Day 1: 25 November – ONE YEAR!!!!!!

November 25, 2009

Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The 16 Days of Activism starts today! I cannot believe it has been a whole year!

 

originally posted on http://365daysofactivism.blogspot.com

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Let’s turn our “No They Can’t” into a “YES WE CAN!”

November 25, 2009

 I just wrote a speech for tomorrow night’s “YES WE CAN!” musical show, and it again validated something I have been feeling lately: That, when there is something we do not agree with, we dislike, or something we want to change, we (as people, Christians, or whatevers) would get much further with true positive attitudes, followed by real positive speech and genuine positive action! I mean, “YES WE CAN” could really mean a lot of things, but it is firstly, and most importantly, is a really important and positive statement.

YES, not no, WE, not me nor you nor them nor us but we, CAN, are able and willing!

I like that!

I feel like so many people get so caught up worrying about what they don’t want people to do, they don’t actually spend time just saying what they want people to do, or what they would like to see, or even better, just going out themselves and being the change they want to see, rather than complaining about what they do not like. Like, in a book I am reading right now (where an atheist visits many Christian churches and rates them), the atheist says he respects the churches that have a “call to action”, churches who actually making a physical difference in the lives of people (beyond preaching or evangelism) or in their community, and he is not so fond of the churches who just tell people they are “bad” or “sinners” and are “going to hell” and that they “should not partake in certain sins”.

He said that he does not feel that the congregation of a very active church is out “eating a second slice of chocolate cake or having sex with their secretaries” (examples of “sins” another pastor preached against) because they are encouraged to do good, and they are too caught up with that to get up to a bunch of nonsense. This makes so much sense to me! I do not think that just because people are doing perceived good, they are automatically free from perceived bad deeds, but I think the atheist’s view is a more refreshing take on it all, much more refreshing than people that condemn others with the threat of hell, rather than just speaking positively and bringing out the good in people.

Honestly, as a Christian, the picture of the way Jesus lived when He was on earth is much more moving to me than, the threat of eternal damnation is scary. I would rather follow and trust and love someone than feel forced to join in on something because of the threat of violence or punishment! Some of my teachers who had the biggest impact on my life were the ones who were loving, and cool, and nice and brought out the best in me; very contrary to the way I feel about the ones who constantly used threats and punishment to get what they wanted out of us students. It seems pretty obvious.

I don’t really have the time or energy to form all of these thoughts into a great blog. Sorry for that! But let me just end it by saying a little positivity goes a long way, and sometimes, if we don’t want someone to behave in a certain way, then maybe we should act in the way we want them to, and if there is something about society we do not like, then we have to be willing to fill that gap with the positive change we want to see, rather than just filling the air with complaints. Do good rather than preaching against bad. Speak life not scare people with death. Speak, act and BE positive! Yes we can.


Painting our Reality: My speech from Dennis Doe Tamakloe’s “Turtle Dreams” Exhibition

November 22, 2009

What is art?

A way of capturing reality, or a way of creating a totally new one.

A way of recording our history, or a way of dreaming and designing our future.

A way of capturing the beauty of life, or a way of documenting life’s pain.

Art can happen by mistake, or it can be intentionally formed.

Art can be different things to different people, but it is never nothing to someone.

Art is a matter of perception. It’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. One man’s masterpiece can end up on the bottom of another man’s birdcage.

Art can be found anywhere and everywhere, but it is up to the individual to find it, acknowledge it, and appreciate it. Though a work of art stands alone, it is what it is, and its appearance never changes, it is the onlooker who gives art its power and value.

Much is the same with life.

Our lives are full of good and bad, beauty and ugliness, victory and defeat, but we are the ones who give those things the power and value. We can choose to find good in any situation, but it is up to us to seek it out, acknowledge it, and truly appreciate it.

If we look at the history of our world, we see that often, great victories of one civilization were the terrible destruction of another. For a large part, this is the story of the continent of Africa. The West has caused so much pain and devastation in the African continent, and all for its own gain: colonization, the exploitation of valuable minerals, and slavery are sores in the hearts and minds of many Africans, and Westerners alike.

But within all of that pain and torment, some people chose not to accept things for the way they were. They chose to see a different reality! Great leaders who Dennis  beautifully captured in his paintings. People like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and others not only had a different perspective on what was happening around them, but they themselves began to paint wonderful new realities, crafting a new piece of art within the ugliness of the world around them. They hoped, they dreamed, and they fought, in order to turn horrible situations into something beautiful.

It is important to remember them for the art they created! And though it can be difficult, it is equally important to look back at our past, with the purpose of learning from it. To make shorts visits to the pain that dwells in our past, but not to make an extended stay. We must be dedicated to move on. We must realize that whatever happened in our past, no matter how horrible or painful, though we are formed by it we are not our past, and do not have to be defined by it.

And in this present life, we can use the lessons learned from our forefathers, both African and Western, and learning from their artistic eyes we can create a beautiful present. Dennis told me that when he first moved to Berlin and he saw the tag graffiti he absolutely hated it. He felt that the tags were ugly, and vandalism, and totally ruining good architecture. His dislike for these tags grew and grew. He complained about them both in his mind and to others. But then, at one point, his perspective began to change. One day he looked at one of the tags and saw something else within it.

Dennis no longer saw and perceived the tag as ugly because he looked deeper and gained a new perspective. He allowed the outline of the spray paint lines to guide his eyes to a newer, more beautiful way of viewing the tag. And there, within those lines sprayed by a German youth, Dennis found his own heritage, his own culture, his own reality, and Dennis found beauty. The tag had not changed, but Dennis’ perspective on it had. He no longer looked at the perceived ugliness of the surface, but he looked beyond it and found beauty. And now we are all able to enjoy this new way of seeing, as Dennis joins the most ancient form of African graffiti, with a modern German version. How wonderful, and revolutionary, and beautiful!

At first Dennis let the messiness of the graffiti change him and his attitude, but once he changed his perspective, and chose to see beauty within the mess, true art was formed. And now Dennis sees every tag he comes across in a new and beautiful way, and he even expressed to me that he now wishes there were many, many more of these tags.

From Dennis and his art we learn that life is a matter of perspective. Beauty is always around us but sometimes it is hidden, and sometimes it lies deep within our pain or frustration. That reality may not change until our perspective of it does. We have to choose to see the beauty, but we must first look for it, and then we have to learn to appreciate it.

Our pasts might have been painful, and much of our present was molded by that very pain, but with this new artistic perspective we can shape, and shift, and rework our presents, with brush strokes of the mind we can paint a more beautiful reality for ourselves and others. Rather than complaining about things we do not like we can rather follow Dennis’ example and gain a newer, more beautiful perspective, and like Ghandi urged we can BE the change we want to see around us. And in doing so we can allow art to give meaning to the messiness of life. We will be creating a beautiful work of art, a wonderful masterpiece, and ultimately that work is called our future.


Searching for Truth

November 21, 2009

Part of this journey I seem to be on is for me to learn about truth. This theme has come up in both books I am presently reading (Velvet Elvis & The Shack), and indirectly in the many conversations I am having with Anne. In Velvet Elvis Rob Bell writes an entire chapter on Truth, and how Christians have been historically bound and limited to what they believe is truth, but are not able to see it in other things, teachings and people outside of their small spectrum which they consider to be “Christian”. But Bell argues that all truth comes from God and no matter the source, it can be claimed and used in the life of a believer.

I have, for instance, experienced this when listening to Jay Z,  when he says something like, “Fear not when nor fear not why. Fear not much while we’re alive. Life is for living not living uptight. See you somewhere in the sky. Fear not die, I’ll be alive for a million years bye bye.” He may not claim to be speaking the word of God, he may not even claim to believe in God, but there is no denying the truth which is found within those words, and I can claim them and believe them for myself. That does not now mean that everything Jay Z says becomes truth and applicable to my life, and so when he raps, “You know I thug ’em, f%@#! ’em, love ’em, leave ’em, cause I don’t f%@#!in’ need ’em.” I do not have to accept that belief about women as truth for my life.

Rob Bell speaks about how even Paul often quoted prophets of other gods in his letters to certain churches, because he saw truth in what they said, and knew that that very truth spoke to the people (the followers of that god) and it was even familiar to them. That did not mean he had to prescribe to every statement or belief of that particular prophet or god, but he was able to sift through the words, find the truths that stood out and use them in his own life. I like this. Because so often, especially when it comes to religion, we humans use our differences to push each other away, rather than finding similarities that can bring us closer together. We do this with religion, the color of skin, the type of music we like, political views, and pretty much every aspect of life.

It is interesting spending so much time with Anne, because she has lived many more years than I, and she is an extremely wise and deeply spiritual woman. I imagine that many Christians would spend time trying to “convert” Anne, or prove that her beliefs are wrong, or try and show how what she believes does not fall in line with what they believe or claim to know. The interesting thing is, in my short 48 hours in Germany, I have spoken with Anne more about God and spiritual things than I have in the past few months with my Christian friends. And these conversations have not been me trying to convince Anne about what I believe, or her trying to convince me of what she believes, but rather meeting in the middle on certain spiritual truths that we both believe, and not feeling threatened by the differences in beliefs when they do arise. We both believe we live in a natural world with spiritual forces that are active in our lives and an entire unseen spiritual realm which exists, leading, guiding and affecting human interaction and behavior.

Though we may view it in different ways, we both acknowledge that there is much more happening, behind the scenes, than what our mere eyes can see or perceive. And we meet together and agree on this common truth. It is actually so freeing, and so wonderful. So we can speak about being able to see the “light” in certain people, and though we may use different terminology for it, we are really speaking about the same thing. Or we can speak about Jesus and though Anne does not believe He is God and I do we can agree that the life He lived was that of love and activism, Anne also believing that He had more “light” in Him than any other person to ever walk the earth. Or we can speak of Buddha in the same way, and I do not feel the need to follow him, but I can see and believe the truth in many of his life and teachings, especially those regarding the poor.

This all feels so refreshing and I wonder why so many people are scared of these types of interactions. Maybe it is a fear in them to question, maybe it is shaky beliefs of their own, or maybe they are not completely convinced about what they say they believe and therefore rather stick to simple, surface clichés, phrases and conversations; conversations that are safe and do not pose a perceived threat to their belief system. But what amazing interactions we can have with one another when we choose not to try and use our differences to push each other farther apart, but rather look at the good and truth within one another, and use that good, and truth, and similarity to bring us closer. This way seems more right. This way seems more Godly to me. You do not have to accept it as truth for you, but it is a truth that has recently set me free.
 

originally posted on http://livelovedaily.blogspot.com


Let the Journey Begin

November 20, 2009

I left Cape Town on Wednesday to begin my 2 month journey. The first leg of my two-month trip will be spent in Germany. I flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg to Frankfurt to Bremen, and I spent most of my time, on the planes and in the airports, reading. I started and finished Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, and started and made it half way through The Shack by William P. Young. Spending all that time with my nose in these books was wonderfully refreshing, and the choice of books seemed divine and somehow “meant to be” for this specific time and place in my life.

Rob Bell’s take on the Christian Faith was like a breath of fresh air in a spiritually suffocating season of life. His ideas of truth, his thoughts on heaven and hell on earth, and his take on the real meaning of peace were especially meaningful to me, speaking life to places in me that have felt dead. I love what he said about hope , “Ultimately our gift to the world around us is hope. Not blind hope that pretends everything is fine and refuses to acknowledge how things are. But the kind of hope that comes from staring pain and suffering right in the eyes and refusing to believe that this is all there is.” Powerful! A much needed reminder! Something I once knew but have maybe drifted away from in the past few years.

I was met at the Bremen airport by DJ Phax and Raoul, both working with the Each One Teach One Crew, and we loaded into a taxi and drove down the famous autobahn to the smaller city of Bremerhaven. The drive was wonderful and strange because so much of the landscape reminded me of the area I come from in Tennessee. My first glance at Germany was a delight, as I took in the modern european feel mixed with the history and beauty in the architecture . We went straight to a practice for a musical performance being put together by the Each One Teach One Crew, involving local students, a children’s choir, and myself. It was a great introduction to Germany.

After a long afternoon of rehearsal Anne (the leader of the EOTO Crew) and I returned back to her apartment: a true architectural work of art with enormous windows allowing breathtaking views of Bremerhaven. Adorned with many Eastern decorations and almost soaked in white, the apartment has a sacred and peaceful feel to it. I was thankful to be staying in such a sanctuary, and like the books, it seemed like just the right timing, something my soul was longing for without me even knowing it. The conversation before and during dinner again showed me that this is not a random series of happenings or coincidences, but I am indeed on a path, and though I may have only realized it now, I am on a spiritual journey of sorts; the books, the apartment, the people I am meeting, Bermerhaven itself…all parts of some sort of puzzle that is slowing being put together and revealing itself to me.

I do not know or understand the fullness of all of this right now so this may all come off as random, and a little “out there”, but just know that I am on some sort of adventure, I am enjoying myself, and I am learning new things about life and myself; things I was not necessarily searching for, or looking to learn at present. I am feeling a shift in my spirit, and it feels unexplainable but good. I belive I am in a new season of life and I am re-learning how to “stare pain and suffering in the eyes, refusing to believe that is all there is”. I am learning what it means to truly hope again, and it feels good. I am rediscovering the best version of myself and becoming re-acquainted with him. And though I did not expect this, and it seems to be happening from all sorts of random sources, in all sorts of random ways, I see that there is no randomness to all of this, and my path was planned out. I knew I was going on a journey, but this venture is bringing pleasant surprises with it, and it feels good. It is well with my soul.


Day 359: 17 November – It’s NEVER Okay to Kick a Woman! And IF You do, You Better Believe It’s MY Business

November 17, 2009

I almost got into a fight last night. I usually steer away from them, and I am not the “violent type”. But last night I was very close to being that type. I guess being a week away from the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Towards Women and Children made my experience even more intense. What happened you ask?

I saw a man KICK a woman, several times. She was crying, trying to escape, and pleading for him to stop. And this all happened right on a busy street of Claremont, but it was fairly late so the street was not all that busy; just me and a couple of kids, who live on the streets in the area, standing there chatting.

As soon as I saw the disturbing scene to started for the guy. One of the kids grabbed me and told me not to “worry about it”; this was mostly out of protection for me, and the kid not wanting to see me get into a potentially dangerous situation. I told him I must worry about it. He told me, “They are married. It’s their business. I just stay out of stuff like that.” I told him that I am not prone to minding my own business when I see a man kicking a woman, or a child for that matter. I started for the guy again. He stopped when he saw me heading his direction.

He is obviously more comfortable kicking around women than he is being confronted by a male because he made a quick getaway, avoiding a “conversation” with me. I returned to the kids. The one kid reemphasized his point that they are married, and I explained that being married does not give a man the right to kick a woman. He stressed another point that it was “their business”, and I said that if a man is kicking a woman in public then he makes it everyone’s business, but I would go as far to say if he kicks a woman in the privacy of his own home it should also be the concern and business of others.

Exactly one week away from the 16 Days of Activism this was an excellent reminder that the need to speak out against violence towards women and children far exceeds 16 days! And maybe people would argue saying that other people’s domestic problems are not anyone else’s business, but I firmly believe when good, law abiding citizens keep their mouths closed to injustice, they are not only allowing it to continue, but enabling it and making it easier for the perpetrators. 16 Days of lip service about abuse will not end abuse. We need 365 days of dedication, speaking AND acting against violence towards women and children.

It is NEVER, ever, EVER okay to kick a woman or a child! And you better believe if you do, then I will make it my business!

 

originally posted on http://365daysofactivism.blogspot.com

 


The Year of Living Biblically

November 12, 2009

I love it when I come across an unexpected treasure! The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs is a recent example of one of those “treasures”. A friend of mine gave me the book for my birthday, and I had it polished within a few days of receiving it! I found it hard to put it down. Before that I had neither heard of the book or the author, but apparently his first book The Know-it-All was quite a success, as he read the entire encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z and wrote about his experience and the new knowledge gained from his exercise. After taking on such a big project, A.J. says he knew his next book would have to carry equal or greater clout, and that is when he decided to spend a year reading, studying, and immersing himself in the number one seller of all time, the Bible. He decided to try and literally follow each and every commandment as close as possible, especially looking deeper into the more mysterious, questionable ones.

Though A.J. is Jewish by birth, he says his nuclear family’s religious interactions went about as far as having a Star of David on the top of their Christmas tree. A.J. considers him self an agnostic. I am sure many Jews and Christians alike cringe at the thought of a “nonbeliever” reading and trying to follow the Bible literally; we’ve got enough bad press out there, right? But in reading, time and time again I was amazed, and at times taken aback, by his approach. He seemed to really take on the role of a seeker and, for the most part, he managed to behave in the humblest and nonjudgmental ways possible. He was often more focused on his own reaction to the laws and traditions that are stranger in nature, than focusing on the strange laws and traditions themselves. Much of the time he was far less judgmental and condemning than an average “religious person” would be if they came across some of the people and things which he experienced in his quest

His wit and humor mixed with brutal honesty and sincerity were absolutely refreshing to me. Naturally, the book being labeled in the “humor” category, I expected to laugh! And laugh I did, often, sometimes out loud, but the more surprising moments for me were when A.J. got an epiphany of some sort, something that really touched him, or caused him to ask him self deep, reflective, scary questions about his beliefs, morality and even child rearing (as a fairly new parent). This book coming into my life at this very point in time was truly God sent; no pun intended! It in fact spurred me to ask more questions about what I believe and why, but also inspired me to be more acceptant of things I may not agree with or fully understand. Though this self proclaimed agnostic author’s book is found in the humor section, I would go as far to say that they should move it to the spiritual section of the book shop, because it healthily pushed me further into my faith and what I believe.

That being said, I think religious or not, God fearing or not, everybody can benefit and enjoy this book. Whether you are a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic or anything else, I believe there is something in it that everyone can relate to on a mere human level. I suggest you do yourself a favor and go buy or borrow a copy and give it a read!

Oh, and A.J., seeing that you always talk about Googling yourself, if you happened to stumble upon this blog, leave a comment and let us know you were here!

originally posted on http://livelovedaily.blogspot.com