Tuesday, April 28, 2015




 carefully formed or worked into shape

Full definition:

1. worked into shape by artistry or effort

The artist: my Creator.
My work: yield to the re-shaping.
Easier said than done.  

2. elaborately embellished: ornamented

A smile from her, 
his laughter, her trust, 
the innocent invitation of a child, my nephew,
dinners with friends and wild boys running, making messes, and babies, 
vigils for peace, for hope, for love,
kneading paws and purring, 
blossoms, sprouts, vibrant, alive!
On my lips, my cheeks, my eyes, 
in my heart,
they adorn, don't weigh, 
but lift me. 

3. processed for use: manufactured

What is my purpose? Why am I here? 
How will I be used? 

Will I know my place, my work, when I see it? 
Will I accept my role? 

4. beaten into shape by tools: hammered - used of metals

This is what today feels like. 

I am not in Nepal or Baltimore. 
My access to food has not been cut. 
I have enough to eat, time to sleep, roof and walls. 
No one has access to my body without my permission. 
I am safe and my family, my friends.

This morning I listened to a Nepalese woman
 who had an appendectomy just a few days ago, 
who is now in a field 
with a tube draining from her abdomen because the hospital isn't safe, 
who says she knows there are people who are much worse off than she is and she wants them to get care, 
and she asks, "But who can I complain to?"
Shaken even on steady ground.

My heart beats for her.
Bang, pound, dent, pound, dent, bang, taptaptap, 
and and is beaten by impotence.
What can I do?

Riots in Baltimore. 
But so many stood peacefully.
So many more. So many more. 
Resisting oppression. 
Resisting what must have felt like relief, 
the release of anger, frustration, and grief. 
Even if it was...

I only know this anger by proxy. 
But I don't know it. 
I don't know violence, not really. 
My formation, my shaping and re-shaping, is gentle, 
taptaptap, bend, bangtap, bangbangtap, bend, tap,
even when I think it's not. 
I have the luxury to forget who I am, where I am,
And still be me, not a "them."

My heart beats for those who struggle for "them," 
who struggle to be "I" and still have no name
(I don't know, do you?). 
Bang,  dent, pound, bang, dent, pound, bangbangtap, 
do they break with the pounding?
Do I, just to witness? 
Or does the heat allow us to bend and not break?  

5. deeply stirred: excited - often used with up 

If you're not pissed off at the world, then you're not paying attention. 
I am. Wrought up. 
Over nothing? 
Too much. 
Bang,  dent, pound, bang, dent, pound, bangbangtap, 
Not enough.
Bang,  dent, pound, bang, dent, pound, bangbangtap, 
Bang,  dent, pound, bang, dent, pound, bangbangtap, 
Bang,  dent, pound, bang, dent, pound, bangbangtap, 

And I'm grateful to be carefully formed into shape.
Will I recognize myself when the pounding stops?
Will the pounding stop?
I hope not. Not of me. 
But all of the "thems," 
please stop pounding so hard. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

The ones you hate


What do you see ¾
summit or only rocky ascent?

Do you see me walking next to you?

Do you see that they,
the ones you judge,
are climbing,
trudging, too?

They, not all, but many,
will lift you when you fall.
they’ll bind your bloodied knee.
they’ll dab your moistened eyes,
relieve your limping leg.

Shared pain,
you think is yours alone,
they know, they feel it, too,
arms outstretched to you.

Will you wrap yourself around them ¾

Christ disguised.

Or turn away
until they pass,
clutching your ruptured pride so tight
you drench yourself in blood?

You know ¾
They, the ones you hate?
The ones you pass without a word, watch fall,
eyes down, lips pursed, “no time,” “not mine,” “too bad,” not sad.

They are your Savior.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


As I was scrolling through my Facebook News Feed, I came upon a Humans of New York photo with the following caption:

“Hazel can’t have superpowers yet. She too little for me to teach her how to control them.” 

This reminded me of recent conversations I've had with my nephews in which we've explored our superpowers. Navigating our ways through haunted houses full of giant spiders, lava pits, and other treacheries, I've learned about lightning power, water power, fire power, lullaby power, and other important powers needed to walk through the world.

Of course, I can't forget the strongest power of all: rainbow power. I am fortunate enough (according to my nephews) to have A LOT of rainbow power. I didn't even know.

Honestly, it has been a long time since I've thought about superpowers. I'm not sure when I forgot about them. Or was taught that they don't exist. But being with my nephews, I feel certain that I have superpowers. And so do you. We just may have given them different names now that we're "grown up."

This past Friday and Saturday evening, I had the great joy and privilege to sit in circles and listen to the stories and wisdom of girls and women. In each circle, I was reminded that I am not alone, that my struggles are common. I heard my hopes voiced by women I've known for years and some I was meeting for the first time. While I know that my story is unique, I felt myself nodding my head in understanding and thinking "me, too," many times. I felt the power inherent in sharing and listening from the heart. In both circles, women and girls were claiming, or in many cases, reclaiming, the powers that somehow had left them, that they had forgotten, that someone tried to take, or they gave up without even knowing: vulnerability, humor, anger, joy, honesty, courage, love. If those aren't superpowers, I'm not sure what are.

In preparation for the Saturday gathering, I created a paper weaving, bringing together strands of different colored paper- different sizes, colors, patterns, textures - along with ribbons, pieces of grass, a branch from my hydrangea, a feather, and other things. I wanted to represent connection - the interweaving of our world and our lives, the living and the past-living, the planned and unplanned - that happens sometimes in neat and tidy patterns, but more often unexpectedly, messily, and in ways that may feel like chaos in the moment. In retrospect, we can see can the beauty created in the intertwining; even the "ugly" is transformed in the process.

When I finished my project, I felt relaxed, joyful to have created something vibrant. "I need to do this more often," I thought.

Maybe that weaving is a symbol of my rainbow superpower - the power to bring beauty and connection into the world. I had forgotten I have this power. I had forgotten I have this power. I had forgotten.

I am remembering again.

Unlike Hazel, I think I might be old enough to control my superpower, but if I'm being honest, I'll admit that I don't want to exercise too much control. Maybe it's about channeling it, more than controlling it. But really, I want to be wildly unrestrained. Trying to reign in beauty, trying to manage how or when or where connections happen really only morphs those powers into something less than what they are. While perhaps there is merit in resting sometimes, exercising too much control over my rainbow power actually diminishes it. It is only in its use, it is only when I share it freely, that the power (not me, but the power) grows. And I want it to grow.

And you? What's your superpower?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Challenging Communication

In February I made an invitation to listen. My own record of doing so - listening to my inner voice and listening to others compassionately - has been spotty at best. I have had some successes and some failures. I will keep trying. In January I had written that I'd be offering a new invitation for practice each month. Perhaps I can justify offering no invitation in March or April by the fact that listening can be so difficult and is always, always important. That may be the invitation for the rest of the year. We shall see.

Today after church, a friend approached me and told me how sorry she was about the way I'd been treated after my last blogpost. I was at first confused - "Wait, did I write about that? How did she know?" Then I realized that what she saw had been posted publicly and she had happened to see it. It was by accident that I had seen it, too.

Someone who was troubled by what I had written re-posted my last post, asking for others to weigh in about it. The responses to the re-post included a couple of non-substantive and not helpful comments about me (written by someone I know) and another about my writing style. Nothing was actually written about the content of the post and I believe the comments that were written shut down the possibility of anyone giving useful feedback to the genuine request for it.

I debated whether or not to engage with the two people I knew who were involved in the exchange and ultimately decided to do so. With that decision I promised myself that I would only write them (privately) if I could do so respectfully and non-defensively. I was pretty sure I could be respectful, less certain I would not be defensive. This is what I wrote:

I noticed you shared my blogpost. Thanks for reading it, even though you apparently didn't like it. In response to the comments below your share, I have 2 requests: 1) If you choose to comment on my character, please do so directly to me. 2) Since the comments related to the post were about me or my writing style and none addressed the ideas in my post in any concrete way, I am asking with all sincerity why you found it problematic. I have neither need nor desire to debate. I ask with a genuine sense of curiosity. Blessings.

I think I succeeded in being respectful and am still unsure if I achieved non-defensiveness. It was at least less defensive than I was feeling. Writing it was a stretch for me, an attempt to listen when I didn't really want to, but felt I needed to try. Our world is full of good talker-overs, personal attackers, silencers. We need more listeners. I know I am a better person when I approach life open-mindedly and open-heartedly (which happens less than I'd like - practice, practice, practice).

Because it was a private conversation, I won't share the responses, except to say that the responses from one person seemed an attempt (again) to shut down any meaningful conversation and from the other, a desire to engage.

The exchange has given me much to think about. I am challenged to remember that while I don't see eye-to-eye on many things with the people with whom I corresponded, there are things we agree about. I also feel certain that there is much we hold in common that we're unaware of. I must remember that I don't own the Truth, that all of us carry pieces of it, and that what may seem like contradictory truths can actually all simultaneously be true. I am reminded that being right is not most important; treating others as children of God worthy of respect and love is. Offering feedback (positive and negative) is most valuable when it is specific and done with the questions "Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?" in mind. Entering into conversation with an open mind and heart will offer greater rewards than entering with easy assumptions and pre-meditated conclusions (which prohibit any real conversation from happening). And finally, it is important to let go of things that don't serve.

I know all these things on some level, but I have a long way to go before I really know them. And so I write again: practice, practice, practice. May this week offer new opportunities for opening up, listening, and learning and may we take advantage of those sources of possible growth.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Things I Don't Have to Think About

I'm thankful that because of the work I do, I get to think about things I may not otherwise consider. The knowledge I have can feel like a burden sometimes: thoughts about oppressions and the way my own behavior plays into larger structures that work well for some and horribly for many others. Most often, I fit into categories where the system favors me, where any burden I carry is actually pretty light: I'm white, American, Christian, heterosexual, middle-class, well-educated, able-bodied, reasonably attractive; I'm sure there are more categories I could add. All of these offer me credibility, safety, and/or access to certain things that other people can't take for granted.

Recently I've been revising one of our programs, a Christian-Muslim dialogue.  As no one on our staff is Muslim, I've had the opportunity to talk to a number of Muslims, getting their feedback on changes I'm proposing. I want to make sure that what we're offering will work for Christians and Muslims alike and I'm aware that there is a lot I don't know and that I don't necessarily know what I don't know.

So I ask: Will this work? Will this offend? Is this appropriate? The Muslims I've talked to have been gracious with their time and knowledge, being both honest and kind, even when offering critical feedback. They've been generous in affirming this work, stressing the importance of creating opportunities for people to build bridges instead of walls, to connect people across boundaries (in this case, religious boundaries). 

In the course of this work, I've bumped up against my own privilege numerous times. A few months ago I re-posted an article on Facebook that listed many ways Christians in the U.S. experience privilege. One person replied that the article wasn't true (I'm fairly certain he didn't open the article). Another replied in a way that showed that he had neither read the article nor understood the concept of privilege as a social construct that affords some people unearned benefits that others don't have. I didn't have the energy to respond to them. 

One of the lovely people I've met recently told me a little story about how when she was living in Chicago, Best Buy had an Eid sale (Eid is a Muslim holiday). People were up in arms, writing nasty letters and threatening to boycott the store. Apparently, it is only OK to honor certain religious (aka Christian) holidays in our supposedly secular society. And so...

In an effort to keep myself cognizant of my Christian privilege (in the U.S.) and to invite you (if you are Christian and living in a Christian-dominant culture) to do the same, I offer this (incomplete) list for us to chew on: 

*1.      I can easily hear music on the radio and watch specials on television that celebrate the holidays of my religion.

2.     It is likely that state and federal holidays coincide with my religious practices, thereby having little to no impact on my job and/or education.

3.      I do not need to educate my children to be aware of religious persecution for their own daily physical and emotional protection.

4.      I can easily find academic courses and institutions that give attention only to people of my religion.

5.      I am never asked to speak for all people of my religious group.

6.      I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a “credit to my religion” or being singled out as being different from other members of my religious group.

7.      I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence and importance of my religion.

8.      I can protect myself (and my children) from people who may not like me (or them) based on my religion.

9.      I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my religion will not work against me.

10. I can safely assume that an authority figure, including elected and unelected officials of my government, will generally be someone of my religion.

11. I can be sure that people are knowledgeable enough about the holidays in my religion to be able to greet me with the appropriate holiday greeting.

12. I can openly display my religious symbol(s) on my person or property without fear of disapproval, violence, and/or vandalism.

13. I can feel confident that I will receive fair and due process under the law and will not be detained or interrogated due to my religious identity; in addition, if I am on trial, a “jury of my peers” will likely share my religious identity.

14. Law enforcement officials will likely assume I am a non-threatening person if my religion is disclosed to them. In fact, disclosure may actually help law enforcement officials perceive me as being “in the right” or “unbiased.”

15. I can talk openly about my religious practices without concern for how it will be received by others.

16. I am likely not judged by the improper actions of others in my religious group.

17. If I wish, I can usually or exclusively be among those from my religious group most of the time (in work, school, or at home).

18. I can assume that my safety, or the safety of my family, will not be put in jeopardy by disclosing my religion to others at work or at school.

19. It is likely that mass media represents my religion widely AND positively.

20. It is likely that I can find items to buy that represent my religious norms and holidays with relative ease (e.g., food, decorations, greeting cards, etc.).

21. I can speak or write about my religion, even critique other religions, and have these perspectives listened to and published with relative ease and without much fear of reprisal.

22. My citizenship and immigration status will likely not be questioned, and my background will likely not be investigated, because of my religion.

23. If I wish to give my children an education from my religious tradition, I probably have a variety of options nearby.

24. My religious holidays are so completely “normal” that, in many ways, they may appear to no longer have any religious significance at all.

25. Construction of worship spaces of my faith will likely not be perceived as threatening.

26. The central figure of my religion is used as a major point of reference for my calendaring system (i.e. B.C. and A.D. as well as B.C.E and C.E).

27. I can define the belief system of, and/or its practice by, another group, regardless of my level of knowledge of it.  

My hope is that with my growing awareness, I will more willingly shoulder a larger part of the burden and thereby lighten the load of those who don't have a choice about what weighs them down. My hope is that I'll use the advantages I have to help those who the system works against. My hope is that with "the odds ever in my favor," I can do something so that others don't have the odds stacked so firmly against them. My hope is that I'll keep learning.