There's a lot in this newsletter: I write a bit about privilege—of the white, male, heterosexual, and upper middle-class kind. Also, The Holy Universe won another award and got a couple of great reviews; I've set up a few more call-in events and have appearances coming up in the late winter and early spring; Laura Babbitt helped me put together some gorgeous downloadable "desktop graphics" and a timely excerpt from the book for you.
A few weeks ago I went to return a can of food at the store (I had gotten the wrong kind of sauce than I'd intended for holiday party preparations). I went right up to the one of the checkers after walking in, since I didn't want any question that I did indeed bring it into the store and wasn't trying to pull a fast one on the store.
"An Upstanding Citizen"
"I want to return this," I said to the young man, pulling the can out of my bag.
"Do you have the receipt?" he asked.
"Yes, I do." Or I thought I had. It wasn't in the bag. I figured I must have left it in the car, and offered to go get it.
"That's okay," said the young man. "You look like an upstanding citizen. Go ahead and just do your shopping, and come back into my line."
I thanked him . . . and as I walked through the aisles of canned goods, I don't remember how long it was before I began to ponder the phrase he used, "an upstanding citizen." I don't know how long it took to realize that this innocent phrase quite likely had a lot of baggage attached to it.
Because who is an upstanding citizen? Someone who's clean? Someone who's dressed nicely? Someone who's tall, or male?
Someone who's white, perhaps?
Just how much did that figure into his use of that phrase?
For the past few years I've imagined what it must be like to be someone who is other than me: white, male, heterosexual, upper middle-class. When I was on tour in Boulder recently, I walked out of a store with a sandwich, completely forgetting to pay for it. Would the nice lady running the checkout have been as understanding after I'd sheepishly went back in to admit my mistake had I had darker skin? I certainly know that, while I might still have been accused of shoplifting had I been stopped in the parking lot, I stood a better chance of my explanation of absent-mindedness being accepted because I am white.
And these are only a couple of instances of the privilege I enjoy. There are, of course, many more that happen, many that I'm not even aware of.
I don't quite know how I would have had a conversation with the young man who called me "upstanding" (had I been quicker to realize what might be underneath what he was saying), but I'm also ashamed to admit that I'm too scared to start such an awkward conversation.
But maybe I'm making this a lot harder and scarier than it has to be. Maybe I could have at least simply asked the young man, "I'm curious; what do you mean by 'upstanding citizen'?" And then listen to whatever answer he came up with, and saying "Hmm . . . interesting," and leaving it at that—perhaps he would have reflected on his own answer, perhaps seen that there was indeed some sort of prejudice entwined in his statement.
That would at least be a start. In light of what's happened recently in Ferguson and New York, it's an auspicious time for me to make a new year's pledge to begin to move from mere reflection about privilege to taking more action—however uncomfortable and awkward, however small—in helping to dismantle the injustices perpetrated by our systems of privilege.
Illuminating Privilege: an excerpt from the chapter entitled "Personal Story"
For someone like me, who comes from a place of privilege in confronting the ecological issues of our time, it was a "real eye-opener" to realize that the same systems that caused the ecological damaged that I found so desperately heartbreaking were the same systems that also caused the profound injustices in our society, injustices that I was blind to, that I was privileged to be blind to.
But I also I learned that there's a lot of power in seeing that those of us working on social justice issues and those of us working on ecological issues are fundamentally working on the same thing. There is potentially a lot of power in taking the awkward and uncomfortable steps of reaching across these illusory divides, and joining our efforts together. We're working on the same thing: changing the worldview of Modern Mind, a worldview that sees both certain classes of people and the Web of Life both as things to be used and thrown away.
This particular piece in The Holy Universe is autobiographical. I had recently taken a workshop on White Privilege, and was explaining what it was to my friend. The last four stanzas are almost word-for-word what we said to one another. It starts on page 259.
• • •
“Yard work time in about an hour?” asked
the Seeker’s wife, poking her head through
the bedroom door.
Yard work time was something they did
together once a week.
They took turns deciding what to work on,
and today it was his turn.
.................................“Okay,” said the Seeker. He was lying in bed,
.................................reading a book entitled Unraveling Whiteness.
She watched him as he read.
"Is that one of the ones the Sage suggested?”
.................................“Yeah. It’s a real eye-opener.”
She thought for a moment, then said, “You
know, I wonder . . . I guess it’s still a big
problem, but it’s gotten better, right?” She
paused. “I mean, like back in high school—
I just don’t remember any racism against the
Asian kids or the African-American kids.”
.................................The Seeker put the book on his chest, and
.................................frowned. Then, after a moment, he looked
.................................at her, and raised his eyebrows. “Well, yeah.
.................................To be honest, when I was in high school, I
.................................sure didn’t see any sexism going on.”
Her head gave a little jerk backward. She
looked at him with a frown, then bit her lip,
looked away, and said, “Oh.”
.................................The Seeker gave a small nod. “Yeah.”
(read and comment on this on the website)
More Awards, Plus Positive Reviews from Writer's Digest
The Holy Universe is a “Winner” in the “Spirituality: General” category and a “Finalist” in the “Fiction: New Age” category in the 2015 USA Best Books Awards.
The judges at Writer's Digest also had some very complimentary things to say about the book, including "The author has done our planet a favor and contributed to its well-being, by writing this story" and "I found this book to be a magnificent philosophical statement. I hope it reaches the wide audience it deserves."
Check out the awards and read the full reviews here. You can also check out a copy of the press release here.
Three Gifts: Justice, Sustainability and Spirit
Like you, I hunger for a world that is environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling. I am offering three gifts to you this season in support of the passions that inform our work for a world that works for all. I also encourage you to engage with others in New Story Café offerings and explore the educational and engagement pathways of the Pachamama Alliance in the coming year.
Gift #1: "Privilege" Excerpt
My first solstice gift comes from a deeply felt call to support the rebirth of the struggle for civil rights in the wake of grand jury decisions denying justice to a great number of families of young black men who have lost their lives to increasingly militarized policing in the U.S.
So I'm offering a downloadable excerpt of the dialogue between the Seeker and the Sage called "Privilege," which is from the chapter entitled "Stories of Modern Mind." This was one of the last pieces in the book that I wrote—I almost didn't include it, because this particular part of the dialogue is so deeply sensitive and touchy . . . even a bit frightening to me. But in the end I knew I had to at least try to write this, even a the risk of making a fool of myself, or worse.
My hope is that you can use it with your family and friends to open dialog on racial justice. I've also included with the download a collection of other resources on privilege and race for further exploration.
View and download Privilege excerpt.
SPOILER ALERT: The excerpt included in this download begins at page 208 of The Holy Universe. It reveals a surprise about attributes of characters that are guarded in earlier portions of the book, for particular effect. If you want to enjoy this surprise, make sure you also download and read the first few pages from "The Gospel of the Universe" before you read the "Privilege" excerpt.
Gift #2: Spirit
This wallpaper for your computer is a reflection of the infinite source of everything good in our Holy Universe. The image is in celebration of the ancient Yuletide festival of the Sun King, offering gratitude for the rebirth of the sun after the longest night of the year.
View and download the Sun King wallpaper
Gift #3: Environmental Sustainability
Roy Carr is a photographer from the U.K. who shoots grand landscapes with extraordinary sensitivity. If, as Alice Walker says, "Anything we love can be saved," then Roy's images are a potent force for preservation of our planet through the responses they invoke in viewers.
This wallpaper for your computer pairs a verse from The Holy Universe with an image from Roy's Applecross Idyll series, and is offered as a focus for reflection on what work it is that you are called to do in 2015 (and please visit Roy's Facebook page to see more of his work).
View and download the Find a Place wallpaper.
New Story Café Offerings
Call-In Book Club
The next Call-in Book Club is Wednesday, January 14 at 5:00 p.m. Please register here to receive a dial in number and ID for the call. And please feel free to join the Facebook page for the club and let me know what days of the week work best for you, and I'll do my best to accommodate you when I settle on dates for our next meetings.
Game Changer Intensive Alumni Gathering
The next alumni gathering for folks who have taken the Game Changer Intensive is Monday, January 19 at 9:00 a.m. If you've taken the Intensive, and would like to keep connected with other graduates of the program, please sign up to join us here.
The Game Changer Intensive is an online course of the Pachamama Alliance to educate, inspire, and equip participants to be pro-activist leaders, game changers in their community. It's about both personal and planetary transformation: who we need to be and what we need to do at this momentous time in human history. The Intensive catalyzes the inner work of transformation and aims to inspire and equip participants to engage in effective collective action in the world.
Appearances and Events
LOS ANGELES: I'll be appearing at the Agape Bookstore on March 13th—I'll send out more information as we finalize details.
OAKLAND: I'll be doing an afternoon workshop at the Sophia Center at Holy Names University on April 23rd from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm—again, I'll send out more details as they're finalized.
RADIO/ONLINE: I'm continuing to do some radio interviews this winter. They're listed on the website, and I also announce them on Twitter (so please join me on Twitter if you want these updates).
• • •
As always, I love to hear stories of the change you are creating in the world. Stop by my comments page to share these stories, including the challenges you face. And please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have uplifting news or an inspired story you'd like to share with other readers of The Holy Universe.
P.S.: For Your Delight— Another Beautiful Short Video
Silence Into Action!
"The people are the world leaders, and we have to take our future into our own hands."
I often share videos with beautiful scenes from nature set to orchestrated music. But when you listen to Itzcuauhtli Roske-Martinez, an 11-year-old "environmental indigenous eco-hip-hop artist" from Boulder speak about his silence strike to raise awareness and compel meaningful action on climate change, I think you will understand why I chose this video to celebrate beauty as we observe the rebirth of the Light.
I’d love to hear what you think; please visit my comments page and let me know your responses.
Illuminated Gift, public domain.
Black Lives Matter, Johnny SilverCloud, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Croft on Applecross, Roy Carr.
Cup of Java, Patient Genie.