation. His slightly New Agey rhetoric makes him sound, for better or worse, like a Muslim Deepak Chopra. But in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, he is an infidel-loving, grave-worshiping apostate; they no doubt regard him as a legitimate target for assassination.
For such moderate, pluralistic Sufi imams are the front line against the most violent forms of Islam. In the most radical parts of the Muslim world, Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs, every bit as bravely as American troops on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul do. Sufism is the most pluralistic incarnation of Islam — accessible to the learned and the ignorant, the faithful and nonbelievers — and is thus a uniquely valuable bridge between East and West.
The great Sufi saints like the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi held that all existence and all religions were one, all manifestations of the same divine reality. What was important was not the empty ritual of the mosque, church, synagogue or temple, but the striving to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart: that we all can find paradise within us, if we know where to look.
“I’m very bad when it comes to worship. This is just me. This is probably a terrible thing to say [in a church], but I don’t need it very much. I try to live in this kind of presence and a kind of awareness and I have to call myself back time and time again to remembrance of who I am. Partly, I think, all that’s because as a kid, as a Presbyterian, I had to go to church four times on Sunday. That wears out your patience and your ass. I’ve sort of done my stint. But that’s just me. It’s not other people.”
by Lucille Clifton, from Voices
we will look into the mirror
and the great nation standing there
will shake its head and frown
the way babies do who
are just born
and cant remember
why they asked for just
these people just this chance
and when we close our eyes
we will be left alone
in the wrong image not understanding
what we are or what we
had hope to be
* * *
Changing Face of America
A sociological study of the changing face of America, based on demographic research from the Pew Research Center. The first grid represents an exact breakdown of the current ethnicity of young Americans. The second grid's collection of faces and ethnicities is a projection of where America will be in 2050, with far fewer Caucasians and a significant increase in Asians and Hispanics. In 2050, the minority will be the majority.
“Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all , and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.”