Pictures and a Story on The Way to Jury Duty in L.A.

Metro, Los Angeles

Pictures and a Story on The Way to Jury Duty in L.A.

by Jane Tawel

June 8, 2022

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I walked this route from Union Station, Downtown Los Angeles each morning to the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. One morning I saw a thin, rather frantic young woman who had parked her shopping cart of belongings against the railings that are the only things protecting walkers from falling into the mass of cars on the freeway. She had a small bucket of red paint and she was painting something on the sidewalk. The next morning I found she had painted a love letter to some one named Amgtriky. I wondered what she had written but then covered over with a big red square. “I Love you Amgtriky you are my world.” I hope Amgtriky got the message and hope the frantic young woman gets the love she craves enough to risk arrest for defacing public property. Aren’t we all, in one way or another, trying to get our message out to the ones we call “our world”? Aren’t we all just living with our big red letters sloppily painted wherever we go in our hope that someone will answer back that we too are someone’s world?

Los Angeles

Taking the metro about an hour each morning and evening was an experience in itself. Union Station is a truly beautiful architectural gem, both inside and out. 

Union Station L.A.

One morning I was going to stop at the restroom in Union Station before making my fifteen minute walk to the courthouse. The restroom was unavailable and there were about five or six cops and a couple station security guards swarming around the entrance to the women’s room. I never knew why but I found the paradox of what is shown in this picture quite a succinct comment on modern life. Outside the restroom is a “Lactation Pod” next to someone’s entire earthly belongings, carried around on a makeshift cart because they have no home. I wondered since the lactation pod didn’t seem to be all that practical or often used, if maybe we could give all the lactation pods to all the people who don’t have a home? We could call them “Humanity Matters Pods”.

Lactation Pod and Belongings, Union Station, L.A. 

At lunch I would, for a brief hour, escape the horrible weight of being a judge of someone else’s life and a carrier of a lot of people’s pain, and I would eat my little cheese sandwich and apple in this park that sits in the middle of all the justice halls that a big city like Los Angeles needs. This playground was unavailable and yellow-taped off. I don’t know why but there weren’t many children around at that time of day anyway. I found myself singing to myself Cat Steven’s metaphoric and prescient tune, “Where Do the Children Play”. 

City Hall Park, Los Angeles

During my lunch hour, the thing that always restored my joy was a group of men who played a pick-up soccer game in the park. They were also enjoying freedom from whatever jobs or lack of jobs they might have had to go back to. I imagined some of them may have been the police or public defenders or D.A.s who had a bit of anonymity and a bit of fun in otherwise hard, stressful days. I had a lot of respect for not just the people who make our American legal system still what has to be one of the best things about America and our wanna-be democracy, but for all the people I met in Los Angeles. I got lost my first day and I was a bit over-the-top freaked out about it and yet so many people would stop on the street and help me reorient or calm down or figure out where I needed to go (I got lost quite a few times). Strangers can be so very kind, even in a big city like L.A. and it made me hopeful to know that as Anne Frank said, “people are really good at heart” — or they want to be, if we maybe just let ourselves ask for help. It gave me such hope for the human race, that even though I didn’t get to see children playing in the park because the playground was shut down, I got to see grown men playing in the park each day, and as long as grown adults can still play, maybe we can all somehow stop all this ridiculous violence and sorrow. 

City Hall Park with Soccer Game in distance, L.A. 

Every evening, on the way to the metro at Union Station, I walked past homeless encampments. Every unhoused person I talked to was very nice, although there were a couple of them now and then who had just “lost it” and I guess I would be crazy loco if no one loved me enough, here in the richest nation on earth, to at least give me a roof over my head and maybe some meds I might need and some daily bread, I mean, food. I often saw the saints of the world out on the streets, like the mobile shower people who park their vans near the encampments so the homeless can take a shower and feel at least a little more human. Each day the metro took me past the Homeboys Industry Home and I saw a lot of care given to homeless folks by strangers and city cops and security guards. I think it’s time we took all the guns and bombs and weapons in the world (or at least in our nation) and turned them into homes.

L.A. Homeless Encampment overlooking the freeway
L.A. Un-Housed People

Going downtown by myself every day and serving on a jury, felt like a very brave thing for little old, stuck in the mud me to do because I am pretty well sunk-in to my careful little, often anxious but small risk suburban life. I ended up feeling both much older and quite a bit younger and also hopeful that my life wasn’t really all that set yet, and I could still live a more helpful, kind, — adventurous — and useful,caring life. I realized it is now time to find a practical way to give more to people who need another pair of hands to help them out. I have been volunteering from a distance, literally during the Covid pandemic years, but always a bit distanced metaphorically in how I choose to care for the stranger, the orphan, the homeless, the prisoner,or the hurting. But during my two weeks of Jury Duty I had been forced to be “present”. Each morning when the court clerk would call my number and I answered “present”, was like a vision of a future where the Great Judge of All calls the roll call. I want to start waking up each day, and be able to say, “I’m present. I’m ready. What is it that The Universal Good would have me, little old me, do for someone else today?” Because you know what — most of the good that gets done in this world is being done by “little old me’s”. And seeing all the “little old me’s” of Los Angeles made me realize that if anyone is looking for Christ, or looking for Jesus to return, I can tell them where to find him — he is in the City of Los Angeles, in the homeless camps and prisons and court houses and parks and sidewalks. All we have to do is look for Christ and we will find that Christ is here because Christ is waiting to be us.

And I realized, although I didn’t want to do it, that Jury Duty had been a sobering, emotionally and spiritually exhausting gift from God. After seeing the world that lets a young man join a gang because he doesn’t have any real family to help him grow up strong and valued and loved, or a world where someone gets shot by a gun while going to the grocery because we have become so greedy and stupid that we worship guns instead of life, or a world that walks past people without homes while other people fly into space on their chump-change, or a world that has been so very, very gracious to me, such a lucky world for me to be born and raised and survive in, while other people get the short end of the whole deal, after seeing a world where bad decisions became a life of no return, and good decisions can get you in trouble or killed, and where everyone is seeking the same things but some people just have the odds stacked against them and no one is around to help them find their way–help them find The Way; in world where every one is throwing their red paint around hoping that someone believes in them and loves them enough to say, “You are my world” — in this time and place that I happen to find myself in, I realized I need some skin in the game. Because this game? This game of life can’t be played from the sidelines. 

Every day I got to come home to a home and a family that loves me and feels loved and where I have more than enough food and clothes and places to keep my stuff. I got to come home to a garden, and not just any garden, but a garden my daughter had made for me to enjoy. I got to come home to roses and I could avoid the thorns or get a band aide if I pricked my finger on a thorn. I thought about the defendant in the trial who would have many years where he would never see a garden, let alone tend one. I thought about the families of the victims who would never have their son or daughter make them something beautiful, like my daughter made my garden for me. I thought about the homeless folks who didn’t have any where but a cold or hot sidewalk to lay their heads at night. I thought about the judges and detectives and cops and prosecutors and defense attorneys and courthouse guards who every day go back into the world hoping for justice and also, I hope, praying not to get so jaded or worn down that they give up caring. And after my journey in the City of Los Angeles, I am still asking to know a better answer to the question, “How Shall I Then Live?” 

My daughter’s garden for me

© Jane Tawel, June 2022

Space and Time and the Essence of Spirit and Truth

by Jane Tawel

Space and Time and the Essence of Spirit and Truth

By Jane Tawel

February 26, 2022

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At no other time in our lives, have our ideas about space and time been so challenged, so shifted, or so illuminated. Two years past the beginning of this time that will, as long as we humans are allowed to keep creating history on this planet, be called “The 2020 Corona Virus Pandemic”, on what we hope will be the tail end, we are all taking stock of our actions, the actions of the world’s leaders, and the past versus present versus future worldviews we held/hold/ will possibly keep on holding.

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Many of us who hold what we might call a spiritual worldview, have long meditated on and mostly wrestled with our ideas about the big two: Time and Space. Even if a person does not have a spiritual or religious point of view about life, there is simply no way to go through one’s life without some philosophy or other about time and space. From pithy proverbs to gigantic tomes to every religious work from the Bible to the Quran to the various Buddhist Canons, if one is mature enough, wise enough, open enough, and hungry enough, one will find that apart from the human questions of  “what is the meaning of life” and “how do I find and feel love”, the two great motivating quests and relational aspects to every person’s life is  the relationship he has to Time and Space. On a simple level, space for most of us peons, means “where do I call my Home”. Our idea of time, for the common folk, is “what am I going to do today that is really what am I doing with my life?”

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Over the past two years I have had a lot more time to read and so I can end this essay here and refer you to three teachers and writers who have opened my mind and stretched my world view in so many ways, but significantly in terms of the ideas of Time and Space. The first great teacher I happened upon, thank God, is the profound Jewish rabbi and theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and specifically his books Man is Not Alone and The Sabbath. Secondly, the many works of the brilliant and open-minded Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, whose views on both Buddhism and Christianity, can be not only worldview changing, but World-changing, if we let them. Finally, if you have not yet found a way to Richard Rohr’s many profound writings on Christianity as a “new and improved” religious lifestyle, please do.  However! But! Wait for it!  All of these teachers have brought me back around to the astounding, life-changing, True Truth Spiritual Worldview – words fail! – the words and ideas about Time and Space of Jeshua ben Joseph, Jesus, who some call The Christ. When read with not just an open-mind, but a childlike wonder, what Jesus believed, taught, and lived, is mind-morphing, world-shaking, mythically eternal, true Truth no matter what religion you call it, unsettling, and incredible. The problem as G.K Chesterton, among others, so sadly put it, is that the “ideals of Christ have not been tried and found wanting, but found to be difficult and so have not been tried”.

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So, in my small, still immature, seeking way, may I tell you a few of the practical ideas I am having about my desire to keep an ever growing, changing, worldview about living in The Way, seeking The Tao, and being a disciple?  I am going to stick to the practical ideas because first of all, the above teachers I mention, among others, have much better illuminated what I would call the spiritual or philosophical or Big Ideas than I ever could, especially in terms of those illusive and ethereal ideas of Time and Space. Secondly, I will stick to a few practical ideas because, I don’t know about you, but the past two years have made me reevaluate, what Francis Schaeffer so pithily coined as “How Shall We Then Live”.   A pandemic has made many of the world’s citizens look not only at their individual lives, but our collective lives on this planet as well, and the bottom line has been, for many of us, a hard look at how we have been rather blithely living on this planet with our fellow humans, and how we sure better start living in a practical, immediate, real way, if we want our species and this lovely globe to continue. And frankly, some of us feel this desire to somehow “continue” ourselves.  So, let me start with a couple of ideas that are based on my particular upbringing in the religion we call Christianity, but that I think can be applied to whatever your own religion was or is or to no “religion” at all.

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A Mediation on 2022 Steps Along The Way

By a Seeker

The Bible is a book about four relationships, with examples in biographies, poetry, essays, and history of humans trying to find the best way to live in those relationships. This collection of writings should be read with a desire to grow in one’s own relationships to: God, Self/others, Time, and Space. The man named Jesus was a believer in the Bible, the Jewish collection of writings of the Hebrew people and of a God that had many names and no name. Jesus taught what can be called The Way or The Truth, to people who believed in Torah/ The Bible and people who didn’t; to people who believed in God and people who believed in gods; to people who were Jewish and people who were enemies of the Jews; to people who followed him and to people who ended up killing him. But Jesus reminds me that the truth can be hard to hear, perhaps today, it is most especially hard to truly hear by the very people who have called the members of their religion “little-Christs”.  Jesus wept. What I have been finally able to listen to in the past couple of years, is that any religion or spiritual or philosophical pursuit, but perhaps especially the religion of Judeo-Christianity, is ultimately worthless if it is only about doctrines or ideas. The only true worth of a worldview, is in its practice. The ideas and teachings of Jesus were ultimately meant to be a practical way to live for every one. And any thing we read, whether it is found in the Bible, the Quran, a novel, a scientific text, a quote, or a bumper sticker, must be held up to the Light – and the Light is whether this is a true – a real—a practical way for all beings in all spaces and in all times—to live.

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This is where the words of Christ let us know that our relationship to God is not really something that can be taught, but which must be experienced as personal, mysterious, and the kind of relationship a small child has to her Parent, full of love, but very limited in terms of the limited mind’s ability for understanding who the Parent really is. “Our Daddy Who is “out there and everywhere”, doing stuff that I, a little human being/child don’t understand, I revere You, God-Daddy, and love you so much I worship you!” (a paraphrase of the beginning of Christ’s Lord’s Prayer)

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 Jesus also tried to teach us that Self/ and Other Humans are interbeings, we are One, and boy is this where the ego/ mind revolts. But to accept that who I am today is not who I was yesterday but is also who I was yesterday and is also part of who my parents, and grandparents and ancestors were, is to understand that our comprehension of self, is well, let’s just say – it’s complicated. Jesus had a hard time expressing this reality of “interbeing” but he tried to by teaching us that “I and the Parent of All are one” and that as Jesus and the Psalmist taught, “you are all gods” (Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34-36). When we look at ourselves and at others, we should see the image of God, and since God is One, so are we. Okay, that is Big Idea. Jesus dumbed it down for me so I could figure out how not to comprehend this great mystery but to live it in a practical way. The two big practical ways were: Live every moment and every relationship with complete empathetic caring love and complete forgiveness. Period. Fini.

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So, to forgive another is to forgive myself, to love my True Self, not my ego, but my soul, and that is how it is to love others, and therefore love myself, and even to empathize with and “become” my enemy in order to love him. Words fail when trying to grasp Ultimate Truth and Reality. But — Relationship to God, The Ultimate Alpha and Omega = Love and Awe and Trust. Relationship to Other Beings = forgive, let go, love self leads to love them = care as if your life depends on how you treat the least of life. Because it does. This loving and forgiving idea of Christ’s is not a suggestion, it is a revelation about what is actual Ultimate Reality. We just too often prefer our false reality which is limited by ego, greed, and our false views of time and space. 

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Jesus also does a great job of messing with our ideas about Space. Personally, the past two years of not being allowed to attend a building full of possibly virus-laden people on Sunday mornings, or Saturday Sabbaths, has been one of the greatest things to happen to my understanding of worship and space. Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond grateful for a lifetime of pastors and churches where I have learned and grown in understanding and I have only a few (and I do have them, mea culpa) regrets about raising my four adult-now children by taking them to church every week. But I now see that what we call The Church has been reduced horrifically to a building of (sorry) a capitalistic business enterprise where a handful of people get paid to speak and the rest of us sit and listen and give money to keep the machine running and then we call it worship of a God Who says quite strongly over and over again through the Prophets, “I detest your ‘sacrifices’. Your assemblies and feasts are a stench to My nostrils”.  I require you to treat others with mercy and a daily, humble acknowledgment of a need for Me to create in my people a Holy Character, which is peace, love, mercy, and grace. I, God want you to accept that all that is given is nothing you have earned, but is My Gift.”   Jeshua ben Joseph says that simply all we have, symbolized in Hebrew by the word “bread” or “manna”, is a gift of God, and we can’t hold on to what we were given in the past or the future, or take it with us to any space but the space of our own beating heart, breathing space of our bodies. “Give us today our daily needs”.

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Jesus makes very clear over and over, that what we consider Space, even the Space of this earth is not an ultimate reality, all will “pass away” and as scientists have tried to tell us, matter, or “space” never dies, it merely changes its “reality” or form. This is true of the matter we call, our own body, or space, or matter. But whatever form our matter takes, Jesus says that we exist in relationship to God. Christ teaches, in his very succinct and clear way: “If you mature, if you allow the change to happen, which will happen whether you accept it or not, then there will come a day, when you do not worship God on this mountain or that one, or in this temple or that building, or in your current form or another form, but in Spirit and in Truth.”

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As Paul said, when we are little children, we think as little children and we need the kind of teaching that little children need. But if we truly seek to be what some of us believe A God has called us to be as human beings, then someday we stop “drinking milk” and we take up the strong brew of maturity.  This is not for the faint of heart. And here is where a gathering, whether it is in what you believe to be a “sanctified” space on Sundays or not, is important. A gathering should ultimately lead you from a need to listen, to a need to partake; from a desire to learn to a desire to experience worship; from a self-need to a communal-need. If you are able to gather with a small community of those who seek Truth and Spirit, as you do, those who challenge you, walk alongside you in life, question you and themselves, and support you and need you to support them– then you are right to gather and “worship” or learn or just fellowship with those people. I have my community, my “church”, my “sangha”, spread out across the world. My “people” include some of my relatives and best friends, and teachers and even some people I have never met in person. They include people who would probably say they believe the same basic religious tenets that I do, and those who would definitely not. And might I go back to a desire to assemble on a weekend day to worship? Yes, I actually hope so, but it won’t be for the same reasons and it won’t be until I can find a space where people gather not because they think they have to in order to find God or go to heaven, but because they share a life of mutual need and mutual support and a desire to raise our voices to A Being, a Mommy-Daddy-Parent, Who we do not understand the Mystery of, but Whom we know somewhere deep within our very souls, loves us, Her children, and desires us to love each other and this beautiful Garden that our Progenitor has graced us with and Who longs to, as Jesus did, “gather us little seekers to Him as a Mother Hen gathers her fledgling chicks.”

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As I write this, The Kingdom of Russia has invaded The Kingdom of Ukraine. I happen to live in The Kingdom of America (which no longer should hold the title to “United” States, in my opinion); and my Kingdom has invaded lots of other Kingdoms in its short history. A lot of Jesus’ contemporaries tried to make him an invader of other Kingdoms. The Israelites changed a lot about their God over the course of their history, and one of those things was that God was created in the image of man, rather than the other way around, with a human-projected desire for the people who loved him to force other people to love Him too by taking over their “space”.  This idea that space should belong to the most powerful among us, is one of the greatest misunderstandings of God’s intention for our “Garden”, this beautiful Earth. We change God’s original idea of caring as wise caretakers for all of Creation, into the idea that we can “rule” the earth. If you have ever planted seeds or tended a garden, you may realize that we humans can not ever “rule” what God has created as nature, “natural”. For anything to grow, it must be accepted not as the work of our human hands but as something dependent on the grace of sun and rain and good soil and all the grace that is needed for life.   So, when his closest friends asked Jesus to conquer the Space of his time, he kept trying to point them to the truth about Space: “God’s Kingdom is not “out there” or “here”. God’s Space is among YOU, within YOU, within Me, it is everywhere, and no-where, it is “on earth, as it is in the sky, the heavens, the cosmos. The space known as God’s Kingdom is a cosmos out there and also within your very little human self. I could no more conquer it than I could hold it in my hand. “My kingdom is not of this world, but of a completely different idea about Space.”  Oh, dear children, what does it profit you if you gain all of the kingdoms, all space, all time, all stuff, all money, all fame, all admiration, all knowledge, and you die, ceasing to have any of that, ceasing to exist outside the Ultimate Reality, and have lost the only thing you have ever really wanted and have ever really been – a cosmic soul?

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The radical views of Christ’s about Space have begun to change my idea about who or what I am. Because the older you get, the more you are aware of the space you actually live in – your body/mind, or what Jesus called “your temple”. Talk about a place to worship in – the body/mind changes every day and when you are young, it is easy to overlook the changes. When you are older, not so much! And as I am older, I am not only more aware of the space of my body, but more aware of the great question of what will happen to “me” when the space I call my “body” is dead.  And what does “death” mean to me?  The recorded life and words of Jesus at least implies that one’s “self” can be eternal. Can be.  There is a way, that early disciples of Jesus, called The Way, and it is an eternal life that begins now, which takes us from the rather secondary reality we have been meditating on and which we call “Space”, to what Heschel reminds us is the Ultimate Reality of relationship and humanity, which is what we call “Time”. After all, as it is said, Time is the only thing we can never earn more of and which we continually undervalue, to our eternal regret.

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And so, saving the “best” for last, we come to that thing that defines us as a species, our comprehension of the passing of Time, but which is also that very thing we cannot comprehend even as we chase after its meaning until the very last breath – the idea of Time.  And really what the teachers and writers I referred you to at the top of this essay have tried to, well, “drill into my thick skull” can be summed up in one word; and that word is:

NOW.

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That’s it. That is all that needs to be said about Time but also, truth be told, all that can be said about Time. It is one of the words, The Christ, uses over and over and over again, and which we relegate to an intro, rather than the very main idea Jesus wanted us to grasp – “The Time is NOW”.

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We humans waste so much life thinking we can change our past time, or create future time, and we live in the past and future in our heads, our relationships, our decisions, our dreams and regrets – and it is all a false reality – all The Big Lie, because somewhere deep inside when we face True Reality, we realize, whether we want to or not, that all that ever exists is This Moment, This Present, This Now.

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How shall we then live? As if this moment was exactly all I would ever live. This moment is Eternity, and how I live this moment, is what I will eternally be. “To have eternal Time, you must be born again.” In other words – Wow! Bam! Whooo hoooo! I was just born to this moment!  Yikes! I just became alive! Look and true-ly see. Smell and true-ly breathe in and out, in and out, in and out. Listen and true-ly hear.  As the Psalmist says, “Taste and see that The Lord is good, take shelter in The Ultimate Love of Presence”.

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Jesus to me NOW: “I go to a different dimension, and you can’t go there, yet because you are still in this body, this space, and in this time, not yet dead. But in the Ultimate Reality to which I, Jeshua ben Joseph, Jesus, who has become Christ, am going, you too can come, if you want. It will take a new attitude on your part, my dear little friend. It will be as if you have become a little child again, full of wonder and delight in wherever you are in this very moment. It will be painful, like being forced out of a womb, and you will suffer and cry and find your own cross of suffering and dying to your ego to bear. But you will be reborn to something and into someone that you can only envision yourself to be, as if through a fog, but it will happen in eternity and it will also happen right now. But you will be awakened, and in each moment, you will become more and more alive than you can now imagine. I have shown you The Way. Follow my lead. You have been created by and for Love and all the Love that you are, that you give, that you accept and that you create, will never, ever pass away, but will exist outside Space and Time, within what you call yourself and within who you call others, and within Us. Your Love will become Our Love, and All will Be, within Our Relationship, forever and ever. Amen.”

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© Jane Tawel, 2022