Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On the Healing Power of Story: Fr. Michael Lapsley

"I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact."
-William Stafford in the poem, "Ritual to Read to Each Other."

On Tuesday morning, I had the awesome and amazing privilege of hearing Fr. Michael Lapsley speak at Bethel College. (Pictures follow.) Sponsored by the Reconciliation Studies Department, Fr. Lapsley came from Cape Town, South Africa, to address the students and faculty on this topic of "Forgiveness and Healing."

He had a story to tell.

As the Bethel write-up conveyed:
"Fr. Michael Lapsley was exiled by the South African Government in 1976, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and became one of their chaplains. While living in Zimbabwe he discovered he was on the South African Government hit list. In April 1990 he received a letter bomb in the mail losing both hands, one eye and had his eardrums shattered. He now runs the Institute for Healing Memories in Cape Town."

I went to learn. I went to listen. I went to witness first hand this man who works facilitating people's stories and healing. I went in preparation for my own journey back to South Africa, eleven days from now. I went to align myself with this kind of artful teaching and transformational leadership work. I went and I was blown away.

The resonance of all that Fr. Michael shared was powerful. The convergence of his life story, what he overcame, his working philosophy about story telling and forgiveness -- I found powerfully aligned with my own as teacher, writer, traveler, contemplative.

"Every one has a story to tell" he said. " To have your own story reverenced, recognized, acknowledged, given a moral containment," is at the heart of reconciliation and transformation. In Fr. Lapsley's words, I heard the essential roles we play as teachers, healers, as priests, as nuns, as leaders, who are working to see the thriving of all individuals.

Father underscored the difference between having knowledge of circumstances and acknowledging what occurs or has occurred. Like the poet William Stafford conveys in his poem "Ritual to Read to each Other" - there is a cruelty-- or a kind of perpetuation of the sorrow, the horror, a crime --when something isn't fully recognized. The distinction between knowing and acknowledging is an active listening one, an active reverence, an acknowledgement of what someone has lived through, and survived.

In that room at Bethel, I could hear my North High students when Fr. Lapsley was talking. I could hear their stories. I could hear the spoken word poets I have had the privilege of knowing and coaching and learning from. I could hear my colleagues in urban education. I could hear friends who try to reconcile poverty and privilege. I felt the truth, the weight, the power of what he was saying.

To simply acknowledge what occurs is to powerfully honor and reverence another's journey, an overcoming, a movement toward healing. It's a step toward transforming and healing a nation.

Can you imagine this in your own life? Can you imagine what it would be to be fully seen? Fully heard? Can you imagine your family? Can you imagine this in your work? Can you envision the implications in your community? In your nation? What about the world? Who are we when we acknowledge fully what occurs? What would mean to first and foremost simply see, name what is taking place?

Just some thoughts, as I make way for Africa, continue working on this book, and reflect on transformational models of teaching, learning, leadership in our world today.


South African Reconciliation Studies Grad Student, Program and Projects Director,
Seth Naicker

Fr. Lapsley was always to check our listening, by listening to us....
Thulani Xaba, Healing of Memories Facilitator,
Durban, South Africa

While I document, Thulani slips me his contact info.

Thulani talks about "making safe space" so that "all stories can be told, heard."

From the Columnists...

Hey All,

Just perusing recent columns from NYTimes writers Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman. (Love!) The following excerpts I found most compelling in response to these questions:

Why would Al Qaeda endorse McCain?
What can we learn from our nations' past fear-based operating paradigm?
And how does a possible future President Obama negotiate with Iran?

You may click the underlined titles to read the articles in full.

Happy critical thinking! Contemplating! Questioning!

By Nicholas Kristoff

Yet the endorsement of Mr. McCain by a Qaeda-affiliated Web site isn't a surprise to security specialists. Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism director, and Joseph Nye, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, have both suggested that Al Qaeda prefers Mr. McCain and might even try to use terror attacks in the coming days to tip the election to him.

"From their perspective, a continuation of Bush policies is best for recruiting," said Professor Nye, adding that Mr. McCain is far more likely to continue those policies.

An American president who keeps troops in Iraq indefinitely, fulminates about Islamic terrorism, inclines toward military solutions and antagonizes other nations is an excellent recruiting tool. In contrast, an African-American president with a Muslim grandfather and a penchant for building bridges rather than blowing them up would give Al Qaeda recruiters fits.

During the cold war, the American ideological fear of communism led us to mistake every muddle-headed leftist for a Soviet pawn. Our myopia helped lead to catastrophe in Vietnam.

In the same way today, an exaggerated fear of “Islamofascism” elides a complex reality and leads us to overreact and damage our own interests. Perhaps the best example is one of the least-known failures in Bush administration foreign policy: Somalia.


By Thomas Friedman

The U.N. has imposed three rounds of sanctions against Iran since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005 because of Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment. But high oil prices minimized those sanctions; collapsing oil prices will now magnify those sanctions. If prices stay low, there is a good chance Iran will be open to negotiating over its nuclear program with the next U.S. president.

That is a good thing because Iran also funds Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and the anti-U.S. Shiites in Iraq. If America wants to get out of Iraq and leave behind a decent outcome, plus break the deadlocks in Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, it needs to end the cold war with Iran. Possible? I don't know, but the collapse of oil prices should give us a shot.

But let's use our leverage smartly and not exaggerate Iran's strength. Just as I believe that we should drop the reward for the capture of Osama bin Laden — from $50 million to one penny, plus an autographed picture of Dick Cheney — we need to deflate the Iranian mullahs as well. Let them chase us.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Faith Vote

Hey Friends and Family,

I found this list of voting guides compiled at Faithful America to be inspiring, as it lists and links to the following partners:

The Jewish Council For Public Affairs (link to download Voting Guide)

Muslim Public Affairs Council

This is particularly resonant, given my morning at Bethel College, listening to Fr. Michael Lapsley* from South Africa talk about the role of story-telling in our world's healing and reconciliation. His number one charge to the room of Christian college students: do the work of INTERFAITH DIALOGUE. That's where we are ALL CALLED. ("When people respond to the notion that Senator Obama is a Muslim, you have a problem in this country. It's a call to do some work.")

I'll be blogging about all this, of course, as this was an amazing precursor to my journey to Africa, and is aligned with my passion to see all people thrive in this world.


Forgiveness and Healing: A South African Perspective
Guest speaker -- Father Michael Lapsley

8:55-10:10 am – Father Michael Lapsley was exiled by the South African Government in 1976, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and became one of their chaplains. While living in Zimbabwe he discovered he was on the South African Government hit list. In April 1990 he received a letter bomb in the mail losing both hands, one eye and had his eardrums shattered. He now runs the Institute for Healing Memories in Cape Town.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Obama Ubarikiwe (Obama Be Blessed)

Thanks to my friend Cecile Aguilar who passed this video along on Face Book tonight - with these words,
Amen! It's a perfect prayer and song for these days leading up to November 4th, and all the moments following!


Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Why Africa?" A Response to the Question....

"But why are you going to Africa? What is your purpose in going to Africa? What are your goals? What is your aim?"

These are the beautiful and challenging questions I keep encountering from so many of you -- friends, family members and new acquaintances alike. What follows is my attempt at articulating a response. The first half was originally drafted to my friend Marie Teehan in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. I share this in order to be as transparent in my motivations for this journey as possible... Yes. What an exercise it is!.... I wonder if any of us really knows deeply why we pursue anything...? I pose the gift of this question directly back to you:



Your prayers are really most appreciated, Marie. I'm just trying to honor this inkling I have to travel, serve, witness, build relationships, learn, love.

My aim in going to Africa? Honestly: to honor God. When I left teaching and stepped back from literacy work, a year and a half ago, I just really got intentional about getting clear and healthy: spiritually, financially, professionally, artistically, romantically! Yes. ("How can I love well? How can I create well? How might I serve well? What is sustainable"? -- my driving questions.)

A mantra I adopted and have worked to apply in every aspect of my life, is from Ghandi's playbook: BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD.

So. I'm trying not to ask for things from other people, (leaders, lovers, family members) that I myself wouldn't be willing to do. In this case: BE A GLOBAL CITIZEN. BE INFORMED. BE AWARE OF PRIVILEGE. BE COGNIZANT OF RESPONSIBILITY. BE IN MUTUALLY TRANSFORMING RELATIONSHIPS.


So. Back to Africa! Back to places I've been invited, back to physically setting out on a journey of love and learning. And the timing is no joke. I will depart after this election. After we elect a new leader. And there will be CHANGE - no matter what. I hope and pray it's Obama at the helm, but I cannot be certain. I can only put myself into this universe of change, and be a kind of "Ambassador of Change" by going to see. Witness. Be in relationship. Learn. Be an agent of Peace.


At the center of this entire thing is LOVE. I don't know a more potent and honorable motivation or reason for doing anything --than this: L-O-V-E. Yes! Five years ago, I fell in love with a woman twice my age and half my size with a distinctly different skin color and whole set of different life experiences. Maureen, "Auntie Mo" Dabula inspired the most amazing kind of love in my heart -- and then a journey of transformation, as she invited me to come to her home country of South Africa. From there, I found myself in love with Dumisani Ntombela, Dr. Ernest Darkoh, this character named Vuyisile Nkomo. And the list grew... all through an amazing network of relationships and opportunities centering around a church friend, originally from Kenya, Antoinette Bennaars -- and my friend Barbara Cox at the Perpich Center for Arts Education...Through these friends I met a woman named Emily Morris, and Dorothy Amenuke then Ishaka Mawanda and his friends Paul Baingana and Peter Ngobi and Cecile Aguilar. All of these folks have spoken to my heart. All have presented stories and opportunities to live and grow and learn. And all are ones who I seem to have something to offer in return. And there's nothing more powerful than having something simple and beautiful to offer in exchange, right? It's that mutual relationship business, that is at the heart of seeing a world transformed, healed, and inching forward toward greater peace and justice and wellness....

My goals as an agent-of-change are especially to study the transformational process of healing and forgiveness, as it's facilitated through story-telling. I'm interested in the Truth and Reconciliation process of South Africa as it plays out today in our current global political landscape, but especially so in our current local communities -- right down to our classrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms. I want to hold the power of sharing narratives-- being a listener as well as storyteller-- in my immediate community, and in those I will travel to abroad.

I'll take pictures. I'll blog. I'll reflect and pray. Will it do one tangible positive thing for my pocket book? Will anyone become richer, financially? Will I be able to see the library shelves of another school contain more books? Will anyone have greater access to some simple health care? Will anyone have an opportunity to step closer to their dreams? I cannot promise this. I can however, note that I'll be changed, as I'm changed in the process of simply putting myself into the current and letting myself go....I can attest already to the social, emotional, spiritual currencies that presently provide me with resources to move and work and be a better human.

Can that be enough of a "Why?" I hope so.

Your prayers, blessings, well-wishes are most appreciated.


A Reflection on Today's Scripture...


I find these readings* particularly charged, and wanted to share them with someone...

These ideas strike me...

Descending, in order to ascend..

Going into the depths of suffering, in order to understand it, transform it...

The GRACE that is given to each of us...

The way Paul is writing (is it Paul?) in this first reading, about the body as metaphor...How all parts work together in love....
It makes me ask, "How am I ligament? What is my best function to serve this 'body' as it grows?"

The Gospel reading rocks my world, too. This parable. This business of compassion, grace, patience, and great fervor, passion, rage, where growth and fruit are not apparent! Bless the fig tree that doesn't produce fruit. Bless the human that seems to be barren and not growing. Bless the tenderness of others --when time and patience and cultivation or support are extended- toward seeing the fruits born. Such faith in the unknown!

Peace, Prayers,

Reading 1
Eph 4:7-16

Brothers and sisters:
Grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ's gift.
Therefore, it says:

He ascended on high and took prisoners captive;
he gave gifts to men.

What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended
into the lower regions of the earth?
The one who descended is also the one who ascended
far above all the heavens,
that he might fill all things.

And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the Body of Christ,
until we all attain to the unity of faith
and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood
to the extent of the full stature of Christ,
so that we may no longer be infants,
tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching
arising from human trickery,
from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.
Rather, living the truth in love,
we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ,
from whom the whole Body,
joined and held together by every supporting ligament,
with the proper functioning of each part,
brings about the Body's growth and builds itself up in love.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 122:1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5

R. (1) Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
I rejoiced because they said to me,
"We will go up to the house of the LORD."
And now we have set foot
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
Jerusalem, built as a city
with compact unity.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
According to the decree for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
In it are set up judgment seats,
seats for the house of David.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.

Lk 13:1-9

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
He said to them in reply,
"Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them–
do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!"

And he told them this parable:
"There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?'

He said to him in reply,
'Sir, leave it for this year also,
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down.'"

Friday, October 24, 2008

NYC, Baby! Celebrating Melissa and Molly's Big Birthdays

Monday through Thursday: Four days in Manhattan to commemorate the 21st and 40th birthdays of Molly and Melissa Borgmann. Whoohoo! Thanks to Beth and Steve Borgmann!

What follows are pictures capturing a bit of our time together. We took in a lot of art, drank a lot of good wine and ate some fine Italian and Asian cuisine. I can't think of a better way to close up this third decade, and honor the early adulthood of my baby sister. With the provocative work we encountered, were provocative conversations. Questions of life, love, death, race, religion, war, traveling abroad, politics, the economy: it was all in there.... And let's not forget the laughter!

Enjoy the pix!

Landing in NYC on Monday when the theaters are dark, means seeking art in another space...
This French film, "The Secret" showing at "The Paris" was amazing....

Who can pass up Chekhov starring Kristen Scott Thomas?
We are soooooo lucky!

Of the two broadway shows we see, this will be my favorite...Arther Miller was not playing around when he wrote "All My Sons." ("Who are our sons?" is a huge question this play posed for me, especially during times of war.)

You could spend a week seeing the work at the Met, and still not do it justice...
Here's our attempt to take in some of the many galleries...

This is the closest I've ever been to a pyramid -- yet!

St. Catherine!

A favorite shot....this reminds me of the entrance to the Louvre...

"The search inside the self..." Thank you Morandi and Longhi!

Who knew I'd love Auguste Rodin's work so much? The Thinker and then these lovers...

To the Modern Art Rooms...Jackson Pollack!

This reminded me of Io Palmer's work....

"What is seared into your DNA?" I could hear Barack Obama's speech on race while viewing Willie Cole's work....
I also replayed a scene from "Amistad" in my head..."How did you get here?"

Kara Walker in the line up..

Hello Andy Warhol!

And a little Picaso...

This self portrait I dedicate to Joey Schulte...The first boy to nickname me, "Medusa."
Thank you very much!

What's a trip to NYC without a cab ride or two?

China Town!

And Diane Sawyer pops in to play bartender at this NYC pub we stop in at...

And we wrap up our stay with some Live Jazz at Lincoln Center...


Molly makes friends with a musician on tour...

Here's to the next trip!
Love! Gratitude! Good fortune!