“Set Deep Inside This Love”

I’ve just started reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, given to me as a parting gift from a beloved mentor. I’m taking my time with it because it is a memoir written in verse, stunning verse which stops me in my tracks for moments at a time. For example:

Welcome home, my grandparents say.
Their warm brown
arms around us. A white handkerchief,
embroidered with blue
to wipe away my mother’s tears. And me,
the new baby, set deep
inside this love.”

That’s the phrase that stopped me this morning–“set deep inside this love.”

Because in the midst of reading this book, I’m also reading about protests, responses to protests, and reading about the two New York policemen who were killed with the blame placed at the feet of many (on all sides of the political spectrum) and I’ve been wondering how to respond, where to respond, when to respond.

And there it was: set deep inside this love.

Can you all help me with this as we move within this multi-holiday season and take a few minutes to ponder on this phrase?

I’m thinking of the NY policemen’s families as well as of those families of unarmed black and brown people killed by police. I’m thinking of my children, of your children, of our children–all of us set deep inside this love and I’m wondering, praying and hoping for a way for all of us to take this moment in history and move us forward.

I’ve written and re-written several paragraphs here that I have deleted. I can’t figure out a way to say what I want to say without sounding as if I know all the answers. I so don’t want to sound that way because I know that I don’t. I know that my role in this moment is not one to lead, but to conspicuously follow.

So all I will ask you to do– my dear friends who may not be of my same political stripe but who I know to be loving, caring human beings–is to also ponder on that phrase. As you think of a baby in a manger, think also of all the babies set deep inside this love. Let’s have the conversation from our place of love, from our place of deeply wanting to understand, of deeply wanting this country to be a more peaceful and productive place for all the babies.

I may not write again before Christmas, so I will use this moment to wish you and yours a peaceful. love-filled holiday season that awakens your own call to serving the love set deep within and around us all.

Why I keep posting about race

I think I have had some white friends “unfriend” me lately. Or block my posts. I haven’t looked hard enough to know for sure, but I see that some people’s posts no longer show up on my facebook feed. I’m guessing it is because I’ve been reposting a lot of articles about race that make them uncomfortable.  And frankly, I’ve made a conscious decision to do so because of that–and here is why:

When I was a kid, way back in the late 60s and early 70s, every summer we travelled from Southern to Northern California to spend a week at my grandparents’ cabin on a lake. The cabin was small and we children would be sent to bed early and the adults would stay up talking, only the staying up talking was always more of a political debate than anything. My father, who looked like Carroll O’Connor but talked more like Meathead, and my grandfather whose politics at the time were right of Archie Bunker’s, would raise their voices while we tried to sleep in the next room–and the conversations were not just about the war, about poverty, but, invariably, undergirding it all, was race. Because my grandfather lived a very long time, his views had time to change. And while I still wouldn’t call him a liberal, he did, at one point, concede that my father had been right about some things.

My father’s relationship to his father-in-law remains a mystery to me. But they were family and for that reason, hung in through all the yelling, came back to the same dinner table, told horrible jokes about fishing together. As I’m romanticizing those days through a nostalgic fog, I like to think the reason they could do all this is because they had the ability to be authentic with each other. They didn’t have to agree with each other, but they had to be authentic.

And so, if you are still wondering why I keep posting about race, it is because I need to live up to that standard. I’ve done a disservice to our friendship by being any less than authentic because I wanted to avoid disagreeing with you. Lets talk about this, for real, lets understand each other’s concerns and innate programming–you are that important to me for us to do anything less.

We talk about race in our family. A lot. Since I was a kid and since I’ve had kids. Because it is important. Because it is the thing that gets in the way of us becoming the kind of country we dreamed about all those years ago when the crafters of our Bill of Rights owned other people.

We talk about it because we know we have a lot to learn, we white liberal folk who don’t mean harm and yet inflict it with our ignorance.

White friends and family, I know you don’t mean harm. I know you. I know you don’t mean to be racist and truly believe that you are not, so I’m going to give you a gift right now. You know me. I may be the most liberal person you have ever met (unless, of course, you have met my mother). I’m a feminist. I’m a little outspoken and I’m sometimes a little condescending. Okay, if I’ve had a drink or three, I’m probably a lot condescending.

Here’s my gift to you: I am racist. I don’t want to be. I don’t want my motives and actions to be ruled by my subconscious which has been imprinted with images from movies, television, literature, and the newspaper that paint a picture of black men as dangerous. I don’t want this legacy of a history told from the point of view of the oppressor/victor that I learned all those years ago when Latino/as, African Americans and women of all stripes were left out of the history books. But it is there. Last Sunday, a guest preacher at my church raised this issue so thoughtfully and poignantly, he gave me permission to consider how, despite being raised by the two most liberal parents in the world, I have also been raised by the images that soaked in to my brain despite the morality those parents taught and modeled for me.

How is this a gift? Perhaps this is more condescension on my part, but if I, most likely the most liberal among your friends, am willing to admit that I am not proud of my behavior and motives, does it give you room to analyze your own?

I know you don’t want to be racist. I know you don’t want to seem insensitive. And I know you can’t understand why I keep posting about #blacklivesmatter. I also know you can’t understand what drives most of my liberal tendencies, and that’s okay. But let’s stop talking around each other and start talking to each other, because I can’t live in this world the way it is without speaking up.

Until we can all hear the stories of mothers who can’t allow their sons the same freedoms your dogs have (running in public, playing in the park), of mothers who can’t allow their sons to play with toy guns in public or in private … until you are willing to hear those stories and hear how those lives are so very different from your own through no fault of any difference than the color of their skin … until we can have that conversation, bumpily and incongruently and with all the mistakes of trying to understand, we just can’t move forward.

And that’s my invitation to you: to engage in the conversation, because it isn’t just an issue of police reactions to young men of color, it is also a matter of being welcoming in your home community, of inviting new people into your life and allowing them to be fully who they are.

I love you. I truly do. And that’s why I’m not going to pretend I don’t hear you when you say offensive things anymore.  You are kinder than your fear allows you to be–and I know you want to live in a kinder world, want to create that kinder, safer world for your grandchildren and all their friends.

I love you. And I want you to love me and not the me you think I am. The me that I truly am, the me who is longing for reconciliation, for honest conversation, for a baseline understanding–within as well as across the racial divide.

 

Christmas will come

Heartbreaking. Heartbroken.

It’s taken all day to get here, where my fingers hit the keys and my head and heart explode into a ton of tiny little details.

Children. Killed. Again.

Terrorism. Racism. Xenophobia.

Fear.

And then I read people crabbing about the stress of the season in the midst of all this and I understand. I do. I understand that people are trying to fill a hole in their hearts or one they anticipate in the hearts of those they love. “It won’t be Christmas without pies.” “It won’t be Christmas if there aren’t pajamas on Christmas Eve.” “It won’t be Christmas without …”

And you can fill in the blank all you want, but Christmas will come.

Two years ago so many families were shattered in Newtown. Today, so many more in Pakistan. Every 28 hours, another unarmed black or brown person is killed by the police in America.

And Christmas* does come. Without the father, the son, the spouse.

Christmas does come, as we all know the Grinch did learn. And sometimes it comes with baubles and bows, but sometimes it just whispers in the space between sobs. This may be that year.

I hope you do find it, though, as I think I have here, when I let my mind wander through the horror and it arrives back at … hope. I see the world rent right now and I know it is horrific, what has happened. I don’t cheapen the loss for families who grieve around the world by saying what I will say, but it feels like we are in that space between sobs, when there is not much left to do but to give in and be vulnerable to the pain of loss, the pain of the sins of fear, hatred, and violence.

And when we are here, at what seems like the end of the world as we know it, we are urged to step once more as the world recreates, anew, right under our feet.

If you are stressing, if you are grieving, if you are numb, jiggle the broken pieces of your heart and listen to the song they create. Bring that song to your gatherings and ask to hear the songs of the other broken hearts. Still your own song. Listen.

Christmas will come. It always does, just not always the ways that we wish.

Stretch your hand out toward Christmas, stretch it out toward justice while stretching another hand back to pull someone along with you, jiggling those heartpieces along the way.

I have no idea what is yet to come. I am assured more horrors. But I am also assured there will be responses that help to gather up the broken, to inch us closer and closer to the world I have to believe we all envision–a world of humanity, empathy, understanding. We are not yet there. But this, too, shall come.

*or whatever you look toward to bring you back to yourself, your family, your religious purpose.

 

Spirits of All Days Past … and Future

I just found myself standing at the dining room window, in my bathrobe, holding a coffee cup, watching the elementary school bus stop across the street for the neighbor’s child. Staring out at the big yellow bus, clutching that warm cup, I felt myself transported over the years. How many years ago did I do this same thing, stand in this same spot, in the same posture. And for how many years did I do it?

I remember being the stay at home mom, who watched her eldest get on the bus, then turned around and plopped the others in front of the television so I could shower, or read the paper, or simply continue to stare out the window. With Arthur in the background and Cheerios all over the floor, I somehow managed, all those years ago, to do a thing or two in a day.

And this morning, a couple of projects loom large even as I wait for those two eldest daughters to arrive home for the weekend in order to get us ready for the holiday season. I turned from the window and looked around the living space, at all the stuff of our life that will need to be packed up and put away so the seasonal stuff of our life together can come out and take up residence for a few weeks, and the nostalgia is palpable.

How many years have we done this? The girls look forward to putting “the town” up on the mantel–a gift from their paternal grandfather that has taken up residence in their hearts–while my greatest joy is getting out the green ceramic Christmas tree that sat in my grandmother’s house for so many years and was painted by my great-grandmother. It, like the town to them, is my signal, much more than the star at the top of the family tree, that the holidays are here, that the line marches forward.

I’ve been thinking so much about “spirits” lately. Even before this “sabbatical” started, I have watched way too many ghost story shows. One day I tried very hard to analyze this compulsion I have to watch those shows–and to watch them more than once. But analysis is often simplistic and false when it comes to human emotion, and whatever easy answers there might be for this strange behavior for a smart woman, I know that it has to do with layers. Those stories give me hope (as well as a few chills) that what I have always felt to be true may actually be true: that our ancestors are still with us.

It seems such an anglo thing, to dismiss what we cannot see. Other cultures wrap themselves in the legends of their ancestors and seek guidance and comfort from the spirits unseen, but we of European descent tend to be dismissive of spirit, of connection to things no longer visible. And I think we are the poorer for it.

I’ve been thinking about spirits as I seek my own feet, as I step forward on a new path and I’ve been considering how those unseen are still felt, how their hands may still be guiding us, whether we acknowledge it or not. Oh, how much I dislike it when other people say “we” when they write such sentences. I. I am learning to acknowledge the unseen hands–those that painted ceramic trees and made holiday cookies, those that purchased holiday towns, and those who held fake swords while playing pirates on the deck with my small children.

And it isn’t just the ghosts of those who are no longer living that I see, but the me that stood at that same window 15 years earlier, coffee cup pressed to my lips as I whispered “have a good day” to a child who couldn’t hear me. Or that child, still there, but morphed somehow into a young woman who may actually have heard my whisper over the bus engine’s roar.

Spirits. I’m thinking of spirits, of ancestors and of the lineage that will march on, finding space for ceramic trees and favorite recipes as they think of the hands that have guided them hence and evermore.

 

Slowly … slowly re-entering

It is nearly 11 am on a Thursday. I got up, gracelessly, at 7:10 and drove my daughter to school, which is part of the plan that I had made for myself so that I would not sleep the day away and wonder how my “sabbatical” slipped away from me. But last night I took one of my pills that is supposed to help me sleep at night because I had experimented with NOT taking them the two nights before and … sleep mostly eluded me.

And then you know what happened? I came home from taking her to school, put my still-aching leg* on the heating pad on the ottoman, started drinking my coffee and catching up on Words with Friends and …  woke up about 90 minutes later.

And then I fumbled around for a while. And then I came down to write but found the blog post I started to read right before I fell asleep (no reflection on her, just on the meds), by my friend Liz James: Coronation Day. It provided me with the permission I needed today, the gift of understanding where it is exactly that I am. I particularly like this:

Courage is a thing you push out, yes but courage is also a thing you stretch into.  A thing you gather up.

I think this slow morning, this time of regrouping is part of me stretching into until I am ready to push through. I am so grateful for the wisdom of my friends, and the support I have received from all over the place, but mostly in this house by my spouse who also, in  his own way, has given me permission to pause so that I may stretch into, and then push through. That, my friends, is courage, too.

 

*Did I tell you about the time Randolph/Michigan attacked me?

Thanksgiving

I am thankful that today I woke up thinking of all the people who will gather at my house later NOT of a list of things I needed to accomplish. Faces came to mind this morning, not tasks.

Let’s let that sink in for a minute because this is something quite huge for me: Thankful for the people gathering rather than worried about what time to put the bird in.

I love these people and I love that they are grateful for a place to gather in love and friendship–and maybe a little cat hair. They come to be together, to share in thanks, bringing their piece of the Thanksgiving pie. I’m mindful of who is coming as well as mindful of who is missing. I’m mindful that I can gather my friends and family to celebrate while others are gathering in mourning, missing loved ones who recently passed from illness, accident, or violence.

The trees have released all the leaves and I sit here now with a quiche in the oven that smells divine, looking out at brown branches, thick and thin, veining through a gray sky, with snow clinging to rooftops. And the bathroom needs to be cleaned, the floor needs to be swept, and the tables need to be set.

But for now I offer this moment of thanks, of deep gratitude for all that and who has been presented to me in this lifetime that has led me here, now. And I realize that it is not one day of thanksgiving, but a practice of gratitude, recently cultivated, that has me here, now, in my pajamas with so much else to do, pausing to say Thank You.

A blessed day to you, my friends. Today and all the days.

Along the Way

I’ve been spending the last few days reading, watching, praying. I’m not entirely sure what I’m praying for, but am praying for this moment in our country’s history to percolate through white America and hear the hurt. Hear the pain.

I think of Michael Brown’s mother, and the body lying in the street for 4.5 hours. I think of Trayvon Martin’s mother, and the hours and days when she didn’t know where her son was, calling a phone that rang in the morgue.

I can’t be tired. I can’t be weary. I see them in my head, feel them in my heart, and I know that there is no pause to this work of finding a way to live with peace, love and understanding. Oh, and Justice.

Along the way to this moment, I have made many mistakes and caused much hurt. Chances are, I will make more mistakes and say the wrong thing and wish I’d done something differently or at all.

Along the way to this moment, I have recognized my own complicity–the ways that my white, female skin has allowed me to skirt issues and moments that mark the days, hours and minutes of the lives of my friends whose skin is darker.

Along the way, others accused me of white liberal guilt and for many years I wore that, but not any longer. It is not useful, is not true, is not me. I can recognize how my path is paved more gently without feeling that I was responsible for it. But I am responsible, now that I know better.

Along the way, I do get tired. I get weary. But I also realize I can rest–I have the ability to walk away from this work of creating a just world–while others get followed as they shop for groceries.

We all are weary of this centuries-old fight, and so I pray that this is the moment in time when we can say, “Enough” and learn the ways of reconciliation.

But yesterday my daughter’s friend asked me if I knew anyone who could connect them* to activist work, specifically in the HIV work in the 1980s (“because you were alive then”), and I was thrilled to realize that all I had to do was look to my Facebook feed to connect them. And I realize that while I may not be on the front lines, I’m one of the people heaving the bucket toward the fire.

So I say a prayer for all the mothers of lost children, too many to name, and I say a prayer for the officers who did the shooting, and I pray for a system overhaul where we can look to the news and say, “justice was done.” And then I put one foot in front of the other … along the way.

*The singular “they” is the preferred pronoun for this friend.

To My White Friends And Family

I won’t have  much to say about #Ferguson today because so many are doing it much better. But I will ask you, my white friends and family to please consider–before you speak–about what it means to be black in America today. Before you say anything, please consider: our reality is not the same as that of black Americans, of black young men.

No matter how you twist it around, no matter how much you wish to “reason” this away and say that it isn’t a racial thing, no matter how much this makes no sense to you, please stop before you speak. Please consider before you speak, because if it makes no sense to you, it is because it is not your lived reality.

I love you. I do. And I’m asking you to do what I am doing today: listen, read things that make you uncomfortable, be thoughtful, and recognize that our lives are impacted differently in almost every interaction we have out in the world by the fact of our white skin.

With hope that we will be the change we need in the world, please, go in peace.

 

Finding My Feet

There is a turkey to brine and a mother to pick up at the airport. A bed to make, a bathroom to clean–again. And breakfast–why do we have to do THAT every. single. day.

But in this minute, I am sitting quietly in my chair, a cat at my feet and one behind my head, gathering my wits which have flung themselves throughout this house and beyond, waiting for me to catch up.

I woke up with fragments of a poem in my head and I wonder now if it is worth trying to piece it together again–especially as I realize it has already been written by Peter Mayer in his song God is a River. This song has been pulsing though me over the last few weeks as I made the decision to leave my rock behind.

It has been a rock, this work that I did. It was how I defined myself beyond the other standard definitions of wife, mother, daughter. The work and the place I did it gave me a sense of being, a reason, an understanding of myself. And as I watch the wind blow the branches on a barren tree outside my door, I realize that that understanding is not tied to the rock, but to me. I shall carry it with me as I flow with the river, as I did when I left a job after my eldest daughter was born, and as we left the southwest without a job, without a house, in order to arrive here, in the Midwest, where a new life was born.

I remember back then, in 1996, when my husband, two daughters (third one wasn’t here yet), and two (different) cats made the journey from Arizona to Indiana a week after a blizzard hit the new region and rerouted our planned drive to air travel. I remember living in my mother-in-law’s house while my husband looked for and got a job. I remember all the uncertainty of the moment. But more than anything, I remember Thelma Jean, my mother-in-law of the impossible smile, who looked at me with big eyes and said “you are so brave.”

What? Me? I stammered in my self-deprecating manner that I have honed all these years. I’m not brave.

“Yes,” she said. “You’ve left everything you know, your family is so far away.”

I have so often thought of that moment since she passed away. Of her wide eyes and what brave looked like to her. To me, brave was leaving everything and moving to Spain without a firm grasp of the mother-tongue.  Or space travel. Or serving in the military. Or writing a book where I shared myself with an honesty that would hurt. Brave was not moving from one family to another.

But it was, I see now. It was brave and it was hard and it redefined me in ways I could never have predicted. Oh, and I railed against those changes. Until I didn’t anymore.

I’ve stood on this cliff before–or, to get back to the metaphor–I’ve been upstream in this river before, holding tightly to another rock. And I’ve let go before, and I found my current and rode it to the next rock. And I will be doing that all my life–trusting, always trusting that my feet will find me (like my wits), even if I have a hard time landing them in the current.

I am so full of gratitude for the opportunities that have presented themselves to me in the past, and I am looking forward to whatever is next. Whether I am doing this with courage or stupidity, we shall all find out. But for now, there is a turkey to brine and a mother to pick up at the airport. And wits to be collected … or maybe I can check that one off the list now.

Be brave, dear friends, in whatever way is brave for you.

 

A New Year

Holy cupcakes, friends, have I got news! On December 5, after ten years, I will leave my current position with Meadville Lombard Theological School for … well I’m really not sure.

I am filled with many emotions right now–and am so grateful for the loving and kind messages I am receiving from people I have met during my time at Meadville. And what a group of people to have met! I don’t want to list names because I know I will leave someone off, but I will say that any job you have that includes hugs from Mark Morrison-Reed  on a regular basis is a job worth having.

I truly am grateful for the gifts of these past 10 years, and to have been witness to the work done by the leadership, faculty and staff at Meadville Lombard as they created a new way of not just education, but formation for ministry. I see the work our students are doing during their formation in community and congregational settings–of the work they do to take the good news (and work) of Unitarian Universalism out into the world–and I feel confident in the future of our denomination and our society.

I am leaving with a heart both heavy and light–not unlike the hundred or so incoming seminarians I have met over the years. The excitement of my next adventure is both tempered and fueled by the fact that I really don’t know what is going to happen next. My plan is to write, to cook, to knit, and to spend the holidays with my family with a mind only cluttered with gift lists and menu plans.

January will come soon enough, a new year for a new plan, and this new blog. So stay tuned …