Friday, May 01, 2015

Baltimore


Baltimore is a poem that is writing itself.  Through a five day migraine I wake and sleep, its echoes my mantra, my feet and heart itching to go, to be in the poem, to be of its pulse. Instead I hold a space, I breathe in the anxious angry magma that is finally being let loose from the dungeons and the dragnets of the harbor, the city I always drive around, not into, on my way from Kentucky to New Jersey and back. All this time... these people have been here, and I was just trying to avoid the traffic. From the harbor where Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner, from the streets that had ceased to feel like the land of the free or the home of the brave, something had arisen. A sense of justice, a mighty, mighty sense of impudence, a fed-up, washed-up, worn-out despair that had had enough, seen enough, suffered enough. And then came Freddie Gray. He pivots, in my dream of it, on his heel, like a dancer, makes eye contact, then runs, like a sprinter, till they take him down (did they taser him?) and fold him, someone said, "like a piece of origami." That phase struck with me, such a beautiful analogy for such a hideous act. They dragged him like a rag doll to the van. His screams, like the wail of wounded soldiers, pierced the air. And they. just. didn't. care. How in God's holy name can you not care? He looked to me like someone who'd been taken down from a noose, from a lynching, and lynched he was. So: he dies. Days pass. And slowly, but surely, the protests begin. And through the haze of migraine and meds, I, and millions of others, are watching, and waiting. Losing sleep, and praying. Let it stop now. City councilman steps up. He says, We are the men of this neighborhood. We are handling thisThis is a symptom, he explains. The funeral is held. A colleague posts: It is hard to capture the awful beauty of the funeral of Freddie Gray, Jr. I was moved by the spirituality of the day, the order and disorder of it all, and the power of the witness of people who did not know Freddie, but who knew too, too many other Freddies. The visiting families of Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner and others calling for justice broadened--no! I mean deepened--the impact on me. And the opening prayer, where we held hands and offered to those around us that we wanted to be held accountable and were willing to hold each other accountable, made this not a memorial for a man, but a pledge for personal and social transformation. "I was churched today," a friend said. I agree. Baltimore was held in our hearts and minds, and I was churched (Rev. David Carl Olsen, First Unitarian Church of Baltimore).  A young man is shouting, urging protestors on. A Humvee rolls between him and the viewer. He's gone. "Snatched up." "Kidnapped." Anything is possible. It's like.. Cambodia. The disappeared. People just gone. And no way could they read him his rights that fast! A fellow writer says, on facebook: Them gangs coming together. Then comes #momoftheyear I hate this! Don't people see how unfunny this is? I'm furious. And they put her on CNN, put him, on CNN, at first I'm just outraged. But then I think: go on. There's a strange kind of justice at play here. All the haters will watch this and see her beautiful humanity. "We don't come from the best..." she says. Her son, looking so ashamed. But: humans, real people. You have to see them now. They are real. I see another young man, confronting Geraldo Rivera. They do a kind of dance, a pas de deux around the cameras, while Geraldo's frozen grin and shellacked hair belie his false bravado. "You don't care about these neighborhoods before Freddie Gray," the young man shouts. "All you want is a story." He uses his hands like an artist. He will not let go of this pulpit. He has seized the moment and it will be his. He tells everyone, "Turn the cameras off."  So this isn't for show. It's as if Rivera grows smaller and smaller while this beautiful, spirited young man rises in his righteous anger, his indignation, his pride. Next act. A young woman strides to a podium, her face determined, her carriage that of a warrior. It doesn't matter what she says, because all of the words flow together except one: homicide. Murder. The city erupts. A frenzied dance ensues as people spring from stoops and storefronts and fists raise from open car windows and all along streets and even little baby girls raise a fist. Even old men hold up a sign, like the one that says "FREE-die Gray speak's from the grave 'Thank you Marilyn Mosby'" Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Trayvon Martin. I saw an image of their faces carved in a mountainside, like the ones on Mount Rushmore. Martyrs.And there would be Marilyn Mosby. May this be the day it turns around, and what a day! MAY-day. May Day. The call of distress. May it finally be answered. The day people bring flowers to their neighbors. Bouquets of love. Bottles of water to the National Guard. International Workers Day. A truce between the Crips and Bloods. All on May Day. A hundred years from now, I pray they will say: On May Day. May 1st, 2015, in Baltimore, a poem wrote itself. It started with a man named Freddie Gray. It started in a place that used to be the home of the free. And the brave. The brave came out. The brave and the bold. They fought back. It's a beautiful thing to see people fight back. To know, we still can. I raise my fist in my empty room. Baltimore! .

Friday, April 17, 2015

Return to Selma



At first, I thought I would go to Selma for the 50th Anniversary because I wanted to be a part of something. I have been there 3 times before, all while traveling through Alabama for service trips with Unitarian Universalists, and each time I was moved to tears as I stood before the bridge that bore the weight of history: the bridge on which peaceful protesters were beaten brutally, clubbed and kicked and set upon with dogs, for asking for the right to vote. To know that this happened, in my country, in my lifetime, has humbled be beyond belief.

So, more than once, I have made the commitment to dedicate a good portion of my life and work to un-doing what my fellow white Americans have done: the sin of racism.

And, like James Reeb, also killed in Selma, I wanted to be a part of things, to "share actively in the adventure." I saw the right, and I didn't want to cheer from the sidelines; I wanted and was determined to be actively on the right side of history.

Here, I visit my first congregation on the way to Selma. UUC of Shenandoah Valley. This is the first couple I performed a wedding for! Twenty years ago.


But, I've had many years to work out and contemplate this resolve of mine. It has not gone as I might have planned or dreamed. Just wanting to "share actively in the adventure" may get you to turn out for the big protests, the fancy dinners and speeches, and the marches to commemorate the other marches. You may, as I have, be asked to sit on boards and councils and committees that rubber stamp deals made elsewhere. You may speak about things in public (if you aren't TOO honest). You may urge your congregation. But not too often, nor too loudly, nor too much of your time.

walking with Seth in Selma

Life is what happens while you are making other plans.  John Lennon said that, and for him, death was what happened while he may have made other plans. I have another child to care for, a family member who has special needs. I have had to work at active ministry longer than expected. The place I chose to settle into for my longest tenure of ministry... Lexington, Kentucky.... may be the worst place in the world to do the work of anti-racism. A veneer of politeness and a thick layer of denial, like dust kicked up by the hooves of racing horses, covers the mixed and ugly racial history of a town that held the world's largest slave auction; the town that had a segregated college basketball team longer than any other but named Rupp arena after the racist coach; the town that still has elitist parents gnashing their teeth in fear that their lily white babies might have to be bused to one of "those" schools. When even the Black community doesn't speak out, you know this is entrenched and institutionalized racism. What is a white, Yankeee liberal minister going to say or do from her pulpit in the white suburbs?


So this journey to Selma was bittersweet. It was both a chance to revisit my once-lofty goals, as well as to grieve and readjust them. How often I have counseled people who have come to me with broken hearts and spirits about "coming to terms" as a way of moving forward, rather than use words like acceptance, forgiveness, or letting go? It was a time of coming to terms. 


I was able to see, meet and re-connect with some of the pioneers for racial justice and equity that our movement has produced. I recalled meeting Jim Hobart when he was serving in Denver, and he and I were both at one of the very early UUSC work camps down in Alabama, where we joined with Quakers to rebuild Black churches that had been burned in the mid 90s. I saw that, twenty years on, his vitality and spirit were still alive. This gave me hope and inspiration that I could still do something worthwhile.

I talked with Rochester's long time minister Richard Gilbert, who had served prison time for his work against the SOA. I saw reunions taking place, Clark Olsen with Orloff Miller, and both of them with the families of Jimmie Lee Jackson and Viola Liuzzo and especially the family of James Reeb. I listened closely and learned deeply from the words of colleagues who have not given up in this struggle, not the least of which is Mark Morrison Reed, who not only counseled us all to work from a ground of love and relationship, but actually demonstrated that to me in a brief conversation we had at a meal.

These experiences and more renewed my faith in my religious calling as it has not been renewed in many long years. And I can say with conviction that my resolve has been renewed as well.

But.. it was not only my fellow UUs who lifted me up during this wonderful event!

Just look at the picture above and imagine turning a corner and seeing what was close to 500,000 people crossing this bridge! The last 3 times I saw it, it had been empty save a passing car. And without exception, everyone we met, young, old, no matter the color or size, was friendly and generous of spirit. It was a moment in the vast sweep of time, but one to be treasured. If I ever do anything or write or say anything of consequence, it will be because I was given the Grace to have been present at moments such as these; where I simply knew that humans are capable of love, acceptance, harmony, joy, peace, kinship, fairness, so much more than what we are living out.
There were two nearly mystical experiences. One happened as we left the gathering place for UUs, a park in Selma. Some local men were having a bar-b-que, and stepped into the street to greet us. They were African American, middle aged or younger, and lower to low economic status, as this was a run-down neighborhood as is most of Selma. Amongst us was a Black man who was also a cross-dresser or dressed in a feminine manner as he had bright pink shorts, a purse, and high heels. Not unusual for GA, but perhaps a bit so for Alabama. The men started hugging us and thanking us for being there! I wondered if they would avoid this brother, but NO! They went right on and hugged him too.
Then, you see the boy above? That's our son Seth, who has Autism. He didn't want to march but then decided he would. Crowds and noise of any kind are hard for him. Well, after about 2 hours of waiting and shuffling we were almost to the bridge when he SAT DOWN! He refused to go on. We just begged him to get across, when out of nowhere there came an African dance troupe. He loves music and he got up and just started to dance along, at which point their organizer pulled him to the front of the group! they were so loving and encouraging to him. This is a boy who gets ignored, judged, and looked at askance so often in public just for being himself. On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he was loved, accepted, and lifted up. Is that Grace right there? 


These were people from Africa. It was not even a moment of national pride and joy. It's a human, international moment of love.



People taking selfies, everywhere.


Seth was marching along as we headed home! 


Just before this conference and march, I turned 60. It's a time for reflection, and wondering, what have I accomplished? What, if anything, can I hope to do? It's also a time for realistic appraisal, for perhaps relinquishing grandiose dreams, but recovenanting with myself to do what is most urgent and necessary, regardless of what feels like "failure" at the time.

Joseph Priestly Exec David Pyle

Since I've returned, it's been a month, and there have been more killings of unarmed Black men by police, more issues coming to light about racism in this country, and outrage growing with what seems very little outlet. I am praying and hoping, but I am doing more than that. I took part in a conference for UU ministers called "Ministry in the Age of Ferguson." I have begun to put out some feelers. I'm only doing a two year interim, so the work is harder when you don't have a congregation to count on long term. But I am going to jettison the excuses, and do what I can, while I can, each day. I know there are thousands, tens of thousands, like me, and that alone gives me great encouragement. I think I nearly gave up for a while, but I have realized I must never do so. I'll keep you posted.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Road Trips and Journeys


I'll just start by saying the whole thing was my idea... taking a road trip for Christmas. Eric's family was planning a 90th birthday celebration for his dad on Sunday, December 21st, yet none of us could leave until a few days before that. Spending upwards of $2,000 to get everyone to CA for a few days and doing nothing seemed absurd.. yet funds were limited to do a whole lot more.

So.. I thought a lot about whether any of us really needed to be at home for Christmas. And, truth be told, we didn't. We could make Christmas happen wherever we were. All seemed enthusiastic when I tossed out the idea; I sent links and suggested everybody take a day (or two) and plan part of the trip, but they were busy with school and the most I could get out of them was a request from each: Legoland; Zion; Saguaro NP; and Death Valley. 

I spent hours(very enjoyable hours because I LOVE to plan and figure out travel arrangements!) putting together an itinerary using AirBnB and National Park websites and Google Maps.

My husband sometimes calls me a travel-Nazi, but I'm recovering. I have in the past over-planned things and forced everyone involved to stick to the agenda whether having fun or not! Now I under-plan, and allow so much more personal choice. I'm actually proud of myself and my ability to be let micro-managey about travel.

After the big family birthday gathering, we spent time with our dearest CA friends in Riverside. Actually, this alone was worth the trip!





Here we are on Larry & Marilyn's porch. The only family member missing is Casey. I got a little Xmas tree for our car, which was supposed to be a fun & funny thing, and also to appear in all the pictures in lieu of Casey who could not be with us, but it only made it into this one picture and the fun/funny thing didn't take off. But other fun/funny things did. Sometimes you can't PLAN fun & funny. The tree only cost $3 and we all thought about Casey & wished he were with us, a lot. 






This is the Mission Inn in Riverside. One block from the congregation I served from 96-99, it's quite a regional landmark. The attendant at the car rental desk in Ontario actually asked me if we'd come to see the Christmas lights. In the almost 20 years since we lived there, its annual holiday display has become a huge attraction. Seth & Eric had just arrived. 

Our friends. Dave, Lorrie, Larry, Marilyn, Me & Eric. At bottom: Marjorie, Nathan & Rosie. We will probably never  have friends like these guys again. It sucks that we have gone all these years without finding good friends, and its cool that they have remained friends with one another. The three kids are in college. It is, of course my fault  that we left Riverside, as I could not stay at that church a day longer. Still, a big loss.


I really hope and believe that this Christmas Day is one that everyone will remember as very special and unique. I could honestly get into going away somewhere every year from now on. It felt incredibly free and relaxed and joyful. We stayed at this sprawling, eclectic domicile in the Sonoran desert, owned by a very interesting artist and her paramour, who generously opened the kitchen, common rooms & decks to us, so that we could have a gorgeous sun-speckled breakfast and gift opening. Then we visited Marjorie's first-grade teacher! She'd moved from Kentucky to Tucson and saw on Facebook that we were there. It was the kind of surprise you can not possibly plan.
En route to Flagstaff , we ate our Christmas dinner at a huge and fabulous Asian buffet. Perfect! And Seth, who had been wishing for a white Christmas, got that too: it had been snowing all day in Flagstaff, and although he was asleep, he woke up long enough to see the snow on his way into our Air BnB.



Doesn't this sound good so far? It was! But maybe the trip was a day or two too long. Maybe there's an unwritten rule about how much time families should spend in a car together before they really annoy each other. Because, by the last day, everyone was very cranky and particularly upset with me! And worst of all was that I honestly couldn't figure out why they were upset with me. 




So instead of talking about that, I'm just going to talk about letting go and how far I've come in my (now sixty because I'm writing this on my birthday) years. Going to the Grand Canyon (see Marjorie above) was a HUGE trigger for me, as I took Casey and Colin there 25 years ago soon after getting divorced. I don't think I am any less fearful of cliffs and edges than I was then, and Seth made me even more anxious than Colin did when he was there at age six. So, I stayed well away. But I knew that Colin & Marjorie would go out on the cliffs and take lots of pictures and I was fine with it. I even went close myself, after securing Seth with Eric! A whole family asked me to take their picture and I had to wait while they got organized right on the edge!  I was okay. No one died.

Went to Mexico. Seth got a haircut. I had no idea the barber, who spoke no English, would pull out a straight razor to finish the sideburns. If you know how impulsive Seth is, you will know why this made me anxious. But I breathed through it. It was fine. His first haircut, and possibly one of his finest. For a mere $4.



Below you see Eric, very excited about In-n-Out Burger, and milkshakes. However, Eric, although slim and active and a non-smoker and non-drinker, has high cholesterol and high triglycerides. This is concerning. Then there's Colin, buying drugs in Mexico. Not a concern. They were for his cold. He's almost four years clean. This is a big yabba-dabba-doo. Hence the humor and irony of the picture.





Let's just say I have in the past been prone to a whole lot of worrying about the people in my life because I've had a reason to be. Most of them are addicts or alcoholics or have some form of mental illness. So they are on the edge, so to speak, and it's not just that they could go over the edge and die suddenly. They have done this. This is not an unrealistic fear. Still, I've come so far in the past 25 or so years. I can manage my anxiety. I know I can't control people. I know I can't save them.



Don't fall, kids!





The low point came in Death Valley. How apropos. It was our final day. We awoke to a flat tire. On a Sunday, in Las Vegas. All tired. 

We got into a disagreement about something that seems very insignificant now: what route we would take to get to Death Valley from Las Vegas. We had to turn around and go about 5-6 miles back, and everyone swore that I had told them to go a certain way (which I had, the night before) and got furious at me. I was flummoxed and flabbergasted. They were all (except for Seth) annoyed with me, and I just could not understand why. In retrospect, we probably should have let go of even trying to go to Death Valley that day, but we went. By the end of the day (below, here we are at this amazing crater called Ubehebe crater, near Scotty's Castle), we were at least talking with one another, but it was pretty clear everyone was ready for the trip to end.


It's now about six weeks later, and I am still puzzling a bit over what caused the family to get so upset with me. Clearly, it's me, or at least partly me, because they were all aggravated. I feel as if I need to understand so I can be more clear about how to relate with them in the future. But I think each of them separately, has reasons to be aggravated with me, as I do with them! It just all came out on that one day. I trust that we will discover and uncover them as time passes, or I will if I go forth with good will and good intentions. Meanwhile, I have become much more serious about keeping my daily meditation practice as well as a journal practice. These I hope will keep me honest and doing the work I need to do, going forth. So that is good.

I witnessed so many wonderful things about my family that I want to savor. I don't want the beautiful and joyful parts of the trip to be overshadowed by one cranky day!

Colin and Marjorie having so much great brother/sister bonding time. This is priceless!
 Colin's photographs of Zion. His appreciation of God's handiwork. Who'd a thunk?
Seth's awesome haircut. Actually, everything about Seth was awesome. The one who should have been a "problem" was the least of the problems. Go figure.







The trip is over but the journey continues.