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Glass Ceilings

Posted July 27th, 2016 by Tom

Political affiliations are irrelevant to what I am about to share. The impact of what happened last night at the Democratic National Convention goes far beyond politics. Please read on…

When Alicia Keys’ performance closed out the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia Tuesday night, her final song led into a live video feed. My 7-year old granddaughter was sitting on my lap. Together we watched my computer screen. The faces of the previous Presidents of the United States were shown one by one all the way through Barack Obama. Then the sounds and visuals of glass shattering gave way to Hillary Clinton.

“Whoa,” my granddaughter said. “That’s cool!”

“Yes it is, sweetheart. Keep watching.” Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to the Table: Now more than ever

Posted July 18th, 2016 by Tom

More people dying. More funerals. More tears. More rage. More division. More frustration.

Many of us feel numb and helpless in the wake of the recent killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota by the police, and the killings of police officers Brent Thompson, Lorne Ahrens, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael J. Smith, and Michael Krol in Dallas, Texas, and Montrell Jackson, Brad Garafola and Matthew Gerald in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

We struggle to figure out what we can do that will make any difference.

Our world desperately needs love, compassion, justice, truth, understanding, peace, and healing. We talk about these and other ideals every time such killings show up on social media and in the news; recorded on someone’s phone. But what can we actually DO in the face of racism, injustice, and terror? An all-too common theme heard in churches, community groups, schools, around kitchen tables, and elsewhere across the United States is a desire to have deep conversations about race that will actually make a difference but not knowing how to go about it.

In order to transform our world, we need to transform how we approach confronting the problem. Old, fear-based, us-versus-them reactions haven’t ever worked, yet we keep reverting to them. We need a fundamental shift in our approach if we are to achieve a fundamental shift in our world.

Last month, I participated in a 3-day Leadership Training Institute and 4-day National Gathering organized by Coming to the Table (CTTT), a non-profit organization I’ve been involved with since its inception ten years ago. After this week-long immersion into workshops, dialogue, and relationship-building experiences with a large group of deeply-committed people from all across the United States and Canada, I feel more strongly than ever that Coming to the Table offers valuable tools for people trying to figure out what to do. As another participant wrote,

“There are precious few forums where descendants of slaves and enslavers can engage in meaningful dialog about what the legacy of slavery has done to this country and how to move forward.”

IMG_6100CTTT has a Vision for the United States of a just and truthful society that acknowledges and seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past—from slavery and the many forms of racism it spawned. The Mission of CTTT is to provide leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal these historic, traumatic wounds.

And let’s make no mistake. These recent killings – like so many before – all stem, at least in part, from the legacy of slavery in the United States; unhealed wounds around issues of racism that continue to haunt our nation.

I know from experience the Coming to the Table Approach to acknowledging, understanding, and healing these wounds can make a positive difference. It’s a practical approach that seeks to create a space where people who are serious about the work of undoing racism and oppression can feel safe-enough to participate deeply; to share their stories, listen to the stories of others, and see each other as ultimately-connected human travelers in this challenging journey of life. It’s more than creating a space for people to talk and feel better and go home. The CTTT Approach requires effort and commitment; a commitment to stay at the table when the work gets messy and hard, which it does and will.

The central framework within Coming to the Table is the STAR Program; Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience. STAR brings together theory and practices from neurobiology, conflict transformation, human security, spirituality, and restorative justice to address the needs of trauma-impacted individuals and communities. Traumatic events may have a range of harmful effects on everyone involved, including victims, perpetrators, witnesses, bystanders, health professionals, law enforcement or military, clergy, family, and friends. If the traumatic wounds are not addressed and healed, they will persist and have further harmful impacts, and be passed on to future generations.

Two resources that help create a safe-enough space for this work are Touchstones and the Circle Process. Touchstones are a set of principles people agree upon when beginning “deep dialogue” together. Some examples of such agreements might include being 100% present, listen deeply, be open to new ideas, agree not to try to “fix” or correct others, maintain confidentiality, expect non-closure. More examples can be found here. Touchstones allow groups of people to establish ways of “being” with each other; to create a “container” for the often-difficult conversations to follow.

The Circle Process is another way to create a container for participants to feel safe enough to be in the space; often with people they consider to be “the other,” and perhaps even perceiving a threat to their safety or mental or emotional well-being. As Kay Pranis writes in The Little Book of Circle Processes, this tool “draws on the ancient Native American tradition of using a talking piece, an object passed from person to person in a group and which grants the holder sole permission to speak.” Utilizing the Circle Process is a way of bringing people together in which everyone is respected, has the opportunity to speak without interruption, share their stories, and where everyone is equal. Pranis also notes that Circles can create a container strong enough to hold anger, frustration, joy, pain, truth, conflict, diverse world views, intense feelings, silence, and paradox.

The Coming to the Table Approach to achieving the above Vision and Mission involves four interrelated practices. Uncovering History includes researching, acknowledging, and sharing personal, family and community histories of race with openness and honesty; Making Connections to others within and across racial lines in order to develop and deepen relationships; Working Toward Healing is exploring how we can heal together through dialogue, reunion, ritual, ceremony, the arts, apology and other methods; and Taking Action, actively seeking to heal the wounds of racial inequality and injustice and to support racial reconciliation between individuals, within families, and in communities. For a more thorough understanding, download the free CTTT workbook, Transforming Historical Harms.

As Michelle Alexander recently wrote,

I think we all know, deep down, that something more is required of us now. This truth is difficult to face because it’s inconvenient and deeply unsettling. And yet silence isn’t an option. On any given day, there’s always something I’d rather be doing than facing the ugly, racist underbelly of America. I know that I am not alone. But I also know that the families of the slain officers, and the families of all those who have been killed by the police, would rather not be attending funerals.”

This work of undoing and replacing racist structures and systems – in our nation and in ourselves – is hard. It takes courage and commitment. If we are to make a difference, we need a different approach. There are many organizations and individuals doing important and powerful work to confront racism and injustice. The Coming to the Table Approach offers a way in which all the other stuff we are trying to do can work better.

When we decide, as a human family, that love, compassion, justice, truth, understanding, peace, and healing are more important than skin color and ethnicity, political parties and religious affiliation, who wins and who loses, who’s right and who’s wrong, and our fear over what we might lose when we create a just and equal society, we can transform our world. If we are ever to break free from these cycles of violence we continue to find ourselves caught up in, we have the responsibility to do the work. The Coming to the Table Approach can help.

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Edgar Mitchell returns to the stars

Posted February 6th, 2016 by Tom

“Houston, we have a problem.”

Edgar MitchellFamous words from the Apollo 13 capsule.

Imagine being launched into space aboard Apollo 14. Seriously, can you imagine that level of bravery? That’s Edgar Mitchell, who passed away Thursday, February 4, 2016 at age 85, the day before the 45th anniversary of his walk on Earth’s moon; one of 12 men to have done so. Having Belviepresented at a few Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) conferences with my friend and mentor Belvie Rooks, I was blessed to meet and speak with Edgar Mitchell. He founded IONS in 1973 after returning to earth.

I’ve heard that traveling in space changes you… astronauts may become self-abusive alcoholics… or deeply spiritual… or lord know what else… but seeing our tiny planet from outer space has an impact few of us edgar_mitchell_portraitearthbound humans will ever know. Edgar Mitchell recognized the deep and obvious connection between spirituality and science and founded IONS. He’s definitely onto something true and deep…

I’m grateful for having crossed paths with this deeply spiritual and thoughtful man, as well as with so many people who are part of IONS, and to Belvie, my friend who always reaches for the stars. We’re onto something, my sister.

The Walk

Posted February 4th, 2016 by Tom

PetitI feel a special connection to Phillipe Petit, the man who walked back and forth across a wire strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center for almost an hour; some 1,350 feet above the ground in 1974. In 2008, the documentary film Man On Wire screened at the Newport International Film Festival in Rhode Island. I was there with many of my cousins with our film Traces of the Trade. When Petit was introduced after his film ended, he pretended to trip and fall walking on stage. His fake pratfall is one of my fondest memories from the festival. His extraordinary accomplishment left me in awe. His focus, not on cheating death, but fully living life… what an inspiration. Man on Wire went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary of 2008.

Now comes the dramatic retelling of the same story in The Walk, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit. It’s brilliant! My heart pounded, my mouth went dry, I had to stand up because I just couldn’t stay seated as he walked back and forth, stopped, turned, stood, kneeled, and lay on his back on that thin cable so high above the ground for fifty minutes while police on both towers and in a helicopter above tried to coax him off.

Look, I knew how the episode ended. I met a very-alive Phillipe Petit in Newport 34 years later, but I feared for his safety. Dude is crazy for sure… crazy for life. He inspires me to live my life as fully… doing what I love because I love it. Check out The Walk. You’ll be inspired.


Patricia Iron died at an age too young for all and too old for most

Posted January 21st, 2016 by Tom

IMG_2390I just found out today that Patricia Iron passed away in November. Patricia was the first Director of the Tower Theatre in Bend, Oregon when it re-opened in 2004. A group of us die-hard believers  took about 10 years to build support, raise $4.2 million, and completely refurbish an old, well-used 1940’s movie theater into a state-of-the-art community performing arts and gathering center for movies, concerts, plays, you name it. We hired Patricia to launch the place, and launch it she did!

IMG_2644The Grand Re-Opening featured something like 30 events over the course of a week; morning, noon and night. Patricia was relentless. There is no one I have known I would rather have had at the helm through the final stages of renovation, and then planning and executing the initial events and our first year. 12 years later almost to the week since those events, the Tower is still running strong. I’m as proud of my participation with this effort as most anything I’ve done in my life.

As a friend of hers wrote on her Facebook page, Patricia “was a hellavu woman, and the warmest cranky person I’ve ever known.” So true! And just what we needed at the Tower in 2004. Many a night she and I would conclude our long days at the Tower by walking to a nearby watering hole for a martini or two, maybe a little bitching about some challenging thing or person, and lots of laughs. She had a great laugh.

Also on her Facebook page, someone posted an obituary that she apparently wrote for herself some 4 months before she “passed away quietly in the early hours of Nov. 2, 2015, in her Lake Oswego home” according to the Oregonian.

My Obit

Patricia Lianne Iron died at an age too young for all and too old for most, depending on where you are on the age scale. If she isn’t already missed, she will be eventually as she always believed that if you lived long enough, you will achieve your goals.

Patricia IronShe loved, hated, cheered, jeered, laughed, cried, lived, observed (pick one) life as she moved throughout the decades.

Born in Oregon, she considered herself a native until political correctness crept into the collective consciousness and determined that she was just another visitor as the Indian nation, oops, the Native Americans, lived here first. Still, she enjoyed the State she called home.

Among her greatest achievements was her ability to play cards, pet dogs, and drive her car. Many people envied her strategic talents.

Traveling the world was a special treat for her and contributed to her ability to hone her ABC’s, ABC’s; another bloody church, another bloody cathedral.

Predeceased by her parents, she is survived by all the people in the world who are still living.

Congratulations to you all.

Sounds like Patricia. Though there is a more “official” obit, including details about the celebration of her life on January 23, I’ll stick with the above… and I think I’ll mosey downtown for a martini this weekend around the corner from the Tower Theatre and toast Patricia.

Here’s to you, my friend. Well done!


Our Souls at Night

Posted November 18th, 2015 by Tom

haruf_coverI ran across Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night while looking for something else at the library. It looked interesting so I checked it out. I’m so glad I did. A wonderful story about Addie and Louis, two long-time neighbors whose spouses have both passed away. They decide to begin spending nights together, not a romantic, sexual relationship, but companionship to overcome loneliness; someone to talk to and lie next to.

Talking about his wife, Louis says,

At least she’s at peace now in some other place or higher realm. I think I believe that. I hope she is. She never really got from me what she wanted from me. She had a kind of idea, a notion of how life should be, how marriage should be, but that was never how it was with us. I failed her in that way. She should’ve had somebody else.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself again,” Addie said. “Who does ever get what they want? It doesn’t seem to happen to many of us if any at all. It’s always two people bumping against each other blindly, acting out of old ideas and dreams and mistaken understandings. Except I still say that isn’t true of you and me. Not right now, not today.

A gentle story of two people reaching out and touching each other right in the heart. The author passed away after writing this book, before it was published. A lovely coda.

Gratitude for Being a Writer

Posted November 17th, 2015 by Tom

I love my life as a writer for several reasons. Primarily, I enjoy the craft of writing; the satisfaction I get from putting my thoughts into words. I love the research, the impact on my own thinking, and turning it all into words on a page; the art of creating stories – both nonfiction and (coming in the not-so-distant future) fiction. I love the wonder and magic and awe of what writing does for me. I love working alone in my pajamas on a rainy day, taking a walk along the river on a warm, summer’s day to think about a particular chapter or paragraph or sentence, hanging out at the library, or taking a short break by walking into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and returning to my laptop to dive back into the words.

Book Cover (300dpi)There’s another aspect of writing for which I’m grateful. I recently received small royalty checks from Beacon Press for the sales of my two books during the first half of 2015. Inheriting the Trade was published almost 8 years ago; Gather at the Table more than 3 years ago. They’re both definitely “catalog” titles now. Major publicity and media coverage for both books is in the past. In case the first two sentences in this paragraph misled you, it isn’t the royalty checks for which I’m primarily grateful. GATT Cover (compressed)Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful to receive income from my work, but that income is, ahem… modest (I haven’t yet achieved Stephen King or John Irving levels of success).

No, it’s that people read my books. They give Gather at the Table and Inheriting the Trade to friends and children and parents and colleagues. They check them out at the library. They save them on bookshelves in their homes. They sometimes write to me to tell me how my stories impacted their thinking.

All this time after they were published, more than 300 copies of my books – in hardcover, paperback, and ebook – were purchased between January and June of this year. I find that amazing. I love receiving royalty statements to see how many more people now hold one of my books in their hands. For THAT, I’m forever grateful. Keep reading, friends, and we authors will keep writing. I appreciate our relationship more than you probably know.

Thank you.

Dear “White” People, please read Between the World and Me

Posted November 5th, 2015 by Tom

CoatesToni Morrison says of Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s letter-in-book-form to his teenage son, “This is required reading.” As one who has been enculturated throughout my life to believe I am “white” I not only agree with Ms. Morrison, but believe Between the World and Me is required reading – in particular – for everyone who believes they are “white.”

His June 2014 feature in The Atlantic, The Case for Reparations, and The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration in October 2015, raised Coates high on my list of must-read writers. But Between the World and Me moved me like no other book has in a very long time. Laid bare within these 152 pages are truths of the difference between being “black” and “white” in the United States; the mortal threat to black bodies – male black bodies in particular. That the “American Dream” is a Dream by and for “white” people and a nightmare for “black” people. This is not how “white” people understand the Dream. We are raised to believe in the Dream; to seek and embrace it with enthusiasm and great effort. Also not obvious to those of us who believe we are “white” is the ultimate mortal danger that comes with the Dream to “white” people as well (though we are raised to be blind to that threat).

Between the World and Me, and my strong recommendation of it, isn’t about beating up on “white” people or making us feel guilty. It’s about remembering that which we are trained to forget. It’s about dealing with truth on a journey toward awareness; about breaking down barriers that continue to divide people from each other and from ourselves; from own humanity.

“The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. In the Dream they are Buck Rogers, Prince Aragorn, an entire race of Skywalkers. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans.”

Coates tells his son he doesn’t believe they can stop people like me; like those of us who believe we are “white”…

“…because they must ultimately stop themselves. And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom… Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all.”

The first reaction of many “white” people to the message of Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of defensiveness; an opening statement that too often begins with something like, “Yeah, but…”

Please don’t succumb to the urge to argue, rationalize, or “Yeah, but…” without having first read Between the World and Me. By reading this harrowing, enlightening, and important work, I believe those of us who believe we are “white” will gain a new and critically important perspective on what it means to be “black” and what it means to be “white” in the United States of America today – and the roles we play in perpetuating injustice and mortal danger to us all.

The Bench: a short story

Posted October 16th, 2015 by Tom

My intention was to write a brief post about a bench, the picture of which I had posted on Facebook. But I didn’t get any other writing done on the day I composed this. My intention is to work on writing projects first thing each day. But I let the world intrude that day. I’m disappointed in my occasional lack of commitment to writing. So I dove in deep and decided to let this serve as my writing project for the day. I hope my readers will indulge me in a bit longer-than-normal post and enjoy this short story instead.

IMG_5838Brad Sargeant and I have been friends since we met in college four decades ago. Our birthdays are one day apart and we celebrate them together each year on the Oregon Coast (it was a bit windy and cold this year, as you can see). Brad and I have particularly enjoyed music together over the years, buying turntables and reel-to-reel tape players at the same time, attending lots of concerts together, including DylanBob Dylan, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, The Eagles, Ringo Starr, Carlos Santana and Rod Stewart. Neil Young was scheduled to perform at the Matthew Knight Arena at the University of Oregon on October 8. Brad and I made plans to go.

Lisa Schuller and I have been friends not quite as long; about three decades. Visiting the Schuller family farm in Corvallis has been a special treat for Lindi and me, our children, and now our grandchildren for many years. We’ve benefited from the bountiful harvest of their fruit trees, our grandchildren have swung high on the IMG_0895rope swing tied to a giant tree, rode horses, and gathered fresh eggs from the chickens. Several friends I hold dear today I met or partied with at the farm decades ago. Some of the parties there were, ahem, shall we say… memorable. Read the rest of this entry »

Meeting Randall Platt

Posted October 13th, 2015 by Tom

Katrina Browne extended the official invitation to me in February 2001. I would join her and eight other distant cousins in a few months to retrace the Triangle Slave Trade route of our slave-trading ancestors from Rhode Island Tracesto Ghana to Cuba and back. She would make a documentary film of our journey.

Without telling Katrina or anyone else connected to the film project, I decided to write a book about my experiences. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a teenager. I started the Great American Novel several times, wrote a children’s book, took a writing class here and there, but never seriously pursued writing with the passion I’d felt three decades earlier. And I never succeeded. But this was surely to be an adventure worthy of fulfilling that dream.

I first met Randall Platt in the late 1990’s at a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association conference. Each time I attended a PNBA conference I attended as a retailer (we sold comic books and graphic novels, and rented audio books, at our family’s video store). I waited in lines to meet authors, to have them sign my copy of their book. I dreamed of one day being “on the other side of the table” like them. Randi had written several books, including the humorous Fe-As-Ko series of novels. My personal favorite was The 1898 Base-ball Fe-As-Ko. I signed up for her mailing list.

I know without question it was no coincidence that my invitation from Katrina was followed shortly by an announcement from Randi Read the rest of this entry »

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry