The End of the Line

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Beeping, the bus lift lowers

And they shuffle on board

Pushing their walker trolleys.

A rancid smell accompanies them.

Their clothes are worn, mismatched,

Long skirts over trousers,

Coats held together with safety pins,

Hats or kerchiefs covering stringy white hair,

Faces lined and whiskery.

*******************************

Strapped down in their trolley baskets,

Sweaters, shoes, underwear, flasks,

Toothpaste, vitamins, family photographs,

Notebooks, bottles, gloves, blankets,

Remnants of a shattered life.

They suffer with obesity, swollen ankles,

Arthritis, paralysis and Parkinson's.

***********************************************

What troubles or misfortunes brought them here,

On this journey to the end of the line,

To queue for a meal and a bed

At the shelter next to the topless bar?

********************************************

I ring the bell, disembark,

Turn into my comfortable home.

The bus roars on,

To the end of the line.

Barefoot on this frigid night

He stands in the middle of the icy road.

Gloveless hands weaving mysterious circles,

Shaven head bare

He sings his tuneless song to nobody,

Oblivious to the biting cold

That burns my cheeks and nose.

All around, in bars and restaurants

Dining and drinking, dancing and laughter.

Here, on Thirteenth street

Life hangs in the balance.

*******************************

I watch him settle down outside the bank,

Preparing to sleep on chilly flagstones.

His flimsy blanket offers no protection.

Hope and warmth are just blocks away

Yet worlds apart from his bewildered brain.

He is my brother and my Messenger.

Running to the bus station

I call the hotline. Help is coming.

He will live, tonight.

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Twelfth Night and the Three Wise Poets

Twelfth nights of my childhood.

Flash memories.

Gathering round the Christmas tree

Unwrapping small gifts hanging there

And chocolate Santa Claus,'

Singing We Three Kings,

Playing charades.

A night both sweet and bitter

Like Mum's chocolate fudge.

For soon they will be gone

The holly and the mistletoe

Paper chains and tinsel

The tokens of festivity.

*****************************

And when the last sugar mouse is eaten

The last crumbs of Christmas cake gone

When the Yule log's embers are cold

And the lights boxed in the attic,

It is time to ask,

Like the Magi

Were we brought all that way

For Birth or Death?

And Shelley answers, Die

If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek!

Die before you die, cries Rumi.

Resurrection now!

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Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law...

from the Preamble of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Greetings dear ones,

This past year, 2018, saw the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Born of the horrors of two world wars and the Holocaust, the Declaration embodies humanity's determination to start anew, to say 'Never Again' to the horrors of the first half of the Twentieth Century. Its thirty terse Articles encapsulate thousands of years of aspiration for a better world, one of peace, justice and liberty. Within it we glimpse the vision of the Hebrew prophets for a world where justice shall 'run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream,' a world of peace where the lion shall lie down with the lamb. In it we see the aspirations of the Edicts of Ashoka, proclamations of peace, freedom of religion, universal healthcare and an independent and impartial judiciary, set up on stone pillars across India's Mauryan Empire. We see the social vision of Jesus, who lived a life of solidarity with the poor and oppressed, and of Muhammed, who advocated for the right to education, religious freedom and racial equality. "A white person has no superiority over a black person, nor does a black person over a white one, except by piety and good action." The Declaration crystalizes the secular motto of the French Enlightenment, "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" and draws inspiration from the Constitution of the United States. It accords with indigenous wisdom as well, such as the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born of the horrors of war. So, to was one of its earliest predecessors, the pillars of Ashoka. The ancient world in which Ashoka lived was one where might was right and tyrants held sway. Siege and starvation were standard tactics of warfare, slavery was normalized, and civilians had no protection. Ashoka himself exemplified this cruelty when his army killed a hundred thousand Kalingan warriors in a war of conquest and drove a hundred and fifty thousand innocent civilians from their homes. His horror and revulsion at what he had done, and his embrace of the nascent Buddha Dharma, drove him to envision a world of justice and peace.

Two thousand years ago, according to the Gospel of Luke, angels announced the dawn of this new world of peace and goodwill. But as the carol by Edmund Sears says,

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring
.

The promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sought to bring an end to the "disregard and contempt for human rights (that) have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind." Yet in the past seventy years, barbarous acts have continued, and the nations of the world have remained truer to financial markets and the arms trade than to the ancient human aspiration for peace and justice. Dictators, today's equivalent of the ancient tyrants, have been operating from the same playbook, gunning down, imprisoning, torturing and killing peaceful protestors, bloggers and journalists and forcibly displacing entire regions. Impunity for one tyrant emboldens the rest.

2018 was the year when Sadananda and I decided to take matters into our own hands. The situation in Syria, now in its seventh year, was wringing our hearts every day, as the worst manmade cataclysm of our lifetimes. If 'never again' does not really mean never again, then my relatives died in vain in Auschwitz. If governments could not protect human rights, we, as members of the common people of the world, would have to do so on our own. This mood of mingled desperation and determination led us to start Boulder's Interfaith Initiative for Human Rights in Syria, which takes a contemplative approach to human rights, focused on Syria, but including related causes such as Palestinian rights, the treatment of immigrants at the US Mexico Border and the suffering of children in Yemen. During the course of the year, we have walked in silent solidarity with the Disappeared of Syria in both Boulder and Denver, offered a public showing of Syria, the Impossible Revolution by Anne Daly and Ronan Tyan at Boulder Shambhala Centre, marched with Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Unity March and worked with Jewish Voice for Peace and CAIR (Campaign for American Islamic Relations). Working in conjunction with Amnesty International, we collected signatures for a petition to the UN demanding accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. We have forged new friendships around the world, both with people inside Syria and in refugee camps and with friends in both in the US and in Ireland, the UK, Italy and Spain who care passionately about human rights in Syria. Many of these doors were opened for us by our new friend, Dr. Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at DU, who was kind enough to come and give a talk at Alandi Ashram.

Dr. Hashemi poignantly told us that if we had a similar meeting about human rights inside Syria, we would all be arrested and many of us would be tortured. Dear friends, tyranny breeds tyranny. If peaceful protestors can be gunned down in Syria, Nicaragua and Sudan, it is only a matter of time before we too lose our freedom of assembly. If Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, can be murdered and dismembered in his own consulate, and Raif Badawi can be flogged and imprisoned for blogging, it is only a matter of time until freedom of speech is dead for all of us.

Seventy years on from the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this is not the time to sit back complacently trusting that Liberal Democracy will survive without our efforts.

2018 was a year of hope on many fronts. It was the year women stood up and said #MeToo and schoolchildren rose up against gun violence. Let 2019 be the year all of us stand up to protect the greatest achievement of thousands of years of aspiration for peace and justice, the basis of today's international humanitarian law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people," and it is up to us, the people of the world, particularly those of us fortunate enough still to enjoy free speech and free assembly, to work every day to make this aspiration a reality.

I wish you a year of happiness and joy, and may peace and justice prevail throughout our world.

Blessings,

Ma

How you can help the work of Interfaith Initiative for Human Rights in Syria:

  • Host a showing of Syria, the Impossible Revolution at your place of worship or organization (reach out to us to organize this).
  • Become informed: Watch Syria, the Impossible Revolution yourself on Vimeo.
  • Invite your pastor, priest or rabbi to meet with Sadananda to discuss our interfaith work for human rights
  • Join us in our contemplative vigils and social media campaigns

ma@alandiashram.org

303 786 7437

A Rant by Ma

In Syria children are bombed, killed, maimed, gassed, displaced.

In Gaza children are shot at Friday protests

In America children are snatched from parents at the border

Sent away with strangers

Shot for playing while black.

In our world children slave in brick kilns

For the debts of their parents and grandparents

Or work in illegal gold mines

Where tunnels collapse on them.

Children are made into soldiers and forced to kill and maim

Children are sold into sexual slavery

Children live in flimsy tents with no protection from the elements

No door to lock for safety.

Children work for a pittance to help feed their families

Children beg on streets

Children live on streets

Children come to school hungry

Or don't go to school at all.

Children are forced into marriage

Children are thrown off boats by people smugglers

Children live in subhuman conditions

Struggling to cross the border for a better life

A chance at safety.

This isn't even a poem

It's a rant.

Children are our future, our hope our joy, our tomorrow.

Children need rights.

Oil, a declamatory poem

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Oil, a declamatory poem

Now let me speak of oil.

As censers swing we praise

The oil of gladness, flowing down on Aaron's beard

Oil of healing, oil of consecration

Chrism of salvation,

Fragrant, nourishing oil

Gift of the sacred olive tree

Ancient blessing for humankind,

Oil that feeds, oil that makes supple,

Oil that nurtures civilization.

********************************

Today I sing of another oil,

Oil black, oil sticky, oil spreading, oil foul of smell

Not pressed from fruit or seed

But forced from bowels of earth.

Oil that powers cars and lorries, tanks and tankers

B52 bombers, Falcon rocket launchers,

intercontinental ballistic missiles,

Oil that fuelled Enola Gay.

Deepwater Horizon oil

Exxon Valdez oil, Amoco Cadiz oil

Torrey Canyon oil.

Oil that stains Peruvian Amazon

Oil that poisons Niger Delta

Oil that blackens beaches

Oil that kills gull, pelican, loon,

Penguin, puffin, grebe, and otter.

*****************************************

Oil, the source of ethylene, propylene

Benzene, toluene, butadiene,

Parathion, sarin, DDT.

Oil from which we make paints, adhesives,

Plastics, asphalt, carpeting, nylon.

Oil, bringing a world of electronics,

Panty hose, shiny toys from China;

Of children choking to death in Bhophal,

Dying foaming at the mouth in Khan Sheykhoun,

Of poisoned eagles perishing in fields

And floating islands of plastic trash.

*********************************************

Oil for which millions toil

Oil for which millions die.

Oil by which we fight our wars

Oil for which we fight our wars.

Four billion metric tons a year!

*****************************************

Oil the combustible!

Oil, emitter of heat trapping gases

Ice caps melting

Cities flooding,

Forests burning

Crops and cattle dying.

Oil that destroys trees, rivers, oceans

Villages, tribes, homes and encampments.

Oil for whose sake the bombs rain down!

O oil of blackness, oil death-dealing,

Oil which holds us in your thrall!

*****************************************

How long, O oil, will your rigs, your wells, your refineries,

Your pipelines snaking through tribal lands,

Your smoke-filled skies, your dark satanic mills hold sway?

Will we follow you to the end of civilization?

Arise, warriors of the sun, the wind, the water

Mni wiconi, water is life.

Let us raise our swords of truth for life, for love

Let us return to the oil of blessing

To the sheltering olive grove.

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In these days when the sun is darkened by smoke
And the moon is turned to blood
In these days of earthquake, fire and flood
In these days unprecedented, unprecedented,
In these days when vain and fatuous men
Hurl words of mushroom cloud, ash and inferno,
In this dark time
When millions flee from famine, war and storm
We turn to you, The One
Our only refuge.
This day you set before us life and death.
Strengthen us, make firm our tongues
To speak your truth
To men of war and oil.
Let us choose life!

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When I think of war, and of the lessons of history, my mind goes first to the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus' account of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 CE. A vast number of civilians--over a million according to Josephus--were gathered in the city to celebrate Passover. They were besieged and starved until the final onslaught by fire and sword.

But when (the Roman legions) went in numbers into the lanes of the city, with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook, without mercy, and set fire to the houses wither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is of such as died by the famine; they then stood in a horror at this sight, and went out without touching anything. But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men's blood. And truly so it happened, that though the slayers left off at the evening, yet did the fire greatly prevail in the night.

That was in the ancient world--a world where slavery was a fact of life and international law did not exist. It was a world where total war, war upon civilians, was accepted, where might was right.

Today, as incendiary bombs rain upon the starving people of Ghouta, Syria, I ask myself--have we learned nothing? Have we learned nothing from the siege of Jerusalem except how to besiege, starve and burn civilians more effectively?

Have we learned nothing from the siege and destruction of Constantinople by the Crusaders? War upon war, siege after siege, human history has rolled on, bringing us to the horrors of the Twentieth Century. And after eighteen million died in the First World War--my uncle Albert among them--and perhaps eighty million perished in the Second World War, did we not say, 'Never Again?'

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS.

These are fine and lofty words, born of the bitter experience of two horrific wars. Yet even after this charter was written, the US dropped a million tons of bombs on North Korea, used napalm and chemical weapons and killed 20% of the civilian population. Are we surprised the North Korea feels impelled to have its own nuclear weapons? Have we learned nothing?

Even after this charter was written and this noble resolve made, the Twentieth Century continued its sorry course--Vietnam, Iran-Iraq, Ruanda, Bosnia, the Gulf War. Have we learned nothing?

Fireworks around the world ushered in a new millennium. The Twentieth Century was over. The century of horrific wars had ended, yet the horror continued. Iraq. Afghanistan. Chechnia. Somalia. Gaza. Darfur. South Sudan. Ukraine. The Democratic Republic of Congo. Syria. Yemen. Syria.

A million Syrians have been killed in a war almost seven years long. Over five million are refugees living in miserable conditions with no future to hope for. Eastern Ghouta has been besieged and starved for five long years. And the UN Security Council is impotent to enforce international law and protect the civilian population.

Today, as incendiary bombs rain upon the 400,000 starving civilians of Eastern Ghouta, I ask myself, what would Titus have given for incendiary bombs? My sisters, my brothers, have we learned nothing in two millennia except how to wreak greater havoc?

Let us awaken from our sleep, We the People of the World. Let us rise up for peace. Let us make our voices heard, even while 'our earthly rulers slumber.' Let us speak out, let us take to the streets, for Gouta, for Syria, for Yemen, for the children of the world. Let us combine our efforts to accomplish the aim of peace.

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"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

Greetings dear ones,

The dark time of the year is a time for hope. Light is reborn as we ring out the old year and ring in the new. What are our dreams and visions for 2018? What do we long to see in ourselves, in our world? Hope is one of the three theological virtues, gifts of God to the human soul. Our capacity to hope comes from divine grace. Yet hope is more than a noun. As poetry columnist David Orr wrote, 'hope is a verb with its shirtsleeves rolled up.'

To hope is a powerful act. Yet there are moments for each of us when the circumstances of our own lives or of the world around us make it challenging to keep hope alive. As a writer and poet, my path is to dive into the darkness and bring forth the seeds of light. As a spiritual teacher, my role is to illumine, inspire and uplift. Yet as a prophetic voice, I am also tasked with telling it like it is, speaking the truth of our condition. And our condition is dire--in terms of social justice, human rights, the environment. One year into the Trump administration, for me as perhaps for many of us, there are moments when it is difficult to keep hope alive.

When I recall all the painstakingly crafted environmental regulations that have been erased at the stroke of a pen, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I see beautiful, wild landscapes sullied by fracking or contaminated by leaking oil pipelines, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When Native rights are trampled upon and Black lives still don't seem to matter, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I know that ice sheets are melting at unprecedented rates, and wildfires raging as never before, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I remember the utter devastation of once-beautiful ancient cities like Aleppo, Jabar, Homs, Hama, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I think of sixty-five million forcibly displaced people worldwide, surpassing even post World War II levels, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I know that cities are besieged and even an entire country blockaded-- and the world does not act--it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I think of the tears of mothers who have lost their children--to gang violence, to police shootings, to missiles, to suicide bombers, to starvation, to cholera, to lack of basic medical care --it is difficult to keep hope alive.

And yet, keep hope alive I must, or in its place will spring the noxious weeds of cynicism, apathy and despair. Keep hope alive I must, or I too will acquiesce to atrocity. Keep hope alive I must, or I myself will become what most I abhor. "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

Hope is a gift of grace sown in our hearts by the divine spirit. It is up to us to water and tend it every day. When I need to water the seeds of hope, I think of the Somali woman in a refugee camp who has gathered a group of orphan children and cares for them with her UN rations. I think of a little Iranian boy who, after the recent earthquake, guides a still smaller girl to the food relief truck. He has no thought for himself, he only cares that the little girl gets a meal. I think of Chris Parker, the homeless man who rushed into the arena after the Manchester bombing to help, cradling a dying woman in his arms. I think of Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee who, during the terrorist attack on a kosher grocery store in Paris, saved a group of customers by hiding them in the freezer.

I think of the Orthodox rabbi and the Reform rabbi in Auschwitz, who discussed Torah together every day on their way to forced labour. I think of Tibetans who practiced loving-kindness towards their Chinese torturers. I think of the lepers in India who invited us to share their meager supper. Every day, I water the seeds of hope by recalling the basic goodness of ordinary human beings in the face of extraordinary suffering. I keep hope alive by contemplating goodness. And I know that acts of extreme cruelty and callousness are distortions, while courage, kindness and goodness reflect our essential nature.

And when I come close to despair about environmental destruction, I remember that Nature, Gaia, Bhu Devi, our Mother Earth, is ancient and wise. Even as we inflict upon her the sterility of concrete and asphalt, she will prevail.

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Tupac Shakur.

The same divine spirit that planted hope in our hearts has breathed life into the earth. Although I am here for just a brief while more, I trust that life, riotous, incorrigible, burgeoning life, will grow and blossom long after I am forgotten. And she herself, life herself, Nature herself, will continue to bring forth heroes and advocates to defend her abundance and beauty from those who put power and profit over life and love.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I wish you a year of peace and joy, and may the flame of hope burn brightly in your hearts throughout 2018 and beyond.

BLessings,

Ma

Ma 2017 New Years Letter

And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding, to forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.
And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light, we may set thereon the little lights for which our bodily vision is made.
And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.
O Light Invisible, we give Thee thanks for Thy great glory!

TS Eliot from Choruses from the Rock

Greetings dear ones,

On 24th December, Sadananda and I kindled the menorah for the first night of Hanukkah. As the flame burned down, we set out in the biting cold to celebrate the lighting of the Christ Candle at First United Methodist Church. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." Not for forty years has the first night of Hanukkah occurred on Christmas Eve as it has done in 2016, bringing together the rededication of the Jerusalem temple with the birth of the miraculous babe in Bethlehem. Both stories offer hope and renewal in a time of darkness and oppression.

When my parents were young children, clouds of darkness were gathering over a Europe already shattered by the horrific war in which their fathers fought. They were fourteen years old when the Second World War broke out. Six years later, seventy million had died in battle, bombing, starvation and genocide. Even as a young medical student, thirty years later, I walked each day past a bombed out London church. Yet, in the face of the horrors of war, the resilience of the human spirit reasserted itself. The ending of the war brought a determination to create a more peaceful world and more just and open societies. The UN was born on 24 October 1945. In 1949 came the Geneva Conventions, seeking to limit the atrocities of war and promote basic humanitarian values. The great ideal of the Enlightenment, liberal democracy, began to spread across Europe and become a normative political ideology. And on 25 March 1957 the Treaties of Rome were signed, laying the foundation stone of the European Union, based on the values of human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights--hard-won lessons for a Europe grappling with the legacy of two appalling wars.

Today, many of us in the United States and Western Europe take liberal democracy and the rule of law for granted as our inalienable birthright. Others of us-- African Americans, Native Americans, LGBTQ, religious minorities as well as refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, shine light on the gap between these ideals and their implementation in daily life. None of us are truly free or equal until all of us enjoy these inalienable rights in full measure.

A new year, 2017, is taking birth in a world shaped by the ideals of the Enlightenment. And again, just as in my parents' childhood, dark clouds are gathering with the rise of far-right populism and authoritarianism. Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is leading his nation away from promised democratization to escalating authoritarianism. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has cheerfully compared himself to Hitler, saying he would be "happy to slaughter" 3 million addicts. Urged on by far right populist Nigel Farage, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, isolating itself from the great project of the Four Freedoms. And the election of self-described populist Donald Trump has energized America's white supremacists as well as Europe's extreme nationalist parties. With the appointment of Steven Bannon of Breitbart News as Trump's chief strategist, the far right is ready to enter the mainstream.

According to Jan-Werner Muller, "populists always, at heart, reject pluralism, and claim to be the exclusive and moral representatives of "the people" and their interests. It is therefore, above all, a moralistic imagination of politics... Once in office, they tend to describe the opposition as illegitimate, immoral and "enemies of the people" -- this polarization is a key element of what populism thrives on. Just like Chávez and Maduro said those who voted against him were infiltrators and traitors, Donald Trump referred to "millions of illegal voters" who explain why he lost the popular vote."

"It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness." This quotation, attributed to sources as disparate as Confucius, Eleanor Roosevelt and a Unitarian minister, shines forth as a flame to clarify our confusion and warm us as we shiver in anxiety. We are the ones who can brighten the gloom and avert impending catastrophe. We can't take freedom, equality, liberty and justice for all and the rule of law for granted--and perhaps we never could. The checks and balances offered in our constitution can be removed at the stroke of a pen. We the people are the only real checks and balances. Are we ready to arise for justice like the Standing Rock water protectors and the Black Lives Matter activists? When we see minorities assailed, are we ready to stand with them? Are we willing to allow the Geneva Conventions become a dead letter as hospitals are bombed and civilians starved in Syria--or will we call the governments of the world to account? Are we willing to allow all the humanitarian gains of the last seventy years to wither along with the hopes of unwanted refugees shivering in tents--or will we advocate for them?

I usually suggest simple, health-oriented New Year's resolutions. This year, I invite you to BE the one you are waiting for. Democracy, the rule of law, pluralism, and international humanitarian law are inherently fragile, for they represent our highest aspirations as a society and international community. If we forsake the dream and vision, they will be no more. Dystopia awaits us if we do not uphold these ideals. And sustaining democracy and humanitarianism requires more than a click on a petition site. Here are some simple tools:

  • Use the Indivisible Guide to borrow strategies from the Tea Party in order to resist the Trump Agenda. Or, if you prefer, use these same strategies to advocate for refugees or push for a just resolution of the war in Syria.
  • Support organizations like the ACLU that are standing up for our civil liberties.
  • Support charities that are helping refugees:
  • Want some weekly action items to help you work on behalf of our democracy and protect minorities? Look at this site.

As TS Eliot said, the darkness reminds us of the light. Instead of despairing or cowering under the covers, we can light our little candles as beacons of hope. If we fail, at least we lived in integrity and sowed seeds of hope for future generations. If we succeed, freedom and democracy will be stronger than ever before.

Wishing you a joyous New Year and peace and prosperity during 2017!

With my love and blessings always

Alakananda Ma

Light

Alakananda Ma December 2013

Child of the dark time

I long for light

Recall the light.

Lights before I came into the world

Cranley Mews menorah kindling

Behind blackout curtains

In the days when London burned

And no church bells rang.

Lights that welcomed me to the world

Sodium lamps glowing on icy streets

Advent candles calling to Emmanuel.

Lights of childhood

Yule log in the hearth

Lantern in tent,

Lamps shining through leaded glass

Pooling on cobblestones,

Sunlight on warm brick wall,

Shafts of light through stained glass windows.

Trinity wharf lighthouse

Illuming London docks

Ipswich harbor lights

Reflected in the Orwell

Ship lights, port red, starboard green.

Lights of faith

Sabbath lights

Lumen Christi shining in dark church

Tiered arati lamps

Circling before Shanta Durga,

Sea of butter lamps at Svyambunath,

Divali lights floating down the Ganges.

Lights of joy and sorrow

Birthday candles, yahrtzeit candles

Kirtan votives, romantic candles,

Wildfire blazing on Bear Peak,

Starlight in the desert,

Firelight by full moon.

Child of the dark time

I seek the light

Light in face, in smile, in eyes

Light of spirit, light of love

Light of lights

Beyond the darkness.

Child of the waning year

I see the light

Hidden in the hearts of all.

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"'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo. 'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

This time has been given to us--and it is a time that calls for great moral courage and clarity of purpose. It is a time when we are asked to resist injustice, resist bigotry, resist the targeting of vulnerable minorities, resist racism in all its forms. It is a time when we must stand up for Mother Earth and all her species, more strongly than we have ever done before. It is a time when we must wake every morning and set our moral compass.

For some of us, it is inevitably a time when we experience a sense of threat. If we are undocumented, we fear deportation. If we are Muslim, we fear being put on a registry. If we are African-American, we fear increased racial profiling. If we are in the LGBTQ community, we fear the loss of marriage equality. If we are women, we fear the erosion of our reproductive rights. If we are rape survivors, we fear the normalization of rape and sexual harassment. If we have come here fleeing an authoritarian regime, we wonder if history is repeating itself. Where now can we go?

For others of us, the threat may be less evident. It is tempting to look on the bright side; after all, it's only four (or eight) years. The People have spoken (sort of, as Hillary won the popular vote). Now we need to give Trump a chance. It is tempting to accommodate, to look the other way, to get on with our own lives. And this is why we need to set our moral compass every single morning as we awaken to a new day. Is racism permissible, because it won't affect us? Are deportations acceptable, if our family won't be deported? Is persecution of a religious minority acceptable, because we don't belong to that minority?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller.

We face, at best, a presidency that could set us back fifty years in terms of civil rights, LGBTQ rights, women's rights and basic human rights. Let us remember how hard-won these rights are. People struggled and died to get us where we are today. And we need to gain much more ground before minorities truly have equal protection under the law.

At worst, we face the erosion of our democracy and its transformation into a Fascist autocracy. American exceptionalism may lead us to think, 'It couldn't happen here.' We have a constitution, a Bill of Rights; we have strong democratic institutions. Yet many, even today, do not experience all of these rights--the right to a speedy trial, for example. Our rights will last as long as we defend them, not just for ourselves but for all segments of society. Our institutions will not protect us--we need to protect them.

This time has been given to us; and it is a time to awaken soul-force, satyāgraha. Soul-force is a Gandhian concept that has become part of the American psyche through the work of Martin Luther King Jr. The Civil Rights Movement was powered by soul-force.

'Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement 'satyagraha', that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence.'

Gandhi: Satyagraha in South Africa.

'Non-violence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means putting of one's whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul, and lay the foundation for that empire's fall or its regeneration.'

Excerpt from Gandhi's writings.

We see this soul-force demonstrated today by the Water Protectors who stand in peace and prayer in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Faced with tear gas, mace, rubber bullets, water cannon and LRAD noise bombs, they continue drumming, chanting, praying and standing their ground. The Water Protectors are willing to die to save the Missouri for all our grandchildren. This is satyāgraha.

This time has been given to us. It is a time to use our freedom of speech while we still have it; a time to assert our right to free assembly; a time to defend press freedom as reporters from prestigious media outlets shiver in the cold outside Trump National Golf Club, waiting for scraps of information. It is a time to protect our democratic institutions, not to wait for them to save us. It is a time to uphold the rule of law.

This time has been given to us. It is a time to overcome our fear, thinking of others who have more reason to be afraid. Today we all need to stand in soul-force, ready to defend our cherished freedoms. For so many, these freedoms have yet to become a reality. To allow them to be further weakened would be a catastrophe. As a nationalized citizen, I have taken a vow to defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, inner and outer. I pray that you will join me in this endeavour, for this time, a time for soul-force, has been given to us all.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

But if I am only for myself, who am I?

If not now, when?"

Rabbi Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

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Thank you to activist Marty Rosenbluth for calling my attention to the opening quotation from Lord of the Rings.

See also my post Dear Mr. Trump, here's why you are not 'my' president. http://ma.alandiashram.org/mas_blog/2016/11/dear-mr-trump-heres-why-you-ar.html

Further reading: mostly excerpted from a list compiled by Professor Jeff Colgan of Brown University. Also see his Google Doc on Risk of Democratic Erosion https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxqZWZmZGNvbGdhbnxneDozN2RmZGMzMmEyOWRmNjM5


http://duckofminerva.com/2016/11/taking-democracy-for-granted.html

https://chartwellwest.com/2016/11/12/what-now/

http://vothspeak.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/trump-and-hitler-part-ii-shadows-of-1933.html?m=1

https://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/trump-victory-regime-change-lessons-autocrats-erdogan-putin

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