Hold It All

Share the Wealth with Bob Suberi: A Delegation to Palestine

Growing up as a Labor Zionist in the 50’s and 60’s instilled a sense of community and pride in being a Jew. Although I grew up in a predominately white Christian suburb of Los Angeles, I spent my childhood summers at Habonim, a Labor Zionist camp where my mother worked as the camp cook and “mother.” At the tender age of 10 or 11 I was introduced to Socialism, Zionism, liberal politics and the inspiring folk songs of the labor movement and its impact on the settlement of the Jewish homeland. We sang and danced in celebration of the liberation of the Jewish people and the establishment of the State of Israel. Throughout my life I viewed Israel through this lens; a haven for a persecuted people in an otherwise vacant land. The problem, of course, is the fact that the land was not vacant. And the rationale for displacing the Palestinian occupants, a process that continues, has become more difficult to justify. 

Our delegation to Palestine was sponsored by the Center for Jewish Non-Violence, a group of Diaspora Jewish activists committed to defending the human rights of Palestinians. We call it co-resistance and we work at the direction of Palestinians along with other concerned groups within Israel. We also acknowledge the moral injury inflicted by the Israeli government upon its own citizens by their mistreatment of Palestinians. I quote Carlos Mesters, the Carmelite liberation theologian:   “If I hit you, I am dehumanizing you, but much more than that, I’m dehumanizing myself. The moment I mistreat someone I’m hurting myself more.”

Join us
Sunday 1 March
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Bob begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Bill Quick and Dianne Lee
7457 Wise Avenue
Richmond Heights, MO
63117

“Doing Your Best Is the Surest Way to Remind Those around You to Do Their Best”

Today in Intercultural Studies class I shared some famous passages from the manual Thich Nhat Hanh wrote for Vietnamese social workers back in the 1970s. If you are familiar with this Zen Master, you may remember “washing the dishes to wash the dishes” and eating a tangerine one section at a time.

My students had already been introduced to the Japanese practice of Naikan, adapted for the course by writing in a notebook and becoming adept at responding to three questions vis-à-vis an important person in one’s life—What have I received from him? What have I given to her? What troubles and difficulties have I caused them? Read the rest of this entry »

Share the Wealth with Justin Lorenz: Shinkansen, Onsen, & Zen–Japan from the Inside

Allow me to take you on a train ride from Tokyo down to Nagasaki and back, as I did in Japan for three fascinating weeks last fall. Encounter my promotional campaign for the “Pocari Sweat” beverage, make laundry detergent with the L’Arche community in the Shizuoka farmland, visit the lake town of Fujikawaguchiko where I have family residing (and climb Fuji-san), take in “Kirishitan” (underground Christian) and atomic bomb history, check out the firefighting competitions and love hotels of Tokyo, and be changed in even more ways. I’ll welcome stories about Japan that others bring to share as well.

Justin is a Cincinnati native, St. Louis transplant, recreational poet and broomball player, and explorer of worlds inside and outside his lanky 30-something year old body. He studied Social Work and Public Admin at SLU and has spent most of his adult life in L’Arche communities in St. Louis, Mexico, and Florida, where people of diverse abilities befriend and transform each other. He is currently aspiring to manage L’Arche St. Louis’s physical spaces and finances and attempting to charm his way through Missouri’s formidable state bureaucracy.

Join us
Sunday 16 February
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Justin begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Ellen Curry and Cami Kasmerchak
4256 Botanical Avenue
Apartment #5 [Third Floor]
Saint Louis, MO
63110

Grandpa by Candice Simon

Candice shared this with me, and gave me permission to post it here.

January 26, 2020

I am doing well despite the grief and emotional trauma of this month. I truly feel that taking care of grandpa in hospice was pure love. It was one of the hardest and yet easiest things I’ve ever done. It is hard to watch someone die. It reminds us all we too will be there someday.

The loss of my grandfather feels like losing the roots of my family tree, like losing my past. Perhaps its better stated by losing the oldest trees in the forest of my life, a connection to history.

And there are so many things I should have asked him. It’s all gone now, whole chapters of history, dead. I feel a deep yearning for that connection to be reestablished. I lost something I didn’t even know I relied on to help establish who I am and where I am from. He was, in many ways, a homecoming.

I miss his sarcasm and gruff exterior as much as I miss his softness and unbelievable love for me. I don’t believe anyone will ever love me quite the same.

His loss creates a gap in the support I felt I had in this world. You cannot recreate those relationships. As they say, they are one of a kind. Something I didn’t fully appreciate until the loss of it was felt.

The selflessness in his support of me is a commodity that is rare indeed, and something I don’t have in spades. He was a true advocate for and believer in me. He was also my last true connection to many family members I lost contact with through the years. Such a touchstone.

I feel selfish as I write this because my words are about the role he played in my life and about my loss. He is the one who had to do the dirty business of dying. And life continues as normal. It seems to me the whole world should stop spinning for a bit to mourn the loss of such a monument of a man.

I say that, but I haven’t stopped to mourn. It’s too much to deal with all at once, so I grieve in flashes. It’s scary too, a foreshadowing of all the major losses to come in my young life.

It’s a wonder we get through it, and as I write that, I know some don’t. So, even today, in this moment of sorrow, I must remember how lucky I am to know such grief, to have known such love.

Cultivating Attention and Animating Conscience: Reading Thoreau in Desperate Times

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

“Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine.”

“On reading the words of Thoreau
I vow with all beings
to cherish our home-grown sages
who discern the perennial way.”
–Robert Aitken

Being a human being means benefiting from rich cultural traditions—not just our own traditions, but many others—and becoming not just skilled, but also wise. Somebody who can think—think creatively, think independently, explore, inquire—and contribute to society. If you don’t have that, you might as well be replaced by a robot.
–Noam Chomsky

In this course we will explore Henry David Thoreau’s prophetic and spiritual writings as a resource for living, in poet Marge Piercy’s words, “consciously, conscientiously, concretely, [and] constructively” in this time of domestic disparities and global crises.

We meet on eight consecutive Wednesdays from February 26 to April 15. We are hosted by Dianne Lee and Bill Quick at their home in Richmond Heights. We gather at 6:45 and go till 8:15. Sessions will have time for paired sharing, writing exercises, discussions of Thoreau’s works, announcements of the local scene, poetry recitations, viewing of documentaries, and more. A class blog will enable us to share our various responses in between classes.

Some Essentials—
An outgoingness of heart
“Pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will” [Antonio Gramsci]
A notebook, tablet, or laptop
These two books— Henry David Thoreau, The Higher Law: Thoreau on Civil Disobedience and Reform, with an introduction by Howard Zinn and Tim Flinders, ed., Henry David Thoreau: Spiritual and Prophetic Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters).

Tuition is $150, payable to me by check or Paypal.
Email me if you are interested —markjchmiel@gmail.com.

Share the Wealth with Jack Renard: Reflections on a Life in Islamic Studies

This sharing will revolve around questions I get frequently: Whatever led you to choose this as an academic specialization? Why does Islamic religious studies matter? What do Islamic religious studies specialists actually study, and what are some tools of the trade? Given all the time and effort you’ve put into this, how can you not want to be a Muslim? (a question on more than a few Muslims’ minds). Has your study of Islam impacted your own religious or other very personal beliefs? You were a Jesuit when you started full-time study of Islam – how did/does that background influence your approach? Any useful hints from the Catholic tradition about this whole business?

About Jack: Born and raised in Saint Louis 1944, joined the Jesuits in 1962, received MA Biblical at SLU Divinity in 1971, PhD in Islamic Studies from Harvard Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations 1978, at SLU since then. Left the Jesuits in 1989, and married Mary Pat Henehan in 1990.

Join us
Sunday 23 February
Potluck begins at 6:00 p.m.
Jack begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Lea and Terry
4121 West Pine Boulevard
St. Louis, MO
63108
Read the rest of this entry »

All Part of the Great Life Force

Mayumi Oda, I Opened the Gate, Laughing: An Inner Journey

Mayumi’s inner journey meant getting divorced from her husband (John Nathan) and reconnecting with the Buddhism of her youth, as well as finding her path through gardening and connecting to the earth. This book has many colorful prints of her garden, fruits and vegetables (radishes, cabbages), other creatures (frogs, spiders, and insects) and strong women role models, aka goddesses (Green Tara).

I realize I first encountered Mayumi back in the late 80s and early 90s when I was reading the first books of Thich Nhat Hanh published through Parallax Press; she contributed the drawings. In addition to revisiting and enjoying them, I will continue to reflect on the following passages from I Opened the Gate, Laughing

We both maintained exciting professional lives in NY. Life was very exhilarating, but somehow it didn’t make much sense to me.

Everything I have done is in the service of Gaia’s garden.

My heart was calm and my eyes were open.

Many times I felt like a failure at living my life.

My heart still pounds with the mystery of this blossoming out of wet, black soil. Read the rest of this entry »

The Russians

It should come as no surprise that black folks would immerse themselves in this Russian literary tradition that is so profound in its willingness to raise unsettling questions. They say when you go into James Baldwin’s house, the first thing you see is Chekhov. You go into Ralph Ellison’s house, the first thing you see is Dostoevsky. You go into Richard Wright’s house, the first thing you see is also Dostoevsky. So I can imagine [Alice]Walker reading these Russian texts, like Notes from the Underground, in Zinn’s class and saying, “Oh my God, this sounds like Letitia down here. Sounds like Shaniqua down here.” With all the brilliance that a Shaniqua—which means “God is gracious”—and a Letitia—which means “Joy”—can have, trying to make sense of the world given the absurdities of predatory capitalism and patriarchy and white supremacy and U.S. empire

–Cornel West, on Missing Howard Zinn Ten Years after His Death

Act Two by Andrew Wimmer

My friend Andrew Wimmer emailed the following to some of us, and gave me permission to share here…
In May 2016, Adam Gopnik wrote in The New Yorker:

“There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word ‘fascist.’ …his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government…is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and ‘success.’… The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.” (Adam Gopnik, “Going There With Donald Trump,” The New Yorker, May 11, 2016) Read the rest of this entry »

“Action Needed, Goethean Action”

Allen Ginsberg, Journals: Mid-Fifties 1954-1958, edited by Gordon Ball

During winter and spring of 1996 I went on a binge of poet Allen Ginsberg’s books: poems, letters, photos, journals (I was taking a break from Elie Wiesel dissertation preoccupations). This volume documents his inner/outer life in the period when Howl emerged and just before he created Kaddish. I took note of the following passages…

On the New York literary establishment: “There’s no room for youth and vitality in New York. It is a city full of guilty academicians.” —Gregory Corso. “Too big, too multiple, too jaded.” —Jack Kerouac. “We want everyone to know that we had to leave the Village to find fulfillment and recognition.” Ginsberg.

“And so I thought for the benefit of posterity to keep a record of everything — don’t lose any information.”

“…the best I thought I could do was just keep a record of my own changes of self-nature and perceptions — you know, intermittent perceptions, spots of time. So my notebook is thoughts, epiphanies, vivid moments of haiku, poems, but not a continuous diary of conversations like Virginia Woolf, or Anais Nin, or Boswell.”

“Exaltation (what is the precise word for the sensation of love acceptance?)”

“Creating out of myself the strength to continue in some kind of force, some kind of uncanny care — though I have nothing to give actually but a cheerful spirit now and hands for dishwashing — to give force for my own & others’ pleasure — to learn to give love without despairing of the consequences.”

“…before it drags itself out and I get lost in confusions and imagined rejections.” Read the rest of this entry »