Day 6: One Conversation at a Time

As I was waking this morning I read an article which challenged the notion of the Democrats failure in reaching the white Christians. The author pointed to the particularity of fundamentalist thinking and posited that no amount of rational information could likely break the silo effect. (link to article) Having been in this world, I know this is true.
Perhaps this is why I feel as though I am tilting at windmills as I plea for white folks to wake up already. White supremacy, like fundamentalism, is an irrational system of beliefs that creates a silo effect. Much as in religious fundamentalism, voices from the outside are automatically suspect. Voices from within the circle are given authority not on veracity but rather position. Where the two intersect, across the heartland that swept in this new regime (states which, not coincidentally, mostly refused Medicaid Expansion), the walls are virtually impenetrable.
And yet. And yet the author made their break, and I made mine. And so have countless others.
As I think about my own journey out of fundamentalism, and eventually away from even the church, there is not a single voice that broke the reverie. There is no one moment or compelling argument. There is, as water on a stone, a gradual wearing away and a dawning awareness. Slow and almost imperceptible.
My journey from fundamentalism was in the late 80s, concurrent with the rise of the Moral Majority. I wanted to believe and belong, I also cherished intellectual inquiry. I’ll always count my years at Calvin College to be a gift in that there I met wise professors and dear friends who taught me that faith and intellect can (and ought) coexist. But these voices were neither first nor last nor even loudest. They were lifelines when I was reaching.
As I consider my responsibility from this side of the culture wars, the one without benefit of clergy or doctrine, I remember the infinity of apparently insignificant encounters that brought me to this journey of awakening. Remembering, I am mindful that the task of offering lifelines is repetitive and monotonous and thankless and seemingly insignificant. Until the cocoon breaks and the butterfly is free. And rarely are we present to witness.
My cousins (literal and figurative) are in the intersections of white supremacy and fundamentalism. The stakes are high as our nation state devolves and I feel urgency that fuels anxiety. And all I can do … turns out to be the most important thing. Offer one loving and rational conversation at a time. Is it enough? Of course not. But my conversation will join yours and countless others. For those siloed, this cumulative effect is perhaps the only way. 

Equally important to note is how these conversations affect our spirits. No longer tilting at windmills, slowed down and breathing rational air, we rediscover the ground of our being and strength for another day. We become the change that we wish to see in the world. Which is not a bad bonus to discover on this trip around the sun.


Day 5: Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

When you interrupted your phone call yesterday and motioned the reporter out of the line, I felt it viscerally. I know that summons.  As the reporter stepped forward, she offered the requisite nervous laugh and you predictably let your eyes undress her as we all watched … 


I don’t want to write to the president about this patriarchal bullshit. I don’t want to talk to men at all. I’m tired of trying to teach those who don’t want to learn.

On this, the 5th day after my 55th birthday, I want to write to myself and every other woman who has ever felt the unwelcome undressing gaze of man (which I’m guessing is pretty much all of us). I want to wonder aloud how we might helpfully move in the face of this predictable and utterly despicable pattern.

In the parlance of the tables, we might be wise to do a 4th step. After naming the resentment and describing the event (as specifically as we can), we are asked to reflect on how it made us feel, where it hooked us, how we were (and are) affected. This piece is key and lays the foundation for the next piece: what then is mine? Here we look at our own culpability and responsibility.

As I reflect on situations where I’ve been objectified by men, a place where I get hooked is my need for external validation. The little girl in me who is forever looking for daddy’s affirmation, I pause in the face of male attention. This is the hook. This is where I can and must work.

To be clear, I’m down with holding the men accountable. This is NOT in lieu of but rather preparatory work. I’m coming to believe that to be most effective we need to first find and disarm the hooks. Hooks that pull us towards the menace instead of running far and fast.

I imagine a time when that feeling of deference isn’t my instinct when a man starts the predictable pattern; I imagine how I might respond if unhooked, how I might name the objectification in real time, how I might speak with clarity in the moment. With mind and tongue freed from my own internalized sexism, I would be able to stand taller, own the space, and hold *him* accountable.

This is what I wish for myself.  For all of us.

Standing strong, together and unbound, we will be a mighty force.

Day 4: Polite Patriarchy, or No

The apparent innocence is key. He is an older white man, closer to my father’s age than mine, approaching my wife and I in the power tools aisle of Menards yesterday afternoon.  My wife was examining a gas powered tool when he inserted himself and offered, “Would you like some unsolicited advice?”

Her response was monosyllabic. “No.”

His face went from congenial to apoplectic in 2 seconds flat.

Equally important to note was my distress. My wife had broken a code, she had been impolite, woe to us. And I noticed that it was fear that I felt as I reached out to the wounded animal with my eyes, giving permission for his unsolicited (and unwanted) advice. His face softened.

“In my experience, these battery powered options…” was all he got a chance to say.

“Yeah… no.” The voice of my wife was firm as she returned her attention to the gas powered tool she was holding.

The fury returned to his face and I realized that I felt fear for my physical safety. He sputtered finally, turned around, and left.

While there was much humor as we later dissected the scene, I found myself spending the rest of the day sorting through a most illuminating pile of patriarchy and (more importantly) my role in it.

One important piece for me was tending the sense of fear that had filled my being when my wife broke script and offered the initial no. Why fear? What would cause me to feel dread? What I could articulate was that her no was rude, but even that is somewhat confusing. He asked a yes or no question, and in responding her tone was pleasant and her words (or word as it were) within the offered parameters. What then was rude?  Sitting with the dissonance, I realize that the refusal of the hand extended was the offense; that part of what I understand to be polite (read: my role in patriarchy) is acceptance of a deferential position in need of (male) support. As women standing in the power tools aisle, looking at gas powered ones no less, we were clearly (in patriarchal terms) outside of our knowledge zone. The man’s duty (again, in patriarchal terms) was to offer assistance. He was playing his part. But my dear one, not so much.

Enter the fear.

At stake was not one older white man in the aisle of Menards. I did not rationally think he was going to do physical damage (though his face did suggest the possibility).  My instinctive awareness was that my wife’s behavior was clearly outside of the patriarchal schema and that I was in a position to chose. And quickly.

The system of privileges dispensed and denied according to compliance with patriarchy is immense. While walking away from hetero marriage was my big FU to the patriarchy, the truth is that I play along daily in big and small ways. I’m keenly aware of my deference when white men are working in our home, I feel it all the more acutely because it is no longer my daily reality in this safe space. But I know that the quality of the work will be directly related to my willingness to play, and I do so without the slightest consciousness. This is simply the water in which I swim.

Standing in the aisle, I realize how tangled my continued involvement and (more importantly) why. Fundamentally this is an identity issue, identity at the level of security in the wider social order. Simply put, it is knowing (or no longer knowing) my place in the order of things.

And at what cost. The apparently innocent man was asserting his superiority AND trying to guide us to the less powerful (battery operated) version of the tool. When we find our protection in systems that demand our power in trade, we are never going to be safe much less free.

Drinking my second cup of coffee (or is it third?) on this 4th morning of this trek around the sun, I do so in a home filled with women. It’s really a delicious life, and so different on an organic level. Admittedly I was thrown by my wife’s steadiness in her self knowledge yesterday, but even more I am grateful for both her witness and for the life we have together created that is full and complete… without the patriarchy.

Bottom line: we have choices which grow as we find the courage to explore them.



Day 3: Old Friends, or One Time Acquaintances

As coffee takes hold on day 3 of my 55th journey around the sun, I’m curious about a photo that appeared as a sponsored ad in my Facebook feed. The image is of a famous person that I knew as a child, a child in my congregation.

I am mesmerized by the what ifs and might have beens as roads twisted and turned. By all accounts the now adult person is not only successful but also charitable, and I read on. The connections with other rich and famous folk, oh my. Meanwhile my life took a very different turn and I sit with my curiosity. A brush with one destined to be in the 1% while my life unfolds with those facing the other extreme in our land, I can’t help but be sucked into pondering this one.

I find myself remembering a fork in the road way back when I was a young pastor pushing back when a faction of the church wanted to hire a less qualified but apparently hetero musician. I remember the furor when I shared a children’s story that featured diverse family configurations. And I remember one angry member showing up on a Sunday with a hand lettered “I’m a white male American” sticker; he told me that I consistently addressed only two issues, race and homosexuality (sic). I remember church members leaving. Always more coming, but so many leaving. Honestly even now, decades later, it hurts. I wouldn’t have changed who I am or what I preached, but I’d be lying if I said the partings didn’t each one take a piece of my soul. So I look at the picture of the child now famous and remember the years of peelings and turnings and choices made in her life and in mine.

Marshata says that whiteness (with all of its baggage) is in our DNA as white folk and I know that she is right. While every point of divestment has been true and heartfelt, so too I have felt (and feel) the cling. What if … is the entrance to the rabbit hole but also the place to discover the confession that beckons. I remember courageous stands, and also cowardly dodges. My song is genuine but impure.

The bird is singing on the wire, a little too loudly for my taste. But the song is clear and strong, a call to our truest selves, to humility that enables greater empathy. Pushing against the DNA, letting go of nostalgia’s lure and resentment’s bait, I find a path breathing the simple rhythm of life’s longing for itself. Watching the bird sing where it is, I know that this too is my call. To sing my song as it is where I am. Changing, evolving, halting, imperfect.

One day at a time.

Day 1

Five summers ago I journeyed to the ocean on my birthday and found balm but little direction. Later that summer I travelled to the northwest (first and only trip in that direction) and the great owl cried as I found my truth, taking a sharp fork in the road that had once seemed certain.

One thing I have learned about me, I am a tenacious clinger. (Which should be little surprise given that my lesbian self stayed in a hetero marriage for nearly 20 years!) As I’ve thrashed and spun in these intervening years, so too did the world at large. We moved from one of the greatest presidents perhaps of all time to one that is likely the most corrupt and certainly inept; as my personal life finds grounding, I am keenly aware that our nation state is unraveling. I feel the pain of the world in my inner most being, but at the same time bask in the coolness of this sunny morning breeze holding the pieces and cherishing the beauty. Today I am 55 years old and, five years in transition I am yearning to begin a new kind of reflection.

No doubt broad strokes of systemic change are needed and desperately. Pulled to the puzzle my gut aches and my blood pressure races. In the sweetness of this morning I hear a different call, a call to the bird song, a call to remembering who and whose I am, a call to build and share the compassion that is in such short supply in our world. What I know about me, learned over and over and over again (why is once never enough with life’s most painful lessons?) is that righteous anger (though certainly worthy) leaves me in knots and aching for a drink. (Ok, a bottle. Or two. But that’s another story.) What I believe about that which I call sacred is that our small acts of compassion are cumulatively powerful. While anger is sometimes all that I can feel in the face of the evil made manifest in this cruel world, the only significant tool at my disposal (and then only if I choose to use it) is compassion.  Not passive acquiescence but a commitment to truth telling born of love, a letting to of windmill tilting and snide sarcasm. (Well, a commitment to *attempting*.) As I consider my inclinations de jour, I confess that a commitment to practicing  compassion will require moving beyond emotions and acting as if.

Revealing in the beauty of this morning, gifted with a slow rise and greeted with profound love, the path so often foggy is in this moment clear. Love is the way, the only way, one seemingly inadequate encounter at a time.

So today I begin. Again.
Day 1 and counting.



Courage, Not Courtesy

Here’s the full video of #KamalaHarris skewering Sessions. She is beautiful and fierce and I want to be on her team.

The gift of the morning was time to find the video and listen uninterrupted. She is clearly a trained prosecutor. She is also an amazing act of grace under pressure. She is the real deal.

As Sessions squirmed and cried (almost literally) “you’re making me nervous”, McCain interrupted Harris (really) to rescue his friend. (Assuming that all aging white men are friends, in the least they share club cards.) McCain literally cut into Harris’ five precious minutes and made way for Sessions to meander through a nonsensical non answer. As time was called, Harris smiled magnanimously and said, “I guess the answer is no.”

I’m left to wonder if McCain would be so rude to any other Senate member?
The misogyny and white supremacy of the moment oozes through the screen.
But brighter beams Harris’ power.

With this gift, I begin my day with hope.

The Curse of Belonging (and the Invitation to Pride)

I miss the affirmation of belonging that I felt at church. A random Facebook post this morning with a church-familiar phrase evokes profound longing to sit again at the table. And little wonder for by the time it wasn’t, church was the one place in the whole world where I felt safest, most assured that my most authentic self was valued and valuable. Most being the key word for truly every relationship has limitations and one that is both voluntary and employment is necessarily fraught. Now far from the church with the early summer combination of family gatherings, anniversaries, and time to process, I find myself trying to make sense of tables and belonging.

For the weekend I was immersed again in church and family (the origin kind). Time and distance offer perspective and different this time is the view of the systems. In particular I find myself watching patriarchy play and (more importantly) consider the seat in which I used to sit. I begin to get more honest about my role in that place, my privilege but too my culpability. While considering my own loss and gain, I begin to see how my individual choices affected those not similarly privileged. We are individuals, we are also in community. And our choices have consequences that ripple.

Keenly I am aware that though I feel the loss of place, the sense of belonging was always tenuous and conditional. Unspoken were a host of expectations, silent rules being all the more binding. Nice is the one with which I most commonly tangle these days, but looking more closely I see and feel so much more.

To be clear, the benefits from having a place are extraordinary, perhaps most clearly assessed in their loss. But as I survey the ruthless political landscape upon which we find ourselves in this patriarchal season, I wonder at the cost. The pageantry of the church is unquestionable beautiful when done well, but I am keenly aware that simultaneous to the beauty is a concurrent gala in D.C.(Road to Majority) featuring law makers intent on legislating away what limited rights women and queer folk have managed to garner. More locally the Cardinal’s announced that this week that they will celebrate Christian night at the ballpark featuring a notoriously anti-gay (Christian) spokesperson
. The cost of the patriarchy is death to those who resist. All the while none of the hard won rights were ever fully extended beyond whiteness, whiteness the unspoken system dominating the scene. What if I dared to trouble the whiteness in my life?

Strangely I find myself drawn to the quirky teachings of the Apostle Paul in this season of my life, he who tried to make sense with and for those pesky Jesus followers who were not Jewish. These “gentiles” were Roman citizens who had a place at an albeit different table; a place of privilege and belonging in a cruelly divided world. Unlike the Jews already outcasts in the Roman patronage game, the gentiles faced a host of different choices in daring to believe Jesus about God. In a world not unlike our own, Paul challenged the gentiles to let go of their privilege in order to find new life. He talked about salvation, safety, as believers dared to step away from what was known and familiar and (yes) legal into a world which was visibly tenuous.

In this season of life, away from the familiar tables, I wonder anew about Paul’s message and the veracity of his promise. The truth will set us free, he promised in a sometimes shrill and often foibled voice. The previous divisions (jew and greek, male and female, slave and free) no longer have a place; the binaries are out, we are one in the body. An ultimate message of unity. Maybe so. The irony that invitation is made visible apart from the table doesn’t escape me on this quiet summer morning. And I wonder what Paul would have to say about all of that. I’ll add it to a list of my questions for the salty saint.

In the meantime, I hold the wheat as the chaff falls away. Worthy is embracing our truest selves seen most honestly in contrast with the systems that would define us. I consider the power of Stonewall and the early Pride celebrations with the daring displays of patriarchy-denying selfhood shared in community. At its inception, Pride was the creation of new table of belonging. The incorporation of Pride has domesticated the wonderment and brought the celebration into mainstream acceptance leaving many of us wistful for the true if limited rough edges before Pride was considered a profitable commodity.
From these ancestors too I find encouragement to step onto the road less traveled. Here, on this road with brambles and without fanfare, I can rediscover the self that is true and companions worthy of the work.