Day 237: Deciding to be different

“And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.”
― Libba BrayThe Sweet Far Thing

Last evening, I was a part of an interesting conversation on my Blog Talk Radio show on the Life Coach Radio Network about race, racism, police militarization, Michael Brown and Ferguson. It was a moment in time when it seemed important not to just go about our normal calendar, but put things off for now, converse with people who have skin in the game — literally and figuratively — and think about how whites and blacks can use this as a moment to open up the sometimes uncomfortable conversation (primarily for white folks) about race, and the sin of racism that oppresses both the majority and minority culture, both black and white.

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We do not live in a society that treats everyone the same. We want to. Many of us wish we did. Some of us who lived through the Civil Rights Movement and saw us elect this country’s first President of African descent believed that perhaps we had become post-racial. But we haven’t. Brown and black bodies are not of equal value as white bodies. White deaths still take precedence over black deaths. People of color and whites are treated unequally by local police and all branches of law enforcement. People of color know that they have to teach their children survival techniques when dealing with those who have sworn an oath to protect them. Too many incidents in recent days have clearly shown that police officers all too often do not have the same regard for the lives of people of color as they do for the lives of white folks.

Not all police officers are bad — many are good — just like not all black teens are thugs — many are good. We paint our world in broad strokes and we react out of fear in circumstances when trust has been broken. Trust between police and black/brown communities has been broken for far too long. When I was growing up, I knew that if I had a problem, I could go to a police officer and they would help me. They were there to serve and protect. But too often police protection in communities of color has been non-existent at best and harassing at worst. Many children in these communities have been told that they need to fear the police, and have been taught to shout to them, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” rather than be the next victim.

Things have to change, and we need to help that happen. All of us, doing what we can when we can. I blog, I host a radio show that folks listen to, and I pray that what I do will make a difference somehow, some way. I can’t make it all happen at once, none of us can — but if we do what we can when we can, one day at a time, one gesture, one small thing, and if each of us do just one small thing, we can change the world. We can decide in our circle of friends and family to be different. We can decide to hold our police and law enforcement authorities accountable. We can change what we can when we can, and things will change. They must.

We can’t sit idly by in communities like mine and say that Ferguson doesn’t matter, or that Staten Island doesn’t matter, or the Chicago doesn’t matter. Black and brown lives matter. They matter to God and they need to matter to us. Love our neighbors as we love ourselves, Christ taught us. We have to widen our definition of who our neighbor is.

So I challenge you to do something today, just one thing that will change you. Decide to show up differently. Decide to stretch yourself outside your comfort zone. Read more and become educated on the issues. A good place to start is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Keep an open mind. Challenge your assumptions of how the way the world is. Decide to be different.

If we have learned anything in the past two weeks it’s that we cannot do this work alone. We need to work together — not with white folks leading — but following and taking cues from our black and brown brothers and sisters who know what they need, and what their communities need. As whites we don’t need to speak as much as listen — listen to the pain that is coming from these communities, and allow it to seep into your bones. Accept your part of the blame for perpetuating the status quo. Show up and shut up. Follow. Stand in solidarity. Pray. And the world will change.

But first we have to decide to be different.

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 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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