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 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 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 137: Don’t play small.


“You understand Teacher, don’t you, that when you have a mother who’s an angel and a father who is a cannibal king, and when you have sailed on the ocean all your whole life, then you don’t know just how to behave in school with all the apples and ibexes.” 

― Astrid LindgrenPippi Longstocking

For decades as women, we have been taught that it’s important to behave well. Be a good girl. Play nicely with others. Don’t dominate the conversation. Be liked. Don’t be too strong, too knowledgeable, too smart or too well-spoken, or you will intimidate the boys.

I’m done with all that. I’m going to be exactly who God has created me to be, and I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m not going to shrink so the man that I work for can shine. I’m not going to keep my mouth shut if I have something important to say.

It doesn’t do the world a bit of good for me to be silent about the things that matter. It’s of no value to stop shining so that others can. There are a million stars in the sky and without all that shining, there wouldn’t be a universe.

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The institutional church has done much damage to its women clergy because they are uncomfortable with women shining too brightly. They are fine with the dim bulb. But the women I know are 100, or 1000 watts. They can outshine, out-pastor, and out-preach most of the men that I know. And I love male pastors — I’m married to one.

But he doesn’t expect me to be anything other than what God created me to be. In fact, he has told his congregation that I am the better preacher in the family. And after they heard me preach, they concurred.

I have had my “position eliminated” by two 60-something men who were afraid of the wattage that I gave off. This has also happened to my friends who are brilliant and young and smart and gifted. I’m over it. So now I’m on a mission to help other women shine in every way that they can — as pastors/ministers, in their roles as wives and mothers, and in every other roles that they serve. As Marianne Williamson has so beautifully put it,

We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

Shine on, sisters. Expect to see that light in others. Our playing small doesn’t serve the world.

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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Day 122: There is a leaf to cure it.

In Perpetual Spring

BY AMY GERSTLER

Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies
and trip over the roots
of a sweet gum tree,
in search of medieval
plants whose leaves,
when they drop off
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they
plop into water.

Suddenly the archetypal
human desire for peace
with every other species
wells up in you. The lion  
and the lamb cuddling up.
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,
queen of the weeds, revives
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt
there is a leaf to cure it.


Amy Gerstler, “In Perpetual Spring” from Bitter Angel (New York: North Point Press, 1990). Copyright © 1990 by Amy Gerstler. Reprinted with the permission of the author at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/176957

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