Category Archives: Peaceful

Inbetween stories, inbetween worlds

My friend in Gaza just gave birth yesterday to her second child. What is his future?

I’m feeling more and more separate, different, apart, isolated, and invisible. I have one foot in Gaza and the other in Baltimore.

The Gaza I remember from 2012-2013 is unlivable today.

The suicide rates are rising from despair and no future. Unemployment rates are the highest in the world. The power cuts are the worst they’ve ever been. Untreated sewage blights 50% of the beaches along the Gaza Strip. Travel restrictions from Israel and Egypt are killing people (literally) and now phone service and internet are being cut, shutting down Gaza’s last connection to the outside.

The crisis in Gaza is symptomatic of the larger crisis on our planet; but I see it more clearly in Gaza because I’ve been there and know people suffering there today.

The world is broken and we don’t know how to fix it.

My friend, Deb, recommended I read The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible by Charles Eisenstein. His message rings true to me. We are inbetween two worlds now, the Story of Separation (Chapter One) and the Story of Interbeing, the Age of Reunion, the ecological age, the world of the gift. (Chapter Three).

My feeling of great discomfort is probably the feeling of life inbetween the broken past and the unknown future. There’s no map, no guide, no guarantees.  Yet, I feel I met the future when I was in Gaza (2012-2013). There I glimpsed the Story of Interbeing that I’m only reading about now.

 

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UCC Synod and Palestinian children

 

Leaders of the United Church of Christ (representing nearly a million people) are convening in Baltimore June 30 – July 2. The UCC Synod will be considering resolutions to guide their actions, everything from becoming an immigrant welcoming church, to studying gun violence as a public health emergency, to a more just economy with living wages and job creation, enacting $15/hr minimum wage laws, and working toward disability justice.

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Two resolutions have especially caught my attention.

A Call for the United Church of Christ to Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation and The Earth Is the Lord’s-Not Ours to Wreck; Imperatives for a New Era. 

I’m not a member of UCC but I’ve been invited to attend the Synod and share my thoughts about Palestine.  I’ll be joining others outside Friday evening holding signs at a vigil in front of the Convention Center.

Sunday, I’ll go inside and talk with delegates about Palestinian children who have been detained by Israel. I’ll bring my copy of Dreaming of Freedom.  dreaming-of-freedomrecently learned that Israel is the only country that has a juvenile military court, for Palestinian minors, certainly not Israeli minors. The imprisonment of Palestinian minors is so pervasive, there’s even an international campaign to end this abhorrent practice.

I’ve read the UCC resolution on the rights of children living under Israeli military occupation. Someone certainly did their homework. The facts are irrefutable, and they’re all here, along with a slew of footnotes and references.

However, the resolution is more than just exhortations to the State of Israel and the US government to do the right thing.

In addition to a call to action for the UCC members to educate themselves about the plight of Palestinian children prisoners, this resolution provides very detailed guidance to the U.S. Congress and to Israel about what is expected of them. The actions include: (1) withhold military assistance to Israel consistent with the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, (2) lists specific changes that Israel must make in their process of arrests and detention of children, (3) the U.S. Senate must join 194 countries who have signed onto the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and more.

This military occupation is going to end, and the Palestinians will be free. The wave of public opinion from many different faiths supporting Palestinians is unstoppable. Whether the State of Israel can survive in the future as a neighbor rather than an occupier is yet to be determined.

 

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Enough is more than enough

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From the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship website.

— A reflection from Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Activist Council member Jessie Light on June 5, 2017, the 50th anniversary of the Occupation of Palestine.

When fences become walls become concrete prisons
When tents become houses become tear gas test-sites
When days become years become decades and
the oppression swelters, endlessly.

When a stone is met with a bullet,
When righteous anger is met with murder,
When protest is met with a militarized Caterpillar and
the tears shed could fill the Dead Sea.

What do we call this period of time? This suffocating, asphyxiating fifty years of
Bombs tear gas violence repression checkpoints surveillance microaggressions machine guns
racial profiling settlements innocent deaths cultural appropriation bulldozing brutality

We name it apartheid,
We name it injustice,
We name it occupation.

Fifty years of making an occupation out of violence,
Fifty years of preoccupation with “security,”
Fifty years of military occupation of Palestine.

When will it end? When will life begin anew? When will children walk safely to school?

This holy land,
this wholly divided, wholly splintered, wholly oppressed land
needs our voices, our hands, our righteous anger, our protests, our boycotts, our endless
objection-rejection-opposition-confrontation
of a fifty-year oppressive occupation
of a so-called holy land.

Enough is more than enough.loss-of-landThe Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) has a long history of activism in Israel/Palestine. PPF regularly sends delegations to Israel/Palestine. The next delegation is set to travel July 22 – August 4, 2017.  Check it out here.  Although the application to join the delegation is now closed, follow their journey online.

 

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Iftar in Baltimore

I will never forget walking down that Cairo street one very hot day in August 2011 and passing a cool alleyway with long tables and benches set up in preparation for Iftar.

Ramadan in Cairo

I turned and snapped a picture quickly, a bit embarrassed because I wasn’t really sure whether it was appropriate or not.  I walked back after sundown and saw the benches full of men and boys eating their Iftar meal to break their daily fast during Ramadan.

Street scene during Ramadan

Cairo was absolutely electric in 2011, just months after Mubarak had been ousted.

There was a lot of excitement and hope in the air. Even a non-Arabic speaker like me could feel it and understand.

So today when I think of Ramadan, as a non-Muslim, I think of hope. Ramadan and hope go together.

ramadan lanterns

Despite the hardships and tremendous daily challenges in Gaza, Ramadan is a very special time for many.

The Gaza Strip has been under an illegal blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for a decade, and unemployment and poverty levels are at record highs. Nearly one million of the 1.3 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza are relying on UNRWA food assistance to meet their basic daily needs.

I’m joining others around the U.S. to show solidarity with my friends in Gaza, and to raise funds to help assist food insecure families in the Gaza Strip.  With $140 UNRWA-USA can provide enough staples to assist a family for 3 months. My goal is to help ten families or $1,400. 

Unfortunately, my Iftar plans in the Baltimore Inner Harbor have changed due to a family crisis that requires my travel out of Maryland.

I’m hoping friends and “friends of friends” will contribute to my fundraising UNRWA-USA page here because the crisis in Gaza is real and deadly serious. Please read Sara Roy’s description of Gaza from her recent trip a few weeks ago here.

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Lora with orphans in Gaza in 2012.

كل عام وأنت بخير

رمضان كريم

 

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How do I talk with you?

 

Four years …. its been four years since I left Gaza and returned home to friends and family. Little did they know that I was a changed woman.

After nine months in Gaza, my eyes and heart were open. I cannot unsee what I’ve seen. I certainly will not close my heart to the realities I learned about the occupation. And I’m not going to forget.

IMG_4249Although returning to Gaza is my first choice today, it appears that Egypt, Israel and even the U.S. government have their own ideas about travel to the Gaza Strip, so I’ve wondered if there’s perhaps another path I’m suppose to follow.

There’s certainly much I can learn about the occupation from books and others more knowledgeable. Maybe I’m suppose to share what I’ve learned with Americans, add my voice to the parade beating the drums for the U.S. government to change its obsequience and blind loyalty to Israel.

I’ve spent the past four years walking a tight rope, teetering from side to side, not wishing to offend anyone with my words about Israel and the occupation, but to speak the truth when the opportunities arise. My options for speaking out have been self-imposed and narrowly-constrained to carefully account for the “sensibilities” of those around me.

  • A friend told me bluntly, “don’t talk about politics. I want to keep things peaceful around here.” I suspect others feel the same way but don’t want to tell me to my face.
  • A family member called me an anti-Semite while another said my words about Israel hurt her to the core because Israel is like a brother.
  • Another family member said my conversation about Israel was the same as asking Jews who support Israel to “commit psychological suicide.”
  • Some have looked at me like I’m a broken record. “Get a life, there’s more than the occupation to worry about.” One friend recommended that I channel my “do gooder” nature into the issue of female trafficking!

I’ve “unfriended” family members on social media to avoid bursting their protective bubbles. I’ve bitten my tongue and kept quiet in the company of some who might be offended. I’ve rationalized to myself that it’s better to be strategic and use my words wisely. If my goal is to change public opinion, and ultimately U.S. foreign policy, then beating someone over the head with the hammer for peace and justice is counter-productive.

Today, however, I turned the corner. Something snapped.

I’m not the same woman-mother-sister-aunt you thought you knew in 2012.  Back then, I knew about oppression, occupation, inhumanity, and all the rest of the human condition from an intellectual point of view.  I was very well informed, better than the average American, or so I thought.

Today, I’m connected with the Palestinians at the cellular level. I feel the occupation in a way that words cannot begin to describe. This isn’t to say that my experience can replace the life experiences of Isra, Samir, Motasem, Mohammed, and the generations of Palestinians who have grown up and lived under occupation. Never!  Their shoes can never be my shoes, and vice versa.

But I cannot ignore and turn my back on them either. I can’t pull the wool over my eyes. I can’t fill my remaining days with other “do gooder” projects in an attempt to forget the truth I know in Palestine. And your ability to do just that really burns me.

How do I talk with you?

Your well-being is just as important to me as the well-being of the Palestinians. This isn’t a zero-sum game where my attention in one direction should harm or distract from another direction.

My personal growth and the love I found in Palestine should help me be a better person in every way, not just a better advocate on behalf of Palestinians’ rights.

But I feel you shut me down and disrespect me when you ignore me and prefer to remain in a cocoon of complacency with the status quo. The status quo is not OK!  Our government’s direct and obscene support of Israel is just as responsible for the Palestinians’ suffering and injustices as are the laws enacted in the Knesset and the orders given to the Israeli Defense Forces.

How do I talk with you?

Silence is no longer an option. But I’m willing to listen to you as deeply as I hope you will listen to me.

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Passover Seder in Baltimore

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Tonight I joined a Passover Seder in Baltimore where Jews, Muslims and Christians gathered to read and sing the Haggadah prepared by Jewish Voice for Peace.

As I understand it, this is a very special ritual for Jews to retell the story of how God liberated them from slavery and oppression under the Pharaohs in Egypt nearly 3000 years ago.

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Moses parting the Red Sea

This time we cannot cross until we carry each other, all of us refugees. All of us prophets. No more taking turns on history’s wheel. Trying to collect old debts no one can pay. The sea will not open that way. This time that country is what we promise each other. Our rage pressed cheek to cheek until tears flood the space between. Until there are no enemies left. Because this time no one will be left to drown and all of us must be chosen. This time it’s all of us or none. – Aurora Levins Morales

Many of us did not know each other before we sat down together tonight. We shared some of the social actions we’ve been working on — stopping an anti-BDS bill; passing a fracking ban; working on transgender issues; and others.

Tonight we have a powerful group of people gathering around this table telling the Exodus story as one way to gain a deeper understanding of oppression and refuel our work for liberation in our time. We are involved in many struggles, in our local communities and around the world, all intersecting and inseparable.

After we raised the first cup of wine (Kadesh) to education, we washed our hands before eating a green vegetable which we dipped in salt water (Karpas).

We dip a spring vegetable into salt water — the spring vegetable reminding us of potential and promise and the salt water reminding us of the tears and the pain along the way. This is an invitation to hold complexity — a reminder that change is possible even in what seems like endless darkness. As you dip the green vegetable into the salt water, affirm for yourself the potential for justice even as we hold the tears of oppression.

Then we broke the matzah.

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Systems of oppression break our world in so many ways large and small. They shatter bodies, families, communities, sometimes whole nations. The militarism we spread at home and abroad unleashes forces we cannot fathom or control. Rarely do we stop to comtemplate our own complicity in systems that wreak havoc in our name.

As we break the matzoh now, we ask ourselves: how do we benefit from the perpetuation of oppressive systems? What are we willing to do about it? And where might we start?

What is broken can never be what it once was. But it can be repaired.

I was really struck by the relevance of the words in this Haggadah to our world today.

As we begin the Exodus story, we read that the oppression of the Israelites resulted from Pharaoh’s fear that their growth would somehow overwhelm the Egyptian nation. These verses certainly have an ominous resonance for the Jewish people. Indeed any member of a minority faith or ethnic group knows all too well the tragedy that inevitably ensues when a nation views their demographic growth as a “threat”.

Today it is all too common to hear Israel’s leaders and supporters suggest that the “Jewish character” of Israel is threatened by the demographic growth of the Palestinian people. How should we react to the suggestion that the mere fact of this group’s growth necessarily poses a national threat to Israel? As Jews living in the Diaspora, how would we respond if our leaders raised questions about the “demographic threat” of a particular minority group to the “national character” of our country? In a multi-ethnic society, can a state’s identity ever be predicated upon the primacy of one ethnic group without the oppression of another?

Memories of Gaza flooded me, especially the olive harvest, as we read from this Haggadah.

The olive tree is one of the first plants mentioned in the Torah and remains among the oldest species in Israel/Palestine. It has become a universal symbol of peace and hope, as it is written in Psalm 52: “I am like a thriving olive tree in God’s house, I trust in God’s loyal kindness forever and ever.” We add this olive to our seder plate as a reminder that we must all be God’s bearers of peace and hope in the world.

At the same time, we eat this olive in sorrow, mindful that olive trees, the source of livelihood for Palestinian farmers, are regularly chopped down, burned and uprooted by Israeli settlers and the Israeli authorities. As we look on, Israel pursues systematic policies that increasingly deny Palestinians access to olive orchards that have belonged to them for generations. As we eat now, we ask one another: How will we, as Jews, bear witness to the unjust actions committed in our name? Will these olives inspire us to be bearers of peace and hope for Palestinians — and for all who are oppressed?

The four questions followed, with each of us taking turns reading from the Haggadah. Then the Ten Plagues.  We raised a second cup of wine to solidarity!  Haggadah_15th_cent

Solidarity is hard work. It requires ongoing self-reflection, clear accountability structures, continual learning and critical thinking. Also: humility, empathy, commitment, hope and love. True solidarity unites communities with different levels of oppression and privilege in the common struggle for liberation. It involves community building, support in struggle, awareness of our own relationship to different forms of oppression, and commitment to action that is accountable to those most directly affected by injustice.

So as we join together tonight to celebrate liberation, we recommit to struggling together for a world where everybody can have their voices heard.

We raise our glass and re-ignite our commitment to the work, responsibility and the joy of solidarity.

L’chayim to solidarity!

Jews will find the following rituals familiar, but it was a first for many at this Seder.

Rach’tzah: washing hands before eating matzah

Motzi & Matzah: blessing over matzah as food and as a special mitzvah

Maror: eating the bitter herbs

Korech: eating a sandwich of haroset & bitter herbs

Shulchan Orech: Then we shared the potluck dishes that everyone contributed.

Tzafun: eating the afikomen

Barech: grace after meal

Third Cup of Wine – L’chayim to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions!

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In the long and varied history of Jewish experience, we are inspired by those who have resisted injustice and fought for freedom. At JVP, we strive to live up to those values and extend that history. This is why we proudly support the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as part of our work for freedom, justice and equality for all people. We join with communities of conscience around the world in supporting Palestinians, who call for BDS until the Israeli government:

Ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantles the Wall; recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

We believe that the time-honored, non-violent tools proposed by the BDS call provide powerful opportunities to make that vision real. By supporting the Palestinian call, we follow in the footsteps of those who supported similar calls to support struggles in the Jim Crow South and apartheid South Africa. In so doing, we make our hope real and our love visible and we claim our own liberation as bound with the liberation of all.

As we raise our third cup of wine, let us rededicate ourselves to the call!

Hallel: praise — torgether we sing songs of peace & hope.

Lo yisa goy el goy cherev

Lo yilmedu od milchama

Nation shall not war against nation,

and they shall study war no more.

And then it was my turn to read from the Haggadah when we raised the fourth cup of wine to community. It was absolutely the perfect spot for me. Very meaningful!

We come together to envision the world we want to live in: a world where every individual has the right to self-determination by participating in shaping our future together. In this world, we look out and care for one another; we practice trust and kindness; we respect each other’s personal (physical and emotional) space; we lend an ear or ask for a helping hand; we believe that everyone comes to do this work with good intent; and, we hold each other accountable when we err.

We will affirm each other in our spectrum of identities. We will model our shared vision of the world by creating a space that is safe, inclusive and supportive as possible for all of us. This includes having thoughtful coversations with each other if/when we hear language used pejoratively or language that perpetuates stereotypes. We all feel the stress of the present state of affairs, and it is physically and emotionally draining. Though it is sometimes difficult to see, we know there is a rainbow on the other side of the storm cloud of injustice; if we didn’t know this, we wouldn’t be participants in the movement for peace and justice. It is because of the rainbow, not the storm cloud, that we act. We raise the fourth cup to the rainbow.

(Adapted from the JVP 2011 National Membership Meeting: Building a Community of Respect and Trust, a note from Stefanie Brendler, JVP Board member)

L’chayim to community!

Nirtzah: Conclusion

Next year in Jerusalem! Next year in al-Quds! Next year in a City of Peace!

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The Single Garment of Destiny in 2017

Are the protests and marches the new normal around the world in 2017?

I’ve attended plenty of marches in my day, beginning in the 1980s when I took my children, the youngest in his stroller, to protest nuclear weapons.

The largest by far was the Women’s March in DC the day after Donald’s inauguration. Wearing our pink knitted pussy hats, we roared like mother lions.

Perhaps the most polite march was the smaller group of clergy and religious leaders of many different faiths that I joined on April 4th to remember the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. We marched in straight lines, smiling and chanting all the way to the White House.

The #taxmarch on Saturday, April 15th was far more noisy. In more than 150 cities around the country, people took to the streets to demand that Donald release his tax returns.crowd 3

Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Representatives Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., had a very appreciative crowd when they called for Donald’s impeachment. I was heartened as the speakers at the podium in front of the U.S. Capitol passionately connected the dots between all of the issues — tax reform, ethics, climate justice, a livable wage, immigration and refugees, and more — but the best speaker was President Trump himself.

The entire event was filled with a mixture of outrage, humor and creative energy. Walking among the crowd, snapping pictures, I felt the camaraderie even though I knew no one.

Fifty years ago, Dr. King called for a “radical revolution in values” and beseeched us to see our common humanity; our interconnectedness. His profound truth — that we’re “tied together in a single garment of destiny” — is the radical revolution still waiting to be ignited in our human spirit. This truth seems to be just as elusive today as we grapple with the laundry lists of issues that scream for our attention!

Why do I march?

Aren’t we stuck in the past with these marches focusing on the symptoms rather than the transformational change that we so desperately need?

I’ve heard that marching may be mobilizing but it isn’t organizing, and we need to organize to effect real change. I’ve heard that marching certainly won’t accomplish the goal of getting Donald to turn over his tax returns. A friend criticized the #taxmarch because its goal was not as worthy as the goal of stopping the bombing in Syria.

Those thoughts certainly have merit. If I expected concrete results from the marches — other than the obvious benefits that I enjoy from walking and socializing — I’d have to agree.  We may never see Donald’s tax returns, but there is much more involved and unseen by the naked eye.

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Marching is worthwhile in its own right. I commend everyone who participates, and hope those who don’t find other actions that are satisfying. The physical exertion involved in marching is cathartic and helps me express my feelings.

Marching is worthwhile because it gets us off our couches and empowers us to engage with issues. Many Americans are content to be mere observers, not even invested enough to vote. Our democracy may not survive without many more Americans actively engaged – marching, calling Congress, and voting. Any type of nonviolent engagement is positive and shouldn’t be discouraged.

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Marching is worthwhile because it sends a public message, one the public won’t hear by simply reading the newspaper or watching social media. Regardless of whether Donald even heard the tax protesters calling for him to release his tax returns, many Americans and people around the world heard. Like the circles that spread when a stone is thrown into the calm lake, the marchers touched many spirits who will, in turn, touch many more in some way. We don’t need to know how or to what effect.

Marching is worthwhile because the very act invigorates everyone who participates, reaffirming that we are not alone but acting as a community.  Strength comes from community in incomprehensible ways.

Marching is worthwhile because it spreads the spirit of change.  I’m reminded of the story of the Hundredth Monkey.  I shared that story in a lecture in Gaza in 2012 and I wonder if it made any sense.  I believe in the phenomenon that the scientists witnessed in the 1950s on that Pacific island, a phenomenon that spread around the world when the critical mass was reached. We don’t know how, but the evidence is clear.  I believe that the energy manifested at marches is similarly building towards that critical mass.

The future in non-linear terms

As a city planner, I was educated in the linear model of setting goals, preparing plans, and then implementing the plans.  Of course, there were many steps involved, but it all proceeded from A to B to C. One action led to another, and the process was rational and defensible, if the public was duly invited into the process. We knew where we wanted to end up, and the future we wanted to build. There was some measure of comfort in that way of thinking, and perhaps a bit of arrogance. We even thought ourselves prepared for the unexpected and had contingency plans ready to pull out when needed.

While there’s still some merit in that way of planning and thinking, I’ve come to appreciate that our survival depends on adapting and learning to think in non-linear terms.

My personal revelation didn’t come as a bolt of lightening — an “AHA” moment. Instead, it crept up on me slowly over the past 30+ years. First, I wanted to connect the dots. I was on the look out for the invisible common threads that bind us all.

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Second, I wanted to tear down the metaphorical silos that keep our minds and creativity locked up. Everywhere I looked, primarily in the fields of environmental, land use and planning law, I saw silos. Regulatory and administrative silos, issue silos, political silos, and much more.

Third, I wanted to learn new creative ways of looking at these challenges. I was overjoyed whan I found Kate Raworth’s Doughnut.

Today, I realize that Dr. King’s “radical revolution of values” may be as simple and as difficult as #LoveThyNeighbor (no exceptions).

Not the syrupy goody two shoes type of love. Not a naive and guilt-ridden type of love. Certainly not a passionate Eros type of love.

#LoveThyNeighbor (no exceptions) opens me to the empathy and concern and vulnerability that provides a space within me for my neighbor. That we are “tied together in a single garment of destiny” cannot be denied. The ravages of climate change may perhaps be the most visible symbol of this truth, but we can find evidence in every facet of our lives. Americans are tied to the refugees’ destiny as tightly as we are connected to our parents and siblings. The Citigroup bankers and U.S. Legislators who are racing through the revolving doors in each direction are intimately connected to the homeless perched over the heating grates on K Street.

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Just as the monkeys learned to wash the sand off their fruit, the evolutionary progress that humans need (and need very quickly if we’re going to survive) is the radical revolution of values to encompass #LoveThyNeighbor (no exceptions). This won’t happen with linear thinking or actions, I’m convinced, because it requires a transformational shift within.

The nonlinear thinking embodies an openness to new ideas from every source, a willingness to be comfortable with the unknown, a greater humility than most of us can muster, and a commitment to model the energy and spirit we trust affirms our neighbors as it affirms us.

So why will I join the March for Science in DC this Saturday, and then the Peoples Climate March on April 29? The simple answer — I’m looking for the Hundredth Monkey.  The truthful answer — I feel energized with the spirit and creativity at each march.

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