As a woman and a lesbian I wear the first hand scars of the injury done to my soul by sexism, heterosexism, and the not so subtle message that I am “less than.” I also carry within me secondary scars of evil. As a white person, I the carry the secondary scars of racism, as a non-Jew, the secondary scars of Nazism. As a citizen, the secondary scars of violence. As a human being, the secondary scars of intolerance.
I guess I made that up, secondary scars, or maybe have heard in another context, but what I mean is that I and we carry in our persons the consequences of evil that is done to others. We are not separate from that which is perpetrated on others. We are injured either by our complicity or our compassion, whether conscious or not. It is those scars that make it impossible for me to remain silent.
Godde calls us all to confront evil with love and love seems like an awfully flimsy weapon given the depth of evil we are capable of perpetrating on one another. But the activity of love is justice and Godde enlists human souls to do justice and be justice as the antidote to evil.
Yesterday we said these words in our Seder meal: “Laughter and tears life and death, good and evil – these are bound irrevocably together. We bless them together for we know that with without death we would not fully value life. Without tears we would not fully value laughter. As we learn to maximize the good and valuable, let us remember the evil we would reject, lest it creep, unrecognized, back into our presence.”
Has Pharaoh crept back into power? In our day ‘pharaohs’ are the ones who live in luxury while families struggle to make ends meet. ‘Pharaohs’ are those who get tax cuts while the most vulnerable lose benefits like meals-on-wheels, childcare assistance, reproductive healthcare, social security, and disability benefits. ‘Pharaohs’ are the ones who wrangle power from the people and centralize it among friends and family.
Today I wonder how we can celebrate the journey to freedom when Pharaoh skulks around every corner working hard to corrode our freedoms. Pharaoh lives in the White House, in the Senate and House. Pharaoh now resides on the Supreme Court.
So how do we become free? We remember our history and tell those stores along with new stories as we begin again our journey to freedom. For those of us in the United States our stories are of our constitution and bill of rights, and stories of our march toward the liberation of all: the abolition movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the movement for LGBTQ rights, for immigrant rights. These are the stories we need to remember
How do we become free? We wake up for the hundredth morning and grope for words to describe what is wrong. We engage in small heroic acts of disobedience until our disparate voices come together into the cry of the people. We continue to move forward even though the way looks impossible and pharaoh nips at our heels.
We open our doors and make ourselves see the crimes of rape, violence, hatred, intolerance, prejudice, and the dehumanization of those called ‘other’ who are really our sisters and brothers and friends. And we care enough to act.
We have begun. We are marching and speaking and writing and calling and voting. We are wading into a sea and we are in it up to our necks. But our stories give up hope and tell us we will make a way through to the other side. So let’s keep telling our stories and singing our stories as we travel on the road to liberation. Let the children of today represented by the Children’s Choir of Boston sing a story for us and inspire us not to let anyone turn us ’round on this journey.
Today we pack our belongings – enough to last for three days. Not so much meager as essential. Take only what you need. Underwear, shirts, a pair of jeans, portable phone charger, black sharpie, metro pass, ID, gas money.
In the morning we load up the car. We will wipe the sleep from our eyes and suck down coffee as we face early traffic. It will be a long drive. And we will laugh and sing, pray and cry. Mostly we will feel both our connections and our shared fears.
I am not afraid of dying so much. And perhaps I am being over-dramatic but a friend called this morning and asked if I were sure I wanted to go. There could be violence, he warned. And this, too, is new for a seasoned marcher like me. This march may be more like Montgomery and Selma than the peaceful marches for women’s rights, against the war, for civil rights, for gay rights that I have been a part of… this might be different.
I am not so much afraid of dying but it doesn’t mean I do not want to live. The Way in which I follow, the one whose life is my roadmap lets me know there are things worse than dying. Not standing for the disenfranchised, whether or not I am one of that number, is worse than keeping ‘safe’. And what is ‘keeping safe’ any way if I abandon my core principles.
My dad was a soldier. He put his life on the line many days for many years. He, too, taught me that it is important to live in service to something greater than yourself. And he taught me that being brave and being afraid are intricately entwined. He even went so far as to tell me that if I wasn’t afraid then I would not proceed with caution and that was just plain stupid.
No matter the outcome of this testament to the values we hold sacred, the standing together matters. I will stand with you, my friends, and I will stand for you.
There is a song from my younger days that the Staple Singers sang. It keeps running through my head and it is important for our time as well. I’ve posted the lyrics here. It is my invitation to the nation: come go with me. Go to Washington. Go to your local march. We cannot wait to stand and be counted.
If you’re ready come go with me
Will be tolerated
Peace love all between the races
Love is the only transportation
To where there’s communications
If you’re ready come go with me
The boat is after
The ever here to there
No wars will ever be declared
No economical exploitation
No political domination
Take your evil
Come go with me
You better get ready now
I’m waiting on ya
BANKS, HOMER / HAMPTON, CARL MITCHELL / JACKSON, RAYMOND E.
Can I tell you a story about what happened the other day? On December 20th a new friend came by with a large bag and handed it to me saying, ‘Merry Christmas’. I opened it and the yeasty fragrance of freshly baked bread wafted into the air. It was a loaf of homemade bread that she made in a bread machine.
“Can I tell you a story?” I asked.
“Sure.” She replied.
“My mom baked bread every week in her bread machine. When someone moved into the neighborhood she took a loaf of homemade bread and welcomed them. Every week she took a fresh loaf to her hairdresser as her ‘tip’. She often baked bread for communion at Circle of Grace. What you don’t know is that today is the second anniversary of my mother’s passing. This loaf of bread must be coming from her through you. It is the most special gift I will receive.”
A storm of memories hit when I heard Donald Trump bragging about being able to grab a woman’s ‘pussy’ without repercussion.
Like most, if not all, women I have been subject to unwanted advances, sexual innuendoes, lecherous remarks, and crude invitations. I have been and felt threatened to be by myself at night. I know the drill. We learn to navigate it. Our awareness becomes second nature and, eventually, not even consciously recognized. As a woman who embraces my sexuality I encounter men who think I ‘deserve’ the unwanted attention, however sordid.
I was twenty-one or so and worked in a bar around the corner from the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia where I volunteered backstage for their theatre productions. One evening, after the opening of a play, members of the audience crowded in for a nightcap before going home. It was a crush. I placed a slew of drink orders at the bar and carefully placed over ten mixed drinks on my serving tray. Lifting it over my head and pushing my way through the throng I smiled and joked with the customers as I passed.
Then it happened. I gently pushed through a group congregated in the middle of my path. These folks were dressed to the nines. Women in evening clothes, men in suits. The crème de la crème of Columbus society. As I made my way I felt a hand reach between my legs from behind and grab my pussy.
As if he had a right.
I pivoted on a dime in the tight space, wrenching myself from his trespass and smashed my tray full of drinks into his face.
“Get your hands off me!” I screamed, shaking with outrage.
I couldn’t believe anyone would be so arrogant as to grab me like that, in public, with his wife standing nearby. Without my permission.
He told the bar owner that he hadn’t done a thing. I insisted he had. The owner told me that as his employee I was considered his ‘ property’ and I should have come to him. Then he did something the Donald would love, he sneered at me and said, “You’re Fired!”
So when I heard Donald Trump bragging about what he is able to do (in his mind) without permission I was forced to remember the time I was powerless to defend myself. Did I mention I was a single mom supporting my daughter? The man with the money and the power and the arrogance to assault me like that suffered a little embarrassment and the enjoyment of having me fired. I suffered both assault on my most intimate self and financial insecurity.
So thanks, Donald, for helping me remember what it is like to have a rich and powerful man assault you with impunity. Thank you for reminding me how the women who have come forward are brave and righteous. And, finally, thank you for revealing yourself as an arrogant, entitled, misogynist who has no idea how your actions of a moment affect the women you manhandle for a lifetime.
I felt fall for the first time yesterday. Fall is a hopeful time for me. I know. I know. Spring is the locus of hope, new life, planting for a year of nourishment, the resurrection… The original season of hope.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the American educational system but, for me, new life begins when the school year starts. As a youngster, I lived in places where the first hint of autumn meant Labor Day and the start of the school year. Fresh pencils, crisp paper, books whose bindings had to be broken in – all things that pointed to a new beginning. Not to mention having a new station in life when you begin a new grade.
So I’m thinking this, however belated, breath of autumn is my season of hope. Forget spring cleaning. The time is now to get rid of the former things to make room for the new ones. I’m a year older and a grade higher. How old and how high is irrelevant. This is the time to turn a page, to open a new chapter, to break in the binding of a new book. My clothes are ironed, my hair smoothed down, my shoes shined and I am ready to begin.
We all know it doesn’t last forever. By Christmas papers will be sticking out of my notebook, the holes torn, my schedule, so meticulously managed the first two weeks will be a splatter of scratchings, and I will be slouching about in a twice worn t-shirt.
But today, today I feel fall. The energy of cool mornings and brisk evenings cast me into a season of hope. So let me go now because I want to organize my pencil case.
In 1973 I fell in love with a woman. We walked down the street holding hands and swinging our arms, laughing and I, filled with some kind of holy joy, sang the Doxology. I was so happy I was sure the whole world would be happy with me. All the world loves a lover, so they say.
That’s the last time I felt safe. Before that I knew I was not safe as a woman. Keys in hand when I approach my car. Not going out at night alone. Heightened awareness of my surroundings. How I traverse the world are so internalized I usually am not conscious of why I make the choices I do. Usually not conscious of the underlying fear that has become a part of me.
Being LGBT invites a different kind of fear. Some of us use the privilege of our appearance to feel safe. Some can’t. Many don’t want to. I chose to be open about who I am, not trading in on my appearance, understanding the possible consequences.
Being gay, whether you are out or not, means being bombarded with hate speech, threats of violence, actual violence, rejection by loved ones, communities, and spiritual homes. It takes a strong person to move in the world as openly LGBT. When gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court we believed the tide was turning. And it is. It also became a call to arms for our haters. In my better moments I realize that what drives the haters is fear.
So then North Carolina happens, legislating base discrimination. And then Orlando happens and our worst fears are met. The denial we found comfort in when it doesn’t happen to us is the same denial women lean toward when another woman is raped or harmed. “It won’t happen to me because I make different choices.” We use it as a psychological shield because it is intolerable to live in constant fear. The truth is, one can only handle so much hatred, rejection and violence. That is why so many of our LGBT young people commit suicide. That is why the need for safe spaces, like Pulse, like affirming churches, like safe campuses, are so important to us.
Our brothers and sisters were killed and injured in what we thought was a safe space. They walked through the doors and let out the breath they were holding. No hate speech here. No rejection. No hatred. Only the freedom of one another’s company. It is a good thing to not be afraid.
Sometimes I forget to be afraid. I pray for the day when we can forget to be afraid: African-Americans, women, LGBT, immigrants, our haters… The task before us, our nation and our world, is to confront the ignorance that perpetrates fear and anger wherever it raises its hideous head. In the boardroom, the classroom, the chambers of government, the sanctuaries of churches.
We have a big job ahead of us. Let us proceed with courage in the memory of those who were murdered and in honor of all of us who survive.
Color is a palate of emotions. Blue is calm, green energy, red strength, yellow openness.
My life changed significantly in the past three years. The colors around me kept me in places I no longer want or need to be. So I changed colors. Not for me the soft gray, charcoal and dusty mauve. I no longer wake to periwinkle blues. Grief muddied all the colors around me any way and the dulled colors bound me to relationships that no longer exist and a life no longer lived.
So I paint. No white ceilings for me, I wrap entire rooms in color. Now I wake to apple green. I gather family and friends in a room of white blush, robin’s egg blue and teal.
Colors arise from my insides and move into the world like a life force, like dandelions pushing their way through a crack in the sidewalk. And color gifts me from the outside in, beckoning me to new life. Reminding me to live again. To embrace the world and be a part of it.
The picture above is from her 90th birthday party. A hundred and twenty of her closest friends – including many folks from out of state – joined in the celebration. At one point we had open mike for people to share stories. There was a repetition of themes: she loved life, she loved without borders, she served without acknowledgement, and she accepted unconditionally without theological contortions.
She woke up every morning attuned to Jesus’ command to love Godde and neighbor. And she did. Every day in a myriad of ways. After the party was over (an indoor picnic- it was February after all – BBQ, potato salad, slaw, deviled eggs, 12 homemade cakes and gallons of homemade ice cream) I asked her what she thought about what people stood up to share.
“I kept wondering who they were talking about.” she said.
This is how I will remember her: laughing, joyful, loving, quietly serving, humble, and deeply in love with Godde.
She always told me she wanted to die in her sleep. (Don’t we all?) And she came about as close to that as possible. December 17th she went to a Christmas luncheon, ate dinner with me of homemade tomato-basil soup and fresh bread, played bridge until 10 that night and shortly after our guests left, suffered a major hemorrhagic stroke. At the emergency room I refused to have her intubated and the next day we moved her to hospice.
For three days I served her. She passed quietly with myself and my daughter in the room and a crowd of loved ones keeping vigil outside. I opened the window so she could feel the fresh air on her skin. And I sang her over. I sang her favorite song, In the Garden and the song, unbidden, that came out of me as I stroked her hair, Jesus, We are Here.
When her spirit rose from her body I washed the vessel that had gestated me, held me, accepted me, honored me and loved me. I have thanks for each part of her as I blessed her hands, feet, womb, and heart. I brushed her hair, dressed her in red with matching red lipstick and a spritz of perfume as I loved her from life into death into life.
This short good-bye is what she would have wanted. For me, the good-bye will last until I greet her at the hour of my own death.
Writing memoir raises a slew of questions that clamor to be explored, always returning to the central question: who are you?
As an army brat, when people ask me where I am from I answer, “All over”. Growing up, I lived most of my formative years abroad. As a child I was clear and sure that I was American even though most of my young life had been lived on ‘foreign’ soil. In places that are often more home to me than anywhere in the United States.
I do not identify as American because I was raised in a common culture with my fellow citizens, not because I share common experiences and not because we speak a common language. It means I don’t look like my fellow citizens who come from all over the world. It means we often disagree about faith and politics. And on our better days our differences are good and give us the richness of our ideas.
What makes me an American are the ideas and the ideals my family taught me about what it means to be an American. My Dad instilled in me that I am a part of a grand experiment in equality, freedom and justice. My duty as a citizen is to always stand on the side of equality, freedom and justice.
It also means that I have the freedom to explore, to try new things, to expand my understandings and experiences… and to fail. As an American I was taught that failure, though painful, is not terminal. I can rise and try again. Try things that are born in my imagination. Fail spectacularly at reaching for the stars and make it to the moon.
Those are the things that make me an American. Freedom, equality and justice don’t stop at my borders. Having a responsibility to those ideals gives me a world vision. Knowing I can fail and not be defeated makes me ever hopeful.
And along the way I discovered that understanding myself as an American encourages me to claim myself as a citizen of the world.