Thursday, November 24, 2016

This Moment For Thanks

This moment,
just this moment—
to take this moment away
from the ballyhoo and sway,
the wind and weather fray
that seems to increasingly mark each day—

To recognize the beauty of this life,
so replete with challenges and strife,
yet manages still to overflow with vibrant
music, colors, movement and words,
and the magnificence of simple gestures,
such as light rising out of dark shadows,
called forth by throngs of singsong birds—

To remember all the many faces,
the far-flung and beautiful places
where senses were bathed in graces
formed by so many generations past,
built, with lavished, crafted care, to last,
and also remind—

To feel fully in my body and free,
even to revel in the mundane task
that could so often vex, one day in three—

To meet around the bountiful table,
with expectations and pleasurable
gusto, to bare and share as we are able,
proves a central truth: We need one another—

To be reminded all that is good
requires due diligence without fraction;
anything less threatens contraction,
and this is a humbling thought
to release from its abstraction:
Gratitude is a call to action—

This moment,
just this moment,
I’ll take this moment away,
to take in a deep breath and say,
marking the beauty of this day;
whether you, my loved ones,
being either near or far,
wherever you are,
thank you, oh, thank you, most indeed,
for bringing your life-giving beauty
to this world, to my life,
to this moment.

© 2016 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Sunday, November 13, 2016

No Double Standards; A sermon to myself

This is, as is obviously stated in the title, a sermon I have written to myself, not to you, gentle reader. It might perhaps surprise you to learn that I have written such sermons in the past, and even delivered them in public. Our lives are built on words, a fragile filigree of words on words on words, and I am offering these words to myself as an affirmation of something.

You are in no way obliged to read what I have to say, but putting it out there to you is an act of prayer.

In the days following our recent election, I have felt as if every value I had ever embraced as a building block for a better future for all, everything I had stood for, was revealed to be a house of cards, collapsed in a heap. The sense of disgust and shame, in the wake of all the “to the victor come the spoils” behavior I have seen and heard about in recent days is indeed demoralizing. The finger pointing, the blame, the reprisals, ignorance, fear and it’s obvious reactions. The ugliness of it all is disheartening, and it has quite literally sickened me. I do not know where I belong anymore.

I have been paralyzed.

Today, I went to church. I did not know if I would be able to sing, but I knew I could pray, even pray silently, for myself, and all of us.

The organ rolled off the opening play-through of the first hymn, which perhaps could only have been this hymn, on this Sunday: “In Christ there is no East or West.” I opened my mouth to start the first verse, as I’ve already stated, not knowing if any sound, at all, would come out.

But something did come out. A huge voice came out from within me, bigger, I think, than I had ever heard my voice in my own ear. My voice filled the large interior of the church, and was louder anything amplified. It was as if the architecture of the place had trained itself on me. A few heads turned my way, so it was not my imagination. What did this mean?

And all week long, I have been wondering, what do I mean—what does my life mean?

I am white, and some of my people came to this country on the Mayflower. They were looking for freedom to believe and be in a way that seemed right to them. Some of my people came to this country later from France, looking for the same thing. Some of my people hail from south of the border, in that very place a great number of people want to build a fence to keep out. And some of my people were indigenous to the Americas. But you could not know any of that by looking at me.

I have read, one of my mother’s greatest gifts to me, who had some sort of learning disability before they really talked about and knew what some of those were. She spent hours after school, unlocking the puzzle of words. And that key has been in my possession, and I have passed it on to a new generation. I have never stopped reading, because our lives are built on words, we are a fragile filigree of words on words. The only way to understand the world is to explore the forest of words. I have done that as well as I could. School has never stopped for me, but has been continuously in session, year after year.

I participated in my first act of civil disobedience probably at the age of 6, marching in protest of the Vietnam War. This was the first of many. In 1970, my family participated in the very first Earth Day Expo, and a year later, my mother kept my sister and I from school, instead taking us on the bus to the San Francisco waterfront, so that we could help with the effort to clear up a devastating oil spill and save the lives of birds. In 1981, I joined the HCI/Brady Campaign. These are but a few of the beads on the mala of my soul, a few instances of the “activist” side of my life, started as a child.

Nearly being snatched by a predator on the way home from kindergarten was a lightning bolt experience that forced me to be an aware individual at a tender age. And, oh, there was so much of which to be aware—and wary. The 1960s were a blood bath of trial and tribulation, some of which I was able to see up close, if not observe on the evening news. That people had to fight to do what was right was a mystery to me. I could see people fighting to feed children and take care of elders, because the government wasn’t doing it. I also saw people fighting just to fight, destroying just to destroy. I had been taught the difference between right and wrong; I learned on my own the difference between fighting for a just cause and “fighting” only for the sake of being destructive.

I feel fortunate to have grown up in a place where there are so many people whose backgrounds are different than mine. All the colors, all the sounds and music, all the smells of the food we can share together at the same table! I also feel fortunate to be bringing up my children here, where they can experience this.

But this world is changing, is it not? Of the many and varied jobs I’ve had over the years, one that I treasure is working for a political sociologist. His simple philosophy became a mantra for me, because it was a perfect summary for what I had learned at home, in my community, in church, in meditation, in the world I had explored through books, a perfect summation of all that I believe to be essential truth that must be lived.


The greatest danger in our world today is the notion that we cannot have enough for ourselves if we share what we have with someone else. The government has been vilified, and now taken over by those who have vilified it. But it is not that our form of government is bad, but there is a cancer in the system that must be surgically altered. This cancer is capitalism. All the money in politics comes from an entitled and largely unregulated capitalism that has been anointed “human”, and our politicians are actors in a play being written by captains of industry who worship the “human” called capitalism.

Modern people talk about sustainability, and I say this goes to the heart of the matter. Capitalism is unsustainable if it doesn’t sustain all people. And yet, the garden of consumers is being culled, daily. The rents go up, and housing becomes more and more difficult to obtain and keep. The homeless encampments grow, daily.

The ideals of the 60s stated that we could eradicate hunger and illiteracy and dawn to a new day.

That day never dawned.

What happened?

I’ll tell you, oh my soul: Identity politics happened.

In the 60s, Black leaders joined with organized labor in a broad coalition, but assassins’ bullets ended one phase of the dream. 70s the women of the Equal Rights Amendment joined with the Farm Workers and equal pay for equal work was at stake, but the ones trying to break the glass ceiling couldn’t be bothered about workers’ need for water in the fields, and that killed off another phase of the dream. There is more to the story, here, and I am painting in broad strokes.

So we are a fragmented jungle of causes, none of which stands together. Our identities are what it is about, but listen to me, oh, my soul. We are all people! In the words of the immortal authoress, Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

Instead of embracing our brothers and sisters, instead of pulling everyone up, instead of opening our hands and working together to fulfill our mutual dreams, we have fallen off the train into all these little ghettos and silos. All our energy and resources of all kinds are dissipated in the striving to uphold far too many identities. Laws that should be applied equally to all, when they are applied, it is inequitable. “To each according to need” has been turned into a slur, hurled by those who have no needs, but only a desire to build unsustainable power through possession of everything. Divided into our identities, we have been objectified—and we in turn objectify!—into all kinds of different “others.” These “others” are all, now, under threat of being marginalized. I say this, oh, my soul, because I fall into some of these objectified groupings, too, yes, indeed, I do. It looks like I'll never be able to retire.

The greatest problem in our world today is that the naked truth is clothed in lies, and no one, nobody, vets the clothiers or the cloth or the thread that makes the warp and woof!

Because here’s the thing: You take away the illusory clothing, and we are people, all of us are people. That is our identity, first and foremost. As Americans, we are all American People, and we must stand up for each other, and support the least of our own and all those of our own who are in need, for they all are our own. Anything less is a disservice to individual self-respect, not to mention an assault on the world we each live in. This is what our Constitution is meant to uphold, and what we, as citizens, are meant to uphold, as our civic duty.

No Double Standards, this is social justice.

My life as an American must be meant to uphold our Constitution by demanding an end to double standards and by working toward a society that sustains everyone, in whatever way I can. As a Christian who has studied many believe systems and philosophies, I believe in something that has been called "radical inclusion"; quite simply, it means everyone is included.

What did it mean, that on a day when I thought I had no voice, I was transmitting hymns as if I was being amplified?

This was a signal to me that my voice, in this matter, is meant to be heard.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Bay-wise Byways: 1. Cartography

Some will laugh
when they see me
plotting the geography
of my heart.

Starting at Mount Tamalpais
and ending at Cold Mountain,
the footpath rounds the San Francisco Peaks,
and touches the Four Corners.

Terrains are inconclusive,
but lines are deeply drawn.

there is art
in such cartography.

To map your own heart:
open wide,
move forward on the trackless path,
follow the bird in flight,
keeping to the middle ground,
mind the gap,
and rest when the sun goes down.

Where you are now,
be fully here,
singing the song of your soul.

© 2016 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen