Justice: Kindness

Kindness is more important than wisdom, 
and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.
Theodore Rubin

Often, we think of wisdom as taking whatever knowledge we have gained and turning it into some sort of life practice.  I think that is fair.  Too often, though, we think of that knowledge as coming from books or the internet or some other form of academic publication. This bias toward a particular kind of knowledge (one of my own biases) is probably common among Unitarian Universalists.  It’s an easy bias: why would you not want good information? Reading, research and study provide a pathway to finding good information. And, if we cultivate practices based on good information, that may lead to wisdom.  It may also lead to arrogance, if we are honest.

If the way to knowledge, however, is limited to this pathway of the intellect, we will always arrive at knowledge (good information) by circumventing the human heart.

Enter kindness.  The practice of kindness is something anyone can engage (even people who love books), any time, anywhere.  No books required.  No wifi needed.  No device required in the hand. The practice of kindness puts us into relationships, service, listening, observing and the possibility of reflecting, immediately.

And really, aren’t these the true building blocks of wisdom?  To be in relationship with other beings around us, to serve, to listen, to observe, to notice, and to reflect on what we find in doing so?

Yet another way of choosing to bestow bounty in its proper place.

Bob Patrick

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Justice: Where to start

This past Sunday, Rev. Jan shared a spiritual practice with us that she learned to do at the beginning of any and every other spiritual practice.  It reminded me immediately of one that I learned years ago.  At the very beginning of meditation, prayer, journaling or other spiritual practice:

Looking into a full length mirror, and into your own eyes say:  I accept myself in this moment just the way that I am.

Here is what Rev. Jan’s practice adds:  I accept myself in this moment just the way that I am, and I extend that acceptance to every being I will encounter today.

This sort of practice is grounded in Hindu and Buddhist practices that recognize what our 7th Unitarian Universalist principle affirms–there is an interdependent web of all existence between and among all beings.  This principle along with this kind of spiritual practice makes clear that justice begins with me. There is another saying from the Scholastic Christian tradition:  You cannot give what you do not have.

For too long in Puritan and post-Victorian mindset (one that is a part of our own UU history!) we have tried to deny ourselves and offer goodness and justice to others.  That is an exhausting and ultimately empty practice even for the bravest of souls.

If I can really accept myself in this moment just the way that I am (don’t be misled, this ain’t easy–that’s why it’s a practice), then I really do have something to extend to others.  Without question, whatever stands in the way of self-acceptance will become the very thing by which we judge and blame another.

Accept myself just the way I am.  Extend that to all beings I encounter today.  Isn’t that bestowing bounty where it is most proper?

Bob Patrick

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Justice: Anger and Fear

“Where there is anger, there is always fear.”  This was the theme of an episode of the PBS long running series Call the Midwife. It is an observation about human life echoed by other observers.  Ekhart Tolle says: “Where there is anger there is always pain underneath.” Clinical psychologist, Dr. Deborah Koshaba notes that there is a strong connection between anger and fear, so these observations of a spiritual sort seem well grounded in the clinical findings of modern psychology.

My own reaction when I was younger, to angry people (and to be honest, even now often enough) was to move away, to recoil, to stay away, to run! Those reactions might be followed with some personal judgments about the angry person: that one is bad; unfair; a problem; unfriendly.

When I have had encounters with people who are afraid, my reactions have been to move toward them. I find myself wanting to comfort, to embrace, to reassure, to listen, to empathize.

The challenge now of course is this:  when I encounter an angry fellow human being, can I breathe into the experience, and recall that where there is anger, there is always fear? Caution:  probably best not to try and hug an angry person–at least not right away! And, sometimes people are too angry to remain present with them. Giving them space and coming back later might be the best thing.  But, what if we replace the ordinary response to anger with the ordinary responses to fear?

Don’t run away.

Don’t judge.

Listen.

Empathize.

Reassure.

If I can bring myself to this sort of response when confronted with an angry person, it strikes me that this would be a personal example of Rumi’s sort of justice:  bestowing bounty in its proper place.

Bob Patrick

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Justice: Bestowing Bounty, revisited

Rumi calls justice “bestowing bounty in its proper place.”  I find that a powerful phrase to hold in mind and heart as I consider any sort of justice work that I give myself to.  In some real sense, those who engage in social justice work are finding ways to bestow bounty in its proper places.

The bounty could be money, of course, in the way of accessing food, shelter, clothing, medical care, transportation, job training and education for those who are most vulnerable.  It might also be working to insure that human rights and the freedom and responsibility that go with those rights are in place and unhindered for any person or group so hindered.

Today, if you had such power to bestow bounty in its proper places, I wonder.  Where would those places be?  For whom would you bestow what kind of bounty?  And then, for me, perhaps what is a much more important question:  why would you do it?  What moves you to bestow bounty in its proper place in those places where you do have such power?

Why do you do it?

Bob Patrick

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Justice: Conditions

As I ponder justice, I keep encountering all of the conditions that seem to be in place whenever human beings speak of justice, injustice and social justice.

There are the conditions that the suffering person is in. When we can see those conditions, most human beings are moved to help alleviate them.  We often only see the surface conditions, though.  We see that someone is hungry, so we do a canned food drive.  We don’t see that the hungry individuals have been, for example, gut-punched by abusive conditions for generations.  Then, we begin to pull back:  what did YOU do, we ask of the abused, about their abuse.

I am also aware of the conditions that I and others bring as the ones who are empowered by our culture to decide, in the first place, who may receive justice and who may not.  Recently, someone told me that a tax system which fell heavier on the rich than the poor was immoral.  He told me that if the poor were taxed more, they would feel like they were part of the system and had something to contribute.  What belies this position is a condition of affluence that the speaker has always known in his life.  He cannot imagine another condition in which everything in the world around you is set against you.

If we want to talk about an authentic justice that sets all beings free to their fullest potential, we have to look at conditions.  And, I think, we have to look through those conditions to a compassion that can embrace every condition–until the conditions loose themselves from us as a death grip and begin to be a kind of window into truth.

Bob Patrick

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Justice: Bestowing Bounty

What is justice? Giving water to trees. What is injustice? To give water to thorns. Justice consists in bestowing bounty in its proper place, not on every root that will absorb water.

– Rumi

Poetry invites, incites, and implicates.  At the very least.

I am a fan of the Persian mystic poet we call Rumi who wrote in Urdu 700 years ago.  I read these short lines of Rumi’s about justice.

Invitation
Rumi sees justice as bestowing bounty in the right place.  Do I see justice that way?  I know people right this minute whose family member is  in a crucial healthcare scare, and their health insurance is resisting cooperation.  Certainly it would be just to bestow a bounty of funds on them and all people like them who need care, desperately, who are being hindered from it.  What a proper place to bestow bounty!

Incitement
But, who decides what is the proper place to bestow bounty? We have a President who has said that he wants to gather up all undocumented immigrants and “send them back home.”  Today’s news reports that Israel has decided to force African migrants out of the country.  I encounter people who think that social safety net programs are all being scammed or more bluntly that poor people are lazy and unworthy of bounty.

Implication
Who in this world is a tree?  Who in this world is a thorn? And, by the way, don’t thorns have some proper place in the scheme of things? (roses and blackberries come to mind!). When I decide who the trees are and who the thorns are, what does that decision imply about my place in the world?

If we were the bestowers of bounty in all the proper places . . .
. . . what would your form of justice look like?

Bob Patrick

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Justice: Our Interactions

Justice.  The roots of this word are ancient.  They appear all over the Latin language, but Latin was a late arrival.  The Sanskrit word “yu” is the root, which means to join.

To join. Justice is a joining.

The Latin adds to that a binding, an obliging, a right, a law, justice.

Justice is something that binds us, obliges us, gives us rights, and establishes laws.

We get so many words from this ancient root, yu.  Justice, jurisprudence, jury, judge, judicial, judiciary,  judgment, judgmental, injury, injurious, conjugal, conjugate,  injunction, injustice, prejudice.

Just in these few words look at what the ancient root word touches on in our society: law, trials, decisions, power, social separation, social satisfaction, health, marriage, language, complaint, oppression and human intelligence.

Justice seems to touch every area of our lives.  Justice, it seems, just from a literary standpoint, is about how we interact with one another.

And yet, it’s not just about cool observation, is it?  Justice is how we interact with one another guided by something else.  What might that be?

Bob Patrick

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December 31–Hope: The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

  • Howard Thurman
    “The Work of Christmas” in The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations (1985)

The UUCG choir sang this song during the 7:00 service on the 24th and I could hardly get through it. The first time we practiced it I welled up with tears as I read through the words and their meaning which struck me like a truck. And it was like that every time we practiced the music. I had to remove myself from the lyrics so I could lay down the melody in my head and my memory. And then, a bit at time, allowed the meaning of the lines back into my head.

The stories and traditions we celebrate during this time of cold and dark are as varied and unique as the way we take our coffee. I have learned to open my eyes and ears and heart and take in more than my childhood traditions during this time of hope and celebration.

These words bring everything full circle for me. As my children continue to grow up and start their own traditions and celebrations I find myself revisiting my own and figuring out what to keep and what to purge. As I repack  the hand made ornaments and precious photo ornaments safely away for next year – I will say goodbye to the random filler pieces bought to fill empty spaces on the tree and the mantle and let them bring joy to someone else. I will let go of old habits to make room for more meaning and purpose.

My work begins now. My intent to live the principals of my life carries on. To find the lost, to heal the broken, to release the prisoner, the rebuild the nations. To bring peace and to make music. Here in my own circle of family and friends – the work of Christmas begins.

Lydia Patrick

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December 27–Hope: Friendship

A friend recently reminded me of a quotation from the Roman orator, politician and philosopher, Cicero’s philosophical essay on Friendship.  In that essay, he notes that there are many benefits of friendship, but the greatest of those benefits is that it shines a ray of hope into us and does not allow our souls to falter or grow weak.

As I read that quotation again after many years, it rings true in me.  I can think of individual friends, but I find myself drawn to something else that friendships tend to imply:  community. We likely all find ourselves parts of more than one community, but is it not true that friendship is what weaves us into community?  Perhaps we enter a community through any variety of doors, but I suspect that what keeps us in that community or at least what brightens and strengthens us in that community are the finding and making of friends there.  When that community gathers, will I see this person or that person?  Once in the community the surprise of an unexpected visit from a friend–these things do brighten and even enlighten our souls, and the forward lean into them–we call that hope.

Pay tribute to hope today.  Let us ponder our friendships and the communities they weave us into, and be grateful.

Bob Patrick

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December 26–Hope: Not Blame

What is the opposite of hope?  My first thoughts were hopelessness.  Hopelessness is still strangely in the realm of hope.  To be hopeless with all the pain and struggle implied by that experience still requires a hope–a hope that one has currently lost.

I am considering blame.  Hope by its nature has us leaning toward the future out of our present.  It creates a possible communion between now and the future.  Blame, on the other hand, locks us into the past.  It fixes us on a situation and more often a single person whom we hold irrevocably responsible for some pain in our lives.  Blame locks us in our tracks and poisons every present moment with the old bitterness and pain.

There will be horrible examples of pain and tragedy linked to a situation or a person.  Even then, there are often circumstances and events unknown to us that we can never account for–that if we were able to–would mitigate how we view the whole event.

Sr. Helen Prejean is the Catholic nun who has worked tirelessly both with those on death-row and with the families of murder victims.  She has noted in her work that the killing of a death row inmate does not bring the victim’s families any sort of peace or healing.  This is probably the ultimate case against blame.  At some point, even in the worst circumstances, we have to let go of blame so that we can heal.  Forever blame is a self-inflicted hell, and there is no way around it.

What to do with that event or person?  However horrible it was, it holds something in it from which to learn, to grow and to move forward.  That is called hope.

Bob Patrick

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