Friday, February 21, 2014

One Year, Five Books, New Insights

Last week while talking about Love Without Boundaries I referred to one individual pursuit that could cause any one of us to reflect on or re-think the truths we know.  Reading. I said:

“The people in this congregation consult their own consciences about the truths they’ve discovered. They hold their experiences up to the light of both reason and hope; looking to find those enduring values that make a life worth living. How many books do you think have been read, and pondered, by people in this congregation in this last year. Do you think it might be five books per person/per year? That mean that our 203 members might have read over 1,000 books. Some of those books will have been novels of note, some of them hastily consumed leisure reading. Some of them will have been books, either fiction or non-fiction, that caused the reader to pause and compare their perceived truths to those reflected in the written word.”

As I spoke, I could see vigorous nods from many areas of the congregation. So, I know other people have encountered authors who’ve challenged and inspired them. Looking back over the last twelve months I found five books worth sharing. 

Lee Hammond’s Big Book of Acrylic Painting made me see that I could learn new tricks when I was feeling very anxious about the tasks I’d set for myself on Sabbatical.

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code (Margalit Fox) tells the story of how the Linear B tablets were deciphered; and the role Alice Kober played in making that discovery with shoeboxes and slips of paper organized on her dining table. Reading this book reminded me that great accomplishments can have humble beginnings, and led me back into an awareness that women are often the unsung heroes toiling in those humble circumstances.

Hurt Machine (Reed Farrell Coleman) is philosophy woven into hard-boiled detective fiction. I entered the series late, so late that Moe Prager has been diagnosed with cancer.  Looking back on his diagnosis he offers this reflection:
“One thing I was proud of: I hadn't 't walked out of the doctor's office asking , Why me? I had since learned not to ask that one. You ask it once and you never stop asking it.  Besides, in a Godless universe, the answer starts fourteen billion years ago as a pinpoint in the void, and I didn't have that kind of time. None of us do. I actually preferred icy randomness to thinking of God as the universal hurt machine.”
No wonder I liked his character immediately, and continued meditating with him on the ways we each have a role in the ‘hurt machine.’

Generosity: An Enhancement (Richard Powers) asks what’s the source of happiness and what will people do to get it? Presenting an imaginary “happiness gene,” Powers encouraged me to reconsider what I believe about the role of happiness in my life.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo) led me into the world of the poorest people living in the shadow of Mumbai, a city of over 20 million people. This book was on my “read it because it’s good for you shelf”...for a long time. I could only imagine that it would be thoroughly depressing. There are hard truths here, but also impetus for an extended meditation on the role hope plays in human lives. 

That’s my list of five books from the past twelve months. What have you read? Have you had time to read five books in the last year? Has one or more of any of the books you’ve read tweaked your perspective, and given you an opportunity to question your perceptions of the world and your place in it? Why not post your own list of books worth sharing? 

Who knows where the truths we discover may lead?

                                                                                                                                                                            Robin Gray, Minister

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Love Rather Than Hate

By Aimee Griffith

“Love is a whole lot lighter to carry than hate.” — Agnes Furey
“Love is an infinite supply of electricity, of power that you’ve got to plug into and connect with for all your cylinders to fire. Without it there is no life or light; without it you are a leaf without a tree to fall from— Leonard Scovens

Aimee Griffith
I am proud to be a newly appointed board member for Achieve Higher Ground (AHG), a non-profit Restorative Justice (RJ) organization that advocates for the adoption of RJ practices by the criminal justice system. 

Achieve Higher Ground was co-founded by Agnes Furey and Leonard Scovens. They met and found common ground many years after Leonard murdered Agnes’ daughter and grandson in 1998. Their approach to RJ is a focus on restoration for everyone involved in a crime, including the perpetrator.  “Best case scenario,” says Agnes, “is when that can occur with reconciliation between both parties.”

The story of these two brave individuals involves a kind of love that many cannot fathom. During this third week of the Thirty Days of Love campaign, we are being encouraged to practice a radical, courageous love. Their story has certainly taught me that.

Agnes and Leonard began a written correspondence in 2005, initiated by Agnes, some of which can be found in the book they have co-authored, Wildflowers in the Median. Leonard is presently serving two consecutive life sentences in the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). Together, they have created FDOC’s first ever residential program for violent offenders, Circles of Restoration. The program’s vision is to transform participants into mentally sound, virtuous, and productive citizens.

I was honored with an invitation to speak about Trauma-Informed Care to the Victim Impact Awareness (VIA) class at the Northwest Florida Reception Center, where Leonard is currently housed, this past October. Being in that room, filled with 50 plus inmates serving varying sentences for varying charges, was a powerful experience.

I was also invited to sit in on the Higher Ground group, co-led by Leonard Scovens and Dr. Deborah Weidlund, FDOC psychologist. In a small room with about 10 participants, Leonard urged his peers to look deep into themselves and reveal their humanity, despite the criminal behavior that presently defines them.

During my first meeting, Leonard called in to thank us for our contributions and to share talk about the newly approved Circles of Restoration program. At the end of this brief call, Agnes ended by saying “Love you,” which I had not expected, but also did not surprise me given the depth of their history.

I would like to honor both Agnes and Leonard with the “Courageous Love Award,” created by the Unitarian Universalist Association to recognize individuals or organizations that have exhibited courageous love and touched hearts. I am proud to have met both of these virtuous individuals and to be a part of their budding organization whose vision is avant-garde and sure to inspire others.

If you would like more information about Achieve Higher Ground you can join their Facebook group or click here to purchase a copy of Wildflowers in the Median. I encourage you to think about how you can build bridges of love in your own life and community during this Thirty Days of Love campaign. Perhaps there is someone you would like to honor with a Courageous Love Award.

Aimee Griffith, LCSW, is the Clinical Director of DISC Village, Inc, a private non-profit behavioral health organization.  She also co-facilitates the local Trauma-Informed Care Workgroup, co-leads a Suicide Loss Support Group with Big Bend Hospice, and serves on the board for Achieve Higher Ground.  She is a congregation member, youth advisor and choir member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee.