Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The baby will come with the tomatoes

James Laing/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Back in the beginning of the North American pandemic shutdown, author and historian Kate Bowler used the occasion of Easter to reflect on the subject of "setting horizons while dealing with precarity." Basically, the pandemic's indefinite nature was threatening our human capacity to understand and work within limits; all of a sudden, we were operating without bounds. Bowler counseled at the time, "If the world can't set a horizon for you, then we need to set it for ourselves ... because there's so many choices we have to make, especially when we're fragile."

I have thought of her insight and of my own horizons every month, every week, every day since, but especially in the past few days as we passed the one-year anniversary (and god willing the only-year anniversary) of living strictly within the confines of our homes and immediate households. This time last year I was unmoored—balancing remote work and safe childcare and all our newly overturned routines, foregoing in-person church services during the holiest Christian liturgical season, and grasping for any available horizon. First came Easter. Then Pentecost. Then my first COVID-era in-person visit with my parents. Return to daycare. End of summer. End of autumn. End of 2020. Vaccination. And yet the horizon continues to extend and blur.

What I have now that I didn't have 12 months ago, however, is literal hope growing inside me. I am pregnant with my second child, halfway to my summer due date, and my horizon is the sharpest it's been in quite some time. Incredible how the awesomeness of new life helps me put everything else in perspective. Where before my mind, spirit, and body were yanked in different directions, now they have united in common purpose to bring this human safely into the world and keep me healthy and whole, too.

On Ash Wednesday last month, my pastor turned the usual "lament-repent-remember you'll die" message on its ear (probably because everyone's been stuck in a mortality-reminding Lenten world for the past 52 weeks, but I digress). Instead, he spoke of Lent as "full of possibilities, if only we choose to see it that way."

The minute he said that, my weary heart leapt and said, "I choose it! I choose to see it that way!" For how I can not see possibility when I imagine all the shapes, traits, and paths of a new child? How can I not see possibility when daylight lengthens again without my doing anything? How can I not see possibility when I tell my son that when the tomatoes are ready in the garden, so will his little sibling be ready in Mommy's body, and in speaking these words of life I feel the summer heat again, smell the vine-green scent on my fingertips, and taste dribbling juice on my tongue?

This path toward the new horizon is not only full of possibilities but also full of wonder, and here I experience the tension between the two concepts. I need the horizon for definition and certitude; I need the wonder for hope and awe. The first requires me to process and conclude, while the second asks me to dream and stay tender. Both states are necessary right now, and the gift of my pregnancy places me squarely at their intersection.

When I shared the news about my previous pregnancy, I was agog at the miracle of it all. Every experience was fresh, a first. I had all the time and room in the world to contemplate our family's future and our connection to the divine mystery. Three years later and older, as a working parent of a chatty toddler during a global pandemic, I look back with wry laughter at the luxury of that space, and I place my hands on my basketball belly and think, "Poor kid. Already such a second child."

But this child will benefit from a reality their brother did not immediately face: heightened stakes. They will arrive in an exhausted, frightened, and grieving world, yet they will seek exactly what every baby before them has sought—warmth, safety, food, love. The past year has driven home for me how interconnected and interdependent our planet is, how essential and shared our humanity, and here comes an adorably tangible, loudly vocal reminder of that cohesion, straight to the bassinet in my bedroom.

How full of possibilities are the next four months. How full of possibilities is this new small person. How full of possibilities is our world beyond this cataclysm. May we see and hold them all.


Prayer #366: Stretch Marks

Horizons extend, and I stretch with them.

Possibilities abound, and I stretch toward them.

I am sore some days from the effort. The steady trudge taxes my ankles. My back groans with the weight of the undertaking. But my soul remains energetic and eager; delight in discovery gives it wings.

Lead me—lead us—toward the destination my soul so easily recognizes, even when my body protests and my mind cannot comprehend. For in the end we shall have each other to hold, and we will rest, beloved, with You.

Amen.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Reading for change (in myself, then the world)

Let's walk the stony path. Justin Kern/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Back in June 2020, when a spate of racially motivated killings and police violence compelled many of us to reexamine white supremacy and its insidious tentacles throughout American history and society, I read this scathing Washington Post essay by Tre Johnson titled "When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs."

This passage jumped out at me:

"... when things get real — really murderous, really tragic, really violent or aggressive — my white, liberal, educated friends already know what to do. What they do is read. And talk about their reading. What they do is listen. And talk about how they listened.

What they do is never enough. This isn’t the time to circle up with other white people and discuss black pain in the abstract; it’s the time to acknowledge and examine the pain they’ve personally caused."
Well, crap. Because the first item in my own list of anti-racist commitments was to "read at least one book connected to anti-racism every 4-6 weeks," cementing my undeniable status as a white, liberal, educated woman. (At least I didn't join a book club?)

The thing is, I am a lifelong reader and writer. When I seek to understand other people's experiences and learn complex topics, I ingest, digest, and process words. Turning to reading was not (I hope) a knee-jerk virtue signal, but rather my most direct path to getting my arms around a reality I knew I had not yet absorbed.

So, with a audience of fellow white people in mind, I'd like to take the occasion of Black History Month 2021 to share the materials, mostly books, that in recent years have educated me about race in America, challenged me with cries for justice, and enriched me with gorgeous reflections of Black joy, creativity, and artistry, in the hopes that you will join me in transforming our lament into action.

I've opened each section with a general statement on a theme and then listed the materials alphabetically by title. You can learn more about each book from your local library or local independent bookstore. Bonus points if the bookstore is Black-owned, because if I've walked away with one lesson from my ongoing education, it's to put my energy and money where my mouth is when it comes to advocating for change in our systems and practices.

Nonfiction: Racism/Anti-Racism Focus

Because you can't address what you don't understand. These books cover the definition, manifestations, and effects of racism, and several delve into practical methods for recognizing racism in yourself and evolving to be more actively anti-racist.

  • "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?": A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity, Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson
  • How to Be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, Layla Saad
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
  • Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You, Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
  • White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo

Nonfiction: Black History & Memoir

Because joy as well as struggle reflects the humanity we share. Reading deeply personal accounts alongside often-overlooked history painted for me a more complete and ultimately more profound picture of our collective past, present, and future.

  • Becoming, Michelle Obama
  • Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
  • Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
  • Hidden Figures, Margo Lee Shetterly
  • How to Be Black, Baratunde Thurston
  • Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson
  • March (Books 1-3), John Lewis
  • Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward
  • Negroland, Margo Jefferson
  • Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin
  • Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson

Fiction

Because imagination is a proven route to empathy. The main thing these novels, stories, and verses share is a Black author. Otherwise, they all reflect and refract universal experiences through humor, drama, tragedy, history, sci-fi, magic, and many other creative lenses. 

  • Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
  • Homegoing, Yaa Gyaasi
  • How to Sit, Tyrese Coleman
  • Jubilee, Margaret Walker
  • Kindred, Octavia Butler
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward
  • The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
  • The Hate You Give, Angie Thomas
  • The Revisioners, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
  • The Thing Around Your Neck, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Turner House, Angela Flournoy
  • The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
  • The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  • Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyaasi
  • White Teeth, Zadie Smith

Spirituality 

Because envisioning God beyond "Old White Man in Sky" opens my heart to more manifestations of the divine. Here's where I move beyond books (though two are listed) and include some of the writers, ministers, and theologians I follow regularly on social media. Through their religious and spiritual rumination, they challenge me to revisit and expand my more-ingrained-than-I-realized concept of Church.

* Asterisk denotes those who also offer formal training and coaching to promote racial justice and healing.

Let's close with Tre Johnson again:

"The right acknowledgment of black justice, humanity, freedom and happiness won’t be found in your book clubs, protest signs, chalk talks or organizational statements. It will be found in your earnest willingness to dismantle systems that stand in our way—be they at your job, in your social network, your neighborhood associations, your family or your home. It’s not just about amplifying our voices, it’s about investing in them and in our businesses, education, political representation, power, housing and art."

I am earnestly willing to dismantle these systems. May I act on this desire in a constant spirit of humility, empathy, and openness, so that all children of God may rise.

Prayer #365: Right Acknowledgement

Ahmaud Arbery has been dead for one year, and I—how have I been alive? Alive to fear. Alive to danger. Alive to suffering. Alive to injustice. In a true accounting of my actions, what have I done to nudge a recalcitrant world toward the array of better angels so eager to welcome us?

I must stop framing my tiny role in the long pursuit toward racial justice as "Is it enough?" and instead consider it as "Am I moving myself and my community in the right direction?" In scaling my place appropriately, I won't shorten the journey, but I will better notice the mile markers, and I will be more alive to my companions on the road—those who lead me, guide me, and inspire me to continue walking.

Amen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Move to what shall be

The sun always rises. Geoff Livingston/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
 

How bizarre to see the Capitol building draped with bunting, festooned with flags, sumptuously arranged for dignitaries and celebrities alike, when exactly two weeks ago its windows were shattered and offices were infiltrated as a mob stormed its walls in an insurrection attempt encouraged by our 45th president. How bizarre, these two weeks later, to watch the customary pageantry play out despite formidable logistical odds, in another installment of the expected peaceful transfer of power that former president Ronald Reagan described as "commonplace and miraculous."

 

... We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace and the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice. 
    —Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate, from her inaugural poem The Hill We Climb

 

How we choose to interpret the compelling image of the Capitol dome cleaned and decorated after a violent attack might be seen as a ideological Rorschach test. On one hand, we could view it as a powerful symbol of America's resilience and fortitude, and the endurance of lofty democratic ideals, which have shaped and continue to shape America. On the other hand, we could see it as a powerful symbol of our country's harmful habits of saying "This is not who we are" in times of immoral crisis and electing to reframe ourselves through a myopic, rose-colored lens, papering over the very real, destructive, and present forces that have shaped and continue to shape America.

I'd argue, however, that the answer lies in the middle, or rather, in the tension of both interpretations being true. As Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said in his remarks during the Inauguration swearing-in ceremony, "We are more than we have been and less than we can be." President Biden echoed this sentiment in his inaugural address, saying, "We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility. Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build. And much to gain."

 

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: that even as we grieved, we grew, even as we hurt, we hoped, that even as we tired, we tried, that we’ll forever be tied together victorious, not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division. 
—Gorman, The Hill We Climb

All these states of being are valid. They are, well, true. Yet some people will hear in these truths an indictment or a threat. They will not hear the call to humility, the plea for compassion, or the spirit of possibility and potential. Such interpretation—inevitable given the fractured nature of discourse in our country—aggrieves me because it lacks not only empathy, but imagination.

We need to move toward policies, dialogue, and shared values that, yes, restore the strength and validity of facts, but that also embrace truths (plural)—the messy, complicated, nuanced realities that every American, each community, and our entire nation live out every day. And here's the key that not all of us has grasped yet: It's not really up to our elected officials. It's up to us as citizens and fellow humans to share our truths and seek to understand those of others.

Important note: I am not speaking of 'unity.' This buzzword is teetering on the threshold of dog whistle for those in our country who wish to maintain the systems of white supremacy and thus their power. As poet Amanda Gorman put it, "We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be." So what shall be? And how shall we discover the answer if we are putting first only our own interests?

Catholic priest Fr. Leo J. O'Donovan said in his invocation prayer, "There is a power in each and every one of us that lives by turning to every other one of us, a thrust of the spirit to cherish and care and stand by others, and above all those most in need. It is called love, and its path is to give ever more of itself."

Love. Love! A word I have not heard or seen exhibited from our nation's highest office in four years. What might a nation re-grounded in love achieve? Not perfection; that's unattainable. But in striving for perfection? We just might stumble upon what shall be, and we just might find it soul-opening.


...The new dawn blooms as we free it, for there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it. 
—Gorman, The Hill We Climb

Prayer #364: "A Thrust of the Spirit"

No peaceful dove here, no cool tongue of fire. Tired of being ignored, the Holy Spirit is jostling through the faceless, aimless crowds that surround me, using her elbows as weapons, until all at once she is pressed against my side.

She seems out of breath after her exertions. I expect her to yell, maybe shake my shoulders, but instead she rests her hands on her knees and inhales, exhales, until her breath is even. Only then does she rise to look me dead in the eye. Only then does she place her hand over my heart, now quickening under her light touch.

"Love," she sighs. "It's always and only ever been Love."

Suddenly my chest sears. I yelp in pain and jump backwards beyond her reach. She doesn't even flinch. Just points to my smoldering shirt and says, "There's more where that came from, if you do it right. Get creative. I'll tell you this, though: The wound is Love; its cure, the same."

I peek at my skin for burns, but see only a slight indent in the shape of her fingertips. When I look up, she has gone. Now it is my turn to leave the crowd—my turn to set my heart aflame.

Amen.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Giving over

Perspective: This star cluster (Messier 28) is 12 billion years old.
NASA Goddard Photo and Video/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

I don't want to be "the adult" this Christmas season. I don't want to figure out the holiday menu two weeks in advance to cut down on supermarket trips or order gifts online with enough time budgeted for USPS delays or buy a real tree for the first time with a newly obstreperous toddler in the house. I just want to snap my fingers and have ... what, exactly? A "normal" Christmas? A handed-to-me Christmas? No Christmas at all?

For months I've been thinking about this December blog post and jotting down possible angles. My scribbled notes include:

  • Look at the Nativity though the lens of grief and fear—fleeing home, giving birth alone, losing the life they (Mary and Joseph) once knew
  • A list of what I'm grateful for
  • Am I actually a hopeful person?
  • We are allowed to grieve

I could write a post on each of these prompts, but as I look to the rapidly approaching end of the calendar year, I find I am too exhausted to explore them, at least not in an articulate way meant for shared reflection. It's the writing equivalent of my Christmas ennui; I know where I want to end up, but I have zero energy to invest in getting there.

One way I did attempt to fill my tank was to contribute a brief reflection to my church's parishioner-led Advent devotional calendar. (What can I say, I like writing about this liturgical season.) And as fortune would have it, I was assigned today, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, which shares the story of the Annunciation.

I have long been drawn to the Annunciation story, mainly because I like to rebel against the usual interpretation/conclusion that Mary said yes to God without a moment's hesitation and thus we should all be like Mary, meek and acquiescent.

Maybe the events of 2020 further primed me to be contrarian, but as I pondered the day's readings and prepared my reflection, I zeroed in on the use of two buts: "But she was greatly troubled at what was said..." and "But Mary said to the angel, How can this be ...?" On this repeated conjunction hinges real human doubt, a doubt onto which I threw myself with immediate understanding.

Here's what I ended up writing:

“When King David was settled in his palace,
and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side …”

Uncertainty, instability, disruption, fear … these ‘enemies’ have beset me throughout 2020. And now the last weekend of Advent asks me for the impossible: to say “yes” to God amid existential exhaustion.

Given my weariness, how will I find the strength to speak this simple but significant vow? Today’s two readings and psalm all include muscular words that suggest physical power, words like destroy, endure, stand firm, and rock. I can hear these words thundering through tents and pulpits, a call to arms for faithful listeners.

But that’s not the energy my ragged spirit needs right now, which is why I’m connecting more with Mary’s quiet defiance in the gospel reading. Hers is a subtle display of strength: But … but … She does not hide her doubt or questions, but instead engages the archangel in dialogue. In the end, with the soothing language of birth rather than conflict, Mary agrees to God’s offer, and the promise made to David is fulfilled.

Comparing these distinct approaches, I see a way to renew my Advent yes and my depleted hope. It’s not about giving in or giving up, but rather giving over to my questions, concerns, and doubts and holding a spirited conversation with God. For just as David learns that his definition of “house” is much smaller and more literal that God’s expansive vision, so might we learn in our pushing, fretting, and wondering that a life beyond our wildest imaginings is available to us—a life imbued with mystery and miracles. 

Giving over. That's where I've landed this Advent, this Christmas, this bleak midwinter mid-pandemic. I am going to keep asking God lots of questions and attempt to make it more of a conversation than it's been of late. I'm also going to treat myself with compassion, to permit my unpredictable waves of grief, but also to welcome the surprise joys and not begrudge them.

My son is very into a lovely picture book right now titled LIFE, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel, and it's a simple, peaceful meditation on life's beauties and challenges. The passage that most reliably catches in my throat goes like this:

Life is not always easy.

There will probably be a stretch of wilderness now and then.

But wilderness eventually ends.

And there is always a new road to take.

May we all come to the end of the wilderness soon, dear ones. May our new roads rise to meet us. May our hope renew and make our "yeses" stronger.


Prayer #363: O Antiphon for the Weary Soul

O Wanderer

O Scared One

O Root of Doubt

O Key Unlabeled

O Murky Dawn

O Lost of Nations

O how can I be anything to You except a hapless jumble, a human hodge-podge, a seeker chasing her own unfolding tale? What assurance do You draw from my wavering yes, and what glory do You spot in my flickering hope?

As I wait for You yet again, O Emmanuel, help me envision a relationship beyond my all-too-human scale. May I invite awe and seek breathlessness, so that the puny defenses I like to erect disintegrate in the face of Your mind-blowing love, and what rises instead exceeds even Your wildest dreams.

Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

"God is not afraid of dead things"

Beauty in decay. eyesore9/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
 

Tonight marks the first frost of the season. The second crop of carrots in our garden are shivering underground; the indefatigable Swiss chard bares its stalks to the sharp chill. I am wearing a turtleneck again, and sitting under a blanket, and drinking tea, trying to avoid the truth that all around me things are dying.

---

As I walked my son home from daycare this wintry-feeling evening, he melted down halfway. He had not napped that afternoon, and his overtired/overstimulated little brain decided that the worst thing in the world was either a) me asking him to wear gloves or b) me not allowing him to walk an extra block to view an inflatable turkey up close. (I am never quite sure what he considers to be the inciting incident.)

To him, denial meant death. When I picked up his squirming, raging body and carried him home, my refusal to acquiesce to his demands marked the end of the reality he desired -- no, expected -- and he could not grasp how life might transpire otherwise.

---

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to speak to my first honest-to-goodness acquisitions editor at a mid-size publisher. I was certain I had unwrapped my golden ticket for a book deal. I created a nonfiction proposal and had a promising conversation. I strived to assume nothing, but of course I was already envisioning the moment when my box of first-edition hardcovers would arrive on the front porch, for hope greases the track of imagination.

Then came the brief email explaining that though my writing was beautiful, the sales team didn't think there was enough of a market. Ah, yes. Publishing is a business, not a Medici-level system of patronage. My disappointment consumed me, and my hope shriveled within it, dead on a once-vital vine.

---

We are in an endless state of dying. People are dying -- some naturally, most needlessly -- as the pandemic rages. Our earth is dying -- seasonally in some places, unnaturally worldwide -- as climate change accelerates. And while the election results brought half the country relief, not so the other half, and so now we face our dying idealism about how quickly we might move forward and how differently we all define 'forward.'

---

Charaia Callabrass writes, "God is not afraid of dead things." 

Which means God is not afraid of my strangled hope. My impotent rage. My wide-ranging griefs. My sincere disappointments. My egoistic losses. My dashed plans. God is not afraid of anything that has burned to the ground, whether in a scorching blaze or whimpering embers. For what is death to a God who, as Callabrass frames it, chooses to sit with us in our ashes?

Then why am I afraid of dead things? Do I fear the dead thing itself? Do I fear what leads to the ashes? Or do I fear what might rise from them?

I ponder it now as my tea cools and the window draft persists, as my toddler sleeps and the chard prevails. Tomorrow marks another start, another first day after death. In the morning I will see what lives, and I will join it.
 
 
Prayer #362: Around the Campfire

Grief felt. Unloaded. Flooded. Released. Avoided. Acknowledged.

Joy discovered. Welcomed. Created. Manufactured. Shared. Deferred.

Anger simmered. Ignored. Stoked. Sublimated. Boiled. Doused. 

Hope nurtured. Summoned. Forgotten. Feared. Invited. Desired.

For every emotion traipsing through me, help me treat it as I would a campfire in the clearing -- with heat to feel, flames to corral, and power to yield with wisdom. 
 
Amen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Have I been radicalized?

First, we vote. Then, I cry. (October 21, 2020)

This morning, my husband and I voted early. We submitted our ballots. We walked back outside in the misty, humid air. I took the selfie you see above. We returned to our car. I closed the door. And I cried.

I cried because I want the election to be over, but I don't think it will be over for a long time.

I cried because we couldn't be at our usual neighborhood polling place. I didn't recognize any of the faces and I was afraid to touch the pens, yet for all that a line of people was still forming on a random Wednesday morning to participate in this civic process.

I cried because I remembered how buoyant and hopeful I felt the morning of Election Day 2016, and how drained and fearful I felt today (13 days early, no less) in comparison.

I cried because American politics and politicians with their destructive self-interest, their blatant power grabs, and their hypocrisy are frustrating efforts to create a loving and just world, and I feel powerless against them.

I cried because the yard signs for Virginia's Amendment 1 ballot initiative have literally the same message -- "Vote YES on 1 to end partisan gerrymandering" vs "Stop gerrymandering and vote NO on 1" -- which captures the confusing spirit of the entire debate and makes me question how much one vote can actually make a difference, now or in the long run.

I cried because I'm an observant Catholic convinced she is voting in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church while also knowing many other observant Catholics convinced they are voting in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church and yet somehow we are voting the exact opposite way.

I cried because I have made only five phonebanking calls so far (though I have mailed 85 notes).

I cried because I took a week off and it was glorious and I want to live in that rested, restored mode forever.

I cried because I'm afraid to feel hopeful. Or maybe I cried because I've forgotten how to feel hopeful.

I cried because I can't control the outcome.

I cried because I'm not God.

 ---

Becoming a parent two years ago broke me open in a way I didn't expect. It manifested my vulnerability in a separate, distinct human body, a new soul with his own thoughts, discoveries, and wounds, and awakened in me a desperate, visceral hunger to keep my body wrapped, womb-like, around his to ensure his safety.

The slow-drip trauma of 2020 has shifted these emotional tectonic plates further. Now my hunger extends to everything I can't control and to everybody I can't protect. Systems, politics, ideologies ... the jobless, the homeless, the hopeless ... refugees, protestors, patients ... the collective wails, chants, and labored breathing ... our communal suffering overwhelms me, and I grieve for all who feel bereft of their belovedness.

I have always appreciated that the root of the word "radical" is, in fact, root (radix in Latin), which makes it all the more curious (and ultimately poetic) that in the political sphere, "radical" also tends to connote "extremism." Because as multiple forms of pestilence -- virulent illness, insidious racism, capitalist greed, environmental degradation -- duke it out right now for the most casualties, I am increasingly on board with burning it all down. Starting over. Not just reforming but re-imagining our shared world.

For our world has always been shared. It will always be shared. Our roots are the same, and they run beneath our marching, stomping, dancing feet whether we acknowledge them or not. So if recognizing and revering these connections is now considered revolutionary, then more of us need to revolt.

I will surely cry on future Election Days. Such is my wont. But in these not-too-distant years when I do weep over my ballot, let it be from joy. Let it be from gratitude. Let it be from a love so embodied, so grounded, that it arrived at the polling station on its own two feet, hands flexing, ready to start the real work of fixing things.


Prayer #361: Enloven

Stretch my limbs

Straighten my back

Fill my belly

Expand my lungs

Harden my soles

Soften my heart

Mingle my tears

Broaden my mind

Unleash my tongue

Plant my grief

Harvest my love

Amen.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Run toward the fear

Last week I received my absentee mail-in ballot for November's election, and my first feeling upon opening it was dread.

For the first time in my voting life, I am not assuming a peaceful transfer of power. Instead I am expecting corruption, violence, and protests. I am expecting a total upset of democratic norms, and with it a national rupture so immediate and undeniable that it will alter the trajectory of our history.

Basically, all I have ever taken for granted about our society's electoral functioning is under serious question. So ... yeah. Dread.

Up until 2016 I blithely skipped to my polling station once or twice a year, received my sticker, reacted superficially to election outcomes, and carried on with my life. Such was my privilege of being a white, upper-middle-class voter in an affluent suburb of a major metropolitan area; white supremacy had so inculcated me with reliable comfort that I never bothered pricking the rainbow bubble surrounding me, never questioned how its glossy, shimmering surface might be distorting my view.

This year, however—also for the first time in my voting life—the bubble is burst, and I better grasp the stakes beyond my own existence. Am I still benefiting from white supremacy? Yes. Is our country grappling with whether to allow it to continue? Yes. Do I recognize my moral imperative to pop every shiny, comfortable bubble floating past? God, I hope I answer yes.

This past June, I wrote about how I was turning my lament into commitment to racial justice, and I've spent the time since then learning more about what it means to be anti-racist. One big takeaway: Learning and self-education are valuable, but they are only part of the equation. To be fully anti-racist, you must pair your examination with action and work to dismantle the entrenched systems upholding white supremacy.

So, just as I asked in June, I continue to ask, "What can I do?" Thanks to being a little farther along the winding path, and with more self-awareness and discernment about anti-racism to guide me, I've chosen to participate in this moment of electoral reckoning in two ways: by donating more significant and sustained money to organizations that are fighting voter suppression within communities of color, and by volunteering my time to write letters and phone bank in an effort to increase voter turnout among those same communities.

To be completely honest, giving money is the easy part. The idea of cold-calling strangers in other states, even for a nonpartisan purpose such as ensuring people have the voting information they need, churns my stomach. But as I practice confronting the unwatchable and imagine what real fear feels like for way too many people in America—the fear of not having enough food to feed your family, the fear of not having health insurance during a global pandemic, the fear of losing your shelter due to unemployment, the fear of being separated from your child at the border, the fear of dying at the hands of a police officer—I soon snap out of it.

My "fear" is not true fear. It is merely complacency under threat, and my responsibility as an anti-racist person of faith is to push beyond my own comfort and vote, give, and act in ways that undermine structures of sin and greed, support all human rights, and create a just world for generations to come.

Rosa Parks once said, "I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear." My mind is made up. I know what must be done. I will run toward the fear, then through it, ideally to a future we will shape anew.


Prayer #360: Bursting

How easy bubbles are to create—a dip, a swish, a swoop—and in the air before us they suddenly float, designed specifically for a moment of fleeting delight, popped with but a poke of a fingertip.

If only we could as easily burst the bubbles we've wrapped around ourselves, iridescent orbs of willful ignorance that look light but weigh us down, circular cells designed for a lifetime of fearful protection.

Help me see my bubble for its true nature: not a window, but a wall. Then help me lift the sledgehammer against it, leaving me shattered but clear-eyed, freer to rise.

Amen.