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Body Truth-Telling & Tenderness

Three weeks ago I hurt my back. It has been hard to walk, to sit, to write. I stumbled around and stopped writing, and when I finally picked up my pen again, I wrote this:

There are many types of offerings in the world’s religions. Some people leave cups of grain or lentils, made into stew, flowers or rice or coins, creased dollar bills or slips of paper with ‘please’ written in pencil and ‘thank you’ written in ink. Some people sing or dance or feed the hungry.

I tell the truth. That is my offering. Here is a story that cannot be proven:

But I can’t tell you that story. Not yet. I can barely hold it. Every time I think of the story I shake, my stomach rises in a wave of sickness, my lip trembles, my eyes fill. I feel crazy and I should know from crazy. I should know.

While I’m holding this story, I’m also working on a project for school on homosexuality and the church. I forgot how it feels to be called an abomination. objectively. morally. disordered.  I’ve been living insulated, passing for safe.

But my body knows. All the stories my body carries and want-needs to tell.    Not yet, not yet.    Shhhhhhhhh.

So while my brave writer friends keep their pens moving, I stop. I make tea. I watch the rain. I rock a little. I remember my pen is not the enemy. My body did not invent the stories. I am not alone.

Pema Chodron says: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” She says: “When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way.”

So I am praying for tenderness. I am old enough to know the story my body knows will not destroy me. I am praying for tenderness. So that when I do speak that story, I will not punish myself for talking. For telling the truth.


Everydayness & G*d-in-Everybody

I had the honor of sharing coffee and conversation today with my dear friend Rev. Melissa Bennett and new friend Dr. Dapo Sobomehin. We talked for a long time. We talked about isolation and the lack of accountability, how white and brown and black people are afraid of one another, how white people think and act like we’re better than other people, how people of all colors often forget that the person in the other shade of skin is a human being. We talked about war and poverty and education and violence and community.

And we talked a lot, a whole lot, about God france achat viagra. Dr. Dapo quoted a lot of scripture. He said the word J—- out loud so everyone could hear. [Wait, don’t quit reading yet! Bear with me.]  This is not a normal part of my everyday experience. The J word has been a weapon of violence against people who I deeply love, from individual friends to my larger queer community. I use that word with extreme caution.

It made me realize that while I’m nervous talking about race, I am terrified talking about You-Know-Who. I’m hyper-aware of the ways my protestant christian privilege goes hand-in-hand with my white privilege and systems of oppression. (The conquistadors, the slaveowners, the boarding school missionaries, the nazis, Matthew Shepard’s murderers — all christians.)

But I realized today that I need to talk about spiritual stuff if I am going to do activist work. (Fortunately I have lots of words for the Holy that don’t make other people twitch or reach for their coats.) I can’t do this work of authentic connection, this work of open-hearted listening, of taking responsibility, owning my mistakes, being present, and keeping hope without my spiritual life. Because I am limited by my blind spots, my fear. I am limited by my oh-so-excellently-trained-in-white-privilege-automatic-conditioning, my ivorytower education. The problems are too big, the challenges too complex, the solutions evasive.

In conversation with remarkable spiritual people today, I felt how the Divine is manifest in a unique way in each person. Each human being is this expression of G*d-Love in a specific intersection of time/place/culture/language/skin/shape.

Think of all the billions of people on this planet. Not just the friendly people but the broken people, the people who hurt and damage others. The mystery is that somehow, the Holy is in those people too. I think this is what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. meant by “beloved community.”

At first glance, it may seem like a cheap cop-out, but in the end what I come back to is this connection that each of us has to the Sacred. Spirit is unlimited resources of Love, moments of everyday grace, miracles of reconnection and reconciliation, all rooted in the powerful full-body knowledge that I, and you, and each of us is deeply known and beloved.

None of these realizations are new or remarkable (except to me, of course). Other people have said it much more eloquently than I can. Tonight I am reading Womanist scholar Emilie M. Townes. In her book Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil she writes:

“We have dreams that can be more powerful than nightmares, possibilities more radical than realities, and a hope that does more than cling to a wish or wish on a star or sit by the side of the road, picking and sucking its teeth after dining on a meal of disaster and violence in our lives…

Emilie M. Townes

To combine challenge with hope is powerful. For together they enable us to press onward when we are at the verge of giving up; to draw strength from the future to live in a discouraging present. Challenge and hope make it possible for us to see the world, not only as it is, but also as it can be, so that it can move us to new places and turn us into a new people…

Hope cannot simply be given a nod of recognition, for it demands not only a contract from us, but also a covenant and a commitment. When we truly live in this deep-walking hope, then we must order and shape our lives in ways that are not always predictable, not always safe, rarely conventional, and protests with prophetic fury the sins of a fantastic hegemonic imagination (and theological worldviews) that encourage us to separate our bodies from our spirits, our minds from our hearts, our beliefs from our action…

We cannot hide from responsibility or accountability for we are never relieved of the responsibility that we have to our generation and future generations to keep justice, peace,and hope alive and vibrant…

Ultimately, somewhere deep inside each of us we know that perhaps the simplest, yet the most difficult, answer to the challenge of what we will do with the fullness and incompleteness of who we are as we stare down the interior life of the cultural production of evil is live your faith deeply.

This is not a quest for perfection, but for what we call in christian ethics the everydayness of moral acts. It is what we do every day that shapes us…these acts that we do say more about us than those grand moments of righteous indignation and action.”

Today as I sat at the coffee shop in conversation, part of me itched with frustration at the lack of answers, at the need to DO more. Conversation seemed like such a little thing.

Talk doesn’t replace the necessity for action. Yet Townes reminds me that authentic listening and presence in connection to Spirit are not little or less. Everydayness is essential. And speaking about the Holy is necessary, even though it is the very last thing I feel comfortable or ready or able to do.

But I Don’t Have a Culture…

…so why can’t I borrow yours? Yours is so cool. I’m so fascinated. I’ll give it back. I promise.

Half-awake this morning I had a dream that I was speaking to a large group of women of various ages, sizes and colors. I talked about culture, identity and history. I had a U.S. History textbook as a prop. I talked in fragments. None of it was cohesive but it was exactly what I needed to say. Since I didn’t completely understand it, I thought I’d share it with you here.

I said that I was curious about why some people take spiritual traditions and symbols from other cultures. Culture and spirituality are strongly connected. Many white people feel they have no culture, so they are fascinated by indigenous culture and want to “incorporate” it into their life. Yet African-American, Asian-American and Native culture has been systematically attacked, disabled and erased. So “borrowing” cultural spiritual traditions is never without consequence.

My Maternal Great-Great-Grandparents

I am a first-generation German-American immigrant. I can trace my ancestors on my father’s side back three generations. I do not know the names of my paternal great-grandparents or where they came from. My mother’s people come from the Lowlands in Missouri. They can trace their line back to the American colonies, and before that, Scotland and England.

This United States history book has pictures of people who look like me. But it does not tell the whole story, or the true story, even though it pretends to.

At times I have been jealous of my Native and African-American friends because they have ancestors to talk to, a culture of stories and proverbs, symbols and prayers. Much has been lost and destroyed, but the connection is still there. This moment of envy is when I begin to reach towards tokens, toward taking/owning/possessing.

I believed I didn’t have any ancestors. Then I said the word Nazi and they showed up. They do not want me to use that word. Then I said the words poor white trash and they showed up. They do not like those words.

When giving a lecture, one ought to be organized and systematic. Organization is something the system depends on. “Alles in Ordnung” is a common saying among my people.

My people have often been afraid of chaos. We believe that organization keeps us safe. Organization also makes us superior.

The system that wrote and approved and published and distributed this history book organizes people easily. On the one hand are those who work hard. On the other hand are those who are lazy. Those who are good. Those who are bad. Those who are honorable. Those who are devious. Those who are white. Those who are not white produit equivalent au viagra.

This is why my lecture is disorganized. Because I am trying to reach for a different way of being in the world that is not organized. I am trying to speak from my belly.

My envy of those with ancestors makes me uneasy. I know that I have ancestors and a cultural identity and a history. My history is not a good one.

Among my ancestors are oppressors, murderers and thieves. Many of my ancestors are harsh and indifferent, selfish and cowardly. Some days I think that if I could disown them, I would, but I can’t. So I envy others their suffering. There is an idea among my people that suffering is somehow noble. It is a very bad idea.

I stop the lecture and I look at everyone. Somehow we have to find a way outside this organization, I think. Somehow we have to talk to each other.

Please say your name, I tell those listening to me. No one says anything. They are at a lecture, after all. I have to repeat it and finally people start talking. Everyone says their name. I can feel everyone start to show up in the room.

Now please say your grandmother’s name, I say, and this time the names come quicker. I say “Elizabeth” and “Phoebe.” I can feel everyone’s grandmothers start to show up in the room. It is starting to get crowded.

Now please say your great-grandmother’s name if you know it. I say “Charlotte” and “Mabel.” I don’t know if Charlotte is the right name, but I *think* it is, so I say it anyway. Now the room is getting very noisy, with all these ancestors talking to one another.

I am supposed to be giving a lecture. I do not want to freak anyone out with my woo-woo stuff because I can see and hear these ancestors. But we are onto something, I think, we can’t stop now. So I say If anyone has a message from her grandmother or great-grandmother, can she please stand up and share it. After a person shares we will answer with “We hear you.” I sit down.

It takes a little bit, but the people start talking. One woman says she is very tired and her whole body hurts all over. We hear you. Another says we ought to be ashamed for ignoring our ancestors. We need to listen up! We hear you. Another says she is sorry and starts to cry. We hear you. Someone else says she thinks this is a stupid exercise and wasn’t this supposed to be a lecture? We hear you.

The talking goes on and on, and we go over our allotted time, and I am glad. I wish that this wasn’t a dream I was having but a real-life chance where I could hear everyone’s grandmothers and great-grandmothers talk.

Eventually we are done talking, and we have a moment of silence. Then I ask everyone to hold hands in a circle and even though it is not usually done, we do that. Some people have left early and some people are confused or sad or smiling. I say a blessing in the language of my people which ends with “Go in peace.”

Part of me is wondering what just happened, because something DID happen, but it wasn’t planned and fairly unorganized, so I am not sure what it was. But it seems important, so I remembered this dream and I am writing it down here for you now.

Free Speech: Only for White People?

Last week officials at Tucson Unified School District walked into classrooms and took books away from the students. The reason? Books which promote “resentment toward a race or class of people” are not permitted.

While comparisons are being made to Nazi Germany, I am thinking instead about the books they didn’t take. The ones that evidently do not promote resentment between races. History books with the proper information about slavery, boarding schools, internment camps, borders and war. Who wrote those books?

Free Speech is something we Americans all agree on, right? The free expression of ideas, thoughts, and opinions is a basic human right, as given as oxygen…the necessary air of critical reasoning, dialogue and debate.

Yet Free Speech is also invoked by white people who don’t want to critically examine the content of their own discourse.

For example, if a white writer includes racial stereotypes in her writing or one-dimensional racial characters, whether out of ignorance or laziness or simply because it “feels” right to her, she can invoke Free Speech as a protection against being accountable for the consequences of her work.

No one likes censorship, so those who might object that stereotypes perpetuate racism or limit the conversation to a one-sided monologue in support of white supremacy will probably back off when the Free Speech banner is raised viagra libre.

Yet I have this nagging notion in my belly that free speech is really about privilege and entitlement. White people get more free speech than people of color. So at its heart, the ban in Arizona isn’t about free speech (although that would make it simpler). The ban is about the oppression of brown people by white people, about white control of the words, the culture, the conversation around history and race.

What can I, a white person, learn from Arizona? It is so tempting to feel self-righteously outraged. I can send a petition to the school governing board. (By the way, please DO sign the petition.) But my outraged petition-signing might just reinforce my sense of rightness, the illusion that I am somehow “above” the system.

So instead of being lulled into complacency by outrage, I want to ask myself (and you):

Would the Tucson Unified School District  remove my writing?  If my book was in their classroom, would it count as threatening? Are my words so harmless to the white regime that they would remain?

How does my writing perpetuate racism? What racial stereotypes are embedded within my work that I can’t see? How often do I choose what is easy or seems right rather than what is complex, uncomfortable, unsettling?

I want to call out to white writers everywhere and ask them these questions: Are you, a writer who “happens to be white,” accountable for the ways that racism is unconsciously perpetuated in your work? What and who keeps you accountable?

What are you doing with all the free speech you possess?

Don’t Say the Word Nazi

Last night in my ethics class we spent two hours talking about war, primarily American: Revolutionary, Civil, Vietnam, Iraq. I did NOT tell the class that my Opa fought for the German army in World War II. It wasn’t a story I was prepared to tell.

Since I kept silent last night, now I have to tell you this story. The story of how my people are a warrior people, from our early days as “barbarian hordes” in northern Europe to the more “civilized” life of my grandparents, a tailor and a florist in Danzig/Gdansk, Poland.

When I talk to my ancestors in my dreams they insist that I not say the word Nazi. They did not approve of what happened to their Jewish neighbors, my ancestors tell me. But you didn’t DO anything! I say and usually that’s when they stop talking to me, shaking their heads. I don’t understand what it was like, how afraid they were. I don’t understand anything.


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