Friday, September 26, 2014

Reflections from CCDA – Is Racial Reconciliation Possible?



One of the central values of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and central topics of discussion at this year’s conference is racial reconciliation. On Thursday, I participated in an “action tank” whose task it was to make recommendations to the organization on how to make CCDA’s central value of reconciliation more of a reality.  However, as we dialogued, I openly questioned whether racial reconciliation is really possible in the current economic and political context. Moreover, I felt there were a number of other steps that needed to be taken before we could realistically talk about authentic reconciliation.

It just so happened that at the same time we were meeting, U.S. Atty. General Eric Holder was a announcing his resignation. Of all the senior officials in Pres. Obama's administration, Holder has been the one most outspoken on the underlying causes of racial and economic inequity in the country. His recent statements in support of a lawsuit against the state of New York for not providing sufficient funds for poor folks’ legal defense, and his public outrage at law enforcement’s mishandling of the tension in Ferguson are only two most recent examples of his willingness to speak the truth as he saw it.

As a result Holder has been a controversial figure to many and that controversy is symptomatic of the unwillingness and inability of U.S.  leaders and citizens alike to come to grips with the underlying causes of racial disparity that currently exist in our country. If we as citizens are ever to approach true racial reconciliation, there are several underlying concerns that must be acknowledged and addressed such as:

  • the continual use of racial code words in political life, 
  • the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, 
  • the unjust Supreme Court decisions giving corporations and wealthy PACs undue influence over political decisions, 
  • the unwillingness of state governments to provide the funds necessary for equitable public education, 
  • the amnesia Americans tend to have about the atrocities of our history in relation to indigenous people, African Americans, Mexican Americans and other peoples of color.


And the list goes on.

Individuals may develop meaningful cross-racial/ethnic relationships and this is significant. However, unless underlying systemic injustices are addressed, those relationships will have a limited effect. As Camryn Smith, a community organizer from Durham, NC put it this week: Racism in this country is not just about the fish getting along with each other, but also the fact that the lake we are swimming in is polluted.[my paraphrase]

So I began thinking of some pre-steps to reconciliation and I came up with a preliminary list; they all start with “R”. Before we talk about reconciliation it seems to me we need to address the following:


  • A Recognition of the way in which power and resources in this nation are distributed along racial and class lines. When the struggles of Native Americans, blacks, Hispanics, gays, women and other historically marginalized groups are only incidentally noted in the U.S. history books, we have not come to grips with the reality that the "land of the free and the home of the brave" is also the land where there was much brutality and avarice in the pursuit of power and control of the land. Moreover, with that misdistribution of resources also came an equally skewed distribution of power.
  • We need to talk about Reparations. Ta'Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic Monthly  has recently revived the discussion about reparations for the black community, which is not just in terms of money, but also making efforts to address the inequities that have resulted because of the history of oppression we have failed to recognize and admit.
  • We need get to work at Restructuring the guiding institutions of our society. Racism is not just an interpersonal issue but also a systemic and institutional issue, and concerted efforts need to be made to change laws, policies and practices that give advantage the wealthy and the white over against the poor and the persons of color. For example, when the criminal justice system has a plurality of people of color in prison, even though the crime rate is roughly equal between whites and people of color, the system needs to be change. Or, when poor school districts like School District of Philadelphia struggle financially while the wealthy suburbs just outside city lines have twice the amount of resources per student, the way education funding is done needs to be change. Without restructuring there will be no justice, and without justice there can be no reconciliation.
  • Finally there needs to be Repentance, not in the Billy Graham "come to the front of the church" style, but in the original meaning of metanoia, the New Testament Greek word for repentance. Literally, metanoia means to turn around one's mind or perspective, or worldview. Perhaps the greatest perspective needs to be in seeing that all of us, regardless of our race or ethnicity, are in this struggle together. We need to move from seeing people of other racial/ethnic groups as the “other”, to seeing “them” as "us." As Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us decades ago: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." Current political polarities and economic policies leave us to be a nation of "winners" and "losers", haves and have-nots, but the fact is in the long run if there only some winners, we all lose in the end. Disparity and injustice only lead to the frustration and desperation (what Cornel refers to as nihilism) we see these days on the streets of Ferguson, and many of our low income communities.


I doubt that in my lifetime I will see these barriers to reconciliation fully dismantled, but being here at CCDA has helped me become even more committed to addressing the inequities that exist through recognition, reparations, restructuring and repentance, in the hopes that future generations might actually approach the reality of "liberty and justice for ALL." Then perhaps we can talk about reconciliation.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lament


I am attending the annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in Raleigh, NC for the next few days. I came here not knowing what to expect, except for using the time to network with other urban studies programs and like-minded individuals in the field of community development. The best part of most conferences for me is not in the formal program but in the relationships that are built.

However, I was struck by the opening night theme at CCDA: Lament. Often at conferences like this, especially when the crowd like at CCDA is comprised of mostly young religiously-oriented activists, the focus tends to be on pumping people up to go out and change the world. However CCDA director Neil Castellanos began the night talking about the pain in the world (Ferguson, Gaza, Central American kids at the border, violence in our streets, war in the Middle East, etc.), and called individuals in the crowd to acknowledge the world’s pain as well as their own frustration and shared pain as a result of the way the world seems to have gone wrong.

Interestingly, I had just been talking with my Christ and the City class about lament, saying that the ability to pour out our frustration, anger, hurt, grief and other emotions at God is a sign of ultimate trust. The Biblical book of Lamentations pictures a man, presumably the prophet Jeremiah, weeping and crying over the destruction of his beloved city of Jerusalem. The prophet Habakkuk complains openly to God about how Israel’s enemies are getting the best of them. Psalm 13 asks how long it is going to take God to act while God’s people languish in pain. The book of Job shows an innocent man pleading his case before God for his intense suffering and calling on God to act in his defense. All of these laments are not only directed to God, but are in effect blaming God for inaction, struggle and suffering. Yet in the genius of Hebrew poetry there is an understanding that God can take it, that we need to get our negative emotions out, and that in doing so our relationship to God is strengthened not weakened. Too often super-religious folks think getting angry at God will get you zapped. Just the opposite is true – we draw closer to God who can take our negative stuff, because God’s love surrounds us when we cry out our deepest anguish.


As I think about my efforts with POWER to bring fair funding to public schools in Pennsylvania and my efforts with Heeding God’s Call to reduce gun violence I am thankful for lament. As I see my feeble attempts to build relationships across lines of race, culture and class; as I see the injustices and inequities in our society along racial lines and income differentials; as I see the cruelty of our government toward desperate immigrant children and their families; as I wonder about this new war with ISIS/ISIL, and the conflict between Israel and Gaza, and so much more - I am glad for lament. I am glad I can feel hopeless and frustrated and powerless to change things, and even ask God why these things go on. I am glad there is a place in our faith for letting it out, then picking ourselves up, moving ahead, and trusting God to be with us in the ongoing struggle.

[Picture - Jeremiah lamenting is from Wikimedia Commons]

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Money Matters: Why A Full, Fair Funding Formula is Essential for Racial Justice in PA | Philadelphia Public School Notebook

 Link: A full, fair funding formula is essential for racial equality in Pa. | Philadelphia Public School Notebook

The following appeared in the  Friday (8/29) edition of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, an open letter to the PA Legislature written on behalf of POWER by Margaret Ernst, Sheila Armstrong. The text of the letter is below.

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Money Matters: Why A Full, Fair Funding Formula is Essential for Racial Justice in PA

by Sheila Armstrong, Drick Boyd, and Margaret Ernst
Last week, several Philadelphia clergy members of the interfaith organization POWER (Pennsylvanians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild) witnessed a powerful movement for racial equality grow in Ferguson, MO following the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. 
 Travelling to Missouri to call for justice and listen to a community in grief, our clergy marched non-violently with black youth asking for fair treatment from law enforcement – and even more importantly, for a sign from their fellow Americans that their lives matter. 

But as our clergy brothers and sisters returned home last week, they returned to a place where there is no dearth of racial inequality of its own. 

In our own backyards and on our watch, we witness a different kind of violence being done not just to one teenager but to hundreds of thousands of young people across Pennsylvania.  As the only state in the union without a funding formula for public education, severe cuts within the last few years have led to a disproportionate hemorrhaging of school districts with mostly African American and Latino students like Philadelphia, the consequences of which will be felt for generations.  

Sheila Armstrong, a POWER member from North Philadelphia with two boys in Philadelphia public schools, can testify to those consequences and the broken promises that have come with them.  At events in her community in 2010, she witnessed Governor Corbett and other legislators running for state office promise that a new day had come for education in the state.  But after a $1 billion cut to education funding in 2011, one of her son's elementary schools closed down.  In 2012, she wondered whether her son with asthma would be OK on days that no nurse was on duty due to staffing cuts.  This year, she was left unsure whether schools would even open in September.  

Now, school will indeed start on time, but with less cleaning services, security and transportation assistance for children.  Aside from having to worry about whether her boys will get a good education, Sheila and thousands of Philadelphia parents like her will fear every day for their basic health and safety.   

Young people of color in Missouri and across the country have wondered whether they matter in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown.  As we reflect on the circumstances of education funding here in Pennsylvania, we too are left to ask, do Sheila and her sons matter in the eyes of lawmakers?

With Harrisburg’s newly formed Basic Education Commission beginning its work, now is the time for lawmakers to answer that question.  The Commission, which has met twice already and will make recommendations for a funding formula by the end of June, can and must prophetically re-imagine what it takes to fund education in our state.  To do this well, we must be willing to have an open and honest conversation about race as Pennsylvanians. 

As cuts were made at the state level, large, predominantly black, brown, and poor districts across the state such as Philadelphia, Allentown, and Reading have been left drowning without a lifeline.  Unable to make up differences in state spending with local revenue, the disproportionate impact on these students is rooted not merely in recent spending cuts nor in education policy alone.  It rests on, and perpetuates, a much longer history of disinvestment from communities of color that has created today’s dramatic racial wealth gap, and which will continue if left unaddressed.   

But in the case of education spending in PA, a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  While cuts have had severe impact on Philadelphia and other predominantly non-white districts, dwindling state funds have resulted in major cuts in poor, rural districts in predominantly white communities, and soaring property taxes in the suburbs. 

All of our children are worth more.  In addition to being bold enough to talk about the severe “investment gap” in students of color and poor children in our state, the Commission must set goals for increasing education funding levels as a whole.  We must not just fairly divide up a pie that we refuse to grow – we must grow the pie.
Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq testified in the Commission’s August meeting that  “money matters” for children to achieve in school.  We cannot think of a better argument for increased funding, and for a fair distribution of those funds that ensures we will not continue to replicate an education system that in spite of other civil rights gains, is woefully still separate and still unequal.  It is the choice of the Basic Education Commission and all us Pennsylvanians whom it represents whether we will continue trends of economic and racial inequality or begin to reverse them.
The discussion about how much our children are worth to us, wherever they were born and whatever the color of their skin, is a sacred one – and has never been a more important.  Let’s have it now, and let’s have it courageously.  





Saturday, August 23, 2014

White Folks and Ferguson


A recent New York Times article on the ongoing events in Ferguson, MO was entitled “Among Whites, Protests Stir a Range of Emotions and a Lot of Perplexity.”  The article points out that while many whites want to be sympathetic to the concerns of the protesters, they do not understand the anger and frustration of the black community in Ferguson and around the country. I read this article with great interest because as I have read the articles and blog postings, and watch the televised news reports and videos of the events in Ferguson, the only whites I see are in police uniforms or riot gear. I kept wondering: where are the white folks like me, who are deeply troubled and horrified by the events of the past few weeks? I know I am not the only one, and yet we seem invisible in the media’s eyes.

Now having said that, I recognize that across the nation support among white folks for the protestors action is far less, only somewhere in the 30-40% range, compared to 80% among African-Americans. (See the Pew Report that reported this). Many well-meaning whites want to believe that we have moved past the violence of the 1950’s and 1960’s that the murders of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and others seem to represent. Whites tend to trust the police and the criminal justice system, and find it difficult to believe the kind of statistics that Michelle Alexander lays out in her book The New Jim Crow that show that blacks and whites committing the same crimes routinely get drastically different sentences when they go thru the court systems. Moreover, whites choose to believe that most of their fellow whites want to think the best of others, and would prefer “not to see skin color” (what Bonilla-Silva calls colorblind racism ) as a way of dealing with racial differences.

Over the past two years I have been writing a book entitled White Allies for Racial Justice, (scheduled to come out Fall 2015, Orbis Books) which chronicles the stories of 18 whites in U.S. history from colonial times to the present, who have worked for racial justice in their time: pre-revolutionary, underground railroad, the abolitionist movement, the anti-lynching campaign, Civil Rights and anti-racist work today. An appendix at the end of the book lists about 50 others who stories could have been told had I more space and time; and these are the ones we know about. Throughout history there has been a committed minority of white folks who chose to stand with their brothers and sisters of color, often at peril to their lives and ostracism from family and friends, because they believed that all people deserved to be treated as human beings worthy of dignity. While these stories don’t deserve the same attention as the stories of those like Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Robert Moses and others, for many people both white and black, this is unknown dimension of the struggle for racial justice in the United States.


So I assume that there many white folks in Ferguson, as well as communities around the country, who are not only sympathetic but also are willing to take the steps necessary  to actively stand with their brothers and sisters of color in this time of crisis. I share this only because all those white folks who seemed perplexed by the events need to know that what is going in Ferguson is not just a “black issue”, but rather a human issue that includes people of all races and cultures. Too often whites, in our of confusion or fear of being considered prejudiced or racist, pull back into silence, and either deliberately or unconsciously make a crisis like Ferguson “their problem” rather than a shared problem.


 Those of us white folks who seek to be allies  not only have the capacity but also the obligation to speak to our fellow whites to help them see that Michael Brown is their son, their brother, and their friend too. While we may not get the media attention (nor necessarily should we), we need to persistently and forcefully make the case that the injustice in Ferguson impacts all. 

There is no way one can deny the anger and angst that the history of injustice and violence in this country has helped create in people of color in our country, particularly African-Americans. What we see on the television screens, YouTube channels and news articles is not some sort of aberration, but rather a simmering cauldron burning beneath the surface that in cases like this erupts like a volcano. We whites need to understand this history and that angst, and those of us who have inkling as to what is going on,  we need to help our fellow whites understand that too.

[Pictures - I am standing in Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA (MLK's home church); Anne Braden, ardent civil rights activist in Louisville, KY; Memorial to Viola Liuzzo, killed following the March from Selma to Montgomery, March 1965).

Monday, August 18, 2014

From Ferguson to Philly to Williamsport

Over the past week or so I have been holding four seemingly unrelated events together in my mind because in a strange way they seem to capture the essence of racial politics in our country today: the ongoing conflict and grief in Ferguson, MO over the shooting of an unarmed African-American boy Michael Brown by a  local white police officer; the shooting of a seventeen year old African American boy  by another African American young man as the former was coming out of a concert for peace on Wednesday, August 13 in Philadelphia; the ongoing financial crisis facing the Philadelphia public schools due to the Pennsylvania State Legislature cold-hearted unwillingness to give the schools  the funding they need; and finally the Taney Dragons Little League team from Philadelphia who are currently playing in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.

In  Ferguson, the more information that comes out, the more it appears that the death of Michael Brown was a case of a policeman venting his racial hatred at an innocent young man. Not that Brown was without fault; he can be seen on video tape from a store where he brazenly took something without paying. Yet when confronted by the police he was unarmed and the autopsy indicates he was killed execution style. Were this an isolated incident, the reaction might seem out of proportion, but the rage and anguish in the black community of Ferguson and across the country speaks to legacy of slavery, lynching and racial violence that continues to afflict and murder young black men in this nation.

Yet as my friend Gwen Ragsdale, curator of the Lest WeForget Slavery Holocaust Museum, an institution dedicated to telling the story of African slavery and its continuing effects on communities today, has always told the groups I have brought to the museum, “While the white man for centuries committed violence against us, now we are doing to ourselves.” That is why the shooting at the peace conference is so horrific. Not only is there tragic irony in the event, but it demonstrates yet again how poverty, racism and violence mixed together create a volatile mix that leads young black men killing each other in so many communities across the nation. The legacy of racial hatred seen in Ferguson has now been internalized such that statistically speaking I as a white man am safer in many black communities than black and Latino men who live there.

Yet the ongoing financial crisis facing the Philadelphia Public schools illustrates how this legacy of racism is not only seen in horrific acts such as mentioned in Ferguson and Philly, but is also seen in laws and policies of a government that promises fairness and equality for all and yet in reality practices equity for some and injustice for others. Were the children and grandchildren of the legislators assigned to the Philadelphia public schools, in one week sufficient funding and more would be provided. Yet hiding behind the veil of seeking a “balanced budget” that balances itself on the backs of the poor to serve the needs of the corporate elites and the wealthy, these legislators allow the city schools to languish with insufficient funds. This is institutional racism in action, a legacy that goes back to the era of Jim Crow, redlining and educational segregation. Moreover, the inadequacy of the educational system contributes to a 50% dropout rate, many of whom end up involved in street violence as was seen at the peace conference. The “school-to-prison-pipeline” is alive and well, and not coincidentally in Pennsylvania, the prisons get financial increases while the schools get little more than crumbs.

It is a pretty bleak picture, but that is why I need to bring into focus the Taney Dragons, a team from Philadelphia playing in Williamsport at the Little League World Series. The Dragons are a multi-racial, cross-city collection of kids who love baseball, play it well and in so doing have captured the heart of the city and to a degree a nation.  When I watch the Dragons, I think therein lies our hope. The hope is in the fact that despite the violence on their streets and the stress in their school system, these kids have come together to play some high quality baseball. More than that, they embody what a truly equitable, democratic, multiracial, multicultural society should be. According to Little League rules, every player on a team must play and have at least one at bat in every game; and at least in the Dragons case, all seem to have contributed to the team’s success. While the media has focused on Mone Davis, a thirteen year old girl with a 70+ mph fastball, what has impressed me is how well these kids play together. And Mone herself, when she is asked a question, always refers back to the team, and not herself as an individual.


I am saddened and sickened by the events in Ferguson, I grieve the young men of color who see their lives only ending either in death or prison, I am outraged at the intransigence of the Pennsylvania legislators who will not release the funds to assure Philadelphia school children have a quality education; but I revel in the hope provided by the Taney Dragons. Just like the beloved community that Dr. King often spoke of, the Dragons remind me of what it is we struggle and pray for – a world free of hatred, racism, violence and injustice – a world where all contribute and all are equally part of the team we call society.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

A Walk in the Woods (with apologies to Bill Bryson)

Every summer I try to climb a mountain. Some years it is questionable that what I have climbed can actually be called a “mountain” but most years I do get to some sort of high place that has a “Mount” in front of it or “Mountain” behind it. I am what my college roommate Keith McCafferty likes to call an “oh wow, the mountain” kind of guy. While most the people in my area of the East Coast like to flock to the beach for R&R, I would much prefer the rugged terrain of the wooded high places. There is something about mountains that inspires, challenges, and renews me. This a throwback to a legacy of mountain-top experiences – the Ten Commandments were delivered on Mt. Sinai; Jesus was transfigured on a mountain; the Dalai Lama first ruled in the mountain country of Tibet; even my high school song hero, John Denver, sang about a “Rocky Mountain High”. One of my favorite passages from the Bible is Psalm 121 which says “I look to the hills, where does my help come from, it comes for the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Yes, there is something about mountains that energizes and refreshes me.

For me hiking in the mountains calls to something deep in my spirit. First, there is the physical task of
climbing over rocks and roots to get to an outcropping where I can see the valleys below and the hills beyond. Second, there is the mental challenge of fighting the urge to quit, when the physical challenge becomes too much. A few years ago I was climbing a steep boulder field on an ascent to Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine, and I thought I couldn’t go any further; it seemed too difficult, but I pushed on thru and made it to the summit. Finally, there is the spiritual clarity that comes when you realize that it is just you and nature going at it in some sort of primordial way; it as if the Spirit of the mountain connects with my inner being. I can understand why so often the Native American vision quest occurs in a high and remote place; you meet yourself in a way that is not possible many other places.

So this summer, while on vacation in Maine, I decided to tackle Ragged Mountain, a small outcropping on a ridge outside of Rockport, ME; not exactly the Rockies or the Alps or Mt. Kathadin, but a sometimes steep 2.5 mile climb that beckoned to me. I like to go with others if I can, but this year I had no takers, so this was a solo trek. After about a 30 minute drive from the Maine shore where we had been staying, I came to the trailhead, and entered into a tree-covered path that led over a stream and eventually began to climb at a fairly steep incline. Fortunately, the ascent was not too long or arduous and  I made the five mile round trip in about 3 hours (with time for some good views and lunch on the peak). I did not see any other person or wild life but was treated by wild blueberries near the summit.  To top it off it was a perfect day for hiking: temperature in the 70’s, low humidity, and partly cloudy; warm enough to work up a sweat, but not wear you out.

While most think of the ascent as the challenging part of a mountain hike, for me it is the trek down that I have always found most difficult. I have twisted more ankles and gotten blisters on toes more often on the descent than the climb up. That was definitely the case on this time. My weak ankles (having sprained each about 20 times over the course of several decades) and pre-arthritic knees,  made each step down more painful than all the steps going up. Furthermore, for some reason, I find following the path down more difficult than going up, so I am always indebted to the markers and cairns that my way; without them I might get hopelessly lost.   My old roommate, Keith, sees them as an unnecessary crutch, but crutch or not, I would still be wandering in the wilderness were it not for those markers. Despite these mental and physical challenges , I made it down safe and sound;  it was a day well spent and my spirit was revived.

Each year the climb gets a little more difficult, particularly the descent, but each summer I set out again to find my mountain.  If the opportunity presents itself I may go find a mountain again this summer or fall, and certainly again next year. There is just something about the mountains that draws me on.

Bill Bryson chronicled his attempt to hike the Appalachian trail in A Walk in the Woods. For Bryson, like me, it was what happened along the journey that was more significant than the destination itself.  While reaching a summit is rewarding, the blessing comes in the process of climbing. Several years ago while hiking around Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I met a 70+ old woman hiking that rugged terrain. I decided then and there, I wanted to still be hiking the mountains when I got to be her age. I am a lot closer to that point today than I was back then, and God-willing I still be able to walk the hills, and continue to be renewed by their unique calling to my spirit.



Thursday, July 31, 2014

Breathing Lessons – Learning to be in the Present thru Yoga

About four months ago, my wife and I began attending a yoga class on Monday nights. Once a week we bend and contort our bodies in ways that are both surprising and often painful. Yet I look forward to each Monday because no matter how I feel when I start class, I usually leave with a sense of inner calm that sustains me thru much of the week.

Like most people I suspect, I began practicing yoga out of curiosity and because I felt a need to do more stretching. So I was surprised when on the first night, the instructor said that the only thing he wanted me to focus on was my breathing; to put aside all thoughts of the day and focus solely on breathing in and out of my nose. Every week he repeats this advice several times to the class a night saying “focus first on your breathing and secondly on your stretch.” While at times he may slightly adjust a pose I am in, generally speaking he does not focus on form but on making sure everyone in the class stays aware and focused on their breathing.

Through these four months this focus on breathing has taught me something about living in the present. Like so many people I am often tortured by decisions, actions and mistakes of my past, and worried about challenges facing me in the future. However, in yoga, the past and future, while still very much with me, fade into the background, and the present is all that matters. When I focus on my breath, and I feel the agony of a particular stretch in my muscles, it is difficult to think about the stresses of the day or my “to-do list” for tomorrow. By design and necessity, I am right there in the moment feeling my breath go in and out while my muscles stretch in ways that at times can be agonizing. However, I have learned by focusing on the breath, even the pain seems less pressing, and therefore less demanding of my attention. So too the memories of the past and the fears of the future.

Over these four months while I have gotten a bit more limber, what I have really gained is the gift of living in the NOW, not allowing myself to be overwhelmed with stress, or worry or anxiety. This lesson has followed me out of the yoga studio into other aspects of my daily life. For instance, I have sometimes found myself in traffic slowed to a crawl, where there is nothing I can do to move faster. Instead of getting frustrated, I have tried on those few occasions to focus on my breath and just be in the moment, knowing that eventually traffic will start moving and I will get to my destination when I get there.

This process also informed a particularly strenuous bike ride I made a few weeks ago. My tendency has been when I come to a hill to attack it, giving it my all, pushing myself to the top; usually I arrive out of breath and exhausted. However, on this particular ride I came to a rather steep hill that was over a mile long, and it was clear very quickly that if I tried to attack this hill I would never make it. So I remembered my yoga training, focused on my breathing and concentrated only on the 10-20 yards in front of me. The pain in my legs was agonizing, but by focusing on the breath the pain was not overwhelming (I kept telling myself: “I have felt much more pain in yoga class!"), and sooner than I realized I was on the peak of the hill. By taking the hill in small bits focusing on what was in front of me, I made the long climb.

In the more mundane things of my everyday life, I find myself resisting the temptation to stray from the present. The past cannot be changed and the future is still out of reach. All I have control of is what is right in front of me. Surely what I do in the NOW might undo the pain of the past or prepare me for the challenge of the future, but what I control is the present; so that is where my focus must be.

For me this practice of living in the present in no way is an escape from responsibility or caring about the world around me, but actually is a way of being more available to the people in my life and issues in my world. I am still aware of needs with my extended family, my adult children and my wife. I am extremely aware of the challenges facing me on my job. As I write this, I am inwardly sickened by the continuing financial crisis facing the Philadelphia School District. The Hamas-Israeli war in Gaza, the tragic deaths of the airliner in Ukraine, and the continuing suffering in so many places around the world deeply sadden me. Like so many people I could feel powerless to do anything; however I have instead chosen to make myself present in whatever way possible to the people in my life and issues before me. The people in my life and the world-at-large do not need my anxiety, stressing out, and sadness, but they may be helped by my presence and my focused concern.


Every Monday night you will find me at the yoga studio, focusing on my breathing, learning how to be in the present. The yoga poses are not nearly as difficult nor as painful as they were at first, yet I continue to be stretched physically, emotionally and spiritually by the experience. Hopefully, as I continue the practice of yoga, I will be better able to be there in the moment with the people I care about and that concerns that tear at my heart; at least that is my desire.