Sunday, June 12, 2016

Who Will We See?

Reports and updates from Orlando come across the media in a mind-numbing cycle, they point to the level of dysfunction manifest in the human family. Media feeds report the suffering, division, anger, hatred, fear, bitterness, and violence swirling around the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse, a hub for Orlando’s LGBTQ2SIA community. I am deeply grateful that I was with my church community when I learned that this had taken place. That yet another manifestation of intolerance and hatred had exploded in our midst.

The horror and devastation of this massacre aimed directly at the queer community brings several things to the surface of my bleeding Spirit. I am acutely aware that the reactions by various factions of society will range from compassion to sanctimonious pronouncements that the violent horror experienced last evening in Pulse, was the work of a vengeful God. Some factions will attempt to pit against one another two vulnerable communities – namely the queer community and the Muslim community. It is my deeply held hope that voices of queer people of faith from all traditions, the voices of coalitions working for unity, and the voices of interfaith activists, are the voices we will hear and remember from the horror of this time.

The queer community is terrorized every day. As we walk down the street, engage with social media, and go about our daily routines. We experience terror and know it intimately, we are targets of violence simply for being exactly who we are, and having the bold authenticity to live our identities openly in a dangerous and violent world. We are oppressed and terrorized for having the audacity to exist - exactly as the people we were created to be.

Living through times of devastation, it is easy to become jaded, to be cynical and to believe that we as human beings are just built for conflict, that turning upon one another - is just what we do. Woven into the fabric of the human family, are threads of conflict, strife, anger, hatred, and fear. There are two ways to respond to that reality - either by "perfecting" our ability to armour ourselves and strike back - or by doing the very hard work of creating spaces where we can hold the difficult and necessary conversations that must take place to dismantle the dynamics of hate-driven violence.

I believe that our common connection to the Divine - is imbedded in the very core of who we are. We can be wildly inclusive and work boldly together, I have the privilege of being involved in work of that very nature. I believe we must be vulnerable, and find ways in which, we can risk our grief stricken, cracked wide-open hearts to the possibility of reconciliation and wholeness that only lovingkindness can achieve.

As we grieve, as we hold one another with tears, broken hearts, and trembling spirits, do we have the fierceness - in this moment of vulnerability - to lift the gaze of our streaming eyes to look at one another, to reach out our shaking hands, grief stricken hearts, and bleeding spirits to span the gulf that separates us from one another?

Will we ever break free from the cycle of violence? When we look into the eyes of our fellow humans - who will we see? Will we ever experience the transformational love that is possible by looking into the eyes of those who differ from us along lines of race, gender, culture, sex, faith, sexual orientation, etc. - and seeing the face of God? 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Contemplating Freedom

The first stirrings of this piece began as I considered a response to a Facebook post, which queried how or if Native Americans celebrate July 4th. As the first people of this land, as the host people around whom colonial society grew like an invasive species – all but choking out our traditional societies, cultures, and very existence – it would be understandable if we took a big pass on this holiday, but most of us don’t. We wish each other love and happiness; we enjoy one another’s company as we celebrate and eat a range of foods from hot dogs to frybread. We also honour our ancestors and the Indigenous and non-Indigenous warriors that have served this country in the military. In fact according to the US Dept. of Defense, Native Americans represent the highest per-capita commitment of any ethnic population to defend the United States with their military service.

While that truth may seem hard to wrap our heads around, given the devastation visited upon Indigenous North American cultures by colonialism – warriorhood is a powerful ethic in Indigenous societies. The strong tradition of warriors as leaders places the draw to military service into cultural context.

When Native American people gather for Pow Wow, the American flag is honoured, as well as armed forces flags and the flags of tribal nations. The colors are carried by veterans, and placed ceremonially during Grand Entry to open the event in a good way. Veterans are respected and given places and roles of honor – as the gathered community offers up honour songs and dances of gratitude.  

So yes, we do celebrate Independence and Freedom, on July 4th, and many other days. Personally, I hold in tension the reality of genocide and oppression that is woven into the founding of this nation, and the reality that Indigenous people continue to stand to defend the nation that tried to eradicate our ancestors. 

As I reflect on personal independence and freedom – I feel the need to delve beyond the glitter of my star spangled Facebook feed. This holiday can be so mired in parades and traditions like the “oohs and ahs” at the fireworks extravaganza and “please pass the potato salad” (or the frybread) at the picnic - that we don’t talk about deep issues. Yes, the fourth of July is a national holiday, but I think it is one where discerning and exploring what freedom and independence means to us on a personal level – is in order.

I ponder deep thoughts in these small hours of Independence Day. I told many things in tension. Celebrations of love and equality juxtaposed with racial terrorism and profound denial of its causes that are so deeply rooted in the history of this land. I see marriage equality as a good thing, but just because two men or two women can marry each other if they desire that – in no way means that true equality exists across the queer community.

While the same-sex couple are joyously saying their long-awaited vows – somewhere across town, a transgender woman is killed as she waits for the bus, and the shelter turns away queer youth because they lack the capacity to give every person who needs one – a meal and a bed without judgment.

As I consider my independence, I frame that as being free from the control of others over my actions and choices, giving me the freedom to self regulate my life, and exercise the many freedoms I am fortunate to have; I name a few here, there are many, many more
  • I have the freedom, and the luxury to chose from the many healthy foods in our cabinets and fridge, to prepare my meals, while others subsist on highly processed nutritionally abysmal “foods” – because they are the only choices they have.
  • I am free, to pray the day in with tobacco in my hand, and to watch the sun set as I pray the day out – offering prayers in the way of my ancestors. I have the freedom to enter the sweatlodge with my elders, and to dance my prayers in full regalia in solidarity and fellowship with other indigenous people.
  • I also have the freedom to worship at my church, to lead or attend Bible study without concern for my personal safety – while believers of other faiths or races practice their faith, knowing that they may be doing so at great personal risk.
  • I am free to seek medical treatment when the need arises – while many others face the hard choice of seeking care, or feeding their families – million live in this reality
  • If I have the inclination and resources, I am may travel when, where, and in the company of whomever I please – while others have strict limits placed on their mobility, and access to the people that they love – placed upon them by life circumstance, and multilayered systems of oppression.
  • I have the freedom to be out, to live an open and authentic life as a queer identified Two Spirit person, while others must live in stealth to keep their jobs, their homes, and their lives.
With all of these things held preciously, I close and hope that this provides an opportunity for others to explore personal freedoms and contemplate independence on a personal level – I offer this prayer:

Great Spirit, Mother-Father God, Divine and Holy Love, look upon us, your children that we may face the winds, and walk the good road. Help us seek to be in right relationship with one another and be responsive when the world cries out. May we have deep gratitude for our freedoms and hold as Sacred, the freedoms of others so that we may never disrespect them. Free us from small-mindedness, bless us with a deep capacity for Light and Love. Awake in us wisdom, courage, and understanding. Equip us to walk this Earth as relatives to all that live within your creation ~ and to see your face in one another's faces.

~ Aho

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cairns: Balance, Harmony & Holiness

Recently I was at an event at an independent senior living community. A group of local churches, and other organizations, lend support in a variety of ways to this vibrant community. The event included a worship service; my friend Carrie shared a message, which included a reflection on cairn building.

Listening to that message inspired me to build a healing cairn. During this message, Carrie stepped into the 

stream with me, handed me the first rock, saying: 

“trust me, it will be – amazing!”

Before I wade farther into the stream, a bit of background on cairn building seems appropriate. Cairn building has become a popular activity recently, but the history of intentional rock stacking is ancient. People have stacked rocks forever. Cairns can be found on the Tibetan Plateau, on the Inca road in the Andes, on the Mongolian steppe, series of cairns cross deserts on three continents. The Inuit people of the North American artic construct stone monuments called Inuksuk, these human shaped rock structures have been built for thousands of years. Cairns of all kinds have been erected and strategically placed for navigation, as spiritual offerings, or as remembrances. Intentional heaps of stone occur in almost every landscape that has loose rock.

Carrie talked about some of the ways in which the building of cairns is amazing. “When you balance rocks on one another, its an incredible experience because you can suddenly FEEL when the balance has been achieved. You know it - you can feel it!” As I was listening, I traveled on the stream of her words, to the stream where I would build my cairn; I saw a clear image in my mind of this taking place. My words here will call the folks who will be helpers in manipulating specific emotional / spiritual rocks with the intention of balancing – seeking that harmonic congruence.

Much like Carrie said, Spirit is always pushing me to look into myself, my heart, my desires, my motivations, sometimes it takes the hand of our Divine Beloved on my chin to gently turn my face toward the mirror. If I can be honest in these moments – I can ask myself “what are you DOING Lynn? How in the world, does this (the “this” of the moment) align, with who you were created to be, with who you are Called to be? In some of those moments, the answer is “it doesn’t… not even a little bit!”

I believe there is one path, which is experienced in vastly different ways by different cultures. We all walk, dance, scoot, crawl, and stumble our way along this path. It is the path to Spirit, to the Holy Love in the Center of All That Is. I experience this journey as a search for those moments of congruence, that agreement between my lived experience and what Spirit wants of me. Those moments of congruence, might be called moments of balance, harmony or holiness. Moments that every speck of me exalts "YES!"

Congruence is a state of agreement, when you are physically building a cairn with rocks, when you place one rock atop another, there is that moment of which Carrie spoke when you feel the congruence happen, there is a shift from instability to harmonic congruence between the rocks – a moment when they agree to support each other and the whole structure in this way.

When I am out of balance, when my cairn goes all wobbly, and falls into the stream with a horrifying ker-splash… then I have two choices, scamper upstream and just look at the dragonflies – pretending that my cairn has not just fallen into ruin… and/or that it doesn’t matter - or examine the thing that has just happened – figure out why, mobilize the folks I need to help, do the heavy lifting, and pray them back into balance. So what I’m doing here is recalling the words I heard in a different sermon, in which my pastor said, “remember, there is as much Grace in the stumbling as there is in running swiftly.” I offer prayers of gratitude for THAT, and I get to work.

What are the things that knock us out of that state of harmony and holiness, out of balance? For me at least, its so much easier if I can think that what puts me out of balance comes from outside of me – all of the crazy out of control factors out THERE!. Our culture has infused us with the habit of mind of looking elsewhere for the cause, the source, who is to blame for us being off balance – and to avoid looking in the mirror. It’s so much easier, when I don’t have to look inside myself… if I can just get rid of these things [wild gestures to something way over there]… everything will be alright. You know, if I can just get rid of that stuff, I can find that balance – achieve that state of holiness and harmony again. Many teachings point to the giant flaw in all of that, the truth being that my state of disequilibrium, my inability to build my cairn, isn’t about what’s out there, what other people do, think, feel, or bring, its about what is happening within my own heart – my own spirit.

To do this work, to build a cairn that is testament to my spiritually infused Isness, the resiliency of my spirit, my ability to hold the tension of things that make no sense, things that break my heart, things that make me angry, or leave me feeling inadequate, a cairn that stands as reminder of who I am – I will need some help. This is community project  f’realz. I’ll need a few helpers along the banks, y’all can cheer me on, sing your traditional songs, chant, tap out a rhythm, or splash your toesies in the cool water… but some of y’all are gunna have to get your happy asses in the water with me – to help with the heavy lifting.

Carrie was good enough to hand me this first rock. It is lovely, amber coloured, big, solid – and definitely a two-person rock.  As we stand ankle deep in the water and settle it solidly on the riverbed, four hands shift it side to side, to let it hunker down good and solid. This rock stands for my past and the tenuous peace I have made with it. I am the person I am, partly because of my experiences. It will never be okay that I experienced the horrors that I have. However, being a survivor has equipped me to be fully present with folks going through or reliving trauma, to offer an ear and a shoulder, scope out resources, help pick a path through the gnarly undergrowth, or “go all Southside” whatever Spirit asks of me in that situation. Thanks friend, for the good solid start here. I wander upstream, feeling for rocks. It’s not so much of seeing the right rock for this spiritual cairn, but of feeling it.

The next rock, is rather blue/burgundy with a vein of quartz running diagonally across its face, as soon as my foot touched it, I felt the energy there and knew it to be the next piece. I worked quite a little bit to pull it free from the riverbed. This rock is much more than meets the eye on first glance. I finally heft it out of the stream, as crawdads skitter away from underneath. I feel the dual nature of this solid piece of the Earth element. This is a Two Spirit Rock if ever one existed. The thin vein of quartz that twists across the rock’s flat edge, is not a solid line, but dashed. Delineating a distinction, but not a barrier between the two aspects that coexist therein. A team of Ninjas - scampered from the banks unseen (hello - Ninjas) and were zipping around as this rock was approached and identified - and lifted from the water. Arriving at my foundation rock, I say prayers of gratitude for this aspect of me, this next component of my cairn (and for my Ninjas). Setting the Two Spirit rock atop the first one, I gently scoot it around letting the rocks get to know each other, and ask them to tell me, where their fulcrum of congruence lies. Oh! There, slightly off center, is the balance point they have agreed upon. Two essential pieces, past and identity are in harmony. [Note: My way of representing this rock draws from an actual rock I lifted from Mother Ocean].

My spouse has been exploring the banks, and calls me over. “Honey! check this out” she says, and points to an exquisite rock with many colors and splotches. "whaddya think?" Flakes of mica catch the light like tiny mirrors, reflecting the dappled sunlight. Together we lift the relationship rock in place and working as one, find that spot of alignment, of sacred agreement and the rock stands shining waiting to see what comes next.

The next rock was so surprising, wide and sturdy, looking remarkably like a turtle tucked into its shell. This one called to me, and commanded attention, insisting I pick it up. This is the rock of my Call – shaped like a turtle, a symbol of Creator, this rock, nearly laid herself on the cairn, the pull to the place of congruence was magnetic, unquestioned, solid.

Alright… you over there – swatting and cursing at the “cloud of a million gnats” and pointing at a rock – roll up those dockers, and come over and help me - wouldja?!  This one, is ours to manage. Initially we work in lovely companionship, taking this rock whose oddball shape, and wild colours drew your attention, and I eagerly agreed on this choice. We talk and we laugh as we look for the sweet spot, that balancing place, and suddenly, all I see is a retreating form. In my distraction I feel the full weight of the rock in my hands, the rock slips, slices my hand as I try to prevent the dislodging, it bashes my knee a good one as it splashes into the stream. So many points of focus at once, on the unbelievable sight of the departure, on my throbbing knee, on the drops of blood swirling into the stream. Initially, I just cry, and massage my hurt places – but before long – I’m also angry. I shout up the riverbed - “Hey! You said you were in this for keeps - you said… “no matter what!” My voice trails off and in the silence that follows, I realize I have to do it myself… the best I have is what I learned of rock lifting from this amazing guy - there's been much learning from this fabulous creature who sparkles with what I’ll call holiness – and pray like crazy that I can find the place of congruence in all of THIS, and hope I haven’t seen the last of this unique person from whom I’ve learned so much, this person, I recognized on sight, this person I love dearly. I take some calming breaths as I hold in one hand the gift of having that in my life for a time, and the hurt and anger over this stupid gaping hole in the other. I get the bless-ed rock to into its place of harmony with the others, but feel so off-balance inside. I just keep looking at it – hurting and angry and bruised, muttering. There’s a hole, in this work I am doing now, and a vacancy on my team of healers that is shaped in a very particular way, and that… friends and neighbors – sucks.

I thank our Divine Beloved for this interesting piece I am putting at the top of this particular cairn. It is singularly beautiful in its defiance of the expected, one hardly ever sees a rock that is shaped like this, not chiseled or shaped by people hands, but by its very nature it is formed defiantly different. I am grateful for the solidity of this one’s shape, for the heft of it, and for the way that even though the rock beneath is so differently contoured in comparison, it seems eager to find balance with its peer. Somehow the contours of this rock, fit my scraped up hand – and paired like that… we get the job done. I offer grateful prayers for the presence and companionship of this one. After the crazy effort and emotion of the previous rockwork, finding and settling this one in place with such ease and comfort, helps achieve that harmonic balance, of which this whole cairn was to be the embodiment.

As I stand and look at the water swirling around this piece, one of many cairns I am to build… I feel a sense of peace that no matter what actions or emotions played into the placement of any one rock… the whole is supported by the harmony, the congruence, the agreement to coexist, that the constituent pieces have achieved.

I love and embrace each piece of this work; I see the outrageous beauty of each rock – and the beauty in the unbelievable agreement at which they have arrived. I see the rocks that have scraped me. I see the ones that are healing stones. I must believe in the integrity of the whole – or this living work of harmonic holiness will splash into the stream, denying that harmony amoung such diversity is even possible.

I believe in the radical power of Spirit to guide me as I build cairns to serve as monuments, spiritual markers, and guideposts on my bold journey towards Grace. I believe that it WILL be amazing – every time. I believe that each moment of balance – is holy. I believe that no matter what… when I am battered and bruised and collapse to the ground – I’ll receive comfort and encouragement, and when the voice says “now get up” – I will get up, and resume the work I have been Called to do.

~ Aho ~

P.S :  There are so many cairns to be built... but this work is a solid beginning. Alive, aware, and motivated - the work continues.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A "Brautigan"

In other words, a poem in the style of Richard Brautigan, not by him:


Rage is an ill-planned vacation
Nothing to pack
Nowhere to go
The train
Has already left

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Ode To The Best Dog Ever

Chief was born on our farm almost 15 years ago (Sept 19th). His parents were farm dogs ~ HE is a farm dog. Chief is catahoula / lab mix. Chief's mom, Dixie, was pure catahoula, his dad, Bear, was a lab mix - but looked like every pureblooded black lab you ever saw. When this litter was born, my spouse, Jen selected Chief as a pup she wanted to keep. So when the pups were weaned and adopted out to other homes, Chief stayed. Chief was not a chained dog, he was a dog that lived outside, had an enclosure he slept in at night and was free ranging for most of the day. We worked with him to learn his boundaries and he was a quick study. He loved tagging after us as we went about life on the farm. We live on a 29 acre farm, so there's a lot of investigating, a lot of patrolling that needs to be accomplished in the course of a dog's day. 
     One day, Chief wandered in the wrong direction, crossed his boundary, and found himself in the road, and was hit by a pick up truck. He was rushed to the vet who told us he would live, but may well lose his left front leg. He could not extend that foot enough to get the pads on the ground, therefore he dragged the top side of that foot on the ground. Chief had a crack in his shoulder blade, and possible neurological damage to the leg. The vet gave us options ranging from taking our boy to Purdue (we live in Indiana, huge Vet school at Purdue University) - and maybe they could save his leg. We looked at each other knowing we could not afford the Purdue vet school surgery bill, and asked about other options. The other option was, take him home, crate him, keep him calm and immobile for a while, only out of the crate for food and potty breaks. We were so sure, that Chief would 100% hate this, he was a bouncing off the walls ball of energy (If you know Chief - stop laughing, he really WAS). The crate seemed the most viable option, and against the odds, Chief recovered quite nicely, he was able to use his front paw again, and walked with a limpish gait for a while. He never did regain fine motor control over that leg though, if he is playing with you, its rather like a club he wields, than an actual living appendage as far as control is concerned. During his convalescence - Chief became a house dog, and a housedog he has remained. 
Chief loves his life on the farm, he absolutely must help with whatever we are doing, fixing fences, digging in fenceposts, moving animals around, landscaping... he is right there, helping. Of course to the casual observer, it might look like the dog is totally crashed out in the grass near the job site, but rest assured, he's helping. 
Chief has always been fantastic with the kids, the grandkids, and visitors to our home. He lets the kids lay all over him, dress him up, put barrettes in his hair - actually clipped to his skin. One dress up episode he had a row of tiny claw clips running over the top of his head, he totally looked like a Klingon! He just looked at us while his beloved Ayanna inflicted this on him - as if to say "really? geez make her stop would ya?" Never a snarl, a snap, or a growl. 
     Chief has so many fans, people who know him personally, people who have walked with him on charity event walks, and, people who have only seen him on Facebook. He is a dog of many names. Chief, Chef, Chiefy, Weefy, Weefles, The Chiefster, Sparky, and The Original Log Dog. Chief's temperament is amazing, he has seen so many animals come and go from this house... dogs and cats that have been fostered or nursed back to health. Hedgehogs and birds that have lived here... a fawn that lived in our house for a couple of months and swore Chief was its mother.
Baby goats who came in when they needed TLC after a rough entry to the world. Down in our barn, we have rabbits - as in - we raise rabbits. Every now and then, a kit will get out of its cage, and be aimlessly wandering around on the floor... Chief picks it up in his mouth, very gently, and brings it to us - unharmed - all dog slobbered up - so we can get it back where it belongs.
     Over the past year or so the old boy has really slowed down (that's why I started calling him Sparky in truth). He's having more and more trouble getting up, his hind quarters are not very sound any more. Chief is rather lumpy in his old age, with growths of various sizes in multiple locations. The vet says they are fatty tumors and removal would be more traumatic than helpful. 
     Our sweet boy is getting grumpy, he and the other dog, a 5 yr old pug named Olive, were having words almost every night over nothing. There are times, when you look in his eyes, it just looks like no one is at home there. I think that doggie dementia is setting in. He has meds to keep his pain under control, but about 2 weeks ago, he just stopped being cooperative about pilling. We tried it all, cheese, hot dogs, liver sausage, mixing in his food. He just would.not.take.them. If we tried the bit of pushing it down his throat, even though the pill really went DOWN... he tried like the devil to hack it back up. He! So we kept on with the liquid med that he doesn't mind, and just stopped the pills. We could see his pain level increase. His tolerance for Olive, and the feline housemates, went to near zero. 
     The vibrant bouncy 90 lb ball of exuberant loyalty, was fading out and the situation was untenable. A week ago, we made an appointment to have our devoted companion euthanized... that appointment was cancelled earlier this week, due to a death in our human family. Saying goodbye to both of these beloveds at the same time was more than we could deal with. 
     Its been interesting, since the appointment was cancelled, I happened on a way to pill him that is working. Now Chief seems more present with us, he looks like he is "at home" in his eyes, and the nightly quarrels with Olive have ceased. I had him outside with me yesterday as I was doing chores and he kinda scampered part way to the house.

It is so hard ( #impossible ) - to know when it is truly time. My spouse is so bonded with this dog, and he to her... that I know it will be a devastating scene, this parting. I love him too, he's been with us his entire life and he seriously is THE BEST DOG EVER. He was born on this farm, and when it is time, he will be laid to rest here. 
     As I type, the old boy is crashed out on the floor, and I wish that he could just go peacefully in his sleep... sparing us the decision, and sparing him the trauma of loading up and traveling for that final vet visit.
     I guess the point of me doing this writing ~ is to stand as witness to the life of an amazing dog, an amazing friend. I have no idea - how we will do this when the time comes. no.idea.whatsoever.