On laundry and pottery and small towns

IMG_7008First let me say, I do not know how two people can generate the massive amount of laundry that needed to be done. I don’t. And even though we rarely buy clothes and clean out our closets whenever we move, we have a lot of clothes. Or at least it felt like it this morning.

So because we had these mountains of dirty clothes, I decided to take them to the local laundromat in the next town over, rather than try to do 6+ loads in the three washers in our apartment complex. So off I went, quarters in hand, with laundry detergent and bleach and dryer sheets, laundry mountains in tow.

After parking, I noticed that the dry cleaner/wash ‘n’ fold (for those of you non-New Yorkers, these are dry cleaners that also wash and fold your laundry) also had a sign for self-laundry. So I opted for this rather than the coin-op laundry a couple of doors down that just felt depressing and whose washers had seen better days.

There is something healthy and humbling about doing your laundry in public — airing your dirty laundry in a very real sense. The women who work at the laundry — doing the wash and fold loads for those who dropped them off — were friendly and delightful. Within minutes, I was conversing as an old friend, chatting with them about everything and nothing all at the same time.

Just down the street is the pottery studio where I took my first pottery class last Saturday. I stopped by the studio after the laundry mountains had been conquered, with the few minutes left on my meter. My intent was two-fold; to drop off a check for the classes I was taking, and to take a look at the pieces I made last Saturday.

I love the feel of this small river town and Marian’s smile as I walk through the door of the pottery studio that has been there for generations. And there’s nothing better than a sunny spring day, the smell of fresh laundry and taking a look at my first pinch pot creation.

Day 236: Taking the Road Less Traveled By

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one “less traveled by”—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” 
— Rachel Carson

I won’t win any popularity contests among folks who for whatever reason want things to stay the same as they are right now by saying that something big has got to change. But it does. This country has to be willing to take a long hard look in the mirror and question whether or not when we say we live in a “free country” that means freedom for all or freedom for some.

These folks don’t consciously want freedom for some — and will say that they want freedom for all. But to create that society where all have equal freedom (and yes, where all have equal responsibility that this freedom brings) might come at a cost for those in our society who have benefitted from the system as it stands right now.

And those are folks like me — folks of European ancestry — who settled this country by force, displacing and slaughtering those who were here when they “discovered” the land, brought enslaved Africans here to live in captivity, and have believed for centuries that the “American Dream” is possible for anyone. These are the folks who “live in the bubble” as I called it in my last blog post.

I want to believe in the power of our ability to be self-reflective and learn from the mistakes of the past, but I don’t. I wanted to believe that Columbine and Newtown would change our view on guns and it didn’t. And while I desperately want to believe that the killing of unarmed and seemingly non-threatening black men and women by armed and threatened white police officers will call us to rethink what we do in the name of law enforcement and, perhaps most importantly, how we do it — I don’t believe it will change anything unless people of faith and conscience refuse to be placated by explanations that just don’t add up.

We have to demand that we do better. We have to acknowledge the sin of racism and the ways in which it devalues each of us. We need to see one another as holy and beloved children of God. If we cannot see each other as our brother or sister, we will never be able to love them in the way that we have been commanded in scripture. What is the greatest commandment? Jesus was asked.  How did he respond?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Therein lies all the law and the prophets.”

If we are going to call ourselves Christians, we need to love as Christ loved. And perfect love, the epistle writer James said, casts out fear. You can’t love and fear at the same time. And we are called to love. And love calls us to change — change how we see one another and how we interact with one another.

A week ago, John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight” did an amazing piece on Ferguson. I think everyone should watch it. (Click here to go to the video.) It speaks to the ways in which we as a society are contributing to situations like Ferguson.

I don’t want to see another Ferguson, another Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner. I don’t want to see another Antonio Smith — the 9 year old boy who was shot multiple times just blocks from home on the south side of Chicago. I’m tired of the killing, and the violent society in which we live. When we give police officers military weapons we make our streets a war zone.

Let’s go down the road less traveled by — let’s decide today, right now that enough is enough. Let’s stand together, show up, speak out, work harder to make our communities, our homes and our churches places of peace and sanctuary. Let’s pray for our communities, and for those who work hard every day to keep them safe; and let us pray for everyone and for every encounter with law enforcement. Let us strive to dismantle racism in all its forms and to make positive changes in communities most affected by violence.

Day 232: Why Things Won’t Just Settle Down

I’ve recently learned how easy it would be for me, a white woman married to a white man and living in the Midwest, to live my life blissfully ignorant of the world around me. I moved just over a week ago, and despite my attempts to get service connected when expected or even sooner, the cable installer has yet to come – meaning that I have not had access to television or the internet (except on my phone and iPad) for over a week. And if I wasn’t on Facebook, I wouldn’t even be aware of the events taking place in Ferguson, Missouri.

I’m somewhat disconcerted by that. I’ve moved into life in “the bubble” – the bubble of comfortable white middle class life where no one has to talk about Ferguson and no one has to talk about race; in fact, no one has to do anything. No one has to be uncomfortable. No one.

I’ve not always lived in that bubble, so I can at least see the bubble for what it is, and appreciate the privilege that I have to live therein. But it’s discomforting to me — downright disconcerting. Is anybody out there with me on that?

There was a time, earlier in my life, where my everyday life bore witness to the realities of racism. I was helping to raise a young black man – a teenager when he lived with his father and I – and I remember what it felt like in the pit of my stomach every time he walked out the door. I knew that he would be treated differently than I would by the police and I prayed a thousand prayers for his safety.

I would have thought that in the nearly twenty years since that young black man lived with me that things would be better – that things should be getting better, not getting worse. But I think they are worse, perhaps even 100 times worse. I did not have to school him to say the words, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” While his father regularly reminded him that if he had any contact with the police he was to be respectful and do as he was told, we all knew it would only be worse for him if he didn’t. But I didn’t fear that the police would shoot him — perhaps that was naïve on my part — but our overriding fear was that he might be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.

Ferguson has brought all these memories – these feelings – back to me with a vengeance. I’m so sorry for Michael Brown’s mother and for all the mothers of black and brown male children who have become all too easy target by the police – those whose names we don’t know, in communities we don’t want to know. From NYC’s policy of “Stop and Frisk” to the teargasing of innocent and peaceful protestors and neighborhoods in Ferguson, to the shooting of an unarmed young man with 6 police bullets, the culture of violence that is allowing these things to happen has got to change. But from what I can see, it won’t be changing any time soon. As long as civilians can roam the streets with concealed weapons, and the police can hide from public scrutiny and prosecution – even when they are in the wrong – nothing will change. It will take more than retraining our police officers to be more even-handed. The mistrust is palpable and it runs deep. I don’t have any answers. I’m not even sure that I am raising the right questions.

But for all of my friends and all the mothers I don’t know who live in fear that their children might walk out the front door and never return. I am sorry. And I am culpable. I live in the bubble, in the house in the suburbs, in the quiet neighborhood in what seems like a place so far removed from the violence of the streets of our cities and towns — towns like Ferguson. And while I may be far removed, I am not far away; I live less than 30 miles from the city limits of Chicago. This is the city that I love, and the city that has been plagued with seemingly uncontrollable violence and death – particularly during these summer months.

So I will testify to the realities of racism — both as I experienced them and the structural racism that pervades our culture. Perhaps I can speak to some who live in my bubble and don’t understand why things don’t just settle down in Ferguson. It’s not about settling down, I’ll say. It’s life and death and fear and intimidation and systemic racism and racial prejudice and…without justice, there can be no peace. There must be justice – for Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and all the other young men whose only crime was WWB (walking while black). And I will continue to listen to my brothers and sisters who never get to walk away from this fight, and when invited, stand with them in solidarity. And I will tell my story, for what it’s worth, and hopefully help someone in the bubble think a bit more deeply about why things won’t just settle down.

Day 169: God loves me more (or not.)

Have you seen the blog posts about the “one thing” that Christians should not say? While I don’t wholly disagree with the sentiments, it does bring to mind the emails that I get about the “one thing” that you should not eat if you are trying to lose weight, or the “one thing” you should do if you really are. (OK, so yeah, I get those emails…) I’ve decided to try and not write a “ten best” or “five thing” blog post regardless of their popularity on Huff Post (and I’ve read plenty of them, so please don’t be offended if you have written one.) I’ll readily admit that I have hopped on plenty of bandwagons in my life and this is just one that I have decided to let pass me by.

So back to the “one thing” that Christians shouldn’t say. First off, I hope I have forgotten more things that Christians shouldn’t say than most people can think of. I’m full of them. If you haven’t read these posts and you don’t know what I’m referring to, there have been a number of posts recently saying that Christians should not say that they are blessed. The reasoning behind this is that it is bad theology (which I don’t disagree with, by the way) and when we say we are blessed, we are in reality saying that somehow, some way, God chose to bless me – and not others. In essence, God loves me more.file000834482034

Ok, ok, I get it. I’ve been lucky more than blessed. I was lucky enough to be born to good people in a good neighborhood in a time when you didn’t have to mortgage your future to get a college education. I was born white and straight in the US at a time when there was significant advantages to being born white and straight. I was lucky that I was able to get my post-secondary and graduate degrees on scholarship, and the most college debt I ever incurred was for one ill-fated year at Cornell in a PhD program. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have always been “education debt-free.”

But my husband and I live a life that requires our complete reliance on God and belief that God will provide. Gavin is an interim pastor in the Presbyterian Church, and so is looking for a job every 2-3 years – and his work is, in essence, to put himself out of a job. But he works with these congregations to help put them in the best place possible to call their next installed pastor.

In my work as a spiritual life and leadership coach, I have to rely on God that those who need my services will find me – one way or another. I do what I can and then rely on God for the rest. There has always been a steady stream of clients — which has indicated to me that I am to keep on this path, knowing that this is what God has for me to do.

It’s not always easy to live into that trust in the midst of so much transition. But we have been blessed. Not because God loves us more, but because when we have relied on God, God has not let us down. In many ways, for us to call that “luck” rather than God’s blessing or God’s faithfulness dishonors the way that God has continued to show up in our lives, reminding us that we are where we need to be to further God’s work in the world.

So rather than debating whether saying, “I’m blessed” translates to “God loves me more,” can we talk about other things that Christians shouldn’t say – like “it’s God’s will” when a parent, child or spouse dies tragically, or telling anyone whose sexuality and gender expression are outside the “norm” of heterosexuality and traditional gender expressions that they are going to go to hell?

These are things that a Christian should never say.

 

Day 150: A Tribute to Dr. Angelou in her own words

I woke on Wednesday to the news that the woman that taught so many of us to love ourselves was no longer a part of this mortal world. I was deeply sad, and yet so very grateful that I had heard her speak, read her poetry, witnessed her poetic moment at President Clinton’s first inaugural, and loved her words. As I said, she taught me to love myself — warts and curves and all.

She was ours, she belonged to this world, for a time. Just for a time. In that spirit, I share with you her words.

Just for a Time 

Oh how you used to walk
With that insouciant smile
I liked to hear you talk
And your style
Pleased me for a while.

You were my early love
New as a day breaking in Spring
You were the image of
Everything
That caused me to sing.

I don’t like reminiscing
Nostalgia is not my forte
I don’t spill tears
On yesterday’s years
But honesty makes me say,
You were a precious pearl
How I loved to see you shine,
You were the perfect girl.
And you were mine.
For a time.
For a time.
Just for a time.

(from The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, New York: Random House; 1994, p. 135.)

 

Day 148: Goddaughters are the best.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have been over the moon when I my friends Cory and Mitch asked me to be the godmother to their first born child. I was happy, but I didn’t really know what lay ahead for me in this role. I didn’t know who this child would grow up to be. I didn’t know what being a godmother was all about.

Twenty three years later, I’m continuing to realize the ways in which my life has been enriched because of my relationship with this amazing young woman. For ten years we got to live within a short drive/train ride which meant that I got to be a part of her growing up and she got to be a part of mine. I got to go to soccer games and basketball games and music recitals. She got to come visit me in Chicago. I got to go to her high school graduation. We got to conquer big cities together; first, Chicago and now, New York.

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Twenty-three years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that I would never have children of my own. I never would have imagined that Katie would be the closest thing to a child that I would have. I never imagined how special that relationship would be and how much of a gift she would be in my life.

She has taught me a lot about life and love and radical acceptance and hospitality. She is one of the best read and smartest people that I know. She is unapologetic about who she is and what that means in a world where queer youth are largest sector of the young homeless population in major cities in the US. She owns the privilege she has had because of the family she was born into, but also questions the dominant paradigms within the gay rights movement. She is an activist and a rocking advocate that I definitely want on my side of a fight. Any fight. And she isn’t afraid to pick a fight — if it’s a fight worth having for all the right reasons.

So today, as I reflect on women’s wisdom, I think of Katie. I remember the lessons that she has taught me, and the blessings that I have received. I am thankful for all that she is to me, and all that she means to the world. I am also thankful that she is who she is so that she can challenge the world and the church to be a place where people like her are welcome — just for who they are.

Thanks, Katie. Goddaughters are the best. And you are the best goddaughter I could have ever asked for.

 

Day 138: Moving. It’s what we do.

“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can
begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.” 
― Judith MintyLetters to My Daughters

There is no other way I can say it. Moving sucks. I know this in my bones. This will be move #18 in my nearly 31 years of adult life. That is counting going to college as one move (not counting summer jobs in different parts of the country) and only counting “living” somewhere if I actually moved my all my stuff.

My husband and I move for a living. He is an intentional interim pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and very good at it; my work as a writer and spiritual life and leadership coach is completely portable, so I move with him. The good news is that we can move anywhere. The bad news is that we do. Thankfully, we are best friends.

We move into a community and dig right in. There is no time to lose. We visit the sites that most people who live there never go to — because they always can. We become a part of the community. We make friends. We build relationships. We are completely unpacked within days of arrival. (Can you imagine if we didn’t? We’d always be living out of boxes.) We live in the now — not thinking about where we will be 5, 10 or even often 1 or 2 years from now because we can’t think that far ahead. When we say that “God only knows” where we will be 5 years from now, we mean it.

We have entered the transition phase of this interim position. The church will likely soon be ready to call its next installed pastor (and no, I don’t know anything for sure) and we will be looking to move to a new location. I am particularly savoring the flowering of the lovely dogwood in front of our home, as we will likely not be here to see it bloom next year.

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I often say to people that, “This is what we do.” It is. Gavin has been doing it for 16 years, and I have been on this journey with him for the past seven. Now that this interim is nearing its conclusion, I too will have to move on, say good-bye, pack our things in a moving truck and go to the next place.

It’s hard to say goodbye. You meet people, and if you are like me, you kind of fall in love with them, and then you leave and it feels a little like ending a summer romance. Even though you knew wouldn’t last beyond Labor Day, it still hurts when it’s over. It’s hard to say good-bye. But you do it. Or, I should say, we do. It’s what we do.

This morning in church I cried. This is nothing new for me — I’m a crier. And I do it often. Real tears. I’m easily moved to tears. (But you know, I come from a long line of criers, and I’m pretty sure it’s genetic. I can cry crocodile tears and not make a sound.) I thought about moving and these amazing kids that were confirmed today and leaving these people who I love and this house that I love and this tree that I love, and it’s all hard. All of it.

But it will be ok because this is what we do. And more than that, this is what we are called by God to do. That may not make much sense to you, but all I can say is that in the end, it will all be ok. Or maybe even better than ok. We’ll probably fall in love all over again.

Because this is what we do.

 

 

Day 130: Coming to terms with Mother’s Day

“Kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.” —Barbara Kingsolver

I’m not sure I’ve ever written about Mother’s Day. Actually, I’m pretty sure that I haven’t. I’ve preached on Mother’s Day twice. Once I was in Ghana (who knew their Mother’s Day was the same as ours???) and second was last year. I don’t hate Mother’s Day anymore and I don’t not go to church. I used to. It was easier to stay in than to be wished a greeting that felt like an accusation.

I love my mom. I am thankful to God everyday that I can still pick up the phone and talk to her. But I can understand why Mother’s Day is painful for those who don’t have a good relationship with their mom, or those who have lost their mother’s to death — or for those Mother’s who have lost their children to death or estrangement. There are lots of sore points to navigate — it’s in no small measure an emotional field of land mines.

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My pain was based in never having had children and being a step mom to children who could not have cared less about me. First, let me say, that despite how that just sounded, I don’t harbor any resentment toward them. Their parents were divorced when they were tweens, they did not have a good relationship with their father, and here I was — exactly 11 years younger than my new husband, and 11 years older than my stepdaughter (my stepson was 2 years younger). Not a great recipe for familial bliss. Having teenage step-children was a great antidote to wanting to bear children of my own.

We were divorced eight years later. When I remarried in 2011, the idea of children was already off the table, as I was 46 and my husband was 48. And even though neither of us had children, we couldn’t imagine having children in our late 40’s — assuming it was even possible. Plus, I had already come to terms with the fact that this was no longer in the cards for me.

That didn’t really make Mother’s Day any easier. And it still doesn’t. There is a part of me that still cringes when someone (well meaning) wishes me a Happy Mother’s Day. There is a part of my heart that still hurts. No, I don’t wish my life were different (it’s pretty fantastic) and I don’t begrudge giving all the Mother’s out there a day. (And by the way, contrary to what I read recently, not everyone has a “day.” Just ask my single girlfriends who are not administrative assistants, or girlfriends, or bosses.)

But every year it gets a little easier. Every year, I get a little older and there are fewer baby showers to attend — in fact, I just recently performed the marriage of the adult child of a college friend. And I’ve gotten used to saying that I don’t have children — that we don’t have children. I love my husband and I love my life and one day I might even love Mother’s Day. Maybe.

My husband’s mother died many years ago, and on Mother’s Day he gives all adult women in his congregation a carnation. It’s a lovely gesture — one that I truly appreciate. He reminds all women that by virtue of our baptism, we are all mothers and sisters, daughters and aunts in God’s family. He reminds us of the mothering that we do to children not our own, the “mothers” who loved us, and the “children” we help raise.

Of course, I love my Mom and am so thankful for her everyday. I’m glad she is still a phone call away and so wish she didn’t live so far away. I am thankful that she was there everyday when I came home from school and that it was possible for her to do that. I am thankful that I had a mom who took that role seriously and loved us even when it wasn’t easy. Especially when it wasn’t easy. Thanks, Mom.

And thanks, Gavin, for helping me to remember that mothering is a verb, and you don’t have to have given birth to do it.

 

 

Day 128: #BringBackOurGirls…Why I care

Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It’s time to . -mo (Michelle Obama on Twitter, 5/7/14)

There has been a lot written over the past few days and weeks about the 234 young women abducted by the Boko Haram in the rural Nigerian village of Chibok on April 15, 2014. Why the fuss?

These young women were the best and brightest that their villages had to offer. They were defying social convention in order to get a secondary education. They were not only the future of their country’s women; they were (and I pray, are) the future of their country.

But what about the thousands of women and girls who are daily abducted and trafficked around the world? This does not take anything away from any of the many efforts around the globe that are trying to end the tragedy of the trafficking of women and girls. This does not ignore them. If anything, the egregiousness of this act highlights the price that women and girls pay everyday for doing the most radical of things — becoming educated.

When I was in Ghana in 2006, I attended the graduation of young men and women from the Baptist Vocational Technical College — a residential high school for young men and women who had been redeemed from fetish priests in their community. They had been given by their family to the priest to pay off some particular sin and to buy absolution. These children were then essentially slaves of the priest, until they were redeemed through the efforts of the local Baptist congregations and brought to the school to be educated, because they were no longer welcome in the families who gave them up. It was inspiring to meet these young women and men, hear their stories and celebrate the ways that they are working to make a better life for themselves.

At the graduation of the Baptist Vocational Technical College in Ghana in May 2006.

At the graduation of the Baptist Vocational Technical College in Ghana in May 2006.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr from his Letter from the Birmingham Jail:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

I can’t sit idly by in NY and not think that what happens in Nigeria affect me. It does.

But so do so many other things. Those young men and women who are being killed on the streets of Chicago and Detroit and New Orleans and St. Louis by guns and drugs and hopeless and lack of opportunity for a better life — they all matter, too. The 20 children and 6 staff who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School count, as do the children and young adults who have been affected by school shootings and violence all over the country. Violence matters. All of it.

Imagine with me for a minute if those abducted were 234 young women from a high school in the US — let’s make it a prestigious all girls school like the Brearly School on New York’s Upper East Side. Or better yet, let’s think of a prep school in the middle of a cornfield (or close to it) — Culver Girl’s Academy in Culver, Indiana. Can you imagine the media coverage of an abduction of this magnitude of young women anywhere in the US? Do these young women deserve anything less because of where they were born or the color of their skin?

It has only been because the social media world said we will not be silent that the news media world picked up the story. This is not unlike the Trayvon Martin case in that respect. It was only after the story about this young man’s murder in Florida circulated on Facebook and Twitter did the national news pick up on the story.

We are living in a time where social media has the power to drive the news media. This is the democratization of what is to be considered, “news.”

So I am praying that the Nigerian military with the assistance of others in the international community can find these girls and reunite them with their families and with each other. I am praying that somehow, some way the hashtag #bringbackourgirls will do just that.

 

Day 125: Happy Cinco de Mayo!

“Fundamentally, I started writing to save my life. Yes, my own life first. I see the same impulse in my students-the dark, the queer, the mixed-blood, the violated-turning to the written page with a relentless passion, a drive to avenge their own silence, invisibility, and erasure as living, innately expressive human beings.” 
― Cherríe L. Moraga

Cherrie Moraga – Poetry.

In celebration of Mexican heritage and pride, take a moment today to check out the poetry and biography of Cherrie Moraga at the link above. Amazing.

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