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Black History Month, day 22

What I want to write about for today is how Haiti went from a brutally oppressive slave plantation to an independent nation, but what I mostly know about Haiti is how little I know. I just find it intriguing, for several reasons: how widespread the revolt was, a real grassroots movement. How they defeated England, Spain, and Napoleon, for heaven’s sake. How the successful revolt by slaves got the attention of US Americans: definitely that of northern abolitionists and southern newspapers, who commented on it, and surely that of enslaved people as well. The question of whether the Haitian revolutionaries were inspired by the US war of independence (seems likely enough), in which case there is an elegant circling-round, with our revolution partially inspiring theirs, then theirs in turn inspiring our “next revolution,” the Civil War. The interesting personalities of the leaders, such as Toussaint L’Ouverture and Boukman Dutty (I’m finding myself wanting to read a biography of each, and I almost never read biographies). How complex the racial and class relationships were, with a caste of black landowners, maybe even an aristocracy, such as never existed in the antebellum US South. How after the Haitians established a free republic, they waged a war to free the slaves of the Dominican Republic. How, nevertheless, their leaders were not agreed on whether to sustain a democracy or set up new autocracies.

If there were any sense of fair play in world politics, everyone would keep their hands of Haiti–a country that had overcome so much, the only one where slaves reasserted their rights and took over to the point of establishing a new republic, should be hailed and helped by all democracies from then on. (I know, naive. I also have this idea that people who survive cancer should all live to old age and never die of something as ridiculous as a car accident.) Obviously it doesn’t work like that, and not only because Haiti’s leaders vacillated between democracy and dictatorship. The US, far from seeing Haiti as a sister in freedom, invaded in 1915 and set up a puppet government, just one of many cases of the US invading a Caribbean or Latin American country at the behest of corporations. Of course, then-president Wilson was such a white supremacist that, far from rejoicing to see a former slave state gain freedom and equality, he probably found it galling. Again, if black people could run a country, what did that say about his harsh judgment about “governments sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes” after the Civil War? (Read his chapter on Reconstruction in his History of the American People, volume IX, if you can stand it.) We’ve meddled in Haiti ever since.

Last year I tried three Lenten practices: I refrained from one thing (Facebook), I engaged in one thing (daily drawing), and I gave money to justice work (abolishing human trafficking). I didn’t keep to the drawing practice very well. The other practices, I kept, and they were deepening. I’m going to follow the same structure this year: a negative practice, a positive practice, and the practice of generosity.

This year I have a somewhat different internet-related practice: not to use the internet as entertainment. In his poem “Ash Wednesday,” T. S. Eliot prayed, “Teach us to sit still.” It’s something I strive to learn, and the net is amphetamines for my monkey mind. So although I will appear on Facebook, I will endeavor not to fritter. Right now I want to go over there just to see what’s going on. That’s the kind of thing I’m planning to resist from now until Easter.

photo by JamesJen, used by permission (Wikimedia Creative Commons)

The line is fuzzy. Reading the week’s secrets every Saturday night at Postsecret seems like a spiritual practice, even though it sometimes affords all the satisfactions of gossip; reading others’ blog entries is serious but can easily drift into just fooling around; using Facebook to see how a friend is doing or take some political action honors the spirit of the practice, but can easily turn into mere entertainment. I will have to be attentive to what’s calling me to a webpage in order to know when to continue and when to stop.

My positive practice is to walk the labyrinth each day I’m at church. The first couple of days’ practice will be to restore it. It’s made of river stones, which are easily dislodged, and the path has actually been altered in at least one place, as I realized when I walked it the other day and discovered that once you get to the center of the labyrinth you can walk right out. There may be labyrinths with that design, but ours is the Cretan labyrinth and follows the same long path out as one took in. I for one need that contemplation time both going into the center and emerging.

I’m going to continue the support of justice work I began last year by putting much more time into the abolition work I’ve been neglecting. I have no desire, or evening time, to be on organizational boards. What I do best is write, speak, coach volunteers, and teach, so I think this is the time to dig out my notes for a UU abolition curriculum and get a draft done. I’ll also be helping the good folks at Aptos, which has the only anti-slavery action group of any UU congregation that I know of (if there are others, please chime in in the comments!), to have a strong presence at General Assembly (GA), where the Congregational Study Action Issue they proposed is being considered as the next official UU-wide issue and where they have a program on the GA schedule, bringing Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves to tell UUs what the problem is and what we can do about it. I already give to anti-trafficking organizations, but I’ll give a special donation for the season.

Do you have, or have you had, any practices for Lent? What are they?

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