November 2014 Archives


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Police officers point their weapons at Ferguson residents protesting against the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 18, 2014.

When I was growing up in a small town in England in the fifties, guns simply were not a part of our life. Our local 'copper' walked his beat, wearing the traditional blue helmet and equipped with a truncheon. The first time I saw an armed policeman was when I visited Rome at the age of seventeen to study the antiquities. I wondered how his gun would help him direct traffic! But when I arrived in America, I was soon to lose my innocence where guns are concerned. In fact, I have been held up at gunpoint twice--both times by Boulder police.

On the first--and most dangerous--occasion, we were living near the university in the area known as "The Hill". One dark winter evening, we were coming home for dinner. As we approached the front yard we heard a shout. "Raise your hands above your head and freeze!" Four policemen had their handguns pointed at us, ready to shoot if we made the wrong move. It was a terrifying moment and we could easily have lost our lives for a simple mistake. After some questioning--as we stood there, immobile, hands up in the chilly night--the police ascertained that they were staking out the wrong house. They gave us permission to leave, telling us not to return for two hours as there was a gunman in in the neighbourhood.

On the second occasion, we were foolish enough to watch a sunset on a piece of waste ground in the company of a friend and his lab-retriever. Of course, we should have known that drug dealers often have dogs and that sunset-watching is a suspicious activity! So there was apparently probable cause for two squad cars to approach, one above and one below in a pincer action. One of the policemen started screaming accusations and insults at us and demanding our IDs, which we weren't carrying for a stroll around the block. This spooked the dog into barking. Now, let me remind you, she was a lab-retriever, not an attack-type dog and she was barking nervously, not growling or baring her teeth. And she was leashed." Shut her up or I'll shut her up," said the policeman. But she barked again. The policeman decided to shoot the dog. So there he stood, feet planted, holding the gun in both hands, pointed at the poor dog's head and our feet. He told us to let go the leash so he could shoot her at point blank range; an action which would endanger the lives of all of us, dog and humans alike. Somehow, at that moment, the dog fell silent. By God's grace we managed to talk the policeman down and de-escalate the situation. The dog's life was saved and so were our feet.

We were lucky. Michael Brown was not. Tamir Rice, the twelve year old shot by police for a toy gun, was not. Trayvon Martin was not. Jonathan Ferrell was not. He was shot by police when seeking help following a car accident. Oscar Grant was not. He was shot by BART police at Fruitavale. Sean Bell was not. He was shot by police on the eve of his wedding, at his bachelor party. John Crawford was not. He was shot by police in Walmart while picking up and looking at a BB gun which was for sale in the store. Renisha McBride was not. She was shot while seeking help after a car accident. Emmet Till was not. He was lynched for paying a white woman a compliment.

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Candlelight vigil for Michael Brown in Boulder

Sadananda and I may have long hair and, in Sadananda's case a long beard too, and look to some like 'hippie wierdos' who deserve to come under suspicion. But we are white. Michael, Tamir, Jonathan, Oscar, Sean, John, Renisha and Emmet were black. In every case, the colour of their skin signed their death warrant, rendering them an imminent threat, or even an object of hatred, in the eyes of those who shot them. And while most of those we have listed were shot in the recent years of our new century, Emmett Till was lynched in 1955. We are talking about a lifetime of repeated incidents. We are talking about centuries of suffering since the first black slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619.

Racial prejudice and xenophobia, as well as anti-semitism and Islamophobia, are seen throughout the Western world and beyond. These phenomena seem to arise whenever people of different appearance, colour, religion or culture arrive in a previously homogenous society. The struggles, success and failures of creating multicultural societies across Europe bear witness to this, as does the rise of racist and anti-immigration parties like UKIP in Britain and the National Front in France. But here in America, we are in an unique position. As the lasting legacy of slavery and segregation, we have a type of institutionalized racism that I can only compare with India's caste system.

What will it take to create a society where
"the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood" ? For those of us of Caucasian origin, this requires us to care, and care passionately, about Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Emmett Till. For all of us to sit at table together, to break bread together in harmony, we must understand that these deaths are not black tragedies. They are national tragedies, they are human tragedies. The pain of these mothers' tears is our own. With the killing of these young people we all, whatever the colour of our skin, have an empty seat at the table. We, as a society, cannot afford the loss of these young lives, so full of promise. With each death, with each life cut short, we lose a part of ourselves. And because this is our own loss, whoever we are, we must all wake up and stand up for justice, peace and the lives of our children.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less...
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee
.
John Donne

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Ma's 2014 Good Gift Guide

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Feasting together and giving gifts has been an important way of cementing bonds since Paleolithic times. This season, I'd like to focus on environmentally and socially responsible gift-giving. How can we give without cluttering our Earth with stuff, using unnecessary resources, creating financial stress and supporting multinational corporations?

  • Make it yourself. As a child I enjoyed long winter evenings cutting up glossy magazines and advertising material to make calendars for family and friends. Today Sadananda and I still make calendars, using some of our top photographs from the year and getting them printed at a locally-owned business. We also make jars of chutney for family, friends and neighbours. You could also make jams, cordials or elixirs.
  • Create a gift basket. We source pretty baskets at a neighbourhood thrift store and fill them with home made or local cheese, home made chutney, artisan bread and other local and regional goodies. I haven't ventured into soap-making yet (it's on my wish list of hobbies!), but home made soap, salve, potpourri etc. would make a lovely herbal gift basket. Some of our Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula students and graduates enjoy showcasing their new-found medicine-making skills by creating Ayurvedic herbal gift baskets.
  • Give services instead of goods. A pretty card offering a service you will render can be a heart-warming gift that saves money, doesn't generate more stuff and increases interpersonal connection. Alternatively, offer a gift certificate for a massage, shirodhara, Ayurvedic Consultation, house cleaning or other service that would nurture the recipient.
  • Support your local bookstore. My adopted grandson always receives a book from Boulder Bookstore for his birthday and for the holiday season. And he enjoys the books immensely. If you are fortunate enough to have a locally owned non-chain bookstore still, please support them with your gift dollars or pounds!
  • Support local craftspeople. The years I go to Wales for Christmas, one of my treats is going to the craft fair at Aberystwyth Arts Centre to get unique gifts for family in the US. I also own quite a few treasured craft fair gifts myself! Visiting a craft fair is a way to support local potters, silversmiths, artists and artisans as well as purchasing a one-of-a kind gift.
  • Visit your fair trade shop. See my previous blog, Slavery and your holiday shopping for an extensive discussion of this topic.

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Since people often ask for 'Ma's meal blessing' --here it is!
Some of you might like to use this non-denominational blessing at your Thanksgiving meal.

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May the Earth be blessed that bore this food
And may they prosper who grew it
.
May the hands be blessed that cooked this meal
May all grow strong who eat it.
May the hearts and wills of humankind be moved
To feed the hungry of the world
And may all come to eat the bread of life
From Wisdom's table.


People atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenbu...

People atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on 09 November 1989 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, the world celebrates twenty five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This summer, Sadananda and I had an unique opportunity to commemorate this world-changing event. We spent a week in Assisi, designated the City of Peace. Because of this special status, Assisi was host to an exhibition of Wall art marking the twenty fifth anniversary of the fall of the Wall. A wide variety of artists exhibited art pieces created on segments of the actual Wall--turning a symbol of oppression and division into a space of creativity, wonder and questioning. Perhaps my favourite was by an East Anglian artist, who obliterated the 'Wallness' of the Wall by turning it into what he most loved--an East Anglian fishing village. I too dearly love the fishing villages of my native land.
At the conclusion of the exhibit, we had our own chance to do some graffiti on a segment of Wall. I wrote "Peace, pax, pace, shalom, salaam, shanti." The museum curator was thrilled!

The Berlin Wall has fallen. It's time was up. But what have we learned? We still build walls. We are building a wall across the desert at a cost of billions of dollars to protect ourselves from poor Mexicans and Latin Americans who just want a chance at a better life. The wall increases the likelihood of migrants dying in the desert, as they seek out ever more remote and hazardous routes. A wall divides Israelis and Palestinians, exiling people from their ancestral lands. We put asylum seekers behind walls and fences as they wait for us to decide their fate. Can a wall bring peace? Can a wall bring security? Can a wall bring safety?

As we celebrate the reunification of Berlin, let us remember that peace comes from truth-telling, from liberty and justice, and from brotherly and sisterly love among humans. Peace doesn't come from a wall.

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Portrait of Berlin Wall exhibit curator in Assisi, by Sadananda https://www.flickr.com/photos/alandiashram/sets/

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    This page is an archive of entries from November 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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