Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I Dare




Look. I write to clear my head. To make sense of what I'm feeling. To understand things. To understand myself. To try to understand others. 

For a good long while the topic du jour around here has been faith. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older and wondering what it's all for or if the many mistakes I make and keep making have me questioning whether I'm nothing but a mistake making machine. (I am. We all are.) It could just be that I'm no longer swallowing things whole cloth and am asking questions because things are not making sense. Not just in the world. But in the very institutions that are supposed to be the voices of reason, of hope.

Maybe I'm just angry. Angry at hypocrisy. Angry at the status quo and the powers that be. Angry that emotion and caring and frustration, if not perfectly executed to the listener/observer's liking, is met more often than not with, "shut up!" "You're talking too loud!" "Get over it!" 



I think more people need to cop to being angry. I agree that yelling is an ineffective mode of communicating; but, so is not listening. If anger is indicative of something else under the surface, then yeah, I absolutely think more people need to cop to being angry. And more people, myself included, need to vow to being better listeners. 

Telling someone to shut up and dictating how communication occurs isn't really helpful. Neither is my all time favorite - "going invisible" or stonewalling - a mechanism people use to withdraw from interactions, shut down and close off. Speaking from experience as a world-renowned stonewaller, issues accumulate when they're avoided.

So, that's one reason I write. To avoid avoidance! To avoid stonewalling and withdrawing. To avoid disengaging from my life and the people close to me. It's also why I went to the meeting I told you about in my last post. 

I heard about the meeting via Facebook:



I was worried about attending, because as I said, I'm angry and anger, for me, often translates into loud. But I made myself a promise: attend and listen with an open mind and an open heart and a very closed mouth. 

It was dark outside when I left for the meeting, but the super moon was bright. I took it as a good sign. I, along with about 25 other people were present. The vast majority of attendees were anglo and over the age of 55. A vast majority were female. A handful were younger than me, and at 48, I'm on the cusp of AARP-dom so can I really call myself "young"? It doesn't matter.

As church meetings are wont to do, we started with a prayer and song. And then the initial speaker passed out the paper you see in the picture at the top of this post and laid the ground rules: we are here to listen, to share; to discuss strategies for communicating as we head into the holidays and contemplate interacting with loved ones who often don't share our same viewpoints, our same lifestyles, our same values. 

She made a point to clarify "this is not about the election, the candidates, or the issues." But then, immediately after she said those words, she asked us to turn the paper over so that we could all read the Archbishop's statement "regarding the election of Donald Trump as President."



Um....?

I have to tell you, I was not the only person imperceptibly shaking my head at the...what's a good word here...double standard. 

Leading with a double standard is not a great way to begin an open, honest, healthy dialogue, in my opinion. Especially when, to a person, almost every one in attendance was there because of the election (I say that because we were given a sticky note to write out why we came. These anonymous notes were read out as we began the meeting and 98% mentioned the election). 

We broke up into small groups of four to do a few exercises. We each had the opportunity to look at the "I Dare To..." list and talk about the ones that jumped out to us. Within seconds, we were talking about the election and I didn't start it!

Somehow I was in a group with three other women (haha, God has a sense of compassion! Or is it humor?). Two were around my age and we immediately seemed kindred spirits. The other woman was in her sixties and was surprised, but open, about our viewpoints. The four of us had a terrific chat. I felt like I wasn't alone in my pain and anger and confusion. I felt like maybe I made two new friends and we exchanged phone numbers before leaving.   

The meeting was nowhere near long enough to unpack the emotions so many of us were feeling, but, even if it began on an incongruent note, it was a nice start.

It's not enough, though. It's really not. 

I don't know if I have a place in this church anymore. I have faith. I believe that I am here, we are all here, not as a result of some cosmic accident, but for a reason. And, for me, that reason is simply to serve each other and to love each other as we love ourselves. That's the teaching that gets lost in the noise of our egos and our politics and in family members telling each other to shut up and in just the day to day shit of the world. But it's the only thing that matters. 

It's why I can't blindly follow a double standard without speaking what I think is truth to it. It's why I can't just sit back, passively nodding yes, when everything around me is begging question after question.

I made a point as people were leaving to pull aside one of the leaders of the church and of the meeting to ask him about the double standard of telling us - "we're not here to talk politics but please see the archbishop's message about politics." 

He dared to listen and I dared not to be angry. Maybe the conversation will continue. I want to get involved, but I'm very afraid. My faith in the church (and there is a distinction) is hanging by a thread. 

As I left the room, a slideshow was shuffling between quotes from Dorothy Day and Maya Angelou's Still I Rise. And I thought, yes, yes, up from a past that's rooted in pain I rise. These are the words I want to hear from the heart of people of faith speaking up, speaking out, not content to be mollified with a pretty slideshow that helps us feel good for a fleeting moment and then is forgotten in a flash as we shoot the finger to the lady in the parking lot who's just cut us off as we exit and spin our wheels back home. Back to busy. Back to the noise. 

I don't know what to think when my church makes a call for peace and listening but does so with a double standard of "we don't want you to talk about the very thing you want to talk about, but check this out - we want you to hear the church's position on politics so here is the archbishop's statement...please read it and pray about it but don't talk about it here and by the way it's kind of not cool to call us on it because it makes me feel a little uncomfortable I'm just doing what I was told to do." 

Especially when I juxtapose it with a voice like this: http://bit.ly/2fTsyHQ.

You can't be a light in the darkness by leading with a double standard. 

I don't know...all of us try. All of us fail. And platitudes'll get me nowhere. 

So I'll Dare To...

  • risk understanding your beliefs
  • listen even when it hurts
  • think before I respond
  • try and find common ground
  • shut my mouth and open my ears

I won't always succeed. But, please don't give up. I say this to myself. I say it to you.



Saturday, November 12, 2016

Can We Still Be Friends?






The day after the election, my church (Catholic, in South Texas where we are predominantly Hispanic) sent out a Facebook notice to schedule the following: 
a time for conversation and strategies for respectful conversations in difficult and stressful times - to provide a safe space to explore attitudes and strategies that might be helpful in maintaining relationships with people we love, with our friends, family and community. 
In another Facebook post, an article was linked in which the young author, a recent Boston College graduate and O'Hare Fellow at America (a provider of editorial content "for thinking Catholics and those who want to know what Catholics are thinking"), despaired of his inability to talk to his parents about the election.   

Now, to my knowledge, my church has never held such an event. It holds Bible studies, rosary making meetings, prayer meetings, and hosts numerous community volunteer projects. But a strategy meeting to explore ways to maintain relationships after a national election? It feels unprecedented. 

A comment in response to the Genovese article jumped out at me and might explain some things:
Elections are not usually this contentious. There is usually a sense that no matter who wins, the country will basically be okay. The sense that all will be okay is missing because of the incredibly low standards of civility set by the president-elect during the campaign, his utter lack of experience, and his history of corruption. That his campaign was characterized by a complete disregard for facts is also not reassuring. I have seen quite a few elections now and this is the first one that has left me afraid for this country. This election is not typical. If it's the first one you have voted in, rest assured that the outcome does not usually leave people feeling so outraged and in despair. - L Weber
The meeting is Monday at 7:00 p.m. and I'm going. 

I'm going because, like L Weber and Nick Genovese, I'm outraged and confused and sad and I have so many questions. The main reason I'm going, though, is to witness. To witness what and how people of faith discuss the world we now live in post-election. 

I mean, really. It's not like people haven't voted before and had elections come out in ways they weren't happy about. The church never felt moved to host such a meeting before, though. Why is it doing so now? 

Sure, there've been loads of viewpoints passed on via social media. Heck, even beloved Spurs Coach Pop had something to say about it. But, no one in San Antonio is rioting. So...what makes this moment in time so different? Why is there a need to host a "safe space" to talk about things since Tuesday?

I think a big reason is that people are genuinely confused about how a man like the donald could have been elected Commander in Chief of the United States of America. 

Over and above that, though, I think people are genuinely confused as to how people of faith could have been the ones that pushed a man like the donald - a man who absolutely doesn't know the difference between 2nd Corinthians and "Two Corinthians" and who publicly asserted he was pro-choice and then changed his stance and who admits to assaulting women - over the top and into the highest office in the land. 

Because that's what happened. Indeed, White evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons carried Trump into the White House. They overlooked all he said and did and said, yes, but....

After learning this, I asked in all sincerity, if the donald is the answer for believers,* what is the message sent to non-believers about what it means to follow Christ? 

My confusion clearly echoed Pop's. After Tuesday, he questioned:
We live in a country that ignored all of those values that we would hold our kids accountable for. They'd be grounded for years if they acted and said the things that have been said in that campaign by Donald Trump. I look at the Evangelicals and I wonder, those values don't mean anything to them?
Since Tuesday, that's all I've been wondering. Look around you. Since Tuesday it's clear, Pop and I** are not the only ones wondering. 

Faith, like politics, is personal. I know I don't have the answers, because my personal faith and my personal politics are having a hard time reconciling this turn of events in our country. 

But these are questions that have to be answered. By people of faith. By religious institutions. If the saying is true - they will know you are Christians by your love, by your love - people right now are really wondering - where is the love? 





* Which I know begs another question: just how bad were the other candidates that the donald was the best worst choice? Clearly, it means Hillary is satan. /s Maybe that's a post for another day but don't hold your breath.

** In my fantasy, Pop and I are bffs. Don't judge me, it's my fantasy.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Courage. Compassion. Creativity.






I listened to an interesting podcast today via Krista Tippett's On Being, in which it is pondered: Is America Possible? Tippett's guest was Vincent Harding who was, among many things, a trained historian, professor, civil rights pioneer, and colleague of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

As a teacher, Harding would begin class by having students listen to the song linked above in video, Ella's Song (Ella Baker), by Sweet Honey in the Rock. In his teachings and in the podcast, he posits that "when it comes to a multiracial, multiethnic, multireligious democractic society, we are still a developing nation." 

I think it's good to have our eyes opened to that fact and I think that's what happened to many of us Tuesday. 

I have been hurt and angry since that day. But really, what do I know about hurt and anger? There is a portion of the population feeling hurt and angry, too, and they did something about it by voting in a candidate they believe will address those hurts and that anger. If, like me, you are dismayed that good people, including friends, neighbors, and family members, could elect a man like Donald Trump, you have to ask yourself, what is it that I am missing? Because in a democracy like ours, their issues are our issues, just as ours are theirs.  

I don't have the answers, but I do know one thing and it's that the government is not and never can be the salve that heals our wounds. And looking to a governmental leader and expecting that is a losing proposition. I'm with pokergrump in thinking it would be great if 
...federal goverment played such a small role in our personal and national lives that when people we didn't like or trust got elected we could just shrug and get on with other more important things, secure in the knowledge that they couldn't do much damage.
For the people I know who voted for Trump, I know that's something they agree with. I guess, now that he's been elected, the question is whether Trump is a leader who can help bring about such a government. Time will tell.

In the meantime, each of us can do something. It's a cliche but it is a cliche that's true. If you want to see a change, you have to do something about it. Haranguing on Facebook, tweeteling on Twitter, picturing on Instagram just ain't gonna cut it. 

Pick one thing and start. Maybe it's your local chapter of the NAACP or the Boys and Girls Club. Maybe it's getting involved in local politics or volunteering at your church. Maybe it's as simple as shutting your mouth, refusing to argue, and simply listening, period, to family members, friends, and even strangers who think, act, and believe differently than you.

Maybe nothing will change. Maybe everything will change! Maybe the only thing that will change is you. But one thing leads to another and ripples can be far-reaching, and, man, aren't we still a young developing nation....

For me, that point was driven home Tuesday. And it's not because I'm a "special snowflake" who didn't get what I wanted. Apparently Clinton (or Johnson) was so horrible a candidate to stomach for a majority of voters that the Donald was an actual, viable, alternative. And I never thought I'd see that in my lifetime. 

So, yeah, we are still a developing nation and we still have ground to cover and "we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes."

So. If you believe in freedom, what are you going to do about it?  


Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho 
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans 
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, 
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth. 

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and 
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

-Naomi Shihab Nye
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