Sep 282012
 

For all of you who’ve asked why, oh why, you didn’t take the blue pill . . .

“A Certain Kind of Eden,” by Kay Ryan

It seems like you could, but
you can’t go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It’s all too deep for that.
You’ve overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you’re given
for control. You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
You even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens. But those things
keep growing where we put them—
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then a stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.
Sep 272012
 

I don’t like conflict.  Maybe this is because I’m a middle child, and am often prone to try and pacify a situation, making sure all interested parties are appeased.  Maybe it’s because of my Myers Briggs personality type, or because of a particular combination of race, class, and gender.  Whatever the reason, I don’t like conflict.  I just don’t.

Even greater than my discomfort with conflict is my discomfort with confrontation.  It’s one thing to feel the tension of conflict, but please – please! –  don’t put me in a space where I’m actually going to have to deal with that conflict, or address it head-on.  In my personal relationships, engaging confrontation runs the risk that I will hear things about myself that art tough to hear, or (even more difficult) that I’ll have to share with people things they might find hard to hear.  I don’t like it.  99% of the time I would far prefer to just move through a situation, find the least amount of confrontation that will yield the greatest margin of return, and get on with it.  That way, we can all smile and remain civil, avoid having to really hash out all of our stuff, and move on with it.  Let’s just let sleeping dogs lie; sweep it all under the rug; ignore the elephant in the room – let’s just avoid talking about anything that might make the situation worse.

The thing is, avoiding confrontation does nothing to actually minimize the conflict, and all that stuff we’ve been trying to avoid just keeps bubbling up.  We may have killed the proverbial elephant in the room, but it’s carcass is still there.  We can all try to ignore the smell; but, when folks start passing out, gasping for air because of the sheer stink of it, we’re gonna have to do something about it.  We’re in this room together, and the only way we’re gonna move through the difficult stuff is if we start to talk about why it’s tough.

Singer/songwriter Erin McKeown has a song called “We are More” that sums up a lot of what I’m thinking about (Erin also blogs at theclatterofkeys.tumblr.com).


<nbsp;>

This morning I saw a glimmer of hope
In the eyes that I met at the door
Of separate futures and confident sutures
To the wounds that we have endured

<nbsp;>
You hate the words of war, but baby face it!
That’s what it’s been for us
We were never good fighters or very good soldiers
But through this we are more

<nbsp;>
It’s victorian this embroidering ordering and
Sorting of memory to museum quality
In a box we are, we are and we’re art
For the victims and tourists to see

<nbsp;>
And this victory we’re part of is part and
Parameter of all that has come before
We were never good fighters or very good soldiers
But through this we are more

<nbsp;>
What’s the harm in ruins, reminds us of who
We were in darker times
In the pieces of colonies, we’ll find that we follow
A church of our own design

<nbsp;>
By our best, we’re remembered, baptized we surrender
By air, by water, by shore
We were never good fighters or very good soldiers
But through this we are more

 

I’ve recently started working on a writing project with a friend of mine, addressing ways in which her experiences as a black woman, and mine as a white woman, intersect; and how we can use those experiences as a means of understanding one another, and write about them as a means of helping others understand one another. We talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, our fears and dreams, and hopes for the future. I can say without a doubt that it has been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been a part of – and it is tough. It helps tremendously that we have built a foundation of respect, trust, and mutuality, and that we really enjoy spending time with one another. But it’s really tough, primarily because we spend time unpacking all of the assumptions we’ve learned to make about one another.

In our conversations, we are making time and space to address head-on the things that scare us the most, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with one another, to trust one another; which means that if she calls me out on something, I’m able to hear her without the shame I may otherwise have. In that, I feel liberated, I feel better able to empathize with both my friend, and with others – I’m less focused on my fear of confrontation and am able see the difficult conversations as building blocks to a new future.

It’s often easier to pretty-up the past, or avoid it all together – to look back through rose-colored lenses to our individual and collective histories in a way that distorts not only the past, but also the present. We can ignore the long-standing history of racism or sexism that is a part of the history of our nation or the church, but it doesn’t make it go away. We are carrying around all of that history – it’s written into our DNA, onto our bones. Regardless of whether we are proud of it, or ashamed of it – even if we try and ignore it – it’s there. It defines part of who we are, but not all of who we are. In trying to ignore our history, we let it overshadow all of the potential we have to learn from it. Let us look with honesty and humility at the ways we’ve messed up in the past, at the atrocities we’ve got written on our bones, and let that recognition and acknowledgement be the foundation for a new way of living. If we are going to learn anything from our past, we’ve got to take off the rose-colored lenses and look it straight in the face – otherwise we are bound to repeat it. It’s not comfortable, and it’s certainly not easy, but it’s essential. I daresay it’s vital to our very survival.

Sep 242012
 

In my first ethics class with Dr. Katie Cannon, we were given the following paragraph, with the instructions that we we should try to re-write it, eliminating at least 30 uses of racist and negative language.  This paragraph was written by a former classmate of Dr. Cannon’s, Robert B. Moore, as a way of pointing out the embedded racism in the English language.

Some may blackly accuse me of trying to blacken the English language, to give it a black eye by writing such words.  They may denigrate me by accusing me of being black hearted, of having a black outlook on life, of being a black guard – which would certainly be a black mark against me.  Some may black brow me and hope that a black cat crosses in front of me because of this black deed.  I may become a black sheep, who will be blackballed by being placed on a blacklist in an attempt to blackmail me to retract my words.  But attempts to blackjack me will have a Chinaman’s chance of success, for I am not a yell0w-bellied Indian-giver of words, who will whitewash a black lie.  I challenge the purity and innocence of the English language.  I don’t see things in black and white terms, for I am a white man if there ever was one.  However, it would be a black day when I would not “call a spade a spade,” even though some will suggest a white man calling the English language racist is like the pot calling the kettle black.  While many will be niggardly in their support, others will be honest and decent, and to them I say, that’s very white of you.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ways in which our values are embedded within our language, and about how those values are carried out in the world. Simply put: words matter. I may think I’m not saying much by implying that someone is the “black sheep” of their family, or that something is “black as sin” instead of “pure white,” while waiting for my “white knight” – but, I am. Embedded in that language is the assumption that black = bad; and, conversely, white = good. It’s so simple and so ingrained that we don’t even think about it, which is part of what makes it so dangerous. Words matter.

Stop. Think before you speak. Think about what you may be implying in your speech. Not just what’s on the surface, but what’s underneath.

Sep 162012
 

I’ve been taking some time off from writing lately (both in and out of blog-land), and am slowly easing myself back into it. The poem below is one of my favorites, and seemed like a nice way to get back into Poem Sundays; and, hopefully into posting more.

Peace.

“The Truelove,” by David Whyte

There is a faith in loving fiercely the one who is rightfully yours,
especially if you have waited years and especially if part of you
never believed you could deserve this loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way.

I am thinking of faith now and the testaments of loneliness and
what we feel we are worthy of in this world.

Years ago in the Hebrides I remember an old man who walked
every morning on the grey stones to the shore of baying seals,

who would press his hat to his chest in the blustering salt wind
and say his prayer to the turbulent Jesus hidden in the water,

and I think of the story of the storm and everyone waking
and seeing the distant yet familiar figure far across the water calling
to them,

and how we are all preparing for that abrupt waking, and that
calling, and that moment we have to say yes, except it will not
come so grandly, so Biblically, but more subtly and intimately in
the face of the one you know you have to love,

so that when we finally step out of the boat toward them, we find
everything holds us, and everything confirms our courage, and if
you wanted to drown you could, but you don’t

because finally after all this struggle and all these years, you
don’t want to anymore, you’ve simply had enough of drowning,
and you want to live and you want to love and you will walk
across any territory and any darkness, however fluid and
however dangerous, to the take the one hand you know belongs
in yours.