Adjusting back to the “WEST”


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Men cleaning their feet for evening prayer at the Jama Masjid Mosque in Delhi India.

I have to admit, I have struggled a little with coming back.  I came back to multiple projects at work, a death of a close friend, and the news media filled with riots, rapes, murders, corruption, and all sorts of other bad news I had not seen since I hadn’t been reading the news while I was away.  I even came back to the death of Robbin Williams.  For a gay man, he was an inspiration, an activist, and someone who took our pain and turned it into laughter.  For me, he will be deeply missed.

I also lost my friend, Elizabeth Earls.  Liz was my friend and colleague at the Rhode Island Council of Community Mental Health Organizations where I served as the assistant training director and the community organizer.  I started as a mere office assistant and it was Liz and the staff there who recognized I could be more.  They supported me and gave me opportunities that have put me where I am today.  I owe Liz, Sue and Sharon a great deal of gratitude for helping me achieve the place I am today.

Along with being a business colleague, Liz was also a dear friend.  Liz offered in jest, I thought, to host my wedding in her back yard.  She was not kidding.  She and 2 of my other beloved friends, Sharon Kelly and Sue Earley planned and pulled off my wedding.  They brought dining room tables from the homes of friends and plopped them into Liz’s backyard.  They covered them in white linens and crystal glassware.  We had a wedding.  Liz will be greatly missed.

One thing I have been thinking over the past week or so since coming back to the US from India is this is a religious country and not a spiritual country. Lots of obsession with dogma and adherence to a faith and yet little spirituality of actually putting the dogma into practice. Here people are very critical of people adhering to dogma. Any dogma not like yours is heresy or militant evil. Everyone who believes, does, or lives differently is the enemy. We may be polite about it and we still think those who are different than us are going to hell. We claim to be a Christian Nation, yet look at what is happening in Ferguson. Look at what is happening on Wall Street. I hear the dogma and I don’t see the principles of Christianity lived out in the Christian nation. The same could be said about other regions here in the US. Lots of rules, and lists of those “destroying” the nations, and few people living out the principles of faith.

I definitely saw something different in India. There were dozens of religions yet people seem to live on the principles of those religions rather than the dogma of those faiths. People didn’t seem to respect particular religions. They seem to respect how well you lived the faith you professed to believe. What was respected is that you displayed the traits of a Hindu, a muslim, a Buddhist, or a Christian. Karma is king. Can you walk your talk? I don’t see that here in this “christian nation” where the recent news is filled with injustice, killing, and moral judgement of others. People seem more interested in posted a monument to the ten commandments but not interested in living those commandments. The same politicians who want to build monuments to the ten commandments also support the second amendment despite the 6th commandment that clearly says, with no holds barred, thou shall not kill.

On the one of days we spent shopping at the Kahn Market in New Delhi, we happen to get caught in the downpour of monsoon.  A shop keeper saw that the paper shopping bag I was carrying was falling apart due to the wet weather.  Even though I did not purchase anything from him at his store, he still sent his worker to give me a plastic bag to protect my purchases.  I was moved enough by this action, that weeks later I am still writing about it.  What I remember most is his smile.  He found such great joy at contributing to my well being in that moment.  I found great joy is his actions.

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Carvings in the Jain Temple in Delhi, India.

India may be dirty, polluted, and smell funny and it also has a sense of spirituality everywhere I went. There were shrines, reminders, and smiling faces who responded to greetings from others (or at least from those who are western). The west has much to learn from the east about religious dogma versus spirituality. What does it mean to walk the talk?

-Joe Brummer

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