Friday, October 30, 2015

Cultural Exposure

Growing up I never considered myself a minority. I am a white woman that was born in Virginia, how could I ever be considered a minority? Then my family moved to a small reservation town in South Dakota. I grew up in White River, South Dakota which is a town that is divided by a highway. On one side it is reservation land and the other side is not. In elementary school our school had a pretty good ratio of white and Native American kids. By middle school our school combined with the small communities of Norris and Corn Creek and my classmates were predominantly Native American. So I guess you could say that my childhood was a little different from the typical “white kid”. I was a minority in my school and I got the opportunity to experience a whole culture that I would’ve known nothing about if I hadn’t moved to South Dakota.

This experience gave me a unique outlook on life and the way that I looked at people of different cultures and different lifestyles. I was judged a lot in school as being a typical rich white girl when really that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I lived on a reservation that showed extreme poverty and very little wealth. I was not the typical “white girl” by any means. Being put into a stereotype that didn’t represent me correctly and was based on my skin color made me think about the way that other stereotypes are put onto other groups of people.

One situation that I experienced in high school that has stuck with me throughout my life comes from the South Dakota State B Boys Basketball tournament in Aberdeen. Our small town made a name for itself by having an outstanding boys’ basketball team. We had kids come from all over to play on our team and we were recognized all over the state. Even the Rosebud Sioux Tribe had honoring ceremonies for the team. I cheered at the state tournament for four years and seeing the way that people reacted to the Native American culture was crazy to see. Every year that we attended the tournament we brought a young boy to sing the Lakota Flag Song at the tournament. The crowd’s reaction every year to this never changed, they didn’t know how to react. They would look around at each other or just stare as the young boy sang in Lakota.

So many people in South Dakota would never have experienced this cultural aspect that so many people in our state recognize, if it wasn’t for our high school giving them this small bit of exposure. Even now, being in college, I see that so many people don’t know about Native American culture and they are shocked that I grew up on a reservation. Lessons like this have shown me just how important it is to respect other cultures and their practices but also not to judge a book by its cover.

Jessie Rounsley, Guest Blogger

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Creating Personal & Political Power

In the process of my perennial efforts to sort, simplify and discard, I came across a journal entry that I wrote more than 20 years ago. It was written following a 2nd International Conference on Nonviolence held in South Dakota in the summer of  1993.  The journal entry surfaced at about the same time that I received the program report from the recent, successfully completed Satyagraha Institute a week or two ago:

“$100, a mailing list, and a lot of goodwill.  That’s how the 2nd International conference on Nonviolence began.  A year of planning, fund raising, communicating and hard work brought together 250 people from all over the United States, from India, Uruguay, El Salvador, Switzerland, Japan, and South Africa.
The conference was held on Marv Kammerer’s ranch - - a nuclear free zone that borders Ellsworth Air Force Base, the largest site of nuclear weapons in the United States.
For four and a half days a small international community lived on the prairie in an area called a Holy Triangle – its base formed by Bear Butte and Harney Peak, both holy places for Lakota Sioux, and its apex pointing toward Ellsworth AFB. 
The roar of low flying B-1 bombers provided a constant reminder of our reason for gathering to share and to learn from one another and to encourage one another in our common commitment to a world without violence. The theme of the conference was “Creating Personal and Political Power”.
As the conference progressed we learned in many ways that our most personal concerns and efforts were the most universal.  We reaffirmed that our personal power is political power.  Each time we speak a word or perform an act out of our personal convictions and commitment to a nonviolent world, we make a political statement - -perform a political act.
Were we effective?  Do gatherings and conferences like this make a difference?  Is anyone impacted by a diverse group of 250 people living in peace together in the open air on a windblown, wildflower strewn stretch of mid-western prairie land?  Does anyone pay attention to people who find their greatest power in prayer and meditation - - who love one another - - who take seriously the work of loving their enemies?
Perhaps the fact that we were under continual aerial surveillance the whole time is an indicator.
Perhaps the fact that group members who visited a missile silo site were immediately surrounded by heavily armed military personnel is an indicator.
Perhaps the local news headlines alluding to secret strategies by a peace group on the concluding day of the conference are an indicator.
Perhaps the fact that one of the most powerful and heavily armed military installations in the world had to call a security meeting to determine how to deal with the threat at their borders is an indicator.

My musings ended there.  I still often chuckle that our small group, armed with prayer, nonviolent intentions and plastic forks and knives was able to cause such concern.  
While other threats to world peace and a nonviolent future have risen in the last 20 years and we are still the most heavily armed country in the world, it is interesting to note that many of the missile silos in the area of that earlier conference have been retired and the land has reverted to pasture land.  One or two sites are now historical sites under the auspices of the National Parks Service.  
As we continue to be assaulted daily by news of violence and by threats of war on a variety of fronts, perhaps the vision we need to hold in our minds and hearts is a vision of the effectiveness of every single endeavor, large or small on behalf of a nonviolent and harmonious future for the planet.  Perhaps a vision of cattle grazing in rich, mid-western pastures over sites where weapons of mass destruction have been disarmed is one we can cultivate as a collective vision for a more peaceful world.

Vicky Hanjian

Monday, October 19, 2015

Here We Go Again

Last weekend my wife and I traveled to Deadwood S.Dakota for the annual Festival of Books, sponsored by the South Dakota Humanities Council. Every year there is an awesome collection of writers, with a huge schedule of presentations and special events. You can't go to it all. You have to be selective.  We signed up for a workshop with a novelist and short story writer from Florida, an old friend from our days in MA. His workshop was titled "Flash Fiction: Writing the Short, Short Story."

This was listed as a workshop but I didn't go well prepared. It didn't really occur to me I was going to have to write, not just hear about writing. I didn't have writing materials with me. So when we were told we were starting with a writing assignment, I had to borrow a pen. Then I used the back of my ticket, printed from my computer on a sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 paper, for my first "Flash Fiction" assignment.

The assignment went like this. "Think of a time when someone said something to you that really hurt. Write about it. I'll give you a few minutes."

The seconds ticked away. I thought and thought. I was beginning to think I would fail the first assignment when out of the blue a memory arrived. And this is what I wrote. 

"My younger brother, who I had helped mentor, said 'You weren't there for me when I needed you the most.'  … I knew he broke down crying when he first fired a gun at Y camp. When he talked about going into the Army I didn't say, 'don't.'"

What is it about love that allows us to abandon others to the violence of the age? It could be as simple as purchasing that video game for Christmas; or taking the kid hunting for the first time; or encouraging their interest in guns by buying them one; or being passive as they go off to war.

Gandhi believed that violence was an aberration of being human. Love was the ruling principle in humankind. Jesus gave flesh to that conviction, teaching self giving love rather than violence and brute force.

I'm thinking about these things this morning because our society seems to be descending into a dark, dark night of the soul. Why are so many young people killing others and themselves? Charleston was horrendous! A 21 year old killing people he just sat with in a Bible Study in a church, with clear racial implications. Now it's a 26 year old killing students at a community college in Oregon. And then there's the 16 year old in Harrisburg, right here in South Dakota.

One of the headlines this morning is about the arrest of a 16 year old in CA who is charged with shooting his father, his father's fiancee and their 8 year old son, then setting the cabin they were in on fire. Then there's the infant, 5 months old, shot in a drive by shooting Thursday in Cleveland, the third child killed by gunfire in Cleveland in the last month. In Chicago, in 3 September weekends, the numbers were: 4 killed, 35 wounded; 8 killed, 45 wounded; 4 killed, 53 wounded. All these killings are becoming so common we can't keep up with them. Do we even remember Columbine, Aurora, Oikos, Virginia Tech, Red Lake, or Sandy Hook? God help us if we can't remember Sandy Hook! And I must confess, the school shootings are becoming so common I had to think long and hard before I could remember the name of that massacre.

Personally, I'm soul sick about the violence in our society, especially the way it's affecting and impacting the young. Suicide is still the second leading cause of death among the young, just behind automobile accidents that could sometimes be classified as suicide, and ahead of cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, pneumonia, stroke, influenza and chronic lung disease combined. Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. Many of these mass shootings by young people are tragically, "suicide by cop". 

The terrorists are not just outside our borders, they are among us and growing like ISIS. News sources have now compared the numbers of people in the U.S. killed by terrorists from abroad and those here at home. From 2001 to 2014, the "at home" terrorists win, by 50 to 1. And that's not including "legal" killings and suicides. 

The terrorist recruiters at home are feeding our young people the same kind of propaganda as ISIS, on the internet, in movie theaters and social media sites, on TV and radio hate talk. They are propped up by the weapons industry, organizations like the NRA, ideologically driven politics and religion, and moral and political cowards in government.

Only engaged families and an engaged citizenry, convinced that we can do better by our young people, can make the changes necessary to make our schools and streets safe again. It all starts right here, at home. Once more, I recommend Americans for Responsible Solutions as one organized effort to save lives.

Carl Kline

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Gift of Imagination: Lessons from Turtles, Pirates, Fathers & Sons

Henry David Thoreau, the author of Walden, did not want to settle for mere existence. By seeing the extraordinary in an ordinary, simple life, he discovered a pathway to new discoveries: the power of imagination.

At a writers’ workshop that I attended, participants were invited to explore the imaginative together. After a long day focused on the craft of writing, we segued into the serendipitous with a toss of the dice. These were no ordinary dice! They had words engraved upon them. Every roll of the dice presented a word to stir each participant’s imagination. The word led to a phrase and the phrases led to imaginative stories that were then collected like beads on a string for a synthetic calibrating of them all into one very tall tale! Turtles escaped from cooks with turtle soup recipes with the help of sympathetic animal rescuers. A sheep was grazing very happily on a green hillside. Captured sea pirates were transported from their ship on the high seas to the Egyptian pyramids by plane-flying captors. A wild assortment of characters and images made their way into the ever growing and evolving story.

In many ways, real life is very much like our playful experiment. Each distinct life’s story adds to the larger and blesses it. It seems we embellish as to provide some sparkle to the gray and monotonous in our days. Imagination does indeed add poetic yeast to the dough of prose. Life is after all a grand composition of disparate elements that we hope will gracefully be put together like the pieces of a puzzle. We long for a unified narrative that makes more sense of things as they are or that intuits things could be different if we but change.

In 2003, a beautiful and playful film was released based on a novel written by Daniel Wallace. The book and film, both aptly titled Big Fish, are wondrous celebrations of what I call amplified narrative. In the film adaptation, while dealing with the novel’s serious themes, director Tim Burton blurs the lines between reality and fantasy and gives exaggeration a good name. He tells that hyperbole may well serve the real in albeit unusual but nonetheless apropos terms.

“Big Fish” is the story of Edward Bloom, a man who has told stories all his life and is now preparing to die. Necessarily for himself, Edward told many stories about his own life’s adventure. Sadly, they were too outlandishly and repeatedly told as to be fully welcomed by his young listener son, William. Edward’s stories produced a profound skepticism in William about the veracity of his father’s life lessons. William now comes home as an adult to his dying father’s bedside as befuddled in hearing these stories told once again as he was in his youth. Because his father’s truth-telling had grown so suspect there is an observable hardness and distance in William, a reaction to the perceived alienation caused by his father’s oratorical excesses. Yet for Edward, it is precisely his “over the top” sounding stories that best convey the mystery that lights up and colors life when one is in love with people and places. It is this mysterious quality that Edward still longs to share with his now grown up and story-wary son.

William is encouraged to seek a better rapport with his estranged dad by his pregnant and compassionately less cynical young wife who has accompanied him home and when he makes an effort, the film turns into an account of William’s gradual transformation from bewildered and angry son to a more knowing and budding adventurer himself. William decides to set out a daring journey of inquiry to uncover his father’s actual past by retracing some of his father’s steps as told in his tall tales. In this exploration, he hopes to confirm his suspicions that his dad is just a big fibber but surprisingly discovers that his storytelling indeed has roots in the factual. In reality, Edward’s life was peopled by the colorful personages he was always talking about who helped him get by and who he helped get by too in a supplying of mutually needed kindnesses. The film suggests that we all need such caring assistance from each other if we would successfully traverse our respective yet shared pathways home.

Big Fish has something of a classic conversion story about it. As William comes to recognize that there is more truth hidden in the depths of his father’s imagination than he assumed, he is simultaneously enlightened as to the actual nature and purpose of his father’s storytelling. His fact-finding mission not only provided him with a reasonable basis for recognizing the cast of characters his father actually met along the roads of his grand venture but his own meetings with strange truths also gave him rational grounds for finally esteeming the long journey of adventurous living that really was his father’s and was most worthy of being told. It is when William discovers the extraordinary in the ordinary for himself that a new day dawns for this father and son who can now celebrate their real kinship as fellow recipients of gifted lives. Big Fish is a story of reconciliation that has the capacity to spur a greatly needed discovery in us all or at least occasion a “thinking twice” before we too easily dismiss the imaginative as having little relevance for our critical-minded age.

There are, of course, dangers in risking an overly imaginative or idealistic approach to reality and these must not be ignored. But that said, the dreamers among us have a compelling truth to share and lesson to teach- there are gifts to be had in exercising our imaginations, glories to be had in dreaming, delight to be taken in the fact that there is more than a surface life to be lived. The many story-telling traditions emanating from a variety of distinctive spiritual sources- Native American to Biblical- tell such and are fraught with deep wisdoms that offer to edify and enrich those who would listen and learn. 

Imagine yourself as invited to a conversion experience the likes of William’s. Where would such an invitation take you or me?  The seeds of reconciliation may be found in turning to the imaginative- the full flowering of which may indeed be fantastic! With a recovery of spiritual poise, with openness to the inquisitive and the imaginative, such a turning as was had by William might also be ours.  If we dare to be similarly adventurous, we may find mighty big fish tugging on our lines that needn’t get away and that most significantly, perhaps, desire to be caught by the likes of us!   

Michael Boover