Setting Patterns: Defaulting to Justice

Nishioka with the writer
Nishioka with the author

“You know why we drill?” the Lt. Colonel said; “to establish a pattern.”

That brief story was told recently by Dr. Rodger Nishioka, keynote speaker at a conference that was all about establishing patterns – possibly changing them for the better. Well, about patterns and a few other things. But the business of pattern-establishment is particularly relevant. “In a time of crisis,” Nishioka says, “you will default to your pattern.”

Soldiers drill interminably so they can take their rifles apart without thinking. Nishioka suggests that others of us might install default patterns to create peace and bring justice. An associate professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, Nishioka was speaking at a church retreat, to a Christian audience. But the message is universal. “All three major Abrahamic religions,” he points out, “Judaism, Islam and Christianity, have a core belief in peace and justice.” Add the followers of decidedly peace-loving Buddha, and one would think there should be a little less war and injustice on the planet.

Nishioka maintains that one person can make a difference. He tells the story of a seven-year-old girl whose father had been taken from their California farm by the F.B.I. one night in 1942, and who was waiting with a crowd of other Japanese Americans for buses that would take them to an internment camp. Her mother, in the rush to pack what the family might need, had forgotten to bring anything to eat or drink. The girl wandered off looking for something for her hungry little brother, and found a lady handing out sandwiches and juice. “We are Christian Friends (Quakers),” she explained, “and we think what is happening to you is wrong.” The girl lived through three years in the camp, where her father soon joyfully joined them, and through hard years and several moves after the war ended. She managed to enter college, where she met and fell in love with a young Japanese-American man. They married, and raised four sons who all finished college and/or graduate school, one of whom is now a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary. On the top of his list of people he’d like to meet in heaven, Nishioka says, is the lady who gave his mother sandwiches and juice.

But back to patterns. Quakers practice patterns of quiet and tranquility, reinforcing their persistent efforts to right injustice. Yogis practice meditation. Buddhists chant. Practitioners of almost all religions repetitively recite creeds as a way of establishing patterns of belief and action. In California we have earthquake drills designed to instill a default pattern of Drop, Cover and Hold on. School children, sadly, are drilled to take cover in the event of an assault. If your default pattern is ingrained enough, you might even be able to grab your cellphone and passport on the way out the door when the house catches fire.

What if large numbers of us altered our driving pattern just to let that jerk in the next lane break into the line ahead? Road rage deaths would nose dive. Or we could default to smiling, as Jaden, the incredibly precious six-year-old Georgia orphan is trying to make us do. Or we could default to justice: trying to create better lives for those less fortunate, those without power, those who need sandwiches and juice.

It is possible, Rodger Nishioka suggests, to change the world, one person, one pattern at a time.

 

 

Holidays and the “Worried Well”

Our local paper, the thin-but-still-here San Francisco Chronicle, greeted the morning recently with a story about a new hospital facility for “the worried well.” And I say, just in time. Some of us may be sick; most of us, I suspect, are among the Worried Well. Especially from now until next January 1.

The facility in question is the Brain Health Center, part of the California Pacific Medical Center‘s Davies campus. It is designed (with a little help from an anonymous $21 million gift) to address a multiplicity of brain-related issues, including help and support for those in fear of lurking neurodegenerative disease. If you haven’t ever worried about where you put the car keys or left the cell phone you can stop reading right now. You are in that tiny population of the angst-free unworried. Then there are all the rest of us.

(Since I am a contented Kaiser member, I feared for a moment that CPMC was one-upping us. But a quick check reveals Kaiser offers things like core dementia training and behavioral understanding, not to mention support groups without end to comfort the Worried Well.)

Worried Well issues range far beyond the challenges of short-term memory loss.  WWs don’t know where the next paycheck, or mortgage payment, is coming from, or whether that little lump might be malignant. Or if the good-looking guy at the party is ever going to call. Closer to home for yours truly it’s how a half-century of accumulated Stuff scattered around a four-story Victorian will ever reduce into the 1600-sq-ft condo at the continuing-care place where worries would be less and wellness more.

Here is the good news: faith trumps angst. At the annual Thanksgiving Day interfaith service sponsored by the San Francisco Interfaith Council, the hearts of the Worried Well were encouraged by just about every known faith tradition. A little inner peace from the Buddhist bell, a few stories building trust and understanding from the Mormons and the Muslims, eloquent prayers from the Jews and the Brahma Kumaris. Pastor Maggi Henderson of Old First Presbyterian Church, who organized this year’s service, then spoke convincingly of how hard it is to be angst-ridden when simply contemplating being loved by the creator.

So it seems, with science and religion BOTH looking out for us, the worried may yet be well.

World peace could happen

We could have world peace. If everyone would simply agree to begin the day — tomorrow would be a good time to start — with a group Ommmm, peace would follow.

Optimally, your group would be led by Sr. Chandru — although the Dalai Lama would do, and since he’s right here on YouTube he is accessible to an in-home group. Sr. Chandru is affiliated with the Brahma Kumaris, a lady who travels through life in white robes and a cloud of peace and serenity.  It tends to rub off, even if your personal aura is less than serene that day. This morning Sr. Chandru led a group of people of vastly differing faith traditions in a meditative Ommmm to begin a meeting of the San Francisco Interfaith Council. Peace reigned.

I know, I know, not everyone is in synch with the Brahma Kumaris. But then, not everyone is in synch with fundamentalist Christianity or mainstream Judaism or radical Islam, which is why we need to sit down to a group Ommmm. I do know the Brahma Kumaris are the only Hindu sect (I hope I’m getting this right, but they are also very forgiving) that has women priests, and they are an incredibly peaceful sort. BK Sr. Elizabeth has her own little peace cloud, and before she adopted it she was a lead singer in Beach Blanket Babylon, which is known for a lot of good things to almost anyone who’s ever heard of San Francisco — but calm and serenity are not among them.

Some of us are better candidates for serenity than others, but nobody could get up from an Ommmm and charge off to battle. Therefore, with all the charging off to battle that is currently destroying the planet, perhaps an Ommm-first policy is worth considering.

I can put you in touch with Sr. Chandru.

Tzedakah, zakat and good deeds

In the very olden days it was traditional, on December 25, for newspapers in many cities to feature front pages encircled by holly leaves and red ribbons, with banner headlines reading “Merry Christmas” or “Peace on Earth.” Another tradition was to carry, on front pages often filled before and after with stories of tragedy, only good news for this one day.

In consideration of the growing numbers of Americans who don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s probably just as well that the local paper doesn’t herald other people’s tidings for a day — assuming there are still readers of actual local papers out there. But imagine a whole page of good news. What good news that would be.

So it was heartening to wake up to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s December 25 front page: Senate passes health reform. Photos of smiling kids, street musician and revelers in Santa hats. A big sister home from Iraq. And on page 9, a banner that reads: Detroit area’s Mitzvah Day getting a boost from Muslims.

Many Jews consider Christmas Day an opportunity to serve their community while Christian neighbors celebrate their holiday. This year, what’s also known as Mitzvah Day in southeast Michigan is getting an added boost from Muslims.

For the first time, about 40 Muslims are expected to join 900 Jews for what they call their largest annual day of volunteering. Leaders say it’s a small but significant step in defusing tensions and promoting goodwill between the religions – particularly on a day that is sacred to Christianity, the third Abrahamic faith.

Mitzvah Day, a nearly 20-year tradition in the Detroit area also practiced in other communities, is so named because mitzvah means “commandment” in Hebrew and is generally translated as a good deed.

The new partnership stemmed from a recent meeting among members of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit – which said it was unaware of any similar Mitzvah Day alliances.

The Jewish groups organize Mitzvah Day, which consists of volunteers helping 48 local social service agencies with tasks such as feeding the hungry and delivering toys to children in need.

Victor Begg, chairman of the Islamic council, said he was seeking a public way for the two faith communities to “build bridges of understanding and cooperation,” which led to joining the Mitzvah Day effort.

Not only are most Muslims and Jews available to serve on Christmas Day, but leaders also recognized a shared commitment to community service. Charity in Judaism is known as tzedakah. In Islam, it’s called zakat.

In the sun-filled park en route to my San Francisco church this morning I passed a soundly sleeping, presumably homeless man. On one side of him was a plastic bag that appeared to contain most of his worldly goods. On the other was a brown bag such as Sunday School children around town decorate for the annual Pack-a-Sack program through which the Food Bank distributes bag lunches to those in need. It had a crayon drawing of Santa Claus and a reindeer or two.

So once again: Peace on earth, goodwill to all.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/12/25/MNSB1B9FGT.DTL#ixzz0aix6fvXU

Pelosi Sticks With Public Option

Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a gathering of interfaith leaders in San Francisco today (Justin Sullivan/Getty)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a gathering of interfaith leaders in San Francisco today (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference in San Francisco this morning at which she reiterated her commitment to a public option in the health reform bill and expressed hope, though with somewhat  lowered optimism, for coverage of end-of-life conversations. She did get in a dig at opponents of the latter: In response to a question about whether voluntary reimbursement for discussion of end-of-life care would stay in the bill, Pelosi said, “You know, the language is almost exactly the same as what the Republicans put into the prescription drug bill.”

The press conference, hosted by the San Francisco Interfaith Council, was an apparent reinforcement of the Democrats’ strategy of  broadening health reform support among members of religious communities. With leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities arrayed behind her, the Speaker made repeated references to health care for all being a moral issue. Responding to the above question, she said, “People of faith, people in healthcare” and others know that “it makes life better if a person has expressed his or her own wishes. The key to this is that it is voluntary; it serves the purpose of saying what is your wish, rather than someone else having to make a decision you might not want. I don’t know what will happen (to the provision); I surely hope it will stay in.”

Pelosi was unequivocal, however, in her response to questions about the public option and to one reporter’s comment that “some Democrats and liberals are frustrated because it seems you are caving in to the far right.” “Is that you?” she repeated, pointing to herself. “The public option is the best way to go. If anybody can come up with a better alternative we’ll consider it. But the President is not backing off. The co-op might work in some states and that’s fine.  There is no way I can pass a bill on health reform without the public option.”

Pelosi was equally emphatic about her intention to retain the 400% of poverty measurement. Hesitantly using the term “seniors,” she said that many people between the ages of 50 and 65 have lost jobs, or may be making just $30,000 to $40,000 per year, and cannot afford needed medical care or prescription drugs. “I believe we have to have the 400% of poverty for them.”

Would the Democrats accept a scaled-down version of health reform? Pelosi repeated her litany of what is needed: reduced costs, improved quality, expanded coverage, affordable care for all; “What are you going to give up? At the end of the day, this is what we must have. And we must have reform of the insurance industry.”

In the small, carefully selected audience assembled at St. James Episcopal Church where her children attended preschool, Pelosi was on her own turf and among friends.  And she was characteristically upbeat. “Have we lost control of the debate? I disagree. I have 218 votes, and expect to have more. I am optimistic, and the President is committed to change.”

Rallying the Faithful for Health Reform

President Obama sought to strengthen support for health reform among one of his core constituencies Wednesday afternoon, the community of believers. He served as keynote speaker of sorts, in a conference call with some 140,000 members of faith communities around the country. The call sponsor’s title, 40 Days for Health Reform, suggests those communities are mobilizing for action. 40 Days for Health Reform includes progressive interfaith groups PICO National Network, Sojourners, Faith in Public Life and Faithful America; and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. Web sites of the first four list members as adherents of faith traditions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Urging his listeners to “spread facts and speak truth,” Obama said social change has always involved “a contest between hope and fear.” He reviewed some of the more glaring misrepresentations that have been made by opponents of reform — government take-over, “death panels,” funding for abortions — labeling them “ludicrous,” and said the response to “not wanting government bureaucrats meddling with your healthcare” is that “we don’t want insurance bureaucrats meddling with your healthcare.” There were no surprises, or new ideas floated. Director of White House Policy Council Melody Barnes fielded a few pre-selected questions from listeners but dodged any, such as one direct query about a public option, of substance. Still, among a small group of listeners surveyed after the call everyone was enthusiastic about the happening. “Nobody’s expecting policy pronouncements on a conference call,” said one; “what we need is just the recognition of how many good people want good health reform now.”

The call was clearly designed to rally and encourage the troops of the faithful. And those troops, many weary of watching debate co-opted by the religious right, may indeed now be reinvigorated. Most of the call was taken up with prayers or comments from religious leaders, or stories of tragedies caused by the current healthcare disarray. There were plenty of Biblical touchstones — the call lasted for 40 minutes — for listeners of Abrahamic faith traditions, and more than one of the speakers expressed the certainty that it is God’s will for all of His (or Her) creatures to have affordable, quality healthcare. Sponsoring organizations and participating individuals are gearing up for action in the weeks ahead toward that end.

The call can be heard on the 40 Days for Health Reform site. It may not change any Republican minds, but it does indeed claim a pretty powerful ally for the cause.