Hold It All

Month: July, 2016

“I Have Some Wonderful News…”

I recently received the following letter from Robert MacArthur, who studied with me in fall 2005 at Saint Louis University…

Dr. Chmiel!

Hello! I hope this letter finds you well. I have some wonderful news to share with you! After many months of waiting I finally found out that my application for conscientious objection was approved and I am now honorably discharged from the military!!

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks as I was given about a week to get my belongings together, out process from the military and secure a job in the civilian world. Luckily….***so, so lucky*** I was hired on full-time at a dental office I was already working at on Saturdays.

It’s only been a few weeks but each day I experience this sense of inner peace of my conscience and a form of freedom that are difficult to articulate. There’s a small part of me that feels like this is all a dream or I’m on vacation and I’m going to wake up. I guess it’s understandable to have these thoughts/feelings given that I was in for 13 years. Much like the inmates in the movie Shawshank Redemption, I have been institutionalized and am now understanding the effects. Read the rest of this entry »

An Amateur Is One Who Loves…

I was at RISE Coffee today with Carrie, who’s soon headed off for first year of university at Mizzou. Early on in our conversation, she asked me if I’d like to see some of her photos. For the next 45 minutes, my jaw repeatedly dropped as I looked at her phone. (She had emailed the photos to her phone, as she had taken them with a camera.) Compared to how often we, with our I-Phones, shoot and post photos nearly instantaneously, Carrie is model of patience, mindfulness, abiding presence: “To get that moon, I waited for an hour.”

Some of us do Sitting Meditation. Carrie does Photo Meditation.

Carrie Moon

A Letter to Eduardo Galeano by Jennifer Reyes Lay

I am happy to share the following from Jenn, who is an active participant in the summer Writing Rejuvenation class!

From Tuesday’s class, writing prompt to write a letter to an artist/writer you admire. This was one of two letters I wrote.

Dear Eduardo Galeano,

It’s too late to send you this letter because you have passed away, and the world is a bit sadder, more desolate place with your absence.  I’m sorry I’m so late.  Disculpa la tardanza.  You are a god of a writer.  Un dios de la palabra escrita.  I honestly don’t know how you do it.  Como lo haces?  How do you learn so much information, and then convey it in such a succinct way?  Short little paragraphs, maybe even just a sentence or two, and you can tell an entire story.  It’s amazing.  Asombroso.  I absolutely LOVE your writing.  You are probably one of my favorite authors.  Check that.  You are definitely one of my favorite authors.  Your books can be poured into.  They can be read cover to back or back to cover or just skip all around and every page, every entry has juice and wisdom and food for thought that can be chewed on for hours, no days, and still produce something new.  It is really incredible.

Thank you for enlightening me.  Gracias.  Thank you for opening my eyes to so much of the history that I was never taught by anyone else.  Gracias.  So much of the world’s history which those in power would rather sweep under the rug, hide from the light, you put front and center for all who had eyes to see to see and share.  You turn the world upside down and inside out.  I am forever changed from reading your works.  I am forever inspired to keep searching, to keep seeking out the stories and histories of others and practicing deep listening to take them in.  I am forever grateful for the many works, the many words, the many stories, the many lives you courageously and passionately shared with me and the world.  Mil gracias mi querido Galeano.


The Way It Looked in 1976

Thus goes the fate of Israel. Tragedy upon tragedy, folly on folly. Foreign “advisers” dumping their witless plans on its benighted leaders, its people increasingly helpless and isolated, embittered, at sea, denied world sympathy, urged on to a hapless heroism by compatriots elsewhere, paramilitarized, taxed to exhaustion, under permanent marching orders, forced to witness in silence the moral outrage once inflicted on its own (now inflicted within its borders by its own authorities, on a people helpless and homeless, as its once were)—what catastrophe!

–Daniel Berrigan, S.J., “Israel, as Presently Constituted, in Michael True’s Daniel Berrigan: Poetry, Drama, Prose, p. 163.

Yibneh, Gaza, Palestine; November 2003

Yibneh, Gaza, Palestine; November 2003

The United States versus the Gospels

The crime of liberation theology was that it takes the Gospels seriously. That’s unacceptable. The Gospels are radical pacifist material, if you take a look at them. When the Roman emperor Constantine adopted Christianity, he shifted it from a radical pacifist religion to the religion of the Roman Empire. So the cross, which was the symbol of the suffering of the poor, was put on the shield of the Roman soldiers. Since that time, the Church has been pretty much the church of the rich and powerful—the opposite of the message of the Gospels. Liberation theology, in Brazil particularly, brought the actual Gospels to peasants. They said, let’s read what the Gospels say, and try to act on the principles they describe. That was the major crime that set off the Reagan wars of terror and Vatican repression. The United States was virtually at war with the Catholic Church in the 1980s. It was a clash of civilization, if you like: the United States versus the Gospels.

–Noam Chomsky, What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World–Interviews with David Barsamian, pp. 84-85

With the Sangha

Yesterday Brian, Melissa, Katie and I met in my home for our sangha’s second Saturday of the month meditation.  We listened to a talk Thich Nhat Hanh gave 30 years ago, in which he advocated being in contact with real suffering.  One example he gave was when he, Phuong, and their friends visited refugees in camps around Hong Kong; the misery  of the children, in particular, was heartbreaking.   When he came back to Paris, and saw the lives people were leading, a question arose in him: “How can people live like this [in Paris] when things are like that [in the refugee camps]?”  He claimed that when you are in touch with that kind of suffering, you can become an instrument of compassion.

Another example he gave was how his students in the School of Youth for Social Service after the 1968 Tet Offensive chose to bury the bodies of the dead that were left all over the place.  No one else dared to give the victims a burial; it was too dangerous.  After having sat in meditation to prepare themselves, the young students did that demanding work.  The students did mindful breathing, even mindful smiling, as they picked up the bodies and placed them on trucks.  Thich Nhat Hanh said that the young people had no other way to respond than with such mindfulness.

We then shared some of the precepts from the Vietnamese Buddhist Order of Interbeing. Maybe one of them will speak to a person or two at this blog…

Do not believe that I feel that I follow each and every of these  precepts perfectly. I know I fail in many ways. None of us can fully fulfill any of these. However, I must work toward a goal. These are my goal. No words can replace practice, only practice can make the words.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.

Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.

Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world.  Find ways to be with those who are suffering by all means, including personal contact and visits, images, sound. By such means,  awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.

Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Learn to practice breathing in order to regain composure of body and mind, to practice mindfulness, and to develop concentration and understanding.

Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things you are not sure of. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.

Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and to prevent war.

Seriously Fuck This by Mary Shannon

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered as I sat, safe and secure, at my cottage in Michigan. “My cottage in Michigan” has to be the most privileged fucking phrase I utter on a regular basis. This cottage that has been in my family for nearly 100 years… 100 years of white privilege while black men and women are murdered.

I read articles and think-pieces in response to the back-to-back deaths of Alton and Philando as I got a pedicure. Safe and secure in one of the whitest towns in Michigan, I got a pedicure, while black men were dying. I got a pedicure as their families mourned the lives of these men reduced to hashtags.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve wanted to shed my white skin in shame. Utter shame.

The stories I read from my newsfeed were interspersed with others: those of new relationships, of vacations, of dogs’ birthdays. How can someone post about a dog’s birthday when black men and women are dying?

I used to tell myself that I was working on the side of justice. That by working for and with an underprivileged population, I was doing enough. This is how I justified my silence. But I can’t be silent any more. Not after 559 men and women have died at the hands of the police in 2016 alone. Not after my black brothers and sisters in humanity suffer trauma after trauma after trauma. I told myself I was working for justice, for public health. I now realize this is the greatest injustice, the greatest public health crisis, of my time. This structural, cultural, institutionalized racism. This structural, cultural, institutionalized violence. ThisThis is all there is.

I cannot shed my white skin. And I shouldn’t. To do so would be an insult to all who have died because of the color of theirs. I cannot be silent any longer. I need to use my white privilege, my white skin, my white body, my white voice. I need to use them to call for justice, to call for police reform, to call for accountability, to scream at the top of my lungs that black lives matter. That all lives won’t matter, and can’t matter, until black lives do.

I implore any white folks reading this to do the same.

Philando Castile
Philando Castile



–Mary and I had class together in 2011 at Saint Louis University; she  is currently in the class, Writing Rejuvenation.


“But we all learn from the Midrash the essential lesson of human and social responsibility.  True, we are often too weak to stop injustices; but the least we can do is to protest against them.  True, we are too poor to eliminate hunger; but in feeding one child, we protest against hunger.  True, we are too timid and powerless to take on all the guards of all the political prisons in the world; but in offering our solidarity to one prisoner we denounce all the tormentors.  True, we are powerless against death; but as long as we help one man, one woman, one child live one hour longer in safety and dignity, we affirm man’s right to live.”

–Elie Wiesel, Sages & Dreamers: Biblical, Talmudic, and Hasidic Portraits and Legends

Mao’s Revolution

Yet a Maoist doctrine that played so vital  role during the revolutionary years, bringing about a historically necessary revolution in the social state of China, paradoxically had disastrous human and political consequences when it was received in the post-revolutionary era. Mao Zedong’s removal of Marxian restraints on the revolutionary will in the late 1950s opened the way for the catastrophic consequences of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. It was not Mao’s so-called “hardline Marxism” that was responsible for the debacles, but, in a sense, his lack of Marxism, or more precisely, his “utopian” departures from Marxian teachings on the imperatives of history. The inevitable failures of the Great Leap and the Cultural Revolution ensured that China’s historical development would not, for the foreseeable future, proceed beyond bourgeois limits. The massive process of capitalist development in the decades since Mao’s death, perhaps the most dynamic process of capitalist development in world history, is thus both the product of Mao’s revolution and its negation, a capitalism that is at once the logical outcome of the Revolution that Mao Zedong led in an economically backward land and a capitalism that mocks his socialist claims and aspirations.

–Maurice Meisner, Mao Zedong: A Political and Intellectual Portrait


Conclusion to “Elie Wiesel and the Politics of Moral Leadership”

President Bill Clinton once rightly observed that the Holocaust  should be  “‘ever a sharp thorn in every national memory.’”  The same ought to be said of the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to mention the long-standing U.S. support for oppression and repression in Central America.  Wiesel’s critique in the opening epigraph to this chapter retains a timely pertinence  to our situation today:  “Where are the humanists, the leaders, the liberals, the spokesmen for humanity”?  Indeed, the Holocaust may be one of many sharp thorns in our national memory.  But citizens and religious believers today ought not simply denounce Nazi crimes, horrific and unforgettable as they were, but also contest U.S. policies that victimize innocent people today.  Such grass-roots communities, NGOs, and  ever-growing networks of concerned citizens can certainly see the connections between the Holocaust victims with the past and present suffering of Japanese, Vietnamese, Timorese, Salvadorans, and Palestinians and thus subvert the self-serving rhetoric  of  state power by practicing a self-critical solidarity with our victims.

Liberation theologies have emphasized the importance of making a preferential option for the poor. This option has earned the Christian churches much ill-repute, if not persecution, in many places.  In Europe before and during the Second World War, for Christians to act in solidarity with Europe’s historically unworthy victims, the Jews, would certainly have exacted a cost, from defamation to harassment to  execution.  While “the world remained silent,” in Wiesel’s earliest formulation, Europe’s Jews were exterminated. There was no ecclesial preferential option for the poor European Jews during the Holocaust.  The tremendous suffering of those unworthy Jewish victims still ought to compel us to ask questions so rarely raised in the U.S. intellectual community:  Who are our unworthy victims in this present moment, how we can assist them in surviving, and how can we resist the temptations of silence and respectable status?  For if we remain silent, if U.S. power goes unchallenged by its own citizens, if the elite manufacture of consent proceeds  without citizen interference, far too many innocent people alive today will join the ranks of the Jewish abandoned, damned, and dead, still so mourned by Elie Wiesel.

–Mark Chmiel, Elie Wiesel and the Politics of Moral Leadership, Temple University Press, 2001