The Minister and the Muslim

Here’s a link to the latest installment of a project I do for Manhattan Magazine called The Last Word.

https://issuu.com/sunflower_publishing/docs/mm17sp_singles.

The project involves inviting two people who may or may not know each other to come together for a conversation about a topic chosen usually by me and/or my editor.  I’ve been doing these for almost two years and am always amazed by how the conversation moves and finds commonality, while also offering new insight and inspiration.

This particular installment pairs Rev. Caela Simmons-Wood of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Manhattan with Syed Haroon Bin Farrukh from the Islamic Center of Manhattan.  Although we set this conversation up weeks before, it ended up falling on the evening of the current administration’s first executive order preventing entry into this country from several predominantly Muslim countries.  Talk about perfect timing!!

The actual conversation included much more than could be used in this issue and I want to share one exchange that didn’t make it into print.  I don’t usually insert myself into the conversation, but rather I’m there as witness and scribe.  As this conversation wound down, Haroon and Caela asked me if I had any questions and I used that opportunity to ask Haroon how he and the members of his community were dealing with the fallout from that executive order.  Haroon expressed great hope for America.   He stressed how Americans had some of the biggest hearts of any people on earth and that he trusted “those hearts would do the right thing”.  Here is what else he said, that left not a dry eye in the room:

“We have great hope for America.  Whatever we are seeing here I think it is because of the lack of opportunities for people to interact and understand each other. The moment people have opportunity to interact and understand each other their opinions and views will change. America is not run by just one person. It is run by a group of people who are representatives of the American people. We believe in the potential of the people and we believe in the potential of the Democracy and the Constitution here. We are very hopeful that a single person does not have the power and the ability to outdo the wonders of centuries of Democracy and a very wonderful Constitution.”

After the conversation, we were invited to join the Islamic Center community for their monthly potluck, where we experienced some of their culture, their delicious food and such warm and welcoming hospitality.  Having the privilege to witness this conversation between Rev. Caela and Haroon brought home how we are far more similar than different and if we just take the time to have a real conversation with someone who may appear or believe differently than us, we will likely find common ground for understanding, tolerance and acceptance.

The conversation begins on page 58.  But feel free to browse through the rest of the magazine as well.  I actually have several other articles in it, but am particularly honored to have been part of this one.

 

Posted in Art of Conversation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Granddaughter of an immigrant

My grandfather loved America with passion and pride. But he wasn’t born here. Grandpa came to the United States from Switzerland as young boy in the 1880’s.  He traveled here by ship with his mother and four siblings with only one trunk of possessions among them.  His father had made the journey earlier and was farming the rocky hills in southern Nemaha County until he could bring the rest of his family to join him.

They were Catholics and at that time the United States was very anti-Catholic. In fact, according to Oxford American History, Protestants in the United States, seeing the large influx of Catholics entering the country, believed that they were a “threat to the very fabric of society.” By the time my grandfather’s family got here, the United States already had a long history of discrimination against Catholics and, according to Kenneth Davis, a prominent historian, “Catholics were lambasted as theological abominations and traitorous. People wanted their religious freedom, but not freedom for others.” This deep hatred for Catholics lasted until John F. Kennedy become our first Catholic President in 1960.

Grandfather and his family left their Catholic religion behind when they came here. It was easy to hide or deny a religion that only consisted of different beliefs and not dress or habits. In fact, most of my family never knew we had come here as Catholics, but my grandfather once let it slip while sharing stories with me about his early days in America. He admitted to me that his mother had told the children to not mention they were Catholic. The family soon began attending the Congregational Church, in which my mother and her sisters were raised.

My grandfather had to drop out school after fifth grade so he could work to help support his family. Farming the rocky land in north central Kansas did not lead to wealth or riches.  But not being able to complete his education only served to make him value it even more and he made sure all three of his daughters received a college education, even though at that time, in the mid-to-late 30’s, it was not common for women to be college educated.

Grandpa became a successful businessman and proudly served several terms as mayor of his town. Decades after he died I continued to hear stories of how he helped others succeed. People, learning that I was his granddaughter, would excitedly share stories with me about how he had paid for their schooling, or had provided a home and work for someone, or how he allowed those down on his or her luck and bank account to carry a loan at the lumberyard he owned, that likely would never be paid. He did all of this despite anyone’s class, creed or color.  He knew what it was like to be poor and marginalized and he never stopped helping those who needed a hand up.  People who knew him describe him as always fair, generous and honest.

Within the family he started here are teachers, journalists, lawyers, artists, musicians, doctors and business people – all contributing members of society and our country, and all descendants from immigrants who came here during a time of hatred and discrimination because of their religious beliefs.

Posted in As I see it, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Hey God. It’s me….

Hey, God, it’s me – Lou Ann. I have some questions for you.

First of all, have you been on leave, or something? Things here feel as though they are fraying. I think all of us who consider you our BFF would like to ask you, “What the….are you thinking?”

I have other questions too. Like: What do we do now? How do we move forward? Especially when to so many of us this feels like backwards. Do we turn the other cheek? Should we just retreat into our belief that everything will be okay; that we can weather this storm too?  Anyone remember Katrina? Or Moses? Or Noah? Shit happens.

And we could be in some deep doo doo, God. Our freedom of speech and freedom of the press are under attack, and the First Amendment is what makes us America. Our civil rights, women’s productive heath, immigration, health insurance for many of us, LGBT rights, so much is looking as though it will soon be in the “loss” column…. Then there is our environment and our majestic National Parks. As part of the soon to be reigning party’s platform, National Parks may be returned to the states, thereby opening them up for drilling and mining, subdivisions, you name it. It would mean the end of Roosevelt’s vision of maintaining some of our most beautiful and historic lands for generations yet to come to experience. God, the list goes on and on of the things that may be now limited or removed.

In addition, there is so much hatred, cruelty, misunderstanding and groups of people trying to control and deny other groups their rights…. What are we suppose to do?

How do you feel when you see cruelty?

 Like I want to punch the person who is being cruel!

 Okay. But once you work through some of that knee jerk, or just jerk, anger, what do you really want?

 I want kindness. I want people to be kind.

 That’s right! When you experience or see cruelty, you most want kindness. When you experience or see injustice, you most want justice. When you experience or see lack, you most want prosperity. When you experience or see hate, you most want love.  So offer those things. Be those things. Be more of what you want and less of what you don’t.

The majority of you now feel as though your voice was not heard and now you know what the minority of you have been feeling. Not so good, huh? So, work together. All of this can bring you together.

It feels more as though it is splitting us apart.

You are splitting apart, but those cracks are how I’m getting in. That’s where you’ll find me. I am in the divisions as well as the unifications. I am on both sides and when you can see me in Them as well as You, we’ll be getting somewhere. 

We seem a long way from being able to do that. I think you’re asking a lot of us.

Sorry. It’s all I could come up with to get your attention.   It’s difficult to get through to you all when you spend so much time staring at your phones doing all that twittering and chatting. You all are an odd and stubborn lot, you know. It’s not easy being your Supreme Being. You’re a handful!

Well, you made us in your image.

Indeed. I now see I should have thought that one through a little more.

There’s just so much so many of us are afraid of and I don’t know if we can hold on while we keep moving forward a little, or at least find middle ground.

That last one is important. And each one of you isn’t expected to do it all. Pick that which is yours to do. You’ll know. But everyone needs to do something. That’s the coming together part. Work together. You all really want the same things – to be safe, to be happy, to be able to explore and experience your own life. Remind each other of that.

But when we feel we are being called, do we stand up, speak out, put ourselves on the line? There is so much at stake that I’m not sure which direction to move. Which issue, which challenge, which decision do I protest, speak up about, move to do whatever I can to bring attention or positive energy to?

Always speak your truth. Always be true to who you are and be willing to stake your claim…just also be willing to move your stake. Everything is true for someone and everything is false to another. Meet in the middle, but don’t be afraid to stand on the edge when you feel that is your place to be.  I do understand, though. I mean, even I am at a loss sometimes when I see what you have done. What were you people thinking?

That’s what I keep asking myself. I have no answer. Mostly we weren’t paying attention. This has been coming for some time, but we didn’t think it would go this far this fast. We went to bed in one America and woke up in another. It was shocking and is still terrifying. So much so that I can’t really understand how ANYONE doesn’t feel the same. But, apparently, many don’t.

But more of you do. Look at the numbers! Take heart in that. The big hearts won.

No, we lost.

You lost the prize, but you have more resolve than before. You are building more organization. You are becoming more clear, more focused. As are those you see as “other”. Don’t forget to listen to them too. I mean, you got yourself into this mess largely because both sides started “updating” and “tweeting” and forgot to talk and listen. Go to what you have in common – that safe, happy, love, life place.

I don’t want to. I don’t want to sing Kumbaya and fart rainbows. Not yet. I feel the need to be pissed.

Then be pissed. Be the best pissed you can be. Then roll up your sleeves, open your heart and do what’s next.

Hey, while I have you on the line, God. I have another question. Cellulite. What’s that about?

I have to get back to you on that. Seems as though there’s a commotion at the front gate.  Some people are there claiming there is only one way to God, which is their way, and they are also insisting that God is white. You all crack me up!! Why don’t you get that any way to God is the way to God and that I am ALL of you. Everyone figures that out once they get here, but why wait until then? I think I’ll go to the gate as a brown skinned, middle-eastern, WOMAN! Can’t wait to see their faces!

Okay. Thanks. Talk to you soon, God.

I think we’ll be in touch a lot through the next few years! Good luck. Oh, and don’t forget about having fun too! Now, where did I put my hijab?

Posted in As I see it | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Planting our seed

Every spring, here on the Kansas prairie, we burn our grassland. It is the one time of year when seeing smoke rising from the hills and its pungent odor doesn’t cause alarm.

We trust that whomever is burning has everything under control and recognize this as a long-historied ritual of keeping the Tallgrass Prairie viable, healthy and sustainably rejuvenating.  It’s part of the natural ecosystem of the prairie. The fire helps prevent the invasion of woody vegetation and promotes new growth of the native grasses.  It sounds destructive and somewhat counter intuitive to burn the prairie so that it will grow more healthy, but within days of the burning the hills begin to green and big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian and switch grasses send up shoots of new growth.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the grasses green and begin to grow from the charred pastures.  It feels like some kind of miracle, but to me, most of nature is a miracle. For instance, every spring I plant a garden and marvel that the tiny seeds know what to do once I place them in the soil and give them some water.  I plant a tomato seed and I don’t fret about what kind of plant will grow, nor do I expect a potato plant to break through the soil.  I know when I plant that tomato seed, if tended well, a tomato plant will grow.  There is an inner wisdom in that seed that knows its purpose and what it is designed to do and it does it with little more than some water and sunshine.

Oh, if only it were that easy for us to determine our path, our purpose. But, maybe it is. Maybe, like that seed or those native grasses that have come through the fire to become verdant and robust again, we too carry our purpose inside of us — although that’s often the last place we might think to look for it.

We more often look to other people for some outside direction for what our path is here, for what our purpose is and for the gifts we have come to share. We take classes, read books, attend workshops and join groups.  We may even blog about it and ask others if they’ve seen our purpose or know of what it is we are to be doing here.  There is nothing wrong with any of this, but what if the answer to the question is already inside of us?  What if our seed has been within us all the time and every time we asked or wondered, “What am I here for?”, it was doing everything in its power to answer, to show us, to get our attention so we might move in the direction in which it is intending to point us?

So how might we find that direction?  That tomato seed doesn’t dream of being a squash.  It’s a tomato seed.  Its dream is to grow into a healthy plant and to bear tomatoes. What are your dreams? What, especially as a child, did you dream of doing?  Did you want to train horses? Fly a plane?  Build highrises?  Dance? Did you find joy in keeping your room tidy and neat?  Did you lose yourself in thoughts of running a big business or writing books? Did you want to paint, travel, cook, build, design, do – whatever – then maybe that is what you still carry inside of you.  Maybe that’s your inner wisdom, your map.

If it has been awhile since you allowed yourself to dream, maybe like we do with the prairie grasses, it’s time to burn through the idea that you’re too old, too poor, too much invested in doing something else to still dream. Burn those dead dormant ideas that it is too soon or too late for you to follow your dreams.

You owe it to yourself to find the inner wisdom that will tell you what you are here to do, but you also owe it to the rest of us to do that. If you don’t plant, tend and grow your seed, you rob us all of the fruit you might bear.  We have no idea of how our dreams affect, inspire, speak or bump into others. We don’t even realize how many people we may have already touched, moved, or motivated.

What if your seed was to become a sculptor and you took a leap of faith and, despite people telling you artists never make a good living, you sculpted? And what if one day a middle aged man looked at a sculpture you had created, clearly realizing you were fulfilling your dream of being an artist, and decided he too wanted to follow his dream – of becoming a public speaker.  And in the audience at one of his presentations was a young woman who was studying accounting because she came from a long line of accountants, but it was not her passion.  Her dream was to study medicine and after hearing the speaker she was motivated to change her major and become a pediatrician.  She eventually helped a young patient successfully move through a serious illness, which inspired him to follow his dream of going into the field of research, oncology research to be specific, and that young boy grew up to cure cancer.

If you had never followed your inner wisdom to sculpt, despite what others said, or whatever doubts you may have had when you took your first steps in that direction, that young boy may have never been moved to follow his dream either, and we all would suffer as a consequence.

So, figure out what burns inside of you, what brings passion to your life, what seed do you need to nurture to feel happy, fulfilled and a sense of wonder, and then start taking steps in that direction.  Whatever steps present themselves, and they will present themselves, however you can begin to move in the direction of your dreams, move.

We are all once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  No two of us are exactly alike and in all of time there will never be another like any one of us.  That is by design. We are individual masterpieces created to each give what is unique about us to the world.  The world needs every one of us because we each contribute something special; we each possess a seed that is ours alone to grow.

But sometimes, like the prairie grasses, we must walk through fire to learn to grow again. Sometimes we need to be challenged, to fall and learn we can get back up.  There are trials, there are misfortunes in life, but we can use it all like the fires on the prairie as a way to grow, to stretch, to reach and to find that seed and its inner wisdom that is trying to tell us, “This way. Move in this direction. Follow me.  I will show you the way.”  And when we do take those first, wobbly steps toward that dream, I believe the Universe rushes in to support us with connections, time, opportunities, whatever support we need in a quantity that is sufficient for us to grow our seed. Every step you take will lead to the next.  You will be supported. But you must take that first step.

Spend some time being quiet, then ask what is in you to do, what dreams are still waiting for you to explore, follow and share.  Journal, create vision boards, whatever you wish to do that will allow yourself time and space to not only remember your dreams from childhood, but to touch and then identify those dreams that are still within you.

Be the fire.  Then be the prairie and come alive!  Only you can do this, whatever it is that is yours to do. And the only way to not fan the flame of passion within you, the only way to not find and grow your particular seed, is to not take those first steps.  The only failure is in not trying.

Posted in As I see it, Health and Well Being, Lessons from the Land, Transitions | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The lies we tell…

Have you ever caught yourself telling a lie – to yourself? The lies we tell ourselves are recognizable, and insidious, because they are heard in our own voice, but with a mean edge to it that makes us feel badly about ourselves.  This is our Liar Voice and when it is speaking to us it is helpful to be able to identify it as such.

For instance, do you have a blouse or shirt in a drawer or a pair of jeans in your closet that you can’t wear, but you keep because some day you’ll be able to squeeze your body back into them?  Nothing wrong with having a goal and if looking at a pair of too small jeans motivates you to take better care of yourself, then there’s no harm done.  But if every time you look at those jeans or that top and you hear a voice berating you for not being able to wear them, that’s your Liar Voice.   And until you are able to dismiss that loud, rude voice that tries to make you feel bad, you might be better served tossing those clothes out.  Besides, when you do get to wear those jeans I think you deserve a cool, new pair.  Don’t you?

Here’s another lie I often catch myself perpetrating:  I’ll put those files, mail, books away later.  Even though eventually I get around to putting whatever it is in its appropriate place, I know that wherever I set it down is where it will remain, likely until company is coming for a visit.  If I hear my Liar Voice when I profess that I will do it later, then I’m much more likely to put whatever is in my hand wherever it belongs right then.  Task completed and I won’t have to run around like an Olympic speed skater trying to clear the clutter before someone shows up at my door.

Sometimes our Liar Voice tells us things that we should never believe. We should discount anything that voice says that begins with:

“I am too fat, too old, too poor….” or “I am not good enough, smart enough, thin, rich, free enough….”

These are the most dangerous and harmful of all the things our Liar Voice tells us and we must remain vigilant in silencing these lies.  I find a chant from childhood helpful in quieting this kind of destructive chatter.  When I hear that nasty, mean voice saying negative things about me, with great belligerence, I repeat,  “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”

Not even my Liar Voice has a good comeback for that!

Posted in As I see it, Health and Well Being | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Tips for Surviving the Cold

I am so ready for spring.  I thought the last twelve+ inch snow was the final blow, but then the winds starting blowing making going outside out of the question. It got so cold I had to work to stay warm even when inside.  Out of necessity, I came up with some workable solutions.  If you too are struggling to find warmth these days here are some suggestions.

One of the easiest methods is hot baths, which are always good. I spend a lot of time in hot water, both figuratively and literally, and find prune-like skin is a small price to pay for thawed limbs and digits.

There are a variety of foot, hand, neck and seat warmers on the market that can be heated in the microwave. I suggest getting several of these and duct taping them to your body whenever you must go outside. Oh, sure they may create unsightly bulges, but who really cares what you look like as long as you are warm.

If you don’t want to wear bulky heaters, then you can always don several layers of clothing. I have found six to be a good number. Of course, with that many clothes on, if I fall down, I am completely helpless to get back up. So if you see me on my back in the snow, I am not making snow angels, but rather have accidentally tipped over and could use some assistance.

Experts say 90 percent of our body’s heat escapes from our heads, so I suggest wearing live animals on your head for added warmth.  Of course, this could increase static electricity, which is already an inherent problem during the winter because it wreaks havoc on clothing and hairdos.

Lately I look as though I am using a fully inflated balloon as a hair-grooming tool, and wearing anything other than cotton means clothing sticks to my body like a second layer of skin.  While dining out with friends the other night, I removed my jacket only to find the sock I thought I lost in the dryer hitching a ride on the back of my shirt. Who knows where the sweat pants I assume had been abducted by dryer aliens have ended up.

But there are advantages to the cold weather. After all, freezing is a way to preserve things, right?  So maybe this cold weather will inhibit the aging process.  Come spring, maybe we all will appear younger.

It can’t hurt to hope, can it?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Pondering time

When I was young I remember my parents and their friends talking about how it felt as though time was speeding up.  I had no idea what they meant.  Now that I am about the age they were then, I get it.

Almost every day I find myself wondering where has the time gone?  No, really, where did it go?  And for that matter, from where does it come?  We have all kinds of timepieces – watches, clocks, computers, phones, even the sun – that track the passage of time, but what is it and where is it going so fast?

We say time flies, but it can also crawl.  Remember when you were young and waiting to unwrap your Christmas presents?  Time teased you by barely moving at all.  Then in college when cramming for finals, it blew by at the speed of light.  So how can that be?  Where is the big Universal clock that keeps changing how we perceive and experience time?

Even though we “have time on our hands” we can’t put our finger on exactly what it is.  We can’t hold it, but it can heal us. We can’t see it, but we notice the results of its passing in our faces and we feel it in our bones.  We can take our time and we can give our time, but we can also waste it, invest it and spend it, and it feels as though, these days, there is not nearly enough of it.

Our calendars fill quickly, our schedules overflow and before we realize it we have booked ourselves solid with little time for anything or anyone, not even ourselves.  And that’s when we need to stop and realize that this illusive thing we call time is really all we have.

You may have heard the story about The Dash, which is really a story about time.  That little dash on tombstones separating the dates of our entrance and our exit from this earth represents how we spend the time we have been given.  The dash is our lifetime and it’s a good reminder that time is whatever we make of it.

That dash symbolizes the most precious commodity we have and the one thing we may eventually regret not offering when we no longer have the opportunity to share it.  To freely give some time to a friend, a loved one, someone in need, or even to ourselves, is a priceless gift, but we get so full of to-do lists and appointments and everything else that we forget to simply make time for those we love.

Maybe it has been awhile since you shared a leisurely lunch with a dear friend.  Remember how sharing that time felt so full and rich.  How, with time, the conversation wove a tapestry of laughter, of meaning, of love.  To make the time and share the time with someone for no reason other than you wish to be in his or her company is one of life’s great gifts and experiences.  It’s food for our souls.

Even if you only have the time for a phone call, make it.  At least that’s more than an idle click on a “Like” button.  At least you are giving something that only you have to give – a little bit of that dash.

With time I now have a better understanding of what my parents and their peers were talking about when they lamented the speed with which it was passing for them.  I now want to make it a priority to not miss an opportunity to clear some space, make some time, and invest something real and worthwhile in the people I care about.

After all, the important thing to remember about time is, we really have no idea how much of it we have left.

Posted in As I see it, Health and Well Being | 2 Comments