Tuesday, October 09, 2018



POEM, “Fault Line”
California is so many things, but it’s hard to think about California without thinking of earthquakes. The San Andreas Fault and its handiwork is plainly visible. Research has shown that the Southern segment, which stretches from Monterey  all the way down to the Salton Sea, is capable of a Richter scale 8.1 earthquake. An earthquake of that size on the Southern segment (which, at its closest, is 40 miles away from Los Angeles) would kill thousands of people in Los Angeles, San Bernandino, Riverside, and other areas, and cause hundreds of billions of dollars in property and economic damage.
Isn’t is great to live in such a safe part of the country?
Maybe..……in November 2008, The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that a serious earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone could result in "the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States," further predicting "widespread and catastrophic" damage across Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and particularly Tennessee, where a 7.7 magnitude quake or greater would cause damage to tens of thousands of structures affecting water distribution, transportation systems, and other vital infrastructure.[22] The earthquake is expected to also result in many thousands of fatalities.
Maybe, we all live on the edge, but Californians just can’t deny it.
As writer Alice Gregory notes upon moving East:
In California, you know when you’re burning. The brightness hurts, and when you close your eyes, you see red. The cliffs are high and jagged, the ocean smashes the shoreline, and landslides really can bring you down. There you are dwarfed and powerless. There are earthquakes; and mudslides; and for about three months of the year, entire regions of the state threaten to spontaneously combust. You wouldn’t dare sleep naked in California—you might need to run outside in the middle of the night, awakened to a rattling house and a mile-deep fissure in your front lawn.

We love to watch the Olympics for many reasons, not the least of which is that moment of suspense and the drama of the competitors’ expressions of joy or defeat. Vicariously, we relive our own near-triumphs and empathize, or imagine the glorious moment of victory and feel envy or admiration.  I love the synchronized diving and the moment the divers poise on the edge of the board. Every muscle of their bodies must be perfectly attuned, and to my way of thinking there must be a spiritual as well as a visual/mechanical connection in order for these dives to be so perfectly harmonized, almost poetic.
But there, as they pause on the edge, everything is potential: victory, defeat, even danger, and yet they voluntarily do this over and over again! So, of course, do we. (CIM)
Each day we arise is a journey to the edge.
We have only to acknowledge our own vulnerability to understand how close we really come.
And I am not just referring to our physical risk, although that is greater than we acknowledge, given the way we hurtle down the freeways at enormous speeds, live, eat, and move in ways that are contraindicated for longevity and comfort; and all of the many toxic and violent threats of modern life. I am also referring to what I am just going to call our own theological fault lines. Those potential rifts and separations that we pretend not to observe, that we neglect at our own expense. You can only live deceptively and selfishly for so long before it begins to consume you. You can see these upheavals in peoples bodies and faces.
When our USA men’s diving team was waiting to see whether they would win a Bronze medal or no medal at all, their reactions were so different. The younger man (age 17) was fraught with anxiety. The older of the two, who was actually more on the edge in this case, since he is 34 and would not have another chance to ever win a medal, was smiling. He looked okay to me. He stayed with the younger guy even though he preferred to not watch the other results.  I actually have no idea but I would like to think he was at peace because he had done his best. If you watched TV at all this week, you probably know, they did win the bronze medal.
Here is my point.
Whether we acknowledge it, live in denial, glimpse it from time to time, we are all living on the edge. There is really so little separating us from huge loss and disaster. (mention Colo, 4th anniversary of Knoxville, etc…) When we know this, we have a choice. We can  figuratively grasp and compete and consume one another, acting as if nothing but our own survival, winning, getting through,  surviving , the  “bottom line,” how things come out, and fixing everything that is wrong is really what it’s all about. You may have guessed by now that this is not what I would recommend theologically.
However, I see people acting this way every day, as if the product were more important than the person. Yes, even Unitarian Universalists. Sometimes, even myself.
But when I meditate upon the edge, the fault line of my own existence, spend some time in that land where we all live theologically, where no one finally survives, then I know the answer is love, respect and decency for every human I encounter, and I can return to other humans, regardless of how hungrily they may be licking their chops, with kindness and regard.
C.S. Lewis talks with one of his college students about
why we love if losing hurts so much, Lewis who lost his mother as a
child and his wife as an adult, responds, “I have no answers anymore,
only the life I have lived. Twice in that life...  I've been given
the choice: As a boy... and as a man. The boy chose safety. The man
chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's
the deal.”

Taking this to a universal level we can look to Joanna Macy, Buddhist teacher and eco-feminist. Macy states that feeling that one
must always be hopeful can wear a person out, but if we just show
up, and be present, do not pull down the blinds, the possibilities
exist that the world will heal. She believes there is a new paradigm
occurring that is known as “The Great Turning.” The Great Turning
is a concept she helped coin and define. Macy calls The Great
Turning “the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the
industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.” She
says it is a time of transition from a bankrupt political society,
which measures success by growth and profit and is being replaced
by moral strength, courage and creativity. The generations alive
today may not see a drastic change in their lives or environment
but the choices we make for profit today will effect the beings in
the next hundreds and thousands of years and determine whether
they will be born of sound mind and body.

So when we feel ourselves in those places of fear and anxiety, let us turn toward one another with love as the first principle, and we will find our way.
The shifting plates, the restive earth, your room, your precious life, they all proceed from love, the ground on which we walk, together.


 Son #2, BMX


When my sons were adolescents, and devoted to skateboards and BMX bikes, we visited a skateboard shop called "Failure". I can only guess that the young adults owners' parents told them it would be a failure, or they would, so they embraced the name. I got a bumper sticker, and it lived on my Toyota Camry for about 400,000 miles. That was about 25 years ago, and I'm still learning to embrace the idea. It's one of the most valuable disciplines I can practice.

Seen in D.C.


Last week, as the Senate moved toward confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh in spite of numerous accusations of sexual assault and his own partisan display, not to mention his erratic and unseemly behavior, my family and I were in Washington, DC. Seth knew some things about the story, having heard the news, asked questions, and listened to our conversations. Had we not left on Thursday morning. I might have taken him to see the protests as the Supreme Court, which were starting to accelerate. I can't think of a better way for him to have understood democracy--what's left of it.


I didn't believe from the beginning that the Democrats would succeed in keeping Kavanaugh off the bench. Even if, by some miracle, they had, Trump would have come up with another pick, just as far right, equally political, and the GOP would have been so angry and incensed that they may have fared worse in the midterm elections.

Furthermore, in spite of being a victim of sexual assault at a young age, I didn't share the outrage that I heard and saw from my (mostly white) women (mostly colleagues. In fact, it began to trouble me somewhat. Here's why:

* To dwell too heavily upon this insult to our sensibilities in which, yes, once again, women have been been devalued, disbelieved, and discounted, to the point where it brings out more rage than many other things which have happened of late raises the question: Is this white privilege?

* It's tone deaf. Knowing that these very assaults and insults have been the life story of women of color for generations, the alarm and horror, the outrage,  of white women, must look almost comical to women across the globe. Imagine a woman who has endured systematic rape and abuse with no recourse watching a smart, well-off, successful white woman testify that someone almost raped her in high school. Yes, I know myself that this can cause lifetime trauma. I don't question her testimony or her distress. I question our response, as white women.

The People of Failure and Hope

Back to failure. My Buddhist practice and study has taught me that impermanence is the only sure thing. All human endeavor will fail. None of us will conquer death, illness, or loss. Acknowledging the inevitability of failure is a spiritual process and practice that is not easy, but can bring equanimity.

On our trip to D.C., we visited the new African American Museum of Culture and History. It is a celebration of triumph and a mourning of loss and horror. The history of Black people in the U.S. is one of suffering, and also one of triumph.

cafe at National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The next day, Seth asked to go to the Holocaust museum. He said he knew about the Holocaust, and the museum exhibits were presented in a way that was less alarming than I might have expected. But he had not known that disabled people were the first to be destroyed. Many exhibits emphasized this, so it was impossible to downplay. He knew this would have included him. We skipped quite a bit of the latter part, but at the end, we had a chance to talk with a Holocaust survivor. I explained to her that Seth had Autism, and she talked with him at length, telling him that people could be mean, be bullies, but there were kind and good people too, and we must always be kind. He listened intently, and after, he cried and hugged me.

The Jews understood, and African Americans understand, after unfathomable loss, and total failure, something remains. Love, humanity, and goodness. Therein lies our faith. Some call it God.


I had so many dreams last week. I didn't recall all of the details, but I know they moved me forward. The failures and losses in my life have been so many of late that It has felt overwhelming. I've reached a point with all my siblings that to both be honest with them and continue a relationship seems impossible. I've had problems communicating with my grown children. I wrote years ago on this blog about how ministry is failure. The home our family has owned for 70 years is being sold in a manner that is duplicitous and hurtful. My chronic migraines have worsened in a way that has prevented me moving forward with writing and other projects. And, on this trip, we realized once again how limiting life with an Autistic child is. Seth really can't endure much in the way of travel, or sight-seeing, his interests are very narrow, and his anxiety is overpowering. All normal, but our expectations were far too high. Each of these things separately can be managed, but each is really beyond my control, and with the help of my dreams, the contemplation I had some time for, and some intervention from God, I came at last to a place I can be a peace with. I made decisions. I accepted finitude, loss, impermanence, and failure again.

Failure. Some call it surrender. Or, life.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Women, Girls, & Cats: Be a Vashti

This is what happened during the time of Xerxes,[a] the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush[b]: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.
For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king’s palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest who were in the citadel of Susa. The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones.Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king’s liberality.By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.
Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.

10 On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine,he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas— 11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. 12 But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.
13 Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times14 and were closest to the king—Karshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memukan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom.
15 “According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?” he asked. “She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her.”
16 Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. 17 For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ 18 This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.
19 “Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed,that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she.20 Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.”
21 The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memukan proposed. 22 He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue.

Usually, the part of the Book of Esther that gets the most attention, by scholars of the Hebrew or First testament, is the story of Purim, and Esther's heroic actions. Many people have never heard of Vashti. Banished when she defied her husband who ordered her to dance before his friends wearing (nothing but) her crown, she is an early example of feminine self-determination in the Scriptures.
This week, the real horror has not been the high school assault made by a 17-year old Brett Kavanaugh. The horror has been the continued assault on social media, in the hearing room, and on TV, on women who dare question the status quo. Who speak up to the culture of rape and violence so clearly elucidated in Kavanaugh's yearbook. (which he lied about)
I have a cat named Vashti. I would probably have a daughter with the name if I'd had one after I studied this text. For women, the decision not to obey the patriarchy, whatever form it takes in your life, is monumental. The refusal to dance. The absolute refusal to be judged by others' standards. The courage of self-determination. 
And make no mistake.  It is not only men who enforce the patriarchy. Women can be the willing emissaries of its rules and restrictions. This has certainly been true in my life. We saw it played out in yesterday's Senate hearing as Rachel Mitchell grilled Dr. Ford in lieu of the white male Senators, with a smile on her matronly face.

My cat Vashti is an indoor cat. She hasn't faced coyotes, hawks, owls, foxes, and the many other predators on our farm. But she's been through four dogs, all much larger than she. All have ultimately backed down from her claws and her snarls. Most have taken some real wallops on the nose to get the message. Nevertheless, she persisted. She's about 13 now, and slowing down. But she's lived up to her name.
I was so excited when I learned that Vashti McCollum was elected the first female Bishop of the AME Church! She lived up to her auspicious name as well.

This is 2018. No human being is entitled to bully, berate, intimidate, demean, or diminish another because they are bigger, richer, whiter, or happen to be male. Or because they give the most money to the church, or they are an adult. 
But this is something women need to do themselves, and with one another.  I love the idea of her banquet. Let's have those! Support and empowerment. Not whining and blaming.
Be Vashtis.

more on the Hebrew Scriptures:

From the New York Jewish Times:
Vashti is attacked by commentators on the Megillah. The Talmud explains that she was the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian king who conquered most of the known world and exiled the Jews from Israel for 70 years. (The Purim story takes places during that exile.) Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar, was king while the Persians destroyed Babylon. When the Persians ransacked the castle, they found Belshazzar’s toddler daughter, Vashti. Cyrus, the king of Persia at the time, decided to marry her to his son Ahasuerus. He thought the Persian monarchy would benefit from her prestigious pedigree.
There are still many Vashtis today, women who are punished because they say no, women who are stuck in abusive relationships. It is imperative that we learn from the Megillah and work to change the culture we live in today.
Support friends who are survivors of rape and domestic violence. Counter rape myths when you hear them. Patronize charities and organizations that help women escape domestic abuse, such as Shalom Bayit, the Shalom Task Force and Stop the Violence. Ensure that women have the courage to say no like Vashti did, but make certain that they will not suffer her end.
Your name reveals the essence of your soul, according to Jewish teaching. In Persian, the name Vashti means goodness. A commentary explains that Vashti comes from the Hebrew word “shtei” meaning two. While Esther is considered the only hero of the Purim story perhaps Vashti can now be counted as the second.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

For All the Men I Love

I hate what's happening right now, because the men in my life aren't pigs.

That's what Michele Goldberg calls (some) men in an op-ed in today's NYT: Pigs All the Way Down

I have a husband that's a good man, who never did anything remotely like the actions being reviewed nightly on MSNBC, and I see the pain as he listens to the descriptions. I know he's thinking about his daughter, about me, and about the victims' accounts, but he's also suffering some trauma of his own. As a painfully shy, very thin, teenager who was viewed as a stoner in the eighties, and who was teased and even beat up by the very same entitled and arrogant jock types we've all seen or heard about, who are being featured in the Brett Kavanaugh accusations, I can only imagine he is reliving some of that humiliation. I know it still affects him. I'm just glad he doesn't go on Facebook and see all the accusatory posts from women saying, Where all all the passive men?

I have two adult sons. They are super respectful to me, and when they have been in relationships, to the women they are with. At least, as far as I know. I've done my best to show them a woman who is self-determined and who does not make her life around another person. I do see that the women they have chosen as partners have that quality. No doormats!

I have had lots of men friends. As a minister, there have been times when most of my good friends were other clergy, and almost all of them were men. Some of the kindest, most caring, loving, and thoughtful people I have ever encountered have been my clergy friends from other denominations and faiths. They've been there for me, and taught me, confronted me and guided me.

Some of my best teachers have been men.

I have had two Buddhist meditation teachers, several writing mentors in my MFA studies, as well as group leaders in recovery groups, family studies groups, my Spiritual Direction training, and preparation for ministry, all of whom are on my Jewel Tree. I count them with gratitude among my most beloved friends.

There have been men in the congregations I have served who have taught me so much, just by being vulnerable and by their willingness to grow and be changed and who've empowered and encouraged me. I've always been amazed that such highly educated and accomplished men (and women, but in my experience, men were better) were willing to take direction and to trust my leadership and skills.

So I'm writing this to say, yes, damnit, there are some really entitled, privileged, prigs as well as plain old pigs of men out there. Some aren't even privileged. There are other environments than prep school that lead to misogyny.

But the vast majority of men that I have met (and maybe this is because of the choices I have made and keep making) are not jerks. This is for you. I see you. I believe that all of this might be painful for you as well. Your sister, daughter, or mom or even you have been assaulted. You are angry but you don't know what to say or do. But what you are doing matters. My husband? He's been the dad to my sister's grandson, a 13 year old with Autism, for ten years. Some days it's a challenge. But I've never heard him complain. When I hear him say, "Son," as he teaches Seth the same thing for the 100th time, I am so impressed at his patience.

  It is each one of you who is making the men of tomorrow a new breed. Keep going.

Thank you.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Faith and Sexual Misconduct

Women are raging.

And women who've been abused sexually are feeling traumatized all over again, not merely by the description of the alleged assault against Dr. Ford, but by the behavior of the GOP, the President and some of their apologists. To say "boys will be boys" or to say "all guys do this" is to open wounds so deep that it seems as if blood is flowing throughout our society.

The rage spills over into social media. Women (and some men, because men are victims too) report that they feel physically ill, and have had exacerbation of chronic conditions.

It's important to remember that so often the initial trauma is bad, but that it could have been far less had there been a vehicle for healing available. Instead, most victims face shame, repression, silence, denial, and disbelief if they do tell. Those who report are scorned by the perpetrator's allies and humiliated by attorneys and sometimes law enforcement. I believe that most perpetrators of sexual violence get away with their crimes, usually for their entire lives. Hence the hashtag #whyididntreport

This column by Maureen Dowd covers the extent of the fury. Read the column.

In my own family, this has happened.

My mother died when I was 5. Soon after, my father remarried, a woman with 4 sons, the oldest of whom sexually abused my sister, my brother and me. In my case, he backed off. I think he knew my father and stepmother would believe me if I told. But the others suffered severely, and their trauma has destroyed our family, our relationships, and taken a toll on several generations. So much of my own life has been devastated by the actions of this person that I am keenly aware of not only the first hand but second, third, and fourth hand effects of sexual trauma. A few years ago, I went back to my home place to live and work, and made an effort to unmask the perpetrator, now in his sixties, who has two young sons in his care. It was more out of concern for their safety than for revenge that I went to extreme measures to alert authorities to his crimes. Although I was listened to (probably because I am a minister), and I had a chance to meet with individuals in law enforcement up to the County Judge Executive, and there was a home visit made by Child Protective Services, nothing could be done. The person involved, Roger Tees of Atlantic County, NJ, was not yet 18 at the time the actions took place in our home. There's no statute of limitations, but he wasn't an adult. So.

Soon after, he and his wife and their young children came to the church I was serving as an interim. They only stayed for about 20 minutes, then got up and left. I suspect they came in an attempt to intimidate me. They did not. I tell you this not to claim a victim stance or a moral high ground but to say that I speak with knowledge of someone whose life was permanently altered by sexual assault and who has yet had a productive life, who refuses to stop trusting men, or people in general.

Roger Tees and his sons

The faith tradition I serve, Unitarian Universalism, is historically Christian but has evolved to embrace many paths to God and truth. We do agree on a number of tenets, not a creed. Topmost among them is The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

There have been times when I've questioned that. Times when I've felt that, although every person is born with innocence and free of sin (where Universalists fall away from Calvinists), there are those who immerse themselves so egregiously in evil that they eliminate any trace of worth and dignity. Nonetheless, my Christian foundation cautions me, as do my experiences, that there is always hope, that salvation is possible, and that even the most unrepentant may yet do good.

This stepbrother claims to be Christian and wears a big cross. To me, if he were even slightly serious, he would have made amends to those he hurt, and he'd be attempting to right his wrongs. He'd have gotten treatment for what was a classic example of pedophilia. If not, his "Christianity" is a cover for what I fear may be continued abuse that I can do nothing about, and what no one else, neither family, friends, nor the state, will do. You only hear these stories in retrospect, and by then the next round of abusers has already been created. 

Back to my own faith.

I'm disconcerted by the number of Unitarians and especially of Unitarian ministers who are making statements that, if I were a male, would make me feel as if I'd somehow been in the room with Kavanaugh and Ford. If you say #notallmen, you're toast, yet some posts I've seen look an awful lot like it's okay to say #allmen and that just doesn't go along with my personal beliefs. How can you believe in the inherent worth and dignity  of every human, yet somehow deny that to 50% of humanity? It's one of many problems I have with my own faith tradition right now.

Brett Kavanaugh is a conservative and a person with whom I likely disagree on many things. He's not a monster. What he allegedly did at 17 sounds pretty bad. I don't know what he's done to repent or repair the damage. He didn't apologize to the victim. Nor did he go on to a life of sexual assault (both conjecture).* Nonetheless, even though, as a liberal, I don't want to see him on the Supreme Court, I think he has inherent worth and dignity.  I think he probably did it. It's going to outweigh all good he's done since, in many minds. What if he'd gone to her then, begged forgiveness, stopped drinking? I am assuming he was and is Catholic. Did he tell his Priest? I agree with one wise commentator this week: He should step down. That would be the ethical, moral, and even politically correct thing for him to do. It's what appears to be his lying about it now, as well as his lying and dissembling about numerous other issues, that to me is completely disqualifying.

*Clearly, since, I wrote this, further allegations and details have emerged. It is now evident that unless the GOP and Trump are correct and all of this is a huge "con job", BK has a litany of behaviors that are appalling and disqualifying. Furthermore, perhaps even more distressing, it would seem he has chosen to lie about it all.

I conducted an unofficial poll of mostly ministers from my own faith tradition. I just asked them to respond to the question, Does Brett Kav have inherent worth and dignity? Yes or No. I also added the comment, And not "yes, but.." This should be an easy "yes" since it is first among our Principles, and many answered "yes". Others felt compelled to say "but" without using the word by explaining to me that even though he has it, he is still responsible for his actions, etc. Some explained that while it is inherent, it can be diminished by one's behavior and choices. One asked me if I was applying a litmus test for UUs (very funny for anyone who knows me).

My true goal was to see what people would say. Although it's true (as many reminded me) that our principles are not beliefs, or a creed, for me they have been a foundation to my 25 year ministry. They explain why we exist as a people, historically, and theologically, and they call us to service and justice. We have welcomed and embraced individuals in our midst that others would shun. We ordained LGBTQ individuals when other faiths banned them. We affirm people of all faiths and of none. We have even striven to make room for sex offenders to return to society. So whence comes this Puritanical hellfire toward Brett Kavanaugh? No way am I suggesting he be put on the Supreme Court. He's suffering humiliation and it sounds like it is well-deserved and long overdue. But him being drawn and quartered will not move us any closer to the real solutions we need to seek.

Every human being deserves forgiveness and Grace. That is my faith. I'm sticking with it. 

For the rest of us? I'm not telling anyone else what to do right now. I'm going to go on believing that most people are basically good. It's worked for me so far. And it's what my faith tells me.

Kids. Innocent & Safe.
Inherently Good.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pointing Fingers & the Kavanaugh Debate

Every man is some woman's son.

Although he may not have been raised by his mother, someone raised him, and how boys were raised has a bearing on what sort of men they become.

As I contemplate the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, and especially as I read the extensive discussions on my social media (most of them among liberal and progressive "friends"), it's impossible to do so without the knowledge of a mother of adult sons, a sister, and a wife. When I hear colleagues ask: Where are the men? Why aren't they speaking up? I think, what can they say right now? When I read words like this is male privilege. This is what men do... I know I can't say anything along the lines of "Not all men," because that is verboten. I write this because I think the divisive rhetoric will get us nowhere and I want us to be able to get somewhere.

I pray that my sons, my husband, my brothers never did anything like this. I will probably never know. I know that raising boys has been a challenge over the past 36 years. I have felt that my own influence has been offset by the lyrics in the music they listen to (at times incessantly), the TV shows and movies they've watched, and the general culture: books like Fifty Shades of Gray, video games like Grand Theft Auto. I remember being overjoyed when it became clear they'd not join the military, when I realized they would never pledge a fraternity, when the women they had relationships with were clearly treated with respect. But there is much I don't know. Because they suffered from years of addiction, I was not always a part of their lives. Men don't usually tell their mothers the intimate details about their liaisons. And, since their father and I divorced when they were young, my influence was supplemented by his. What I know is that I expected to be treated with respect. I didn't tolerate sexist and misogynist behavior and comments. I hoped that by seeing me leave a demeaning and verbally abusive relationship, they'd understand the worth of women. But was that enough?

Since I have a young son, my sister's grandchild, I get to spend time around people with children his age. I can observe current day mothering as well as I could observe mothers and sons thirty years ago. Here's what I see that troubles me: women routinely allowing boys to boss them around. Women condoning and permitting behavior from boys they wouldn't tolerate from girls. Women letting men dominate conversations, make subtly aggressive remarks, and shuffle all the child-related responsibilities onto them. Boys learn from what they see.

And so do girls. I have a daughter, too. From the beginning, I felt the importance of teaching her that she must never allow herself to be objectified or demeaned by men. And it was clear to me that the best way I could teach her was not to tell her but to show her by my own life. But things are complex. This did not succeed in every regard. Most of the interpersonal negativity in her experiences have been caused by women... as they have in mine. Raising girls not to trust men is not the answer.

I'm convinced that growing up with misogyny unaddressed is how boys become entitled, arrogant, and dismissive of women's needs. If what boys observe is that women routinely set aside their own passions, health, creativity, and even their opinions in order to please the men around them, why would boys expect the world to be different when they become men? Why wouldn't they expect women to be available and even eager to please them sexually?

Men, here's a query you can reply to! Your HS experience?

I can see how this might sound as if it may be an attempt to excuse the behavior of men who do things like Kavanaugh is accused of doing. It is not! Nor do I have any patience for those who say women that are assaulted asked for it, or are somehow to blame. My point is that as bad as things seem to be today, as egregious as this type of behavior is, there are a multitude of things that need to change:

* How boys are raised by men and women
* The influence of culture: music, literature, and film/TV
* Sex education
* Fraternity culture and the culture of violence

Those of us who are mothers of sons can take an unflinching look at how we influenced our sons' attitudes. For me, there were things I did well, and things I could have done better. Rather than pointing fingers at the men on my Facebook timeline (the vast majority of whom are decent, respectful, and beyond laudable in how they treat women), it feels more productive to do some self-examination. Even now, with sons in their thirties and a boy in his teens, I can look at ways I allow people to treat me. I can demand respect and decency. I can believe that I deserve to be treated well. Those are things I can influence, and they matter.