A Life of thinking globally, acting locally, and seeking peace internally.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An Invitation to Walk and Build the Beloved Community

On Monday Jan. 16, 2012, the City of Troy, MI - like many other cities and entities around the country - celebrated the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I have been doing for over ten years, I woke my children up, and we headed to the City's morning event, held at Athens High School, one of the wonderfully diverse schools in our community - a community that, unfortunately, has been struggling with new issues around which exclusion centers, again. When exclusivism and pluralism (the concept that people of different beliefs ) collided in Troy seven years ago, Harvard University noticed - I remember, since I was in the midst of that maelstrom. We made it to the New York Times for our current difficulties.

I decided to use a special opportunity to recognize the challenges our community has, and the young people who are at the center of what is happening now. What was that special opportunity?... I was welcoming people to the City's MLK Jr. event and leading a symbolic unity walk. Here's what I said:

Good morning, and welcome to our annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In years past, I served on the Troy MLK Day Committee, drawing on the support of both the City of Troy and the Troy School District. Today I am honored to welcome you and walk with you as we remember why we are here. Troy, Michigan is home to many cultures, faiths, and people willing to build the Beloved Community that Dr. King spoke of and worked for. He walked in the footsteps of someone from the other side of the world, Mohandas K. Gandhi, otherwise known as Mahatma – the Great Soul. Gandhi was 61 when he walked 240 miles over 26 days, to protest against the salt monopoly of India’s British colonizers. Gandhi preached a fundamental Hindu practice or yama: ahimsa, nonhurtfulness in thought, word or deed. This wasn’t being silent, it was about doing something constructive, bringing people together. He followed the principle of Satya Graha, holding to the Truth, and took actions to create peace and justice in the world. He was an activist, and moved a nation to civil disobedience. This same “holding to the Truth” was something that inspired Dr. King and the civil disobedience that he inspired. Both King and Gandhi were great souls and activists who each inspired a movement, who walked the path to peace through action. They knew that while words are great tools, they are never enough. Dr. King wrote many calls to action through sermons, speeches, and several books, and the title of the last is relevant even today: Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

We are here at Athens High School, where our football team and marching band have had an amazing season. For this reason, I couldn’t stop without bringing up Dr. King’s sermon about the drum major instinct: “And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first...” He also said, “If this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one's personality to become distorted. ...One ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up. The drum major instinct can lead to exclusivism in one's thinking.” So while we want to take the lead, we also have to find the balance, in order to seek peace and justice in our community - to determine where we go from here so that we are not in a state of chaos.

We are here with high-schoolers Zack Kilgore and Skye Curtis, and many others like them – teenagers who have gotten up early on a day off. :) These young people have taken action, have voiced their opinions in the public square, have harnessed that drum major instinct, trying to build the Beloved Community that Dr. King dreamt of.

Let us all walk with them, together as a community, knowing that we have the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to celebrate today and everyday.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year, New Resolution... New Post

I wanted to do something meaningful with my new year's resolution for 2012. My 2011 resolution was to NOT watch Lord of the Rings (the extended edition, mind you), in the hope that my activism would be less fierce. The reasoning behind this? Perhaps by abstaining, the obsession I have for the saga (in either movie or book form) with its objective to create peace in the world of Middle Earth, would diminish the obsession I have to create peace in mine.

I wanted my 2012 resolution to be something I was for – not something I was against. The reasoning behind this? In 2011, my community was divided by a group of people against things – against providing adequate funding for our public library, against certain lifestyles (our mayor, anyway), against a transit center that would boost the local economy. I wanted my 2012 resolution to be something that looked forward, that would stay with my family in the years to come. The reasoning behind this? I wanted to look to the future, to create a ritual that my first-born can also take with her when she leaves the nest in 2013.

I examined the rituals I have – and some which I no longer hold. As an immigrant, rituals from India are critical in helping me hold on to the cultural connections I have with my mother’s land…such as wearing new clothes on my birthday. If I am lucky, it’s a trendy sari that my mom has sent me - and wrapping the six yards of material in the traditional way also cloaks me in the comforting memories of the garment that she always wears, and keeps me in touch with fashions half way around the globe. As an American seeking to put down roots, rituals acquired in my new homeland help me to acculturate and create a sense of belonging for my family. A family friend of my parents who became a second mother taught me to bake – and each Christmas season, I honor the season of giving as she taught me, by baking various cookies with my children, and sharing the bounty with friends and neighbors (yes, Santa’s Kisses are a favorite!). As a Hindu, rituals assist me in maintaining a link to my faith tradition, since as a minority, one always has to be cautious of not being swept away by the mainstream currents. While the local Hindu temples do a great job of providing rituals relevant to the tradition, not all of us Hindu Americans – even ethnic Hindus – find a connection. Ethnic Hindus from India celebrate festivals and holy days in many different ways, and not all are grounded in religious ceremonies. The pujas done at the temples don’t always make sense to other immigrants in my age bracket – let alone our children, who are often dragged to such services unwillingly. Several years ago, the compositions of a Hindu saint-composer, Sri Tallapaka Annamacharya, helped me to establish a relationship with the divine – through a monthly ritual. A couple who were IT professionals by day were also Carnatic musicians, and gathered a group of interested people every month to teach and sing the words of devotion found in his simple language. While my family still has the bond to the bhakti in Annamacharya’s works, our monthly ritual has ended – our gurus have moved, and the impetus to gather has waned. We also have pages of documents which I helped create – transliterating and translating the many keerthanas we learned over the years from my mother tongue Telugu.

I knew when determining my 2012 resolution that I needed to do something for me, and also something for my kids. And while the monthly singing of the holy hymns is no longer part of our routine, I can create other documents – and re-instate the blog I began more than 3 years ago with an essay about my core beliefs. I – like many others – have made resolutions to be more committed to physical exercise and yoga practice. And I am making one more resolution - to exercise my ability to write and revive the habit of posting to my blog. Happy 2012!
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