Radical Hospitality

I’ve been hearing the term Radical Hospitality in Christian circles for some years now. It seems to vaguely mean Inclusion, Tolerance, and Support for the individual on his or her faith journey, as well as a method of bringing newcomers to the faith. It has meant different things to the various different people and congregations I’ve known who espouse it, or at least espouse the concept of it. I’ve heard it used as a reason to host a local ecumenical event, include Gay people in all aspects of congregational life, and as something the Welcoming Committee needs to take Very Seriously. It’s meaning for me has changed many times, but as ever: recent experience + old memory = lesson learned. One of the rewards of living long enough is that even ancient artifacts of memory can have lessons, given the right ignition.

My ex-husband’s late father left my late mother-in-law for another woman. It was as cliche as could be: she was his secretary. All his adult children and we spouses disapproved, vocally so, and then sat back in our disapproval and waited for the affair to end.

But the affair didn’t end, and a couple years later it occurred to all of us that if his children and grandchildren wanted a relationship with him, we were gonna have to get over our disapproval and hurt and bring them both back into the fold. As the family Golden Child, it fell to my ex-husband, and by extension me, to make that happen.

We invited them to dinner and, because my father-in-law didn’t like me and I knew it, I went about my pre-party cleaning with a double dose of OCD; my neighbor, finding me sponge-mopping the ceiling, gently told me I might be taking things just a tad far. They were likely happy to be invited and wouldn’t be judging my housekeeping too harshly.

They arrived fifteen minutes early and found me, mop in hand, finishing the powder room. Wanting to kill them, I smiled through gritted teeth. We all ate. Both Agnes and I drank way too much. After they left, concluding that “the other woman” had neither horns nor claws and that my father-in-law was not being held against his will, we counted the evening a success.

My ex and I felt quite proud of ourselves. What grown-ups we’d been! We’d nobly cracked the door open a little bit, so they could get back in. Over time, I think all of the kids eventually found their way to forgiving him enough to include them in their lives somewhat, and maybe they’d have done that without my dinner party but, weren’t we Good? Weren’t we hospitable to the woman who had broken up their family? We congratulated ourselves that we’d given more than they deserved, and were the bigger people for it.

Never once did it occur to me how much courage it took for Agnes, whatever her sins, to walk through my front door.

Never once did I think how nervous she must have been.

Never once did I even try to imagine what she must be feeling.

Never once in all the years that followed did I open my heart to her, to who she was, what she felt or thought. I don’t recall ever asking her a question about herself, her life, her interests. But I was always polite.

They eventually married and remained so until her shocking, sudden death some years later. She lay down for a nap and never woke up. There were no second chances at offering Radical Hospitality to Agnes.

According to Dictionary.com:

Radical:  Adjective 1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference; 2. thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company. 3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.

Hospitality:  noun  1. the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers. 2. the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

Just reading the definitions calls up Jesus for me, dining with tax collectors and prostitutes. It points out my giant failings were Agnes was concerned: I took the standard societal attitude about a woman who has an affair with a married man – that she was a heartless homewrecker and not worthy. If I’d been more radical, I might have accepted her as a fellow human being, full of errors and mistakes, just like me. And if I’d been truly hospitable and received her in a generous fashion, I might have saw in her whatever it was my father-in-law saw and loved. I might have offered radical hospitality as well as food and drink.

It is difficult to step away from our convenient labels for people, especially those we consider “other”, be they other woman/other man, or other color, other creed, other point-of-origin, but the loss is greatest to ourselves when we won’t. I say won’t, rather than don’t or can’t, because the latter two might denote a lack of choice, and our freedom to choose how we think is the best, and potentially perilous, gift of freewill.

In a dangerously angry world we need not walls but truly radical hospitality. From being radical enough to suppose the lady with 47 items in the express lane ahead of you at the grocery store didn’t do it to piss you off, to being generous and hospitable enough to listen to fact-based ideas and concerns from the opposing political party.

I think our lives depend upon it.

Feminists & Goats

Over dinner one evening, Paul wondered aloud about something he’d watched while eating lunch. Unless he tunes it to English Premier League Football, the TV in his office’s break room is generally showing HGTV or the like, so he’s come to know all about Tarek and Christina el Moussa, house flippers once married to one another, but alas, No Longer.

With the end of their marriage and show, Tarek and Christina are now busily working on independent ventures. A recent show featured Christina doing a photoshoot. In a bikini. And here is reason #852 why I love Paul: watching the attractive Christina promoting her new venture by showing as much of herself as is allowable on daytime TV, Paul wondered if he’d soon see an ad wherein Tarek was doing a photoshoot, clad only in swim trunks or, if we’re to have true parity, a speedo? Would he have Revenge Abs? Realizing that men don’t have to promote their work with revealing photoshoots, Paul wondered aloud that night at dinner, Why are women still putting up with this?

In the wake of a celebrity breakup there always follows an article on the woman showing the ex what he’s missing with her Revenge Body. As I was googling Tarek and Christina I found this article about her Revenge Body.

When we moved to South Carolina I faced the debacle of getting a new Driver’s License, for which I was required to produce: my birth certificate, my first marriage certificate and/or something proving I had a right to my first married name, then my divorce decree, followed by my new marriage license and subsequent government-issued ID in that name. Upon our return to Texas a year later, I dragged it all back to the Texas DPS to get my old, still-current Texas license reissued. All of which had Paul wondering aloud why women are still changing their names upon marriage? Given the giant pain in the a$$ it is to change one’s name in a day when we are no longer exchanged for a certain number of goats and thus, traded from father to husband as property, why do women still take their husband’s names?

The old argument was women retained their married names upon divorce because their children bore that name, and I would concede that point if we were still living in the 1950’s, but we aren’t. Having worked in Education and dismissed from campus literally hundreds if not thousands of students, I can assure you what their mother’s names are makes no difference to us whatsoever. It all comes down to a) who is listed by the enrolling parent/guardian as authorized to take a student from campus, and b) if they have ID to prove they are who they say they are. Period. That’s it. If you’ve listed Mr. Peanutbutterandjelly as an authorized contact and granted him permission to take your student off campus, and he has government-issued, picture-bearing identification proving he is, indeed, Mr. Peanutbutterandjelly, your student can leave campus with him.

Paul’s and my marriage is quite traditional, but our blessing is we choose that, rather than society imposing traditional roles upon us. I might do more cleaning and he may do more handyman things, but it’s based on inclination and skill, rather than traditional gender roles.

As we neared the end of binge-watching The White Queen and subsequently gobbling up the actual history of the time, Paul remarked of Margaret Beaufort and Queen Elizabeth Woodville that for all their lack of autonomy they, like so many intelligent, capable women before and after them throughout history, still found ways to exert influence and shift the course of events. How much might such women have accomplished if they had rights? Birth control? Equality?

Fast-forward to the 20th century and the epic battle between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, as deliciously told in Feud on cable channel FX.  Fueled largely by a male studio head who felt convincing performances could only be gleaned if they kept the two leads perpetually at each other’s throats.  What followed was the kind of emotional guerrilla warfare only old foes can make, strike-counter-strike, hitting with unerring accuracy the ancient, never-healed wounds in each other. What took my breath away was the lack of respect for them as Academy Award-winning, acting professionals. Would Jack Warner have suggested such a thing if the stars had been, oh, let’s say John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart? I sincerely think not.

Here we are in 2017 and in Texas we have SB 25 looking set to pass the legislature, a bill allowing doctors to lie to or withhold information from a woman they believe will abort if informed of birth defects/issues with the child she’s carrying. Think about that: a doctor can LIE to a woman by omission, and is immune from prosecution for doing so, thus removing her autonomy to make her own healthcare decisions, and possibly affecting her for her entire life. Doctors will be legally permitted to treat adult, rational female human beings as children, incapable of making sound choices over their own lives.  Left unanswered is who will pay the staggering costs of raising all those profoundly disabled children?

It seems we are not so far removed from trading our young women for goats after all.

 

Six Degrees of Immigration

The year I don’t know, but in the early days of the 20th Century a young man from a small village outside Kiev boarded a ship in Frankfort, Germany, crossed the Atlantic and, passing through Ellis Island, an anonymous agent recorded him under the Anglicized name, Bernard Gross. He married a fellow immigrant, a girl from the old country named Rachel. They became American citizens, owned and operated a laundry, and raised four children: Betty, Mildred, Harry, and finally, surprise! the baby upon whom everyone doted, Jack, “Jacky” to the family.

Jack played High school football and after WWII he followed his older brother west, tending bar and managing restaurants, eventually settling down with a pretty cocktail waitress, a single mother with a little girl. He didn’t live an extraordinary life, but worked hard for his living, bought houses, paid taxes, and raised another man’s child through fevers, stitches, accolades, accidents, and late-night ER visits, adopting her as his own and teaching her what is meant by unconditional love. His own father, Bernard, adopted her, too, with the less formal but equally binding ties of grandfatherly love.

That little girl was me. Only one degree of separation, a straight line linking a little girl growing up with a loving father and America opening it’s arms to a Russian Jew fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe.

There is no way to estimate what my closest associations with immigrants have meant to my life. Surely, I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t sat in a doting Papa’s lap during holidays and family gatherings.

My country was built by immigrants, but as a country we have a habit of being pretty ugly to the most recent wave of them. Recent events conjure shameful memories from High School in Southern California, when Vietnamese refugees were settled in our area. Then, I witnessed a subtler, nonetheless savage, form of welcome by my fellow students in the form of whispers and snickers in the hallways and a pointed distancing. When the locker rooms became infested with scabies, the blame was laid firmly at the feet of the Vietnamese students, and the rampant but previously quiet racism of the school’s corridors turned vocally and disgustingly scurrilous towards them. It all sounds so petty and small, but it was relentless. I was never savage, oh no, I was worse:  I saw it all and remained silent. Which is why I can’t this time, I can’t be silent and honor those immigrants who, in six degrees of separation or less, have shaped, loved, guided, educated, delighted, and enriched my life beyond measure.

Children Waving to Statue of LibertyIt bears remembering that most people don’t want to leave their home countries, their relatives, their places of worship, their familiar foods and surroundings. When one’s choice is leave or die, it’s an easy choice to make, and there in New York harbor stands a statue inviting “the poor, the tired, the huddled masses” to our shores. America has long been the beacon of safety, of hope, the promise of God’s grace for whoever named God and even those who don’t.  How do I wrap my head around even the consideration of not living into that promise? If we aspire to being the “shining city upon a hill”, deserving that honorific demands no less than offering shelter and succor to all people seeking refuge, the least, the last, and the lost.

We cannot be both Christian and Isolationist. God’s grace flows first not to particular borders but rather, into the human heart open and ready to receive it. Then we hold it but a little while, passing it on to the next in need while being ourselves replenished in the giving. In this way we are constantly renewed while repaying the debt owed to our immigrant ancestors, who paved the way for us.

In this way we live into the promise of being the “shining city upon the hill”.

Weekend Coffee Share: Rolling up the Sleeves edition

I’ve been in a funk since the election.

It didn’t go my way.

The Wednesday after, I allowed myself to wallow, neither listening to nor watching any news. It would all still be there when I was ready to hear it. Instead, I Netflixed the day away on the couch in my sweats, with my critters. There may not have been a shower taken that day. Paul called from his job site in England and talked me off the ledge.

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He talks me off the ledge

I texted with my daughter, who also was not doing well with the election result, and we commiserated. I gave thanks for the supportive work environment she’s now in, where apparently nothing got done that day, but they all took care of each other.

Thursday, I watched Samantha Bee’s post-election show and was comforted, first by her righteous anger, then the exhortation to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Work: this is something I understand, and we surely do have a lot of work to do in figuring out how the Democrats got it so very wrong. This election has resulted in an outcome requiring much soul-searching, most particularly in figuring out who we are as the American people, because that picture has clearly changed over the last several decades. Lots of work to do.

 

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This fabulous woman makes me laugh, hard.

While the bewilderment remains, the malaise lifts. My daughter came for Thanksgiving week and we did not much of anything but commiserate, watch movies (definitely go see The Arrival, wait until Nocturnal Animals shows up on cable), and laugh. Few people make me laugh as hard as Charlotte. We cooked a very successful Thanksgiving dinner and followed that with a mini-Sloth Day on Friday. Perfect.

 

Now we hurtle through the Holiday season towards a new year and a new President. I am lucky to belong to the RevGalBlogPals, and in this time when my faith in my fellow man is shaken to the core, I am inspired by their writings reminding me there is a power bigger and stronger than I can imagine in control and that eventually, everything will be alright. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. They also remind me that this is not an excuse to stay mired in the funk, trusting others to do the work but rather, now is a time for prayerful consideration on my role in making the world a better place. Because we all have a role.

I believe the next four years will be a time when thoughtful people, whatever their political affiliation, must be vigilant in fact-checking and holding to account our public officials and the media. We will need to be sharp and attentive to preserve our democracy, this great experiment of American Freedom.

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Ornery Cat
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Notorious Sock Thief

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff and I used to talk about the condition of our homes as metaphors for our emotional states and I do believe it is time to fill my home with light, color, and the aroma of baking goodies. It is Advent, the time of preparation and expectation and a spray-tanned president with a bad comb-over is no excuse to forget the coming of the One. For this weekend I am going to nestle in with my sock-stealing dog, ornery cat, wisely wonderful husband, and listen to the rain while bringing out Christmas.

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Come January, there is a lot of work to be done.

 

(Un)Safe

It was 4:45 a.m., and the door from my bedroom to the back yard was open just far enough to let Blanca and Ivan go in and out. As I lay in bed listening to crickets and the odd cicada humming, I was warm, comfortable, and safe, enjoying the peace of not-quite morning.

After these last few days of hearing the horror of Orlando, all the talking heads dissecting and analyzing and looking for reasons why, why? it happened, these days of not being able to form a truly coherent thought about it, a memory came unbidden from a long time ago. A very young, very pretty me piled into a car with my equally young, very handsome male Gay friends and headed up to LA to dance the night away in one of the Gay clubs. There I could dance all night without ever having to shake some weird guy who wouldn’t go away, or worry I’d hurt someone’s feelings if I turned down a drink or a dance, had no fear of being cornered or stalked. I was in a place and among people where I was 100% accepted just for being exactly who I was, nothing more, nothing less. And so I danced, laughed and partied free of all concern, because I was safe. Maybe all those in Pulse on Saturday night were feeling that way, too, the more so because unlike white, straight me, it might have been the only place they really were safe, until a bad man with a sick head and a semi-automatic weapon shot his way through the door.

While 49 innocents died from the bullets fired at Pulse, everyone who was there sustained a potentially mortal wound in their loss of feeling safe, of having one place they could go where it was 100% okay to be who they are. Here in our country where in 29 of these United States, it is still legal to fire someone for being Gay. Here, were it is still legal in 30 states to refuse to rent to someone because they are Gay. Where county clerks twist religious liberty to flout Constitutional law and refuse to issue marriage licenses to Gay couples. Here, where televangelists of every ilk use their freedom of speech to spread hate against fellow citizens. Here, where parents feel righteous about throwing their children away, determining the child’s inborn sexuality is either defective or sinful. So for me, this national tragedy is more than even the lives lost and the horrible, devastating ripple effects of their loss – it’s about millions of my fellow citizens, my brothers and sisters who don’t and can’t feel safe. Anywhere. This was stolen from them, from all of us, really. Because as well as killing 49 innocent human beings, Omar Mateen showed us how illusory is the safety any of us feel.

The furor will die down, here in our nation where such horrors have become commonplace. But I will not be silent about these things:

  • the need for universal background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun, with no exceptions for gun shows, online purchases, inter-family sales;
  • the need for 30-day waiting periods for anyone who wants to buy a gun;
  • on the no-fly list? you’re also on the no-gun list;
  • ability (with proper documentation) for families/domestic partners to “red flag” an unstable person so they can’t get a gun;
  • outlawing the sale of high-capacity clips;
  • term limits for Congress and Senate, so they can’t stay long enough to get too cozy with the NRA and other lobbyists; and, importantly,
  • recognition/legislation rendering it unconstitutional to deny housing, employment, marriage or adoption rights, based upon gender identity/sexual preference, basically, recognition that a citizen is a citizen is a citizen, and it is not our business who said citizen loves provided everyone is of consenting age.

I don’t want to take away guns but I think we must acknowledge that high-capacity clips (magazines) permit sick individuals like the Orlando shooter to create a lot of carnage quickly. Loopholes in background check laws for online and gun show sales allow no time to weed out the mentally unstable, or those who pose a terrorist threat. We must recognize the cause-and-effect of weapons in the wrong hands = dead people.

Citizens always wondering when and where the next atrocity will occur does not seem to me the thoughts of a free population. When a goodly number of our citizens must spend their lives looking over their shoulders for the next act of violence, have to lie in order to earn their daily bread, or refer to their life partner as “roommate” is simply caging them in invisible prisons. The idolatry of guns in our country is steadily and not so slowly putting bars around all of us, the bars of fear and hatred.

I am optimistic enough to believe we have the love and intelligence in this great country to grant all citizens’ equality, and also to make hard decisions about our collective safety. But I am also too old now to worry about being liked for my beliefs, so while I will of course offer my prayers for the victims of Orlando,  I will also be vocal about supporting my LGBTQ fellow citizens equality, and about our need for reasonable action with regard to guns in this country.

I do not wish to be in continual mourning; I wish us all safe.

Angry

Angry is the WordPress prompt of the day, and I started this by thinking of all the things I’m angry about, then deleted it all because it’s not really angry I feel, it’s more heartsick at the anger all around.

When did optimistic Americans become so angry we’re seriously considering electing a petulant 12-year old with a terrible comb-over and oompa-loompa colored spray tan to the presidency? Love or loathe President Obama, one must admit he’s never embarrassed us on the world stage, carrying himself with easy grace and intellectual curiosity, always the rational adult in the room. I cringe at the notion of Donald Trump representing my country.

When did we become so angry and apparently mistake-free-in-our-parenting that when a tragic accident occurs in a Cincinnati zoo, we instantly demonize the already traumatized parents? Are we so angry at ourselves that we hold a man’s past against him, rather than marveling  over and applauding the apparent turn-around he’s done with his life? Isn’t that one of the promises of America, that one who strives for it always gets a second chance? While I’m on the subject, all those with nothing in their past they’d be embarrassed to have revealed, please stand up now so I can count you. Full disclosure: I am not standing.

It’s like an infectious disease, anger, one sneeze and it’s everywhere and everyone has it. Paul and I were talking and indulging in a bit of the mom-bashing: wasn’t she watching her child? Then yesterday a friend posted something about toddlers and their propensity for vanishing and a little chill and a wave of shame swept through my body with the memory of my own, solitary child disappearing into the racks of clothes when we were shopping, discovered only when her giggling at me freaking the hell out gave her away. Doesn’t every parent have such a tale? But for the grace of God, there go I. Maybe that mother needs our compassion and a commiserating hug, parent to parent, much more than our disdain. Maybe rather than being angry at her, we could instead be grateful for the lucky escapes our own children have had, for all the bad things that didn’t happen.

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Photo of Harambe: National Geographic

Many are angry about the death of Harambe, the gorilla. I am sad he had to die, but I think maybe we can all be glad the little boy is ok, right? A human child with his life ahead of him; maybe he’ll cure cancer, and I want him to have that chance. I’m not going to question the decision made by the zoo, because I am many years away from my zoology degree and thus, I don’t get a vote. They made a hard choice in a difficult situation and fortunately, a little boy is still alive because they did.

Anger is easy. It’s the go-to emotion when one feels wounded, because it requires no sense of responsibility, no self-awareness, no empathy. It’s cheap that way. It’s Donald Trump saying the press is unkind when they expect an answer to legitimate questions, it’s vilifying a mother we do not know personally when a horrible accident happens, it’s blaming others for our misfortunes instead of taking stock of ourselves and the role we played in our own heartbreak. It’s the knee-jerk reaction, rather than the well-reasoned plan.

When we were children, we might have been told to take a deep breath or count to ten before we reacted in anger; somehow we’ve forgotten the value of this. Social media allows us to let fly all the vile vitriol that flies into our heads immediately, rather than letting go of that head-full of steam on the car ride home, the walk to the mailbox, or the furious scrubbing of floors. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of fights that started on my last campus because of social media snark. When did we as a society forget that every thought that enters our heads doesn’t necessarily need to be expressed?

Ultimately, on the topic of Angry/Anger I am asking my fellow Americans: next time you have a snarky thought about the idiocy of another human being, count to ten first before tweeting, and think how you’d feel on the receiving end of it and, when you enter the voting booth come November take a deep breath, count to ten, and calmly consider how much you want an angry child negotiating with Vladimir Putin, dining with Queen Elizabeth, or clutching nuclear launch codes in his tiny hands.

Angry

My First Political Rally

It was a bit of an anti-climax, actually.

It’s not like I didn’t have time, transportation, and belief in the cause, so I couldn’t think of one good reason not to attend the Planned Parenthood rally on the steps of the capitol of South Carolina.

The purpose of the rally was in protest of House Bill 3114, which would make illegal all abortions after 20 weeks with no exception for cases of incest or rape. Thus, a twelve-year old raped by her father would be forced to carry the fruit of that unholy union to term. And I just can’t believe we are still talking about this stuff in 2016 America.

At first I was afraid I’d never make it there, as a horrendous car accident had the freeway shut down. I texted my daughter while parked in the jam. This is an abridged version of the conversation:

“So I’m on my way to my first political rally, joining Planned Parenthood protesting HB 3114, which would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, even in cases of rape or incest. Paul asked me to try to not get arrested.”

“OMG church lady in pink getting hauled away in handcuffs! That would be newsworthy!” I think she was a little too entertained by the idea of her mother’s mugshot.

It’s not like I’m “pro-abortion”. Is anyone? But given the Constitution, given my alleged status as an equal citizen of the United States, given that this is settled law, and especially given the sick way we think about and treat sex in our country, I am very pro-stay-out-of-my-uterus. From useless abstinence-only sex-education in schools, to TRAP laws eliminating access to affordable womens health services (so much more than abortion), to the abandonment of mother and child once the babies are born (you can’t buy diapers with SNAP), there exists a terribly noisy minority seeking to control women through their reproductive organs. And again, in the year 2016, I just can’t believe we’re talking about this.

There were around 100 of us; many had clearly done this before and had made posters and signs. It was heartening to see a few men there supporting the cause.

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SC Rep. Mia McLeod

There were an equal number of male and female legislators speaking out against the Bill, the men in particular calling on women to run for office and increase the number of women making law.

But my favorite was Representative Mia McLeod, who introduced HB 4544 requiring men seeking a prescription for Viagra to submit to a waiting period, provide a notarized affidavit from a recent sexual partner attesting to his inability to get and maintain an erection, and undergo counseling and stress tests “to ensure the health of the patient”.

“It was never about erectile dysfunction,” Ms. McLeod explained, in the same way that HB 3114 and TRAP laws have nothing to do with the health and safety of women.

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SC Senator Marlon Kimpson

It’s about power and control and a gross, willful misinterpretation of constitutional law, explained State Senator Brad Hutto.

Interestingly enough, on the way to the rally I was listening to NPR (of course) and Gloria Steinem was being interviewed, promoting her new eight-part documentary Woman on cable channel Viceland. She stated the most violent societies are those where a premium is placed on controlling women/women’s reproduction and a cursory glance around the globe makes me dead curious about exploring the data behind this statement, because along with the radical Mideast, the United States appears to be, for my money, a terribly violent place and particularly for women, three of whom die daily at the hands of a domestic partner. Ms. Steinem went on to state that the safest societies, both past and present, were those where parity exists between the sexes.

This is why I recoil from measures such as HB 3114, bills that implicity, if not explicitly state, Oh sure, we’re all equal except for 50 % of the population. So we’re going to “protect” you by imposing our religious values upon you, using discredited science and the First Amendment to do so. That is not religious liberty; that is religious tyranny, and if Sharia law repulses you, please understand that willfully using the freedom of religious liberty guaranteed you by the First Amendment to impose your religious values on your fellow citizens amounts to the exact same thing.

So off I went, and standing in the brilliant hot sun of a Southern spring afternoon I chanted along with the rest, having only one moment of terror when four buses emblazoned, “Christian Tours” rolled by, afraid they would disgorge hundreds of angry zealots who would then shout down common sense. But they were headed elsewhere and the only protesters were a lovely young woman who pointedly rolled adorable twins past us, asking, “Aren’t they beautiful!? Their momma chose LIFE!” to which our organizer, Alyssa Miller, sweetly responded, “At least she had a choice!”

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A small contingent of the Fourth Estate

The second naysayer was an old man carrying a life-sized cross over his shoulder and wheeling along a portable PA system. He mounted the steps and tried to erect his cross in front of the speaking legislators but was gently escorted back down the steps by one of the police officers on duty. Re-shouldering the cross, he wheeled about 30 yards away, took to his mic and tried to talk over the legislators, but again the police officer politely dissuaded him. Finally he rolled down to the curb, picked up his mic and exhorted us all to repent lest we burn in hell eternal.

And then it was done. The news crews snatched up their mics and packed away heavy cameras in lightening speed and were gone. I walked back to the parking garage a couple blocks away and went home. Did my presence make a difference? I don’t know. Probably not. But my voice and my vote are all I have, and I have no patience for those who bemoan the state of affairs yet do nothing to change it. So I raised my voice. It’s what I can do for my sisters who might not have the advantages I do, such as access to healthcare and the support of a loving spouse. For them, for my daughter, I raised my voice.

Semantics: Because Words Matter

My friend Cynde had a genius Facebook status the other day, one which sparked good conversation and got me thinking – she really helped crystallize something in my head which has been swirling around for a long time, specifically, what we call something, the words we use, make a difference in how we feel about them.

Cynde declared war on “tolerance,” likening tolerating human beings as taking the same attitude as tolerating lima beans in her soup, or nuts in brownies, that tolerance of fellow humans was akin to holding one’s nose and eating the spinach, but complaining about it later. Her brilliant, simple assessment flipped on the light in my head, and I realized what’s been troubling me about tolerance: it’s not the same as respect, not by a long shot. I told you – she’s a genius!

It was the lima bean reference that put the point on it for me. Flash back a million years or so when I was a child and eating a big bowl of my mother’s chili (which I loved, by the by). It was thick and rich and yes, it had beans but it also had squishy stewed tomatoes, which I loathed. As a child I disliked all tomatoes on principle because the seeds look vaguely larval, and never mind that tomatoes were the basis of so many things I loved, like spaghetti, pizza, and Campbell’s tomato soup (with grilled cheese sandwiches, of course). So I’d bitch and moan and ceremoniously fish those stewed-tomato particles out of my chili, depositing them with a great deal of attitude and flair, into my mother’s bowl. She could eat them if she liked them so much. As a teenager, the rough side of my mother’s tongue and wicked-fast backhand taught me to shut up and tolerate them, so I no longer fished them out of my bowl but rather pointedly left them there after all else was eaten, or gagged them back with a grimace and undoubtedly some vigorous eye-rolling.

But a funny thing happened on the way to maturity: somewhere down the line I gave tomatoes a chance, probably when I encountered a farm-fresh or home-grown one, ripe and juicy and delicious all on its own. I moved from tolerating them, with the underlying resentment of their very presence, into respecting them, and finally liking them a whole bunch.

What Cynde helped me realize is that when we say we tolerate a person or people whom we deem “other,” what we’re really doing is holding our noses and deigning to permit their co-existence in our sphere without bitching about it to their faces. And that’s kind of condescending and icky, really, because of the implicit, if not explicit resentment that comes with it. Respect is different; respect carries no resentment, respect says “You’re different than me but that’s ok because we both bring gifts and value to this thing called Life, and that’s cool.” It’s my opinion that if we stop tolerating the folks who are “other” in our minds and work towards respecting them, we’ll flush out and banish a lot of hidden resentment and anger in our collective life.

There are other words and phrases grating on me, and which I believe make our lives unnecessarily difficult or sometimes purposefully obfuscated, like Human Resources. Once upon a time large businesses had a Personnel Department, and it dealt with People. Somewhere down the corporate road, I suspect hand-in-hand with lay-offs and outsourcing and maximizing efficiencies, humans became commodities, just like copper, pork bellies, or frozen concentrated orange juice futures. It’s so much easier to lay off 20,000 faceless human resources in order to maximize efficencies and guarantee stockholders a fat dividend check, than 20,000 actual personnel with faces, families, and lives.

Lately I hear the term “Food Insecurity” being bandied about. Meaning hunger, right? Children living with food insecurity are hungry. I know this, because I’ve actually met them, the kids who don’t qualify for Free and Reduced lunch, but who’s cafeteria account runs dry about three days before their mom gets paid. When they came into my office looking for snacks, those children were hungry. Saying children are food insecure is somehow less scary than saying, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, that they are hungry. What I’d like to hear someone say is why the hell are they hungry? followed closely by, how do we immediately ensure they are no longer hungry?

Perhaps it is part of whatever societal infection has everyone insulted all the time. We’ve become such delicate little flowers we can’t stand to hear something called by it’s name. It’s like political rhetoric, how they string together a lot of nice-sounding words that, when analyzed, really have no meaning. “Make America Great Again” –  what the actual fuck does that even mean? But the crowd roars and applauds, never questioning, buoyed by their collective anger and turning it on anyone who appears “other”. I find it all extremely worrying.

I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been told I could have phrased something better, made some ugly truth somehow more palatable to the ear. But I was the kid who ripped the band-aid off quick, who jumped into the water all at once rather than bit by bit. At times of crisis in my family, I was the truth teller to my mother’s fantasy-spinner. She hid from the horrible reality of things, while I preferred to look the enemy in the eye, stand and fight, but I’ve always hated the judgment of others when I do. I guess at my advanced age it’s just time to own being the person who calls ’em likes I sees ’em, and stop being so worried about what others think of me.

Cynde, loins girded and sword drawn, I will fight by your side any day, challenging all purveyors of obfuscation, bullshit, and meaningless rhetoric, beginning with myself because I’m sure I’m full of tolerance where respect would serve better.

 

Just like that, a Moment of Grace

It was the penises that pushed me over the edge.

This endless campaign year which apparently started before my birth and looks set to continue until well after I am dust has been so ugly. Vacuous debates with no resemblance to actual discourse;  or meaningless, nasty debates in which no actual policy is discussed and of which moderators lose control and do not hold the candidates accountable for  answering questions (except poor Meghan Kelly) but when the Most Obnoxious of Them All sank to discussing the adequacy of his genitalia well, I am done. So done. Done, done, done with them.

Sorrow, circling around my heart for many, many weeks, sorrow for Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Patrick Henry, George Washington, all our Founders and Framers, and most of all our country, broke over my heart like a cracked egg. Who have we become?

melisandre-meme
The outlook is dark, and full of terrors.

It is easy to just give up. Bow out. Put my head in the sand, pull the covers over my head, <insert metaphor for willful ignorance HERE>, because it’s hard to find much good in the current swamp of ugliness and vitriol. It turns my outlook dark and full of terrors.

But then I saw something lovely happen.

Arriving super early to church last Sunday to Do My Part for a micro-event but finding no one else who was supposed to help, I allowed grumpy resentfulness to step in and sit a spell and truth be told, it’s the sort of guest who rarely asks for an invitation. It just shows up in the living room like something the dog dragged in and I wonder, how did that get in here, when to tell more truth it was me leaving the door open.

chapelSo I did my bit with no grace at all and after a while I received the surely divinely inspired thought of stopping in the little chapel off the main sanctuary. Every time I pass it I make a mental note of the lovely, serene light emanating from it but I’ve never done more than poke my head inside. This time, in my state of High Grumbly, I knew I needed to sit a minute alone before services. The picture doesn’t do it justice; the natural light floods the stained glass window and fills the tiny room with a soothing, ethereal calm. It spilled over me and my grumpy like cool water over a sunburn.

Fr. Mark’s sermon on the Prodigal Son was particularly good, and I was glad I’d let the Chapel light wash away my resentment so I could hear it, and so I could see what happened during Communion.

Arriving alone after the service started and on a walker for support, entered an old man with the pasty complexion of the recently ill. The usher guided him to the end seat of a row. Throughout the service I saw the old man adjusting his posture and I know well what back pain looks like. He was struggling, he was hurting, but he was there. When it came time for Communion he stayed in his seat, the walk to and from the altar apparently too much. But I saw the usher whispering to him and after the last of us left the altar rail Fr. Jim came with the paten and bread, Ros with the chalice and wine and the usher knelt right down next to the old man, knelt on the hard tiles of the sanctuary, the young man kneeling beside the old man, and together they received the Eucharist in a spontaneous, perfect moment of Grace.

It was lovely and magic and human and divine. And I think I can pull my head out from under the covers, if only to look for other such moments.

America: Better Than Donald Trump

Something has been circling around my brain for months now, accelerated by the shambolic presidential campaign in which it seems each candidate is vying for the position of Most Unbearable. One insists victims of rape carry their unwanted pregnancies to term, another suggests carpet-bombing the Mideast is a viable foreign policy, one is a pleasant old man with unsustainable economic ideas, we have a woman who, while talented and capable personifies Hubris, and Donald Trump says nothing at all really, except to insult and insinuate against his competitors, or that a solution to illegal immigration is a giant wall. Because that worked so well in Germany. And we all stand back and laugh at his vitriol and watch as his poll numbers climb, and seem willing to elect him President of the United Butt-Hurt States come November.

Donald Trump connecting with the base
Cartoon from Cartoonli

What bothers me is that he’s just the loudest, most obnoxious example of something ugly that has been sweeping our nation for some time. Somehow, my own generation started raising kids whom we protected from every disappointment and the results have not been good. In eight years on high school campuses, taking phone calls from irate parents demanding a teacher’s head for having the temerity to expect his or her child to follow classroom rules, shut their mouths, or hand in homework on time, became a daily occurrence. Teachers routinely have to explain, with documentation, why they fail a student, and I’ve seen them have to fight their Principals tooth and claw to fail a student with a 67 because that was what the student earned. Rules became suggestions, always movable for the parents who yell the loudest.

Social media has turned every slight and insult into a world wide web embarrassment, and I’ve sent Assistant Principals scurrying to break up fights because of a rude tweet literally dozens of times. We laugh at celebrities Twitter-battles, and laugh some more when one or the other offers an insincere apology.

Children can hardly be blamed for merely following the example of adults, such as the  passengers  who applauded as a family left an airplane because the little boy’s severe allergic reaction had delayed take-off. Their inconvenience was of greater concern then his health. Where is the empathy?

We’re all insulted all of the time, by everyone and everything.

Donald Trump, abuser of Eminent Domain law, serial adulterer with two failed marriages and multiple bankruptcies, and who’s greatest skill as far as I can see is insult by insinuation, daily gains in popularity. All my life I’ve been working on filtering my speech for public consumption, but Trump is applauded for “saying what everyone is thinking,” as if that is good excuse for poisonous, unchecked speech. He is the Affluenza Teen writ large, but he’s merely a symptom; in a country where a flight delay has people applauding a sick little boy’s departure, it’s hard not to see that our whole country is sick and I’m just scared to death we’ll actually elect an unqualified, nasty symptom of our disease.

Yesterday I found myself snarkily complaining that I couldn’t find dried cannellini beans for a recipe, which is to show how insidious the disease is. I am aware enough of it all around me, but must always guard against the infection to myself, an infection of complacency, of  being insensible to things that really do matter, like the number of people going hungry, a cycle of endless war in the Mideast, or poisoned drinking water in our cities.

In a nation that has so much, can we not afford to be generous, not only monetarily, but also thoughtfully, collectively and individually?  It costs us nothing to get home a bit late, if it means a little boy gets medical treatment he needs. It costs nothing to let an insult pass unanswered. It costs nothing to let the person with two items go before us and our full shopping carts at the store. Call me a cock-eye optimist, but I believe we as a nation are better than clapping a sick boy off a plane, better than Donald Trump. I know it because I have seen teachers chase down truant students, explaining that they are holding them accountable because they care; I’ve seen a dozen bicycles around a Christmas tree at church, bought for local children in need; I’ve had young men with gang tattoos scurry to hold open a door for me when my hands were full. All these things and more tell me that within us all flows human kindness and compassion and as our election cycle continues, I beg of you, train yourself to find the good around you, especially in strangers, and then look hard at the candidates through that lens.

In the months ahead, let us set aside the easy temptation of feeling insulted, seek the common ground between each other, rather than dwelling upon our differences, and most especially eschew  the politics of fear. Let us thoughtfully consider which candidate best represents the basic goodness and strength of the American people, and then get out and VOTE. Because we are, America is better than Donald Trump.