Reverend Divine is a minister, writer, and social justice advocate.
Once upon a time, in the land of Ancient Greece, after the Titan War, the newly crowned Zeus - king of the Gods - took a wife named Themis, who was the Goddess of Justice. Although Themis was the first Goddess of Justice in the Greek tradition, she certainly wasn’t the first or only in other traditions. Before her, lived Justitia in the Roman pantheon, and before her was Ma’at in Egyptian religion. Ma’at is most notably known for weighing the hearts of the recently deceased to see if they were heavier than one of her feathers. Should a mortal’s heart be equal or lighter than one of her feathers, they would proceed to the afterlife in bliss. Should a mortal’s heart be heavier than her feather, a gigantic monster would eat them and they would live out eternity in Duat.
Now, Zeus and Themis had many children, one of whom was named Dike. While Themis was the personification of the idea of Divine Justice, Dike was the living embodiment of Earthly Justice. Dike lived among the humans during the Golden and Silver Ages of Greek culture, where society saw unparalleled peace and prosperity. However, soon greed began to consume the hearts and minds of mortals, and Dike, enraged by what she saw, fled to the sky, sending the Greeks into the Bronze Age, a time of war, famine, and disease. This next part is debatable, but it is believed that the modern-day statue of Justice is modeled after Dike, depicted with her blindfold, sword, and scales. Her blindfold signifies her impartiality - that the law applies to everyone, her sword to denote that Justice is often swift and final, and then her scales which reflect which argument bears more weight.
I wanted to begin with this story because words, phrases, and symbols matter; their meaning matters, and often we are misusing them in our everyday world. Has that ever happened to you? For real, it happens to me all of the time. I throw out a bunch of descriptors, usually in threes (because I like the rule of threes) and someone goes, “I don’t think that word means what you think it does”. Then the doubt sinks in. No, I’m certain, I mean, I’m pretty sure, well it’s close enough, I mean … who asked you. "Justice" is one of those words. So, to help us all out, I would like to invite to the stage, Siri. Siri, what is the definition of Justice?
Siri: "Justice Is defined as just behavior or treatment. Would you like to hear more?"
No, thanks, Siri, I’m good. Thanks for nothing. I bet Alexa would have been more helpful. So, 'just behavior or treatment'. It also says, "the quality of being fair or reasonable".
When I saw this definition, I was immediately reminded of my first and second graders that I teach theatre to. First and second graders have a deep, intrinsic knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. Since they are the centers of their own universes, everything that they say/do is right and everything that contradicts that is wrong. God bless their hearts. I teach theatre in the school district, and I play a number of different exercises and games with them. When I am picking volunteers for a game, and I don’t end up choosing them, I am met with a chorus … nay, a cacophony of whiny voices, all clamoring “Aww, that’s not fair!!” Without hesitation, almost like a pavlovian response, I turn to them and almost shout, “Life’s not fair”. Oh my lanta, I have become my parents. I catch myself before uttering the cornerstone phrase that defined much of my childhood. I heard this phrase so much that it became the punchline to a joke that I never told. Life isn’t fair, I carried this lesson with me through the formative years of my life, where I learned that lesson over and over again. You don’t always win, you don’t always get what you want, and bad things happen to good people.
Justice is a Dirty Word. Not dirty in the sense of raunchy, although she be wearing that blindfold carrying around some props, so you know she is into that freaky stuff, but dirty in the sense that it’s muddled, confusing, an obscure concept that renders it at times problematic. Justice, at times, is a hypocritical paradox that feels corrupt and soiled. Justice is a dirty word, because when we are clamoring for Justice, we are actually seeking one of Justice’s closely related cousins of retribution, retaliation, reciprocity, or vengeance. That’s why Justice is a dirty word. Justice is a dirty word because at times it feels unfair. Justice wears a blindfold to relate to us her impartiality and carries scale to reflect her desire for balance. What if Justice’s blindfold prevents her from seeing the whole picture; what falls through the cracks, right underneath her nose? What if Justice’s desire for balance is a fool’s errand because balance is not an achievable end; what if instead what we are really seeking is a return to wholeness? Justice relies on a convoluted system of laws and practices that is difficult to navigate. Good things happen to bad people, folks get away with murder, and the system is stacked against you. Justice, at times, is too narrowly focused on individualism, and ignores that we ourselves are minds, bodies, hearts, spirits, communities, and Nature herself. Healing should certainly start with the individual, but it certainly shouldn’t end there. Justice is a dirty word because it often looks at the present moment, what is happening right now, and yet we know that History is not over; it shifts and impacts the individual body and the collective culture and then is passed from one generation to the next. This means that systems like the colonization of these lands, the institution of slavery, and various economic and gender practices that cause disconnection and suffering are not over, even if the laws regulating them have changed.
Growing up, Justice seemed like a power that was outside of my control - like from some fantastical creatures that would dole out rewards for the blessed, and righteous punishment to the wicked. Like Santa Claus. Justice was something I earned or deserved because of good behavior, and punishment was also something I deserved because of bad behavior. Then my knowing of Justice shifted, and a toxicity entered my understanding. Justice became about balance and the power was in my hands. You hurt me, I hurt you. You punish me, I punish you. As I got older, Justice became something that would happen to other people, that promised to make me feel better. I would throw out phrases like, “Karma is a beotch, and she is going to get you”. Justice, was still a power that was outside of my reach, but from a place of moral superiority, and righteous indignation, I felt that Justice would be served, and I didn’t have to do anything, but wait. Spirituality complicated my understanding of Justice. Suddenly I was in a world that said there was no right and wrong, only mistakes and lessons, that what we were seeking was neutrality.
As I moved into the professional world, my jobs all centered on the theme of justice: social justice, reproductive justice, economic justice, etc. Even then, I didn’t really have a firm understanding of what Justice was. I believed Justice was about change, equity, inclusion. But what is just, when the Bill that you worked so hard for in one election cycle, could be easily overturned in the next? What is just when the opposition uses lies, scare-tactic propaganda, and debased moral authority to achieve their ends? What is just when your own movement acts in an unjust manner by oppressing others, even within your own community? As I left the social justice movement and moved into my spiritual work, I noticed, like our story of Themis and Dike, that the two often seemed separate and at odds with one another. There was an absence of spirituality in the justice work - as it became clear that the leaders and high-ranking officers of these movements have neglected their own deeper healing work. Wounded warriors created fractured policies, systems, and movements that were broken and undermined the work and created violence (to themselves and to others). There was also a lack of justice work in the spiritual movements as leaders broke or ignored the laws believing that they were above, or somehow they were removed, from the everyday turmoil of existence. Spiritual movements ignored trauma, history, and the current systemic institutions of oppression, and instead offered antiquated rules that didn't reflect our modern life; or they offered trite phrases like “thoughts and prayers”, or “focus on the light”, which seemed, at times, condescending and potentially harmful. Now, I am not advocating for a reunion of the church and the state, but I believe that for true Justice to occur, that parts of each, must come together, learn from one another, and provide a new path forward that promotes wholeness, and an integrated healing model that not only cares for the individual but the community as a whole.
Justice is broken in our country. There have been 289 mass shootings in the United States since the first of the year. That is more than we have had days in 2019. 313 deaths and over 1200 injured. 19 Transgender individuals have been killed, with the majority being black transgender women. During the 2018 fiscal year, nearly 400,000 people were booked into ICE custody, staying in detention centers where they often experience abuse, are denied basic safe and sanitary conditions, and medical care, and legal counsel. The true injustices are the crimes that seek to separate ourselves and separate us from one another, with the goal of denying our humanity, and denying the humanity in others. This goal of held trauma and systems of dominance depends on this feeling of disconnection because this feeling of disconnection gets in the way of us joining together to heal, to resist, and to make change.
So, what do we do? What is the way forward? This conversation is polarizing as the conversation often devolves into who is the blame and what is the appropriate form of punishment. The first step is nothing new; we know about it, and have learned about it this evening in Reverend Levity's talk called "Maskless". That is, first we must do our own internal work, our own healing, and we must take responsibility for that healing, and create practices that encourage that healing and well-being in our personal and professional lives. But it cannot stop there, it mustn’t stop there. Yes, your personal healing will reverberate out and certainly have a positive impact upon your immediate circle, your community, and the world. But you are not in a vacuum.
While researching, I came across a practice called restorative justice, a model that seeks to bring offenders, victims, and the community together in a proactive and healing space to promote resolution, respect, inclusion, empowerment, and active responsibility. There are four key values to restorative justice:
Is restorative justice a perfect practice? No. Is it an answer to everything broken or corrupt within the justice system? No. Is restorative justice the answer to all crimes and all incidences? No. Before we can even begin to address the many fractured and disjointed elements of a Justice system, we have to become very clear about our definition of justice. We have to become very clear about our values as human beings and we have to become very comfortable articulating those values and acknowledge the ways in which systems, current and past, have violated and betrayed those values. We have to become exceptionally clear about what the way forward, through what Justice looks like, or we truly will be the blind leading the blind.
One of the most profound skills an Alchemist can develop is their ability to be self-referencing. Whether in regards to their own spiritual practice, professional life, or personal relationships, the skill of tuning in and ascertaining how we feel (like whether a decision is in the highest good of all, and coming from a grounded, loving place), is undeniably essential for personal growth and transformation.
However, what if you doubt the answer you find? How do you know you're tapping into the collective wisdom of Spirit, as opposed to the egoic trappings of the mind? When is self referencing, self sabotaging? (Can you hear the voice of Carrie Bradshaw asking these questions?)
The greatest indicator is our old friend Friend. I say Friend because energies are neither good nor bad, they simply are, and it's only the lens through which we view attributes which give them the label of good or bad. Fear is a powerful teacher (great, just what we need, another teachable moment) designed to lead us toward the places we still need to grow, process, or work through.
However, when we are IN fear, our capacity to think about others diminishes to zero. Fear makes us irrational, greedy, and selfish (not in the good way). When Fear is present, the True you is gone, making it impossible to make divine decisions.
We then will often make judgments and decisions from the moral high ground of self referencing, only to then learn - after sometimes a slue of unpredictable consequences - that in fact we did not pass go and did not collect that $200. Congratulations, God is infinitely more forgiving to us than we are to each other, and the opportunity to make a different choice, will eventually emerge.
So, what do you need to do?
Recognize, cultivate, and enjoy the All-Mighty Pause.
The fact that you are in Fear doesn't make you a bad person, doesn't mean you're behind the curve spiritually, nor is Fear something you must conquer.
Sit with it.
Breathe slowly into it.
See what's there, if you want to.
And remember to lighten up, it's only eternity.
[Delivered live on New Year's Eve, 2017]
How do you know when to fight for something, versus, how do you know when to let go?
How do you know when to hook up to the life support machines, and when do you choose to allow someone you love die?
…Oh, did those sound like rhetorical questions? My bad, 'cause I’m genuinely asking. I hope ya’ll didn’t come here for answers tonight, 'cause all I got is questions. Like, I thought I had enough answers to this question to write a whole sermon, but then I saw the new Star Wars movie and I don’t even know who I am anymore. I saw a piece of myself in every character, even in the dark side.
This is seriously something I’ve been struggling with this year, especially recently—when to fight and when to release. It’s like my inner social justice warrior and my inner zen Buddhist are at odds.
Because there’s a lot of injustice happening in our world right now that needs to be met with resistance -- fierce, strong, compassionate resistance. But where does the idea of resistance belong in the heart of a spiritual warrior who has been called to resist nothing?
I met a young teenage girl at a church in Carson City a few months ago, who had just failed her probation drug test, and was awaiting the judge's verdict on whether or not she would have to return to jail for 6 months. She was absolutely terrified. There were a number of hoops she could jump through to fight it, but mostly she felt the whole thing was out of her control. She told me the only reason she had finally stopped fighting the whole thing was because she sat down in her sadness and made a list of all the reasons she thought God might be sending her to jail:
1) No more survival (she was homeless, and in jail she was guaranteed food and shelter)
2) To force her sobriety (which she had been struggling with in the outside world)
3) To teach others in jail about God (during her last stint in jail, she taught other young girls about the power of faith, and positively affected their lives)
Sometimes our mistakes come with consequences we want to defy. Other times the mistakes of our corrupt and unjust system weigh down on the innocent. Either way, through faith, we can trust that God is always leading us to where He wants us to be.
So, I asked God this question, about fighting vs. releasing, and I heard three answers in return:
1. Follow the signs –whatever they are. Pray and then obey.
2.Remember change is the only constant. So, if you’re fighting to change a system for the better, then fight. But if you’re fighting to hold onto a system or an old version of yourself, it’s probably time to just…let…go.
3. Whenever you approach this fork in the road, do I fight or do I release, take just a moment to totally allow whatever it is you’re fighting. Even if you know you must fight soon, take just this moment…and let the storm sweep you away.
So, let us do that tonight—take all the perceived injustices of our personal lives and our world, and, just until midnight, let’s completely allow them to be. And through this allowance, we will release 2017.
Dear Ms. Morales,
I am Reverend Levity with Alchemist Theatre. We are holding a 30 day pad drive to collect menstrual products for our 42 Title I schools in Washoe County. I was told to reach out to you to see about distributing the products. Our main goal, though, is to actually get these products INTO the bathrooms (at least one bathroom in as many Title I schools as we can), not just send the products home with girls in need.
We want to eliminate the girls' need to go to the office or the school nurse to ask for donations; we want to minimize their time spent in the bathroom, and reduce the shame that goes with needing help, or getting your period unexpectedly.
Ideally, once approved, we would host a box-making party at Our Center (the LGBT youth center on Wells Ave), and decorate small boxes to hold the donations that are then placed in the bathrooms. We want to decorate the boxes with positive phrases about being on your period, and do away with all the shame-inducing popular idioms.
Can you please inform me of what steps we need to take to get this approved? Our drive ends on Friday, and we have collected thousands of donations. Here's the article in the RGJ: http://www.rgj.com/story/news/2017/10/13/group-fill-pods-pads-washoe-county-school-girls/763651001/
Thank you for your time! I look forward to hearing from you,
Alchemist Movement, LLC
By: Joseph Daylover
For all of my twenties I shunned the idea of the service. Fresh out of grad school and teaching part time, what I valued most was lying in the grass by the river or hanging with comrades, not working to have adult things. I didn’t have health insurance, a nice car, or take vacations, the things of the full-time working world. Instead, I worked toward working as little as possible, stacking up a few part-time jobs onto three, sometimes two days per week. You can get away with this as a part-time college prof, a life of stipends and spontaneity.
As a teacher I was decent, but I cared more about things that didn’t make me any money, Writing and Theatre. My only problem was that I let my idea of work get tied up with American capitalism, the grind, the herd, as they say. Working to have things. Like Tyler Durden says, “we work jobs we hate, so that we can buy shit we don’t need.” Much as I love books like Fight Club, I overate on the idea, believing work to mean servitude to an unchallengeable system. Why work for that?
My thinking started to shift when I read “The World’s Religions” by Hustom Smith. The chapter on Hinduism describes various Yogas, or pathways to God; among them are Knowledge, Love, Exercise (Yoga), and Work. Wait—work? As a method for knowing liberation? Wasn’t work a conspiracy to serve the selfish elite, a greedy machine? Smith explains, karma yoga (knowing God through work) means, “you can find God in the world of everyday affairs as readily as anywhere.” Moreover, “he who performs actions without attachment, resigning them to God, is untainted by their effects as a lotus leaf by water.” Hold on a second—I could work for service to God and not the ruling classes? The Bhagavad Gita says, “...do this an offering to Me. Thus you shall be free from the bondages of actions that bear good and evil results.”
So it seems that with work we become caught up with personal reward, likely to stoke the ego, materialism, all that jazz. But with service, our duties carry a sacred force which fulfills others in service of God. This equals the shift from the finite to the infinite self. My old stance of “fuck the machine” meant I was stuck in the finite, in empirical reward or loss. With an eye toward the infinite, I saw how much my life revolved around service in fact. While working part-time, I helped found and build GLM, this very Theatre we’re in. Most work here is volunteer, done in service of art, of patrons, among other things. I also rewrote my Master’s thesis into a novel; wasn’t this an attempt to serve readers an entertaining tale and worthy ideas? I had helped build a garden out back. You get the idea.
Everything is service, but that is a choice. So I chose to become a better teacher, to see the divine in talking about how to write proper conclusions, to foster true connection when responding to my student’s essays. Obligation became purpose, a mission to serve the divine. In doing so, I found a truer vocabulary, a vocation within the campus confines. Admittedly, it’s hard to find vocation in most jobs, to not resent the idea of service in the culture we live in. The demands are great, and the true rewards are not advertised. The machine is real, but we choose whom to serve.
By: Joseph Daylover
Growing up Catholic, I read an illustrated version of the Bible for kids, Old and New Testament, cover to cover. The story of Passover, like many others, scared the bejesus out of me. The sacrificing of first-born children, the blood on doors, and the wrath of God—all of it felt more like a ghost story rather than Holy Scripture. I remember feeling the heaviness of that book, a bulky thing carrying the weight of expectations and all the punishments spelled out to warn the sinner against wrongdoing. My first experience of God was traditionally Catholic, and that was being afraid of God.
Now, part of that has to do with my strict, traditional upbringing, but it’s also the prescribed method, even if we didn’t really know it. In St. Augustine’s “On Christian Doctrine”—one of the earliest authoritative texts of the Post Apostlistic church, he identifies fear as the first step toward true faith, or wisdom. While this has merit, my path would be far more roundabout—moving across the country, substituting the Bible for Literature and the arts, graduating with a Master’s in English, starting a Theatre company, meeting my dear Wife and coming back to belief via the Tao. Ironically, we’re reading St. Augustine for a course I now teach in Ancient and Medieval cultures. God certainly has a sense of humor. Now that I have reclaimed faith after years of being an agnostic, I can understand the context and relish in that book’s power.
It’s also worth noting that, growing up, I was never taught how to interpret the Bible. The metaphysical meanings of each story, I would later find out, are profound, all encompassing. Passover represents the victory of faith, or the soul—represented by the Israelites, over the self and sense experience, represented by Egyptians. I can relate, having turned away from God early on toward the self and the experiences of this world being our only teacher. Basically, that happened because of distrust--since God’s wrath could reign down upon me for any transgression, then why should I should trust Him? And if I can’t trust him, who can I trust? Well, I can trust myself. That’s more or less the thought process ending in isolation and the worship of my own flawed rationality over faith.
Back to Passover and the blood on the doors. I interpret that as a sign of trust between God’s chosen and the Creator, that he would lead them out of slavery and toward salvation. They should trust him despite the bleak reality before them. The journey would be long, but God would deliver his first born to rid us of our reliance upon the karmic wheel where ritual sacrifice was supposed to curry God’s favor. Similarly, trust lied at the heart of my journey, all along. Perhaps that should be the starting point over fear. It gets tricky, though, because in order to trust I had to distrust first. I had to get it wrong to get it right. Surely no one can relate to that. Yeah, that sounds like an original story.
Note: for the curious, St. Augustine’s 7-fold path to wisdom goes: Fear, Piety, Knowledge, Resolution, Counsel, Purification of Heart—Wisdom.
By: Joseph Daylover
A creative writing teacher of mine once spoke of dynamic characters, those who have “The Fire”—a passion or thirst for experience. Stereotypically, these characters drive plots, take action, and are romantics. But the quiet ones have it, too, an intuition that must be explored at all costs, an unknown force pushing them forward. They seek. They aren’t jaded. They hold out for possibility and refuse to accept adversity. And my favorite: everyone feels their magnetic power; the room changes when they enter; everyone wants a taste of what they have. Why? Because we all love a good burn.
But of course, danger lurks. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a story. The Fire can be used for evil as we know. Those possessing the true fire, then, create instead of destroy. And they don’t hoard it. There’s plenty to go around, and they want others to feel it. There’s too much beauty to experience to fret over lack. I’ll bet some of your favorite stories are about characters with the fire or rediscovering the fire—true self-actualization….in other words, a greater awareness of their own capability, an awe for the magic surrounding themselves and in nature. Why are we so excited for the next Star Wars? To witness Rey’s Jedi training, of course, the glory of her catching fire. In literature, some of my favorite examples are “The Razor’s Edge”, “A Separate Peace”, and “The World According to Garp”, to name a few.
So then, as our lives and stories unfold, we journey to find and sustain the fire, but nothing good comes easy. We slip into the mentality of “the herd”—feelings of routine and insignificance, the crushing idea that nothing matters so we might as well conform, play it safe, hedge our bets. Somehow this feels safer, because, actually, we fear what the fire may bring…perhaps an early death. The irony is, we find a slower and more painful demise living with the herd. In “The Fire Next Time”, James Baldwin said, “…one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life” (124). We decide, right? That must mean every moment represents a chance to connect, to rekindle, even when you’re in line at the DMV. Turns out everything matters.
Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time. New York: Dell Publishing, 1962.
What kind of life would you lead if you had no fear? #AlchemistMovement