When I was a teenager, I had this dream every now and again.
In the dream, I would be walking along the grimy streets of Puerto Ayacucho, a small Venezuelan town.
Cars’d be whizzing by, horns honking, music thrumming; gusts of sultry South-American air would billow behind them and blow into my face.
I was always sweaty and tired, yet my arms would be swinging to the beat of my long strides, my head held high.
That is, until I noticed a strange sensation: the sweat wasn’t gluing any clothing to my body; instead, tickling and trickling, the wet beads were running unchecked down the curve of my waist, gathering speed as they rounded my hips and then petering out somewhere around my ankles.
And the dust! It was everywhere— in my belly button and under my armpits!
The dust, in fact, was in places it shouldn’t be, couldn’t be.
Unless, unless... oh horrors! Unless I wasn’t wearing any clothes!
And that is when I would look down and a horrible reality would overwhelm me: I was naked.
I was naked, and walking along the razor-edge of the busiest street in a populous little Venezuelan town.
I was naked, and striding confidently.
I was naked, and a long, long way from home. Yes, I was naked, and I still had miles to go before....a house and a room and clothes!
Then, to my surprise, it would occur to me that my nakedness was calling forth no honking horns, no squealing tires, no roars of laughter and nary a police siren.
I was naked, and no one cared.
In a city where catcalls and whistles were par for the course, my public nudity was completely ignored.
If you ask me, I’ll tell you I’m not good at vulnerability.
I don’t let people in, easy. I don’t share my weaknesses or my fears.
Sit me down across from you, interrogate me, and you’ll find me quickly changing the subject, cracking jokes, silly, or telling stories.
Ask me whether I’d rather be in a room full of people or at a table with a small group, and I’ll elect the room full of people every time. I don’t like to be the center of attention; I do like being in the middle of the muddle.
And yet. When I write, I write my heart.
I spill my fears, my desires, my secrets even, onto the page.
Then I share my writing, far and wide.
After that, I will be afraid.
Why, you say?
Well, it’s puzzling, really.
I guess I'm afraid of being completely vulnerable, aka walking naked down that street, and being ridiculed, or, worse yet, called a faker, an imposter (like, "you think you're okay looking? well you're not!" or, "why do you call yourself a writer? you're not even half good").
Yet, I’m equally afraid of being vulnerable, and then NOT being seen.
And I don’t totally get it myself, but my dream might help to explain it, because my horror at that dream was equal parts fear of being seen and fear of not being noticed at all.
Recently, in a Facebook group, a mom posted a picture of herself with her two children. In her caption, she admonished, “Love them for who they are, not for who you wish them to be."
Radical acceptance, I thought. That’s what that is.
Radical, as in fanatic, extreme, revolutionary.
Acceptance, as in, “The action or process of being received as adequate or suitable.”
And I realized, naked-teenage-me was really not so different from 39-year-old writer-me.
Because both have been searching for the same thing-radical acceptance.
Will we be seen without being judged, noticed without being mocked, heard without judgment, loved without expectation, the me's wonder?
But also, will we be seen? Like, if we put ourselves out there, will anyone even notice?
That is the question, really.
39-year-old me understands something teenage-me didn’t, though— radical acceptance? It begins with me.
And now, as the new year of 2021 unfolds, hard as shit is, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to make it a daily practice to radically accept myself, my spouse, my children, my circumstances and my friends.
Because radical acceptance, for me, means that I will accept who I am and what my life is. It means I will be open and real.
It means I will be happy being real, whether or not people see me, judge me, notice me or ignore me.
And here's how
1) I’m going to continue to use my writing-knife to slit my heart open, I’m going to bleed, and I’m not going to hide it. I’m going to be proud of myself for opening up, even if no one ever reads a word I write.
2) I will expect and accept the lies that assault me when I open up. I'm even going to name some of them here for all to see:
"That was a stupid thing to say.”
“You’re not very smart.”
“How could you give that advice when you’re such a mess yourself? Stop being such a hypocrite.”
“You are a fake; an imposter.”
“Stop trying to be someone you’re not.”
3) I’m going to look at myself in the body-length mirror hanging on the back of my bedroom closet each day, sometimes naked, sometimes not, and I’m going to tell that curvy body of mine “thank you”.
Thank you, biggish legs, for holding me up so sturdily.
Thank you, hips, for stretching out to birth those babes.
Thank you, long arms, for all the hard work you’ve accomplished, for the ways you’ve helped me love and hold.
Thank you, long nose, for the gift of scent.
Thank you, heart, for beating. I’ll take all you have left to give.
4) I always wish for more. More time. More friends. More money so I can travel. Instead of focusing on lack, though, I will choose to focus on what I have. To practice gratitude. To celebrate the little things.
5) I’m gonna bury all those expectations I have, for who my kids ought to be. I’m going to make it my joy and my purpose to discover, by listening, observing and sometimes playing, who they are.
What do they love?
What motivates them?
What questions are they asking?
Who are they becoming?
And I’m going to accept their answers, and leave it at that. I will allow blossoming without pressure and nurture courage without pushing.
6) With my spouse, my love, my friend, I’m going to love you, honey, for exactly who you are.
You don’t need to clean the house like I do; you don’t even need to have the exact same parenting style. I love when your opinions differ from mine. I know I'm not responsible for your happiness, neither are you, for mine.
Our love, our life, our relationship may look different than some, but I accept it, and, in fact, love it.
7) My friends. My friends are free to their opinions and life choices. They are free to blossom in their own ways; in fact, I hope my friends know they can be 100% who they are around me, wholly whole.
8) I will accept my inability to pull off events with anything close to perfection. When I see that Pinterest perfect birthday party you orchestrated, I will enjoy the beauty of it and be happy for you, but I will accept that, for me, parties will always be thrown together and a bit messy and full of big feelings and silly fun.
9) I will like me for me. I will accept that I may never completely “fit” perfectly anywhere, but that doesn’t exclude me from being part of a community.
In the words of Brene Brown, “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
10) I will love the one life I have been given, and live it to the full. I may never have a perfectly organized house.
I may not be the minimalist I’d like to be, the homesteader I could imagine myself as, the world traveler I wish I could be.
But what I do have is a roof over my head, food to eat, a family to love and people to know and bless.
Also, I am privileged. I need to acknowledge that and set to work making this world a more just and fair place for everyone.
I know I am called to use my voice in big ways and in small ways. I refuse to hide behind my naked-dream fear anymore.
I want to end this post in a most edifying way: by sharing with you the best quotes I could find on nakedness.
“I love being naked. I’m a free spirit.”
-Alessandra Torresani of Big Bang Theory
“A thousand men can’t undress a naked man.”
“I do not trust people who do not love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”
“It’s illegal to be naked.”
-Kanye West (I had to. I’m sorry.)
“My greatest moment of intimacy, was not when we took all our clothes off. But it was when you saw me at my most difficult state. Like how you witnessed the most unlovable parts of me. As I slowly unraveled each imperfection in front of you like a scar. And despite all of this, you loved me harder anyway.”
“I’m a little bit naked, but that’s okay.”
“Your naked body should only belong to those who fall in love with your naked soul.”
Now go out and live your life, bold, beautiful and oh so very naked.
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold it would be a merrier world.
I am a recovering natural health fanatic.
I have followed a “coffee and gum” diet. I have restricted calories and implemented intermittent fasting.
I have forced my family to follow the Gaps, Paleo and SCD diets.
And I know when you see me or my family, you will wonder at this. Why? Because we are a family made up of diverse body types, some thicker and some thinner.
I followed all these diets because diets and diet culture told me that…
If I was skinny, I would be acceptable. I would be listened to and deemed worthy. I would be pretty.
If I ate food with too many pesticides on it, I would get cancer.
If I ate food that was “processed”, I would get cancer.
If I ate too many carbs I would gain weight and have heart problems.
If I fed my neurodiverse son a low-carb diet, his neurodiversity would be “cured”.
My family was only acceptable if we looked a certain way.
If my children were “healthy” (aka slender), they wouldn’t be bullied.
If my children were “healthy” (aka slender), they would never hate their bodies like I did.
If our family fit into the overweight/obese category, we were doomed to suffer health problems.
If I fed my children too much sugar, they would suffer emotionally.
If I only fed my children “healthy” foods, then they would never like junk food.
Junk food and sugary candies were the epitome of evil and the cause of just about every known health problem in children.
In short, my journey into “healthy eating” culture involved three things: neurodiversity, health concerns and physical appearance.
There is a special kind of sorrow many parents of neurodiverse children walk through.
You see, the inception of a pregnancy long-awaited kindles a sort of imaginative hope.
A new person is coming into this world. Who will they be? What will they do? What sort of friends will they have? In what ways will they leave an imprint? What sort of good will they bring to this world?
Then the babe is born, that future hope embodied. And we parents become the ultimate oxymorons: active spectators, on the sidelines, but also essential to the game.
The neurotypical child figures out that game of life. Sure, they encounter bumps and get bruised, but the game itself both makes sense to them and holds space for them.
The neurodiverse child, on the other hand, finds this life-game to be at the least, agonizingly confusing and at the most, excruciatingly painful.
A playdate at the park? Too hot! Too loud! Too many kids! Too confusing! We have to leave within five minutes of arriving.
Nursery at church? Too terrifying. Too overwhelming. Not gonna happen.
Friends? They don’t make sense. They frighten.
Those parental dreams, the ones about having an ordinary life, about playdates and parks and fun? Well, they have to be let go of.
Everything will require modifications and methods, extra doses of love and patience.
Enter the diet promise: If you take these foods out of your child’s diet, here’s what will happen. They will advance emotionally and intellectually. They will be able to lead a normal life. How do we know this? Because these parents followed this diet and here are the miracles that happened with their children.
I was especially susceptible to this promise because I did not have any friends with neurodiverse children. I was lonely and oh-so-tired of the sometimes curious, sometimes outright hostile looks I received everywhere I went with my child.
So began years and years of on-again, off-again “autism” diets. I spent most of my days in the kitchen, cooking broths and meats, fake breads and pseudo-treats.
Every time we stopped eating according to the “diet”, usually because we were travelling, I noticed my neurodiverse child’s “symptoms” worsened. I used this as confirmation that our special diet was good and important.
Often, if my children didn’t like the “special” foods I cooked, they just wouldn’t eat. They were often tired and lethargic.
I was a homeschooling mom, and my children needed to be out playing with friends and exploring the world, but I was so tied to the kitchen and this miraculous diet that we were often no more than hermits.
I have always been a “moderately healthy” person.
I haven’t been hospitalized or in grave danger of death, but I have had some serious health struggles.
Childbirth was difficult and complicated for me. Suffice it to say, my husband is terrified of me ever becoming pregnant again.
I was sick for several years with a stomach virus that caused me to lose massive amounts of weight.
Later in life, I suffered extreme fatigue and weight gain, only to find I was on the verge of an autoimmune disorder, and in need of medication.
I tried to use special diets to cure my sicknesses. There are so many diets for autoimmune disorders and hypothyroidism. There are special diets for pregnancy and curing stomach ailments.
If you do even a moderate amount of “googling” you can find answers to just about any health problem, and piles of recipes and how-to’s for different “diets”.
I figured I could cure my health problems if I could just find the right diet and put my finger on the exact food that was causing my ailments.
Cancer is something I have always feared. If you do any dives into the “healthy eating” community, you will find there is a lot of talk about cancer cures and cancer causes. It all has to do with diet.
My oldest son also always feared cancer.
What irony, then, when, a few years ago, he was diagnosed with it.
Shortly after my son’s diagnosis, I received a letter from a friend. This friend exhorted me to understand the cause of my son’s cancer was the food I had been feeding him. The letter left me with the understanding that if I corrected my son’s diet, he would recover.
Somehow, in spite of my grief and terror, I saw right through this letter. I saw the fear underwriting everything, the desire for control.
Maybe it was because for most of my son’s life he had been on those diets that were supposed to cure or prevent cancer. And the diets hadn’t done shit to prevent the inevitable. Maybe it was because I was finally returning to common sense, looking for research to back the claims made by these miracle diets.
Cancer was the beginning of the end of “healthy eating” for me. Not only had diets done nothing to help me, but it was impossible to keep up with cooking special in the face of survival.
I recently had the opportunity to learn from certified Intuitive Eating Counselor Maria Scrimenti, who calls clean eating, “a type of eating disorder called orthorexia nervosa”.
Up until recently, I would have vehemently argued with this nomenclature. I would have told you that I was practicing “clean eating” in order to stay healthy and help with neurodiversity.
I would have said I loved my body while simultaneously scoffing at my reflection in the mirror.
I wouldn’t have told you that the reason I had been wearing the same clothes for years was that I had told myself I couldn’t have anything new until I reverted to a smaller sized body.
I wouldn’t have admitted how worried I was that people would judge my larger-bodied children.
I might’ve admitted that in college I drank coffee, chewed gum and ran three miles a day to maintain a slim body.
I may have even told you that I was okay with being sick or stressed since those things always thinned me out. (When I’m stressed, I don’t eat.)
I would never have confessed to you my anguish over the weight gain that had accompanied my autoimmune diagnosis and the hellishness of calorie restrictions and endless hiit workouts that did nothing to tip the scale lower.
I wouldn’t have told you how much it hurt to sit beside “fit” moms and have them look at me with disbelief when I mentioned that I liked to work out or told them that I, too, was a “clean eater”.
I may have told you that I was very careful with food purchases. You likely encountered this when you were at my house and I showed you my latest finds, reading off the labels. You would have noticed that I only purchased coconut sugar, did not drink cream in my coffee, and only cooked with avocado, coconut or olive oil. I would have admitted all of this to you, because this only showed I was health-conscious, not that I had an eating disorder.
Scrimenti explained to me that, “‘Clean eaters’ are highly nutrition conscious and may anguish over each food choice. They feel guilty for eating any food they perceive to be unhealthy. They scrutinize food labels and when they go out to eat, they have special orders and want to know exactly what is in their food. They take great pride in their interest in nutrition, to the point that it often becomes a sole part of their identity.”
What Changed my Mind
A few months ago, I took my son to a follow-up appointment after cancer.
For a little background, my son had not been allowed to walk for a year during his treatments. He had then received a new bone in his knee and been told by the surgeon he was not allowed to run or jump. It took a long time for him to get his mobility and his energy back.
When the doctor came into the room to discuss lab results, he began admonishing my son to exercise more and to eat healthy. He commented on my son’s weight disapprovingly. He went so far as to joke and say to him, “I can see you don’t have any issues with your appetite!”
My son came home with a lot of shame. He became obsessed with what his body looked like and didn’t want anyone to see him. He exercised daily and put himself on a restrictive diet.
We returned to oncology for another follow-up a few months later. Again, the doctors commented on his weight, and told him he needed to exercise and eat healthier.
My son’s obsession with food and appearance continued.
Simultaneously, another of my children, who previously had been incredibly social, was resistant to leaving the house and anxious about seeing people. After many conversations, I found that this child had been mocked openly in front of other children because of her body.
I was angry and upset. Somehow, in the midst of my daughter’s confession, an image of Lizzo popped into my mind. I showed my daughter pictures of Lizzo and we discussed how confident she was and how much she loved her body, just the way it was.
I began looking online for answers, and came across intuitive eating coaches, books, podcasts and groups. I was shocked by what I learned.
I had always valued skinny; I had always considered skinny people to be more intelligent, more disciplined and less lazy.
I had, though, run up against a brick wall when it came to my own ability to “lose weight”. I fed my children “healthy” and kept junk food out of our house, we only ate out once a week, and yet my children and I had bodies that were outside the norm.
I faced the hard truth that restricting my children’s food in the past might have slowed their metabolisms. Scrimenti explains that food restriction “... increases fat storage and slows metabolism. Putting your child on a diet sets them up for a lifetime of disordered eating.”
I realized how cult-like, overwhelming and indeed “dark” it had been to feed my children special diets. We had to stay in more so I could cook; without realizing it, I was avoiding groups of children and moms.
Not only that, but because many moms have their families on diets due to their own fears, most diet groups and gurus would blame you if you said a diet wasn’t working for you, shaming you, telling you you probably weren’t doing something right and to just try harder.
Diet and health groups were honestly like black holes, sucking in all ability to think logically or for yourself.
I was shocked to read multiple scientific studies which showed that, contrary to popular opinion, weight does not equal health.
Where Do I Go From Here?
Slowly, slowly, I am working through my disordered relationship with food.
I am embracing intuitive eating, which is really all about listening to our bodies and refusing to allow a restrictive mentality around food to dominate our lives or thinking.
After all, there’s not that much we can really do about our body size or shape. According to Dr. Lindo Bacon in their book Radical Belonging, "public health research into what affects our health finds that eating and exercise combined represent only about 10% of the overall impact of 'modifiable determinants' (things we can change, as opposed to genetics)."
Check out Maria Scrimenti’s blog and classes here: https://mariascrimenti.com/blog/5jakw259w107dlrhyl7ib58ir6fc81 and her facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/peacewfood.
I am embracing my body at the size it is. I bought myself new clothes. Sure, they may not be in the size I originally wanted, but I feel good in them. I am thanking my body for carrying me through this life, and nurturing it accordingly.
I am making my way through this wonderful, research-filled book: https://www.amazon.com/Diet-Eating-Should-Be-Easy-ebook/dp/B07C685Q6L.
I am having conversations with my children about them being more than their bodies, about how wonderful their bodies are, about how toxic people cannot accept others for who they are, but healthy people have no problem doing so.
I am feeding them well.
We are exploring new foods, expanding our pallets.
I am gathering resources and scripts to use with doctors. Scrimenti gives this advice to parents of different-bodied children: “... advocate for them at the doctor's office. Ask the doctor what they would recommend for a child in a thin body. Request that same treatment for your child.”
I found this helpful script: https://sunnysideupnutrition.com/a-letter-to-your-childs-doctor/, and am reading up on the Health at Every Size movement and book (https://www.amazon.com/Health-At-Every-Size-Surprising-ebook/dp/B003UBAWZY/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=health+at+every+size&qid=1607896056&s=digital-text&sr=1-1).
I will leave you with Scrimenti’s advice about recovering from an unhealthy relationship with food:
Firstly, it's hard to repair your relationship with food by yourself. There's so much misinformation out there and most people are going to need guidance and support as they heal. I recommend seeking out a qualified practitioner, especially if you're undoing decades of dieting. Consider joining an Intuitive Eating facebook group (like mine!) where you can find reliable resources and community. Secondly, unfollow or "mute" people on social media who post about weight loss, before/ after pictures, whole30, weight watchers, noom, myfitnesspal, optavia, macro counting, cleanses/ fasts, keto, beachbody, and anything else diet- culture related. This messaging is not supportive for a person recovering from disordered eating and will delay their recovery time. My advice to my clients is that they intentionally follow inclusive body positive, health at every size accounts. Thirdly, especially for those recovering from diets that were touted to be about natural health and healing... as you arrive at a more adaptive relationship with food, know that your health is likely not at risk as much as you might think. Diet culture makes us believe that nutrition is super high stakes. Sure, there is value in considering nutrition. However, nutrition is only one aspect of health. You are unlikely to suffer a nutrient deficiency by rejecting diets, even "natural, whole food diets". In fact, unrestricted eaters tend to have better nutrient intake than dieters. If natural health and healing is something you value, you can still incorporate aspects of that belief system into your lifestyle without it being extreme or interfering with a healthy relationship with food. Don't buy into diet culture's fear-mongering.
As the holiday season approaches, here’s what I have to say: Happy eating, friends! Enjoy!
Shh… Listen closely.
Can you hear it? The heavy, faint but steady beat of the kettledrum as it rips a hole in the universe wide wide to allow the triumphant herald of the bugles?
You strain your ears, for there is an accompanying lively tune, chanted by sweaty humans gyrating in the streets of cities like New York and Philadelphia.
Is it, “Let freedom ring?”
No...it is something more...something about freedom for all, and justice long-forgotten, resurrected.
It’s more of a chant, really, a plea or, a command, even.
We are seen, we are heard, justice, justice will be served.
Quips and quotes you heard in the past, make a smidgen more sense than they used to:
And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
Behind it all, though, dark shadows loom.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia. Systemic injustice. Systemic oppression.
We watched Biden’s and Kamala’s acceptance speeches the night after they first aired so that our kids could watch with us.
As the speech came to an end and the fireworks began, declaring Biden the new president elect, my husband burst into tears. My own eyes misted.
“It’s just been so dark. And I didn’t even realize it,” my husband said.
He is right. Our country has felt heavy and hopeless, especially this past year.
Watching our black neighbors being murdered by cops, watching those cops NOT be held accountable, was horrifying.
Listening to the President’s words, seeing his “law and order” reaction to protestors, has filled us with equal measures of sorrow and helpless anger.
Wending its way through everything, too, is this global pandemic, now spreading more quickly and virulently than ever, touching some softly, ignoring others and devouring the vulnerable with vigor.
And there has been no one to say, “Hey everyone, this is bad, but we’re going to make it through, we’re going to handle this together and here’s how.”
To make matters worse, people have quibbled over the best way to stop the spread of the disease.
Then on Saturday, we American’s heard these words from a leader:
It's time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again ... we have to stop treating our opponents like enemies…
On Monday, I will name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisors to help take the Biden-Harris COVID plan and convert it into an action blueprint that will start on January 20th, 2021...
Spread the faith, God love you all, may God bless America and may God protect our troops.
And for the first time in years, we felt seen. We felt hope.
If just a few words from a politician can fill us with such joy and hope, imagine how sad and empty we’ve been feeling, indeed?
Behind this ray of hope, though, there looms a cloud of darkness.
Conspiracy theories. QAnon. A president refusing to concede, dragging the country through pointless legal battles in the face of a pandemic. White supremacists offering threatening statements. Christians claiming political sides as God's truth.
Imagine being a beautiful macaw raised in an aviary that had been constructed right on the edge of the rainforest.
The aviary was nice overall.
You had caregivers who provided for all your needs. You had trees to roost in and a handful of other birds to play with.
You really didn’t notice there was a glass cage surrounding you, in fact.
You didn’t see the beautiful macaws gliding high above your home, gilded in sunlight; you were too busy worrying about how soon your aviary would be cleaned out or when someone would come to feed you.
One day, when everything was unusually quiet, you happened to glance up at the sky as you fluffed your wings and you wondered for a fleeting instant, what would it be like to fly up there?
Another bird noticed your gaze and warned you, “Oh, you don’t want to go down that road. It may look great, but if you go out there, you will have to deal with predators and find your own food. It’s best not to look out there too often. If you start thinking life out there will be better, you are deceived.”
When no one was looking, you would find yourself gazing out the window, a great sense of loneliness and a mysterious sensation of loss filling your heart.
I spent most of my life living like you, macaw, in a glass cage.
I had a few chosen friends, who also lived in the glass cage.
We talked often about things pertaining to glass cages, like how clean we were or which feeder was our favorite.
I lived in relative safety, unaware of the dangers those distant soaring birds of the rainforest faced.
One day, I heard two older birds gossiping. They were talking about how dirty those outdoor rainforest birds were. I couldn’t help but notice the disgust in their voices.
Didn’t we all originally come from out in the rainforest too, I wondered?
What made us indoor birds better?
One day when I was hanging out on a limb with a new friend, joking and preening, three elder birds surrounded us and began interrogating my friend.
Where do you come from?
Let us see your claws. Is that a scratch on your beak? Why are you missing tail feathers?
“This is my friend,” I said. “I know him. He’s wonderful, he loves this aviary; in fact, I’ve seen him give up his roost for you many times.”
In the end, my pleas mattered not.
The elders whispered loudly amongst themselves, “He’s been in fights. He’s been injured. He’s weak. He’s going to destroy our haven. Get him out. He must leave. Out. Now.”
And just like that, my friend was gone.
I went to the elders, full of anger and questions. They tried to convince me he was other, that he didn’t belong, that he’d harm me and lead the little ones astray.
But didn’t he come here to the aviary to rest? To escape all those fights? To heal? What’s an aviary for, if not to rescue? I wondered.
There were other young birds questioning too.
We organized ourselves and flew over everyone’s heads in squads, squawking our protest to the ejection of a friend seeking safe haven.
Instead of listening, the elder birds responded by closing off our roosts and rationing our food. They felt we needed to be taught. We needed to listen to their wisdom. They had lived longer than us, after all. And didn’t we know the stories of old? Stories of aviary birds suffering because of who they’d welcomed into their midst?
One day, when a bird keeper opened the door, a group of us young un’s flew out.
Out, out, into the sun; up, up, into the sky.
We flew away, away, deeper and deeper into the rainforest. There were beautiful birds there, with beautiful feathers and musical warbles.
There were dangers out there, yes, but the birds looked out for one amother, cawing and chirping when danger was near.
That sense of loneliness and loss I had felt in the aviary began to fade as I embraced my oneness with all things rainforest, happy to be part of the larger bird-family.
For so long, friends, I was like the aviary bird, safe because of my church and my family and my skin color. I had everything I needed.
When I noticed people who were less fortunate than I, I was warned not to be too compassionate or sensitive, because eternity was all that mattered, because if people were poor or suffering, there must have been something they had done to deserve it.
I was also warned about people who weren’t the “norm”. I'm really not sure why...apparently, these people wanted to do things like, destroy society or destroy my marriage.
I was defined by what I wasn’t, by what I did and didn’t, rather than by how much or how well I loved.
I was told no one else knew the truth, that if I left the safety of the aviary or asked too many questions, I would suffer greatly, losing everything I loved.
In short, I grew up in the safety of a carefully constructed aviary.
And in the past few years, I was the bird who questioned the exclusionary nature of it.
The aviary is anything that excludes and seeks to protect more than to love.
Both my country and my church have been my aviary, time to time.
When I have cared more about protecting myself or my wealth than about extending justice and kindness to others, I have found myself within its confines.
When I flew out into the rainforest, I discovered, most of the birds were actually looking out for one another. I became one member of a much larger community, a community where even one little bird’s suffering mattered, because that little bird was a bird just like the rest of us.
In the last year, I have decided to speak up about the aviary, to raise my voice in protest.
So when Biden won the Presidential election against a president who was seeking to protect and exclude, and people in the major cities took to the streets to party, I felt at one with the wider world of love and goodness and kindness and justice for the first time.
I suddenly realized I had broken out of the aviary and was flying as one with all birds, and we were going to protect each other because we were each other— birds one and all.
I don’t always understand Jesus.
But one thing I know is that Jesus spent time with the ones society shunned and rejected, not with the powerful and wealthy.
He spent time with women, with the poor, with the “unclean”, and with people who were racial enemies of his people.
I don’t always "get" the Bible either.
But Israel’s central narrative was one of promise and rescue from oppression.
And so many other stories in the Bible point to promise and rescue.
So if you want to be near the heart of God, friend, you will have to leave the aviary and consort with the rejects. You will need to march to protect the week, and seek justice for the oppressed.
Always, a dark shadow of evil will loom. And the more you fight it, the darker it will become; evil doesn't want to be eradicated, after all.
So open your eyes. Gird your loins. Fight evil with good, fight hate with love, seek justice and love mercy.
Go on. Fly away free. It’s a real jungle out there.
“From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”(Lord of the Rings)
Sometimes, you’ll tune into a podcast, a sermon, a song, a poem or a story, and you will be surprised by tears. And as those tears wet your tender cheeks, you will realize you’ve been sad, sad, sad, for so very long.
When my son was battling cancer, I rarely cried. This is because I wanted to face the evil disease. I wanted to fight it. One day, when we were all at home resting between treatments, I read a Facebook post about another boy my son’s age passing away from the same type of cancer. My tears were instantaneous.
I could cry for that little boy and his grieving mother, I could feel all the shock and horror, for her, but I had been scooping all the same feelings for myself to the side, out of range.
I believe this was my body’s way of coping with a trauma powerful enough to break me. I’m grateful for that moment of grieving; like a mirror, it forced me to see all of me.
I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago that I had been subconsciously-not-seeing heaps of personal grief over the breakdown of my former faith: I was listening to a message given by Sarah Bessey at the 2020 Evolving Faith conference and her words brought a sudden flow of tears.
And it wasn’t just grief I’d been holding; it was also pain, and hurt.
Realizing I’ve been grieving, well, I think that’s why I’ve felt so dead on the inside- because though I was grieving, I didn’t own it. I was living numb to my pain.
Brene Brown says, “You can't numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.”
As I’ve begun to allow grief, I’ve felt a lightness in my soul; there were just too many things hidden there, tucked away, haunting and taunting and clinging, little vampires suckling my soul.
Like, I didn’t realize how hurt I was that the faith which had promised hope, sustenance and unconditional love to all had fallen short.
You know Jesus? The one who hung out with sinners so much he was accused of all sorts of sordid behavior?
Why had my faith painted that Jesus as some sort of ornate emblem of white male perfection?
That Jesus really didn’t care about the hurting, the homeless, the rejected and the weak. He cared about being good and perfect and about being God’s son.
He cared about WHAT we believed more than about HOW our belief worked itself out.
He cared all about the FUTURE and the PAST, but not at all about the present.
He cared about whether or not we believed the right things; nothing else mattered. (But wasn’t that sticklerishness for knowing all the things what Jesus was so pissed at the Pharisees about?)
He separated people into “you’re in” and “you’re out”; he was the same as God but he also had to martyr his body to appease his angry father-God.
Also, he hated queer people even though they loved him and wanted him to love them.
That Jesus brought no hope or healing, held no love. I was deeply wounded by him. And quite frankly, I was pissed, at him.
How could he say something like, that he did not come to condemn the world, but then turn around and condemn anyone who didn’t believe in Him, and, also, anyone who identified as LGBTQ+?
That Jesus condemned hypocrisy whilst asking his own dear children not to be completely themselves.
What a fucking liar!
Jesus, God, love, embodied, condemning so many people to a literal living hell on earth.
Yah, I was pissed, but really I was sad, and wounded too.
I felt so disillusioned by a God who wanted me to agree to beliefs that didn’t concur with science. I was tired, oh so tired, of trying to follow circular arguments, battling evolution, round and round, same, same, never changing, never changed.
Why did God hate science when God admitted to actively engaging in divine revelation?
Heck, why was there so much truly bad science within the pages of that supposedly perfect book of god-words? Like, you know, how it asserts the world is made up of three layers when it isn't? Or, or, saying the sun actually stood still at one time when that would have had catastrophic consequences for the whole entire earth?
Why had I needed to shut off my thinking in order to follow God? I didn’t want the wisdom of God, the one that didn’t make sense to the world, to be all about rejecting science, I wanted it to be about showing radical love.
Deep down, I longed for a God who was pitted against the dark forces of greed, injustice and evil rather than a God pitted against science and anyone with bad doctrine.
Again, that God, that Jesus I had believed in, wasn't actually about love, he was only about do's, don'ts and shouldn'ts.
As I entered my late 30’s, I found myself grappling with a faith that was honestly fake and ignorant. And that made me lonely and churchless, and sad, deep down in my bones.
Now, as I allow the grief, I find myself ever so grateful to those Israelites who wandered in the desert for so many years, alone and wishful. They never entered the Promised Land. They complained and cried out, and it was annoying. But, like me, they wondered allowed whether or not God was even with them or for them.
And yet, there God always was.
Only, God didn't look how they thought God would.
God didn't act how they wanted God to.
They were being beckoned to see God differently, to see themselves differently and most of all, to endure emptiness with hope, not hope for happy times, but hope that good, and love, existed, despite their circumstances.
Maybe they wandered in the wilderness for the sake of all those future folks who would find themselves similarly wandering, lost, bored, hungry and thirsty.
Those homeless, landless drifters, they remind me- it's okay to be in the wilderness. And, it's okay to be pissed and cry out.
Because, even in the wilderness, God somehow still is.
The wilderness has its place, and we may very well find our own place, in it.
These past weeks have been tough.
I wish I could say I was a really healthy, super disciplined person. The truth is, I fall somewhere close to the middle of the continuum between lazy, good-for-nothing and winner, winner, chicken dinner.
You see, I will be writing steadily, and then I will have these spurts of insight, of passion. I will heave myself out of the Swamp of Confusion and onto the mud-slick shores of, “I think I might possibly be heading somewhere.”
After which, I allow first life, and then thoughts, to drag me right back into that swamp.
Once I’m back in the Swamp of Confusion, all hell breaks loose. Some of that hell is mental, some of it is physical and then other little tidbits of it are spiritual and emotional.
Enough with this metaphor; I think I’ve juiced it dry.
Let me be more specific:
So this? This post? After so many moons absent?
This is me saying to that accusing voice, Fuck you!
It’s me owning what I’ve known all along: the margins of resistance in my heart, mind and soul, those are the places where I need to be. And for me, resistance happens most often when I’m writing, when I’m speaking my truth, when I’m cracking open the lid of my pinkish-colored, raw vulnerability.
Steven Pressfield warns, “How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don’t do that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?”
I am supposed to write. I know this.
And to do that, I must be honest, open and vulnerable. I must write both confessionally and ardently about the differences between who I am, who I want to be and who I’m actually becoming.
So here it is. A new beginning. Time to try again. To write, regularly and faithfully, and to write toward justice, goodness and hope.
I cannot commit to never failing. But I can commit to always trying again.
I cannot commit to getting everything right. But I can commit to being a good and humble learner.
I cannot promise I’ll always live out what I preach. But I can commit to using the sharp knife of truth to cut away the hypocrisy.
I cannot commit to never hearing shaming, silencing, warning voices in my head. But I can commit to calling bullshit on them.
These are really trying times, my friends.
If you’ve been similarly struggling, rise up, I say. Try again. Tomorrow’s a new day. Let's not allow failure to write our endings.
If you’re doing great and are super self-disciplined and successful, well, do you mind sending some of your magical blood, sweat and tears my way? I could really use the extra boost.
And now, in the words of my son at the heals of his chemo-wielding nurse, “Peace out!”
“Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”
I remember the first time I had an objection to the Republican party. I was 18, driving down the road in my parents’ car, listening to good ol’ Rush Limbaugh.
I got to the part of the talk show where people called in. Every time someone offered a differing viewpoint, Limbaugh was quick to hurl insults at them. His implication was that they were idiots.
Impulsively, I switched to a music station.
And that was the last time I ever listened to Limbaugh.
It suddenly didn’t matter if Limbaugh was right or not. What did matter was that he was treating people who disagreed with him in an incredibly disrespectful way.
More than that, it bothered me that Limbaugh’s words were “right” and everyone else’s were “wrong”. How could one person claim to have such a strong hold on the truth?
Limbaugh was elevating his opinions too high- to an almost God-like status, in fact.
How many times in my life have I heard, “Because I said so! That’s why.”
I bristle at those words.
I bristle, for one, because I don’t like being told what to do.
I bristle because, well, I want to be trusted as a critical thinker, and I want to be allowed to ask questions.
I also feel instantly suspicious when, “because I said so, and you’re a complete idiot if you disagree,” is used as a reason not to question someone’s assertions.
Like, sir, why are you not willing to engage me in dialogue? Why are you scared of my queries?
I’m sorry to say that the “Because I said so” lingo follows Trump around like too much cologne. And it really repulses me.
I’ve struggled a lot with how to articulate my objections to President Trump.
I realize anything I say could be argued away.
I have had to ask myself, if I liked what Trump was doing for this country, would I turn a blind eye on some of the things I currently cannot ignore?
I hope not, but it's certainly something to keep in mind if and when there is a President I actually like.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that whatever I say about Trump will need to be with the caveat that it is all my opinion.
My opinion is certainly founded on things Trump has said and done.
But it is also colored by the visceral emotional reactions I have had to so many of his words.
Just as I decided not to listen to Limbaugh because he was someone whose words I couldn’t respect, so too, I have never been able to conjure respect for Trump.
Most of the time, my lack of respect has been due to Trump’s rhetoric and zany assertions, but recently I have been horrified by some of Trump’s actions as well.
Okay, So, What Wild Assertions?
Before I begin, I want to point out that we empower people by listening to them.
Trump wouldn’t make some of the assertions he does if everyone was like, “Hey dude, what the heck? What are you talking about?! What’s your source??”
We need to do what Chris Wallace did in this recent interview with Trump: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6XdpDOH1JA. We need to ask hard questions and then listen carefully to the answers.
Remember when Trump was running for President in 2016 and he got lots of people to question Obama’s citizenship? People should have called bullshit on that right away, but they didn’t.
I remember some folks being terribly worried about a “Muslim takeover” of our country. Do you?
Now, as we face a global pandemic, Trump has hinted that China engineered the coronavirus, in direct opposition to what his own intelligence officers have stated.
He also hinted that China does not want him to win re-election.
Is it just me, or does it sound like Trump is taking the coronavirus personally?
Like, China didn’t want him to be re-elected so, it tried to infect Americans with the coronavirus, and that would make Trump look really bad and he would lose.
Recently, I have heard many folks insist there is going to be a communist takeover of our country. Is the source of that rumor the President?
I don’t know...what do you think?
This leads to my next concern.
Who Says That?
In times of crisis, our true character is revealed; what we really care about comes to light.
And our President’s words and reactions are often very self-focused.
Go back and watch the Chris Wallace interview, then tell me I'm wrong.
Trump recently reassured people the coronavirus would just “go away”, when experts were saying the opposite.
Why would we want a President to confidently make assertions about viruses he knows nothing about?
How is that comforting?
I want a President who turns virus-speak over to the experts, who gives them support and a microphone.
THAT would mean he cares about the American public.
Empty statements, especially ones that are obviously false, do nothing to comfort me; and in my opinion, they should do nothing to comfort anyone.
Currently, there is also this whole mask controversy.
I remember there being a lot of confusion in the beginning as to whether or not wearing masks was a good idea.
But even after it was becoming clear that wearing masks could slow the spread of the virus, Trump stated he would choose NOT to wear a mask.
I have read many angry, fearful Facebook posts asserting that wearing a mask is a violation of people’s rights and even that mandates on mask-wearing are communistic.
Now, suddenly, Trump is urging Americans to wear masks, stating that they do help slow the spread of the virus.
I wonder what all those folks who love Trump and who were sure masks were communistic are thinking now? Is he displaying a double-standard? Is he promoting a communist agenda?
Again, I want a President who sets a good example of caring for others.
From the beginning, even when the efficacy of wearing masks was uncertain and medical experts were asking that we wear them to (possibly) slow the spread of the virus, I wanted a President who displayed a love and care for the needs of others above his own.
Even if wearing a mask was shown to be non-efficacious, I would have respected a President who was doing something uncomfortable for the sake of those more susceptible to sickness, more than a President who was concerned with his own rights and choices.
Why Is Everything Painted Like Some Sort of Battle?
Okay, this leads to a third concern. Trump’s “us versus them” lingo, directed at anyone who disagrees with him or calls him out.
“Unlike the socialists, we believe in the rule of the people, not the rule of the unelected bureaucrats that don’t know what they’re doing.”
Let’s break this down a bit. “Unlike the socialists.”
Who are these socialists? I haven’t heard anyone claiming that name, have you? So who is Trump referring to? Who is he labeling?
Then, “We believe…”. Who is “we”?
Don’t all Americans believe in the “rule of the people”? Isn’t that the point of protests?
Friends, notice what Trump is doing.
He is inviting you into the lie that America is split into factions with differing ideologies, some of which are downright dangerous.
While there may be disagreements, and there always have been, about how things should be done, the disagreements hardly necessitate the label “socialists”.
Here’s another example of “us versus them” lingo: “Their leadership has...lost control of the anarchists and agitators...We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE.”
Trump stated this about the protesters in Oregon. His claim that the protesters are “anarchists” is uncalled for.
Most protesters are peaceful. Yet Trump is slapping a violent label on all protesters. And that label causes you to get only one mental picture, doesn’t it?
To make matters worse, Trump goes on to say, “We must protect...OUR PEOPLE.”
Aren’t ALL people “our people”? Shouldn’t they be?
Are protesters suddenly not American?
Are they for some reason against everyone else?
Before you blow me off for reading too much into Trump’s words, let me ask you this, why have I suddenly seen a slurry of videos claiming Black people want to destroy and kill white people?
Where do you suppose those ideas may have originated?
Us versus them. And yet, we are all American.
Don’t we want a President who speaks to unity?
A further "us versus them" mentality I have seen is that when anyone speaks out against him, Trump finds a way to insult, discredit or label that person.
Here are just a few examples:
“...She’s a mess!” about Mary Trump, and,
“...lowlife dummy John Bolton, a war mongering fool, violating the law…”.
Fast forward to the recent video interview I shared between Trump and Fox News reporter Chris Wallace.
Trump is proud of himself for hosting the interview outside, saying, "I wanted you to sweat a little bit."
In the past, Trump had tweeted some mean words about Chris Wallace. He called him, "nasty & obnoxious" after an interview he didn't like.
During the interview, Wallace asked Trump why Trump didn't like it that Wallace interviewed Democrats as well as Republicans. And Trump explains that since Wallace asks Democrats questions, then Wallace is "toward the Democrat side".
I find this labeling disturbing. Because in essence what Trump is saying is, "If you listen to anyone except for me or people on my side, then you are playing for the opposite team."
This is "us versus them" mentality. It is divisive.
It also has a dark side. The implication is, "If you get your information from any source other than me, it is wrong."
What do we have to fear in listening to more than one side of a story or event? No one should be bullied or labeled for simply asking questions.
Do we want a President who is constantly insulting people when they say anything to question him or his integrity?
Let me let you in on a little secret: People who are confident of their own integrity rarely feel a need to defend it. Defensiveness and name-calling points towards guilt, in my opinion.
I Feel Embarrassed
I’m often embarrassed by Trump’s words and tweets, especially towards immigrants.
Having grown up in a foreign country, I have seen firsthand that not everyone considers America to be “the greatest nation on Earth”.
I have seen America and Americans from an outsider’s perspective, and I understand our culture is not perfect, nor is it above scrutiny.
In some parts of the world, Americans have done much more harm than good.
I remember a while back when a bedraggled immigrant caravan approached the U.S./Mexico border and Trump called it “an invasion”.
In his tweets and speeches, Trump has often promoted the idea that immigrants are “stealing” jobs from Americans, though this was disproved by a study done during the Bush administration.
The president has also made wild, unfounded, fear-inducing claims about Muslims, hinting at a conspiracy among Muslim immigrants to our country.
I can’t fathom the amount of hurt that has caused to the Muslim community in America.
Why are we okay with a President spreading false information and making demeaning statements about immigrants?
I would like to remind my Republican friends that not all Republicans support Trump: https://rvat.org/.
In my opinion, Trump has redefined the Republican party and turned it more nationalistic.
I would like to refresh Republican’s memories of the pro-immigrant, welcoming attitude of Republican presidents Reagan and Bush: https://www.boundless.com/blog/reagan/.
Honestly, I could write for days, breaking apart Trump’s words and actions, trying to help folks see my concerns.
In the end, whatever your opinion of Trump, I hope you will agree with me that no one in authority should ever be above a questioning or a reckoning.
Let’s hold Trump to a high standard when he makes bold statements, and question whether or not his words are actually true.
Let's not just listen to the President when he states things authoritatively; let's fact-check everything he claims.
Let’s keep our eyes on situations like the one in Portland where federal agents are operating outside the purview of local law enforcement. Let's make sure we cry out against these sorts of covert operations.
I will leave you with the words of Ben Franklin, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
What you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
And dash them against the rock! (Psalm 137: 8-9)
What anguish would prompt an expression of such joy at this picture of horrific violence being perpetrated against children?
Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
It is not a stretch to imagine the Psalmist once witnessed her own little ones being dashed against rocks.
You know, I was bullied in school. Weren’t most of us, at one point or another?
My pain was so raw, so real, I often wished my bullies could experience a little bullying themselves.
I wanted them to comprehend my anguish.
And so I marvel at the beauty of this and other Psalms of Lamentation; they give me full permission to feel grief and rage.
They give me a safe space to express a desire for vindication.
They also invite me, and all of us, to share communally in grief, and in rage.
They remind me that injustice is universal; no one has a corner on suffering. We will all, by the end of our lives, have gagged down a slice or two of that bitter pie.
One cannot help but imagine this Psalm of despair being sung often, recounting year after year: pain, rage, agony, bottomless-well-of-sorrow, pain, rage...
No one wants their murdered children to be forgotten.
Imagine, will you, being a descendant of the perpetrators of the original crime, a so-called “Babylonian”, and hearing this song being sung by a group of street musicians.
How would you react?
Maybe you would recoil in fear… “Wait, are they singing about what my ancestors did to their children?”
Were these Psalm-singers, these who were re-member-ing wrongful death, were they plotting to murder your children in return?
If so, you’d want to remind them, quick, that you yourself did not carry out this horrible crime against their children; it was your ancestors.
You might feel the urge to run home and gather your friends and relatives around you for support.
Maybe you’d all approach the Psalmist with, “That’s all in the past. You need to get over it.” Please.
Or maybe a better idea would be to remind them that you aren’t the only violent ones, “Look, you guys have lots of violent offenders living among you! Stop digging up the past and worry about the problems you’re having right now!”
With relief, you’d point to their worst cases of child abuse. See? You guys are just as bad...
Alternatively, upon wandering past the musicians cooing their mournful tune, you might pause and let the wind of grief wend its way into your soul.
You might shed a tear at the suffering children, the agonized screams of helpless parents still echoing across the centuries.
Has no one ever asked forgiveness, you might ask?
Your ancestors are no longer around to admit the mistakes, to acknowledge what they have done, how twisted and wrong it was, but you could.
You realize you never noticed the depth of this injustice before.
Why was that?
These people’s stories had been shared among your people, sure, but never their grief, and that grief, it was begging to be heard.
Right now, there is a great reckoning, a long remembering, of grief present and grief past, of heinous crimes committed against your Black brothers and sisters.
There’s research and stories and documentation showing how so many of the societal systems we white folks have put in place are still oppressing people.
And you know what?
You have permission to care.
You have permission to say Black lives matter without it having to mean you support any certain movement.
It doesn’t have to mean you support abortion.
It doesn’t have to mean you will vote straight Democrat next election.
It doesn’t have to mean you are a Marxist or that you have an agenda to somehow take over the world.
Guess what else?
You can do research.
You can read books and articles and studies, like this one: https://www.nber.org/papers/w26774?fbclid=IwAR3HY7Thb3VFYcp23oYjk5u7jmpZBASNqbAZrH-6KdBaFUHS35AtMyIxiZc.
And if, in researching, you discover that yes, systemic racism is a thing and no, history has not been on the side of Black Americans, you can acknowledge that.
And it doesn’t have to mean you are a socialist.
It doesn’t have to mean you don’t love your country.
It doesn’t have to mean you are promoting another civil war.
It doesn’t have to mean you stand in support of any sort of violent protest.
At the same time, if your son was killed and the killer wasn’t being brought to justice, wouldn’t you be pissed?!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
I was shocked the first time I acknowledged my own white privilege on Facebook.
I was shocked because I was told that in acknowledging certain things, like that I have a leg up when it comes to opportunities for bettering my life, I was somehow shaming white people.
Guys, I was told I needed to meet some "successful blacks" and listen to them instead of whoever the hell I was apparently listening to.
I was told I wasn’t reading the correct research, that I wasn’t being a critical thinker.
What I had to say, what I shared, was dismissed because I “had an agenda”, or at least, I was following a liberal agenda.
I was reminded of black-on-black crime, and asked, why? Why wasn’t I pissed about that?!
Maybe because that has nothing to do with the fact that police officers can kill my neighbors and then escape prosecution...
I was suddenly hit with an onslaught of memes and articles.
Some warned of impending...I don’t know how to define it...Marxism? Revolution? Nazzi-ism? Socialism?
“Statues coming down is where Revolutions start.”
“Hitler began by defunding the police.”
Then I was reminded, “Only criminals have anything to fear from cops”.
First of all, is a police officer supposed to be judge, jury and executioner?
If so, that’s terrifying, don’t you think?
Secondly, when you say, “only criminals have anything to fear” in response to the statistics and studies, then you are literally saying, “the victims deserved what happened to them.”
You are going against the very system you so love, the one that gives serial killers and rapists fair trials.
I have learned a new term: leftism.
Apparently, leftism is, “a religion of self-loathing. It teaches white people to hate their race, boys to hate their sex, women to hate their femininity, Americans to hate their country, westerners to hate their history. What a contemptible, toxic thing it is.”
I’m not sure who the leftists are, though.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t care about history.
And what does “hating my history” mean?
When I look back at my history and see things my ancestors did that are horrific, I am grieved. I wonder, what can I do to offer reparation?
Being a citizen, that is the least I can do.
I also belong to a group of people who, proclaiming the name of Jesus, tortured and rampaged and burned “heretics” at the stake. I’m not proud of that heritage.
Knowing the mistakes my ancestor’s made, hearing the hurt they caused, makes me want to learn from past mistakes. It makes me want to start being more a part of the solution than the problem.
I’ve yet to meet a white person who hates his race.
So here’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been watching, listening and reading.
I’ve seen calls for the police officers involved in the murders of black citizens to be prosecuted.
I’ve seen people pleading for others to simply see that there really is systemic racism.
What about all those Black people whose speeches you are using to declare, “In Jesus, we are all one. There is no color.” So shut up about systemic racism already.
Well, there can be many truths.
We are all humans, made in Imago Dei, are we not?
The fact remains that a black person living in this society has different experiences with law enforcement, with buying houses, with equitable pay, with discrimination-based-on-skin-color than you do.
If we are all humans, then don’t we all deserve to walk this great land free of fear in our daily encounters? Don’t we all deserve equal treatment?
Don’t you want that discrimination NOT to happen to the Black pastor whose sermon you are sharing, the one who is saying, “We are all made in God’s image. We are all God’s children.”
I hope your answer would be, “YES!”
And if you want that for the pastor with whom you agree, don’t you also want that for all your fellow citizens, your neighbors far and near?
“How could someone film that video and not step in and do anything about it?”
“How did all this start?”
“That’s terrible. Everyone is from the same species, mom. It doesn’t matter what your skin color is.”
“This land we live in wasn’t even ours to begin with, was it mom? And we took it be force...”
It’s really hard to tell your kids the truth about their heritage.
I always wondered what it would be like to be the child of a murderer.
Now the truth hits: I already know.
When I contemplated how I wanted to share with my kids the uproar that was happening in response to the murder of George Floyd, I thought, well, “I need to reassure them that most police officers are good; I don’t want them to be afraid.”
And then it hit me harder’n that danged proverbial freight train: if my skin was another color, I wouldn’t have the option of reassuring my kids, “Most cops are good.”
I’d tell my kids to be careful, to be respectful, to stay out of the way of the men in blue.
As I have so often in recent months, I found myself staring directly into the hardened eyes of my own privilege...
...and then seeing I was still perched in that ol’ apathy-chair I’d already been lounging in for so long.
Because, cops murdering black folks in cold blood?
This is nothing new.
How many similar stories have been in my news feed over the past years?
Lots. Too many.
And I should have cared then, when the first video aired, when the first article was penned, when the first person of color cried out.
Hell, I shouldn’t have needed any nudging; I could have just paid attention to what was taking place around me.
Recently, I am scared of my own hypocrisy.
Do I only care about racism because of all the protests happening across the country? Is my only concern that I will “miss out” on taking a loud stance right now, when everyone else is?
Those are REALLY not the things I should be concerned about.
This is my time to face the realities of racism.
It’s time to listen to stories, to comprehend what it feels like to be racially profiled and abused.
To ask, “How can I help?” and “What can I do?”
And indeed, this has been going on for years...why has nothing changed?
Let’s not make celebrities out of those who suffer.
Let’s humble ourselves, tune our ears to this channel we're unaccustomed to listening to.
Author and political science professor Nicholas Buccola takes issue with white people’s attitudes in embracing being “liberal” or “against racism”.
He explains that so often we white folks will deal with people of color as a symbol while refusing to see them as fellow human beings.
He goes on to warn that the gap between seeing someone as a symbol and perceiving them as a threat is small.
Buccola writes about a letter author James Baldwin shared with his nephew.
In the letter, Baldwin urged his nephew to do this with white people:
The really terrible thing is that you must accept them. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.
Sit with that a while.
Have you ever learned something about a person you trusted that changed the way you saw them? Like, you learned they carried a dark and horrible secret, or had done something really heinous?
When I was a youth, there was a gentleman many of us looked up to. In fact, when we went on school outings, we would sometimes spend the night at his house.
Then one day, it came to light that this man was actually not the spiritual hero he (and we) had taken him to be. Instead, he was an evil predator: for years, he had been abusing young boys under the guise of “missionary”.
I remember feeling like the world I knew was shattering.
And indeed it was.
My reality assumed this man was good, a spiritual leader, a worthy mentor; since that wasn’t true, what else wasn’t?
As I have grown older and faced similar revelations, I have learned that it is okay to have your perceptions of the world fractured for the sake of truth.
The horrible disorientation you initially feel is the gateway to true freedom.
This is the parallel I drew as I read Baldwin’s letter.
Maybe you are more enlightened than me, and I hope you are. But in my universe, racism really wasn’t that big of a problem anymore, and I lived in a relatively just and equitable society.
Now, I am seeing that is so very far from the truth.
I’m facing the times I’ve behaved insensitively and unjustly.
I’m examining the places where my thinking is fucked up.
Baldwin continues talking about us white folks:
Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one's sense of one's own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.
And I say, let the universe shatter. It’s worth it. You are worth it. He is worth it; so is she; so are they.
As I’ve engaged in self-examination, I’ve drawn a few conclusions about why it’s so fucking hard for me to listen.
Who knows? Maybe some of these apply to you too.
1) Spending all of my time in one “camp”; hearing only one perspective.
For example, I used to think that all Christians believed in a literal seven-day creation. As I wrestled with the impossibility of all of the Genesis account being literal, I believed I was a lone questioner. I wondered if I could even still be a Christian. Once I opened up and stepped out of my smaller circle of church goers, I found that in truth most Christians did not believe in a literal Genesis account and that in fact those who did were part of a relatively new sect of Christianity, historically speaking. Learning that there were more viewpoints than just one set me free...
2) Community and friendship are so important. Sadly, I have found it to be true that close circles of friends have a tendency to develop their own sets of unspoken rules.
What does this mean for you, a member of said community? Well, once you step outside of the rule-defined boundaries, you are “out” of the group. And, sometimes, thinking for yourself, changing your mind, involves going against the rules of your given community. In order to think for yourself, or change your mind about something, you have to be willing to face rejection. Are you willing to do that, for the sake of those whose voices are not being heard? Am I?
3) Black and white, either-or thinking.
Richard Rohr calls it “dualistic thinking”. There are certain issues which cannot be understood in an either-or sort of way. Mystery is one example; so is grace. When we are dealing with systemic racism, and when we are hearing folks cry out for justice, in order to stay in our “camp”, we often try to label “sides” and then call them either good or bad.
Here are some examples:
We fear change. We like sameness; the status quo. The antidote? Imagine life without the privilege you have. As you listen to stories, imagine yourself in the position of crying out for justice and never receiving it, knowing your voice will be ignored or belittled. Imagine the frustration and helplessness.
5) Believing we aren’t responsible, that racism is not our problem.
“Well, racism isn’t my fault. I love all people.” I think it’s becoming pretty clear that systemic racism exists, my friends. As James Baldwin put it, “I didn’t do it either. But I am responsible for it because I am a man and a citizen of this country and you are responsible for it too, for the very same reason.”
So where do we start, with the listening?
Here are a few places:
After we listen, we cannot be afraid. We must act.
In Baldwin’s words, “Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger.”
Here are a few ideas:
Rearwards. Back to front. In reverse. Toward the rear. Inverted.
Guys. Life has never been stranger.
As I have put my finger on the pulse of emotions since the beginning of everything Covid, the rhythm, to my ears, sounds something like this: frenzied panic, fear, grief, grief, more grief, and now, finally, an exhalation and a quiet waiting.
By quiet waiting I mean the kind of waiting that comes before a hurricane touches down, the kind where you do everything you know to prepare, mentally and physically, but you have no clue when the storm will hit, for how long, or what sort of havoc will follow.
All this has gotten me thinking, a lot.
I bet you’ve been thinking too.
I’ve been pondering my thinking and its own inherent backwardness.
My Focus on Lack
Because nothing is ever good enough.
Nothing is ever enough enough.
And it never will be.
I have enough food, but I grieve the limited selection.
I have a wonderful family, but I grieve the loss of “hanging out with friends”.
I have a good marriage, yet I worry it will fall apart in the absence of dates.
You know what happens when I focus on lack?
I am blinded by it.
I am blinded to both beauty and to pain.
Because I am so lucky to have fun children and a best-friend husband.
And yet shame on me if I sit all comfortable-ish in my little house with my sweet family and do not have an awareness that for so many this is a dark time filled with abuse and fear.
Heaven forbid I sit here with plenty and do not have my eyes and hands open to the folks who are unsure where their next meal will come from or how they will pay their bills.
May I not be blinded by my own privilege.
Have you heard the explanations as to why Covid 19 is hitting communities of black people harder?
They come close, too close, to blaming the extra-hard sickness strike on genetics.
As blogger and podcaster Yolanda Williams points out in this excellent
article, “Systemic racism has biological impacts on the health of black people.”
Because, “Stress from hypervigilance, microaggresions, code-switching, navigating the never-ending cascade of white tears and playing white fragility bingo also contribute to the biological effects of racism.”
Williams goes on to cite a podcast episode in which she discusses the scientific basis of these claims with epidemiologist Dr. Theresa Chapple.
I must open my eyes and my heart.
I must see myself as part of the problem here.
Can I also be part of the solution?
And what are these terms Williams is referring to? What do they mean?
Microaggresion: “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
I grew up overseas.
I remember being a young girl and running around in a dress, long hair streaming behind me. Yet the folks in the country I was living in called me a boy.
Because I did not have my ears pierced, a cultural tradition which was the only accepted signifier of female gender.
I grew tired of being mis-seen in this way, and begged my parents to pierce my ears so I could relax and quit having to explain who I really was all the time.
I also recall, when, living in Bolivia as an adult, a woman declared, “You Americans have it so easy; when you cook, all you have to do is open cans of food and eat them.”
Definitely a critique and a hard reminder of our privilege in America as well as, on the flip side, an insult.
Funny, not funny.
Microaggression, I think, is often unintentional and based on ignorance.
I am guilty of it, for sure.
It doesn’t hurt me, though, to think a little before I open my mouth, to remember that everyone has a right to autonomy and to speaking their own truth.
Code-switching: “any behavior of adapting to fit a new set of rules”...
People who are not born into the dominant white culture are often forced to code-switch in order to be seen, heard and respected.
Read this article for some excellent examples and explanations: https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/03/what-is-code-switching-12221478/.
When have I made someone else feel they must be just like me in order to “fit in”?
How can I change my attitudes and behaviors?
White fragility bingo: Reminding folks, “You’re not the only ones who have it bad, you know…” as a way of avoiding our own culpability. See this facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/allyhennypage/posts/presenting-white-fragility-bingosome-people-are-visual-learners-and-need-to-have/1293805774103063/
“‘White Tears’ is phrase to describe what happens when certain types of White people either complain about a nonexistent racial injustice or are upset by a non-White person's success at the expense of a White person.” Read more here: https://verysmartbrothas.theroot.com/white-tears-explained-for-white-people-who-dont-get-i-1822522689.
There is inequity in our world, in our societies. Some folks are on the front lines, doing dangerous work, while others hold jobs which enable them to stay at home safe and sound.
Check out this article.
By changing our mindset, shifting our focus, we can use this time of "in-between" to examine our hearts and minds, to change and be purified, to repent and apologize, and then to become humble learners and servants.
Because I have so much to learn from other folks who have completely different life experiences than I do.
Like the author of the blog Indigenous Motherhood who has some wake-up call words for those of us who feel our children hinder us, our "me time", or our careers:
“In our traditional kinship systems, children were the at the center of the family system.”
“And the idea of children being seen as a disruption to daily living was non-existent.
During this pandemic, the invitation that exists is be mindful of that, and to make these concepts a way of life.
Be mindful of any thoughts or feelings that may come up that are oriented around seeing children as a disruption, an annoyance, or an inconvenience, when they’re home with you.
Because this style of thinking derived from residential schools and the forcefully implemented colonial education systems.”
I challenge you, friends, read this article, let the thoughts soak in deep.
What can you learn from the author’s unique perspective?
Where have we gone wrong? How have our societal systems hurt others?
For further exploration, check out this article and explore the links at the end.
My Belief that Might Makes Right
It’s easy to read a Facebook post I disagree with and then explode, either all over myself or, more regrettably, into that little white rectangular box labeled “comment”.
Our tempers tell us that if we just scream and stomp vociferously enough, then everyone will listen.
Over the years I’ve learned the only result to these loud declarations of mine was antagonism.
Recently, I heard a story about Ghandi’s grandson.
Arun was having trouble with anger, justified anger, actually, against kids who had been bullying him, so he was sent to live with grandpa Ghandi for a while.
Ghandi had Arun make an “anger tree” with two branches, one for “active violence” and one for “passive violence”.
Every day, Arun was instructed to add to the tree, noting the manifestations and the corresponding results of each type of violence.
Ghandi explained that anger was a powerful force that, when released into the world, always found a home somewhere new, where it was recycled, weaponized and re-inflicted.
The only way to break the cycle was to channel anger’s energy into something good, like compassion.
“Use your anger for good. Anger to people is like gas to the automobile - it fuels you to move forward and get to a better place. Without it, we would not be motivated to rise to a challenge. It is an energy that compels us to define what is just and unjust.” (from The Gift of Anger by Arun Ghandi)
Might doesn’t make right in my interactions with the adults or the children in my life either.
When I explode, I immediately shut down any opportunity I might have had to work toward resolution.
Not just that, but forcing my children to comply with my demands does nothing to nurture a caring nature in them.
You know what does?
My own attitude and modeling…
If a child complains of being tired when asked to do something, I have always offered to do the task with him or her, to help.
This has resulted in my son clearing the table for my daughter because “she said she was tired, so I wanted to help,”
In one of my daughters hopping up to grab forks when we realized there were none available,
In the kids cooking and joyfully sharing what they have created with one another.
We are so not perfect as a family by any means.
But I have seen the greatest results when I have lain down “might” and embraced and even served my children with grace and kindness,
When I have invited my children to share in the power of household decision-making, asking them what they would like to do and what their goals are,
In seeing that the way to win my children’s participation in something I’m invested in is to first enter their worlds and care about their passions.
My Desire to Hold Onto Safety, Security, Money
“There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.
Your heart is beating, isn't it?
You're not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.”
-Mary Oliver (Felicity)
I read this poem, and now I can’t shake the memory of it.
“Or giving your money away, all of it.”...“Your heart is beating, isn’t it?”
Though my knee-jerk reaction in these hard times is to hoard, that is not what will fulfill me.
You see, you can wait and wait and save and save and then, have.
And you will find that once you have that one thing you were waiting and saving so long for, you will receive the gift of a great big unsatisfied feeling and then,
You will begin looking for some new way to be filled, fulfilled.
Which leads me to realize that all that hoarding and holding on is really just a search for satisfaction, and maybe hoarding is the wrong place in which to find it.
Backwards writing can be understood if you just open your mind, loosen up a little.
And reflections may be upside down, yet they highlight natural beauty in a mystical manner that will leave you gasping for air.
And so, I urge you friends, in this time of uncertainty, if you have time, use it to introspect, to repent of wrong thinking, to be purified, to see, really see, those around you.
If you are suffering and can’t come up for air, please reach out and ask for help.
Not only have many of us been right there where you are now, wondering where the money for bill-pay will come from or the food to fill the hungry stomachs, but also, I know I have been a part of the problem itself, and now I’d like to also be part of the solution.
If you have been my victim, I’d like to apologize.
Sometimes the hurt I’ve doled out has been unintentional.
Will you do me a favor, though? Tell me where I’ve gone wrong, and why?
And do the same for others.
Let them know how what they’ve said makes you feel.
Let’s all learn and grow and do better.
Because while we don’t know what’s coming, we do know we will sorely need one another.
How many times?, I wonder.
How many times?, or, When will I ever be healthy enough to handle this?
Because, guys, I don’t do social media well. I just don’t.
I can either be feeling really really great about my life, hop on, and see someone whose good makes my great look inconsequential, or, I can be feeling like a gigantic piece of shit, hop on, and see what appear to be the put-together-lives of no less than ten friends.
A few days ago, my husband and I were chatting about the dilemma facing adults-seeking-real-friendship, and I mentioned we should create a find-a-friend version of Tinder.
“That’s what Facebook is for!” he said.
“No way, honey. Facebook is a modeling platform; not a friend-finding one.”
Please forgive my negativity, or ignore me altogether if this isn’t you, but damn!
My life isn’t hunky-dory glorious-beautiful, and yours sometimes really looks like it is.
The problem isn’t that you’re trying to make your life look better than mine, either.
The issue is that the one picture you or I post sums up only one small moment.
No way can a picture capture a whole day.
And life happens in long, knock-me-out, drag-me-down kinds of days, folks.
Ideas are good.
I’ve always been an idea person myself. They are really helpful, they are.
Fun is good too.
But we are all stuck in our houses right now, some of us more happily than others, but shut-ins we are.
House-bound people, whether doing life alone or in small droves, poop in their toilets at various times throughout the day.
And poop stinks.
Sometimes, the stench fills the entire house. It muddies the toilet water; it clouds the good.
Then, while we are choking on our family's collective stink, we open our beloved social media, and we see a picture, one that looks decidedly un-stinky.
Do they even poop?, we wonder. Ever?
Because I’m straining to see, but it looks to me like no one in that pic is holding their noses…
All silliness and sarcasm aside... Guys.
Some of you are so good at doing the things I suck at.
Like getting out into nature with your kids.
I really want to get out into nature...
Currently, however, I have one child who is terrified of bugs. And, as luck would have it, every time this child gathers her courage, chances out the door, she has a bad experience with a creepy crawly.
Some of you are doing this whole quarantine thing so creatively, with absolutely no tech. I’m amazed by you.
Not me. As a mom with no babysitter, I’ve come to appreciate tech.
It has its place in our house.
Some of you give the best parenting advice and the most stellar homeschool advice. I’ve always known this about you. And I love your wisdom.
Does it always work perfectly for you over there in your house, with your kids, though?
I’m happy for you. Truly.
It’s just that I’ve found sometimes the bestest advice doesn’t work for me over here, in this house.
After a while, I get kinda down and depressed. I shrink to half my size and my voice takes on a childish quality.
And I hate this, because it keeps me from living and loving like I want to.
So lean forward, friends, if you're at all like me; I want to tell you some things that have set me free.
There is never ever enough time in one day to do all the things.
I mean, by the time you’ve successfully mixed the right amount of glue with the exact right amount of contact solution, you’ve also hurriedly and simultaneously wiped zillions of little glue trickles off the floor and harriedly de-glued someone’s suspiciously clumpy hair, and you are completely and totally WIPED out.
Time to go play in your room guys. Enough projects for the day. We’re done.
I'm admitting right now, in front of everyone, I can't do it all. I just don't have that level of energy.
Now, where’s the wine?
Are you honestly telling me your kids don’t fight?
No way could I ever claim this.
No fucking way.
If we're all getting along, compromising, enjoying the day, someone's abrupt burp is sure to get on someone else's nerves and spoil the mood instantly.
The one perk of my kids’ nattering fighting is that it gets ME out of the house and into nature. Just saying.
You can’t expect all your kids to like all the same things.
They are unique little critters.
They like. They hate.
They do. They don’t.
It’s okay to do those separate little things that each kid likes with each kid, separately.
There is this myth of the perfect family that always does everything together, and likes it.
That’s not our family.
We are miles above mythical.
And by the way, while you’re hanging out with one kid at a time, it’s okay to let the other kids tear up the house, or even play a few video games.
Technology is a thing just like anything else.
Overdo it, and yes, everyone may develop a case of grouchiness.
Or, they may not.
Not all kids react to tech the same way.
Some grow up to be professional gamers and YouTube reviewers who lead surprisingly balanced lives.
Some young uns, cough cough, will be inspired to cook or learn history because of their love of the game.
Treat tech like any other hobby. No need to feel guilty about it.
It’s okay to need space.
It’s okay to go on long luxurious walks all by yourself.
You can even tell your spouse you need time alone. And by alone, I mean, "I’m going to close the door and stay in this room for the next few hours," alone.
Just because advice is good doesn’t mean it is good for you.
Your fam is unique, one-of-a-kind.
So are you.
So is your significant other
Yes, we should all be spending time working, playing, socializing, resting, learning, and exercising.
But that can look however it needs to look for you cocooned there within your own four walls.
Maybe it will be a day or two of rest followed by two days of learning followed by a day of exercise.
Maybe socializing-from-quarantine, for you, looks more like Marco Polo than Zoom.
Perhaps you’re in survival mode and it all just looks like survival.
It doesn’t have to be perfect or the same for everyone.
Simply ask yourself...
Are my kids happy? Why and why not?
Am I happy? Why? Why not?
What are my values?
What are my kids’ values?
Do I agree or disagree with them?
Why or why not?
How then shall we live in this one imperfect house so as not to kill one another? Good. Then that is how we shall live.
If you find yourself getting upset when you take social media excursions, like I do, will do, and have done, now’s the time for some introspection.
Why am I upset by this post or that picture?
What unspoken rules am I trying to follow?
Do I agree with those rules? Why or why not?
Do I have a list of good resources to go to to find answers to the questions I have?
Am I judging someone else, either for being too put together or for being too strict or not strict enough?
What does that say about me?
What pain am I trying to heal with judgements’ ineffective balm?
You have permission to ignore all the ideas, mine or anyone else’s.
Go ahead and give yourself permission.
It’s okay to cry a little.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed.
In the voice of Elsa, “Let it go…”.
I value freedom, guys. Can you tell?
These are weird, hard times. And we gotta survive.
Some of us are extremely privileged middle class folk, though we’re not above job loss and pay cuts.
We really ought to stop trying to be so perfect (or at least I do) and start looking at the very real needs around us.
There are those among us facing job loss and financial ruin.
Some are struggling to find new ways to make ends meet.
This means that right now we will not be perfect parents, lovers or friends.
Because, food. #priorities
Some among us are facing a multitude of crises, piled atop each other like shitty scoops of ice cream: illness, death, tornadoes, etc.
I can’t even imagine.
These are the times to let go of all the rules and the learning opportunities and the projects and to-do’s and just live and love the best we can.
Let your kids eat ice cream for breakfast and veg in front of the tv all day if that’s what helps you get through this.
If that does not help you and yours, then stick to a routine.
You do you.
Do what you gotta do.
All right, now, rant over.
Now I need to take a dump.
Hey, you. I'm glad you dropped by...
I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.