To My Fellow Frozen White Friends

Under what circumstances would you become a prostitute?

No really, I’m serious. Under what circumstances would you become a prostitute?

I’ll give you a clue. The answer is not “none.”

This is the question one of my dear friends posed to a graduate class she was teaching a few years ago.

Though no one in the class could at first blush imagine a circumstance in which he or she would consider prostitution, the energy started to shift under the pressure of questions like, “What if you had no other way to feed your family?” “What if your child had a terrible rash with no clean diapers and no soothing cream?” “What if you had no one to call who could help you?” “What if the lives of the people you loved were at risk?” “What if your own life was at risk?”

The students’ initial resistance to what some might consider an extreme solution does not reveal their superior ethics. It does not mean they are better people with a higher moral compass than many of the men and women who engage in prostitution. It does mean that these students have likely not faced the kind of desperation that would make such a choice viable.

Because desperation, like the-choice-between-life-and-death kind of desperation, changes everything.

Those of us who are making a choice between selling our skills in the global marketplace and selling our bodies on a seedy street corner are not desperate. For us, there seems to be a viable and honorable option between the two. Those who are deciding between that same street corner and the very life and physical survival of those most precious to them have two wrong choices: destruction of self or destruction of others. When faced with that dilemma, morality shifts.

One could argue the choice that saves a life constitutes the highest morality. In such a case, prostitution would become the most moral choice.

As a result, morality cannot be accurately evaluated by the secure examining the behavior of the desperate. 

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At a recent mental health training, it was Resmaa Menakem, MSW, LICSW, who awoke me to how deep the river of intergenerational trauma runs. It is a shrouded toxin coursing through the literal veins of oppressed people groups. He asked us to imagine the neurological reality of lynching–a nearly impossible task. The physical impact of witnessing someone who looks like you reduced to a body hanging on a rope simply because he looks like you seems outside the realm of comprehension. From a scientific perspective, the impact on the body would have been profound. So profound, in fact, that according to Resmaas’s presentation, it still shows up in the bodies of African-Americans to this day. For example, the African-American population experiences a health disparity related to high blood pressure that cannot be explained by risk factors such as weight or socioeconomic status, meaning that if all other factors were equal, an African-American individual would have a significantly greater chance of developing high blood pressure than would a White individual.

In 2017.

Just . . . . because.

It is commonly understood that high blood pressure is associated with high levels of stress.

So, to review, high stress causes spikes in blood pressure that can add up over time to create long-term elevation, which is experienced is disparate proportions by a people group that was institutionally enslaved in our country prior to the Civil War, and in many ways still is.

To move a step deeper, Resmaa then asked us to consider what each of us would do if he brought an adorable little puppy into the room (just stay with me here–I promise there is a point). After a collective and audible sense of fondness for the idea, he asked what we would do if he took a hammer and tried to kill it in front of us. In horror, we all insisted we would try to stop him. He went on to invite us to think mindfully of the pictures available of lynchings in the South. Though the eye would be drawn to the most gruesome details, a careful observer would see other bodies.

White bodies.

Standing.

Watching.

Still.

There are three possible reactions to trauma: fight, flight, or freeze.

As a general rule, African-Americans learned to fight. To get fired up. To spike their blood pressure. It was how they avoided being slaves while they were enslaved.

As a general rule, White bodies learned to freeze. To literally watch and do nothing. 

To barely notice our urge to fight before we suppress it in favor of our own sense of survival.

To shut down our most human and instinctual impulse to rescue and save.

To cut off our empathy, compassion, and identification with our fellow human.

To live divorced from our most basic sense of belonging and connectedness.

To literally stand by and accept death.

Of humans.

Not of puppies.

And in so many ways, we are still frozen. 

Still shut down, cut off, and disconnected.

We need to be melted. 

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This morning I sat in church, 2 days after the Philando Castile verdict was issued here in the Twin Cities. Our church-planter-in-residence was speaking about the tug-of-war we are all caught in between black and white, right and wrong, just and unjust.

He said what is really going on is that we have forgotten “we belong to each other.”

Yes, indeed.

The mothers who send their sons in blue uniform to protect our citizens, even when they are in harms’ way themselves, belong to the mothers who teach their children to drive and worry more about them responding appropriately to a police officer than getting into a serious car accident.

The wives who labor long hours at home with children while worrying about their husbands working overnight shifts on patrol belong to the wives who send their husband out for a gallon of milk and worry that the broken taillight they are still saving up to fix could turn deadly.

The children who hope their daddy’s gun will be enough to protect him from the bad guys in the world belong to the children who desperately hope their daddy won’t be mistaken for a bad guy with a “wide nose.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________

So, I have been thinking about how we melt so that we can begin to belong to each other again. 

Obviously (though it is very cliche) the first step really is admitting that we are frozen.

Not only are we frozen, we are the secure (the privileged) evaluating the marginalized (the desperate).

We are the bystanders, the on-lookers, the stuck–pretending the body hanging is not one of us.

We are the ones for whom staying frozen keeps us physically alive but relationally dead.

The next step is getting uncomfortably warm.

This requires closeness, like inside-my-bubble closeness, with the “other.”

It requires us to be willing to change our form. And to know that what contains us will have to shift as we change shape.

It requires us to be willing to re-evaluate our identity in light of a broader context.

Because melted us won’t look like frozen us. 

 

 

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An Open Letter to Conservative Christian Parents from Your Liberal Children

 

To Our Parents,

We know you are saddened and confused by us seeming to leave behind the values you raised us with in exchange for ideals that run counter to the faith you prayed we’d hold most dear. It seems you are both worried about us and wondering where you went wrong.

We want you to know the faith you instilled in us is alive and well, and serving as the compass you taught us it should be.

This faith began with the idea that we are each created “fearfully and wonderfully” as unique individuals, intentionally, through an act of God’s will. Because of this, the sanctity of human life, each human life, is of utmost importance to God, and, therefore, to us. Through the doctrine of original sin, we learned our very nature was both tainted by and defined by sin, leaving all humanity equally depraved. In this sense, we are not better than nor worse than anyone else. We are just all “sinners.”

However, as we learned at a very young age, the story doesn’t end there, because inserted into this depravity is the unconditional love of God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” When we were in the depth of pain, even suffering we created by our own sinful choices, God showed up, with something free, to bring us back into relationship with him. The answer, we learned, to brokenness is love. And, this love is for everyone: “red, and yellow, black and white.”

We learned about the life of Jesus on earth, specifically how he didn’t make sense to anyone religious, anyone who thought they could prove the certainty of their beliefs with evidence. We learned that in his Kingdom, everything is backwards, the last first, the weak strong, and the oppressed powerful. We noticed that of all the things Jesus spoke against, the only thing that made him literally turn tables in a temple was powerful people using religion as their excuse for exploiting those less powerful. In this moment, Jesus’ body joined in the “no” of his mind and heart.

Core to this beautiful redemption story is the idea of sacrifice, the notion that doing what is right and good is not always popular or self-preserving. The picture of Christ on the Cross, enduring unimaginable pain and humiliation he did not deserve, all to give humankind a great gift, is the most enduring symbol of the faith to which we still hold tight. Not only does it make possible eternity with God, it also tore the curtains and erased the barriers that existed not only between us and God but also between us and each other. Even the ones the ancient texts clearly said were “out” are now in.

From there, we were raised with a deep sense of responsibility that we would be held accountable to living a life worthy of that sacrifice. This meant standing up for our faith, even when it wasn’t popular, even when it cost us opportunities, relationships, and comfort. This meant resting on “do unto others” and “turn the other cheek” when we were hurt or treated unfairly. It meant following the basic rules of not taking what wasn’t ours, being willing to apologize and repent when we were wrong, telling the truth no matter what, prioritizing “the least of these” above ourselves, protecting the innocent, fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves (specifically the unborn), promoting the strength of the family unit, crossing the divides between us to become “Samaritans” in our own worlds, being willing to bring out into the light what hid in darkness, and most of all, following Christ’s example of sacrifice when given the opportunity to sacrifice in our own lives.

We were taught that this road would be uncomfortable, and that we were called to it anyway.

This, you told us, was Biblical.

As it now turns out, we believe it all.

We believe that exploiting others by taking what is theirs, making it ours, and using it to our benefit, is not right. And we believe that when people do that, they need to repent and repair. That is why we stand with the Native American people, recognizing that we have built our lives and our wealth on their land. We acknowledge White settlers may not have survived our transition to this land in the first place had it not been for the generosity of the Native people. We responded to their help by using our power to disempower them, stealing their very way of life and the culture that had held and protected them for so long. We believe in our responsibly to repent and to stop.  We know we cannot change what our ancestors did. We also know we have a responsibility to stand up for the Native American people today to preserve what little restoration they have been given. For this reason, we stand with Standing Rock and all the other Native tribes to preserve their remaining power, their culture, and their traditions, including their burial grounds. We follow the example of Jesus. Though he had power, he did not use it. Instead, he humbled himself to the service of others. In our culture at this juncture, White Americans have the most power. We chose to use it as Jesus used His, in service instead of exploitation.

We believe that we really are made in the image of God, all of us, meaning that we get a fuller picture of God’s imagine by truly “seeing” not only those who are like us, but more importantly, those who are different. We do believe that we are all “precious in his sight” and we seek to understand what is precious to God about our brothers and sisters of different races, ethnicities, cultures, and religions. We recognize that our country built our wealth on the backs of minorities and now uses that same wealth to prevent them from building the same life members of the majority can build. We realize you do not agree, that these are dynamics you do not see, and we validate they are not dynamics that are obvious in the worlds you have built for yourselves and the ones you have raised us in. Your inability to see these dynamics do not make them any less real to those affected by them or any less important for us to fight against. We cannot continue to know God at deeper and deeper levels until we are willing to embrace the parts of himself he has chosen to show through those we do not yet understand. Our faith also requires us to stand up and fight with and for our minority friends when they are treated in any way less than what they deserve as a fellow Beloved of the Most-High God, even when that happens in church. When they are dismissed, marginalized, ignored, and silenced, we will continue to hear them, champion them, and pay attention. We are committed to letting our minority friends define their experience for us instead of presuming to define it for them. As a result, we will not water down the impact of the message Black Lives Matter by hijacking it to talk about other groups. Instead, we will hear and learn about the experience of our Black brothers and sisters rather than challenging it.

We believe and seek to treat others how we would want to be treated. Many of us have our own children now. We understand the importance of medical care for those tender and sometimes scary moments young parents experience. We know the need parents feel to care for their innocent and vulnerable children so they are protected, happy, and free of trauma. We feel in our bones the fire that would come out if anyone ever tried to harm them or take away the opportunities we’ve worked so hard to provide them, and we are keenly aware that it is our privilege that eases our fears of this ever actually happening. So, when we hear about mothers and fathers in other countries, whose options are so limited that they bring their child on a lifeboat knowing his or her body could wash up on shore instead of make it across, we stand with those refugees and fight for them to have the same opportunities we would fight for our own children to have. We know that we are just as responsible for those children as we are for our own, that what we do for our neighbor, we do for Jesus himself. We know that even if our convenience or our own wealth is affected, we are responsible to fight for them. We choose to elevate their lives above our own sense of safety, because we do believe in the sanctity of each of their individual lives, and we know their lives are in danger. We will continue to fight for America to welcome them with open arms and to invoke the creativity that has always defined our nation to come up with ways to address the financial implications.

It is that same commitment to preserving life that fuels our fight for gun control, more peaceful ways of solving world conflict, sex education that is focused not only on abstinence but on prevention of unwanted pregnancies through access to birth control, the funding of programs that support young families who chose to carry initially unwanted pregnancies to full term, and alternative options to capital punishment. We really do believe that life matters, and for us, that issue extends so far beyond the unborn.

Just as Christ died for us just because we are humans and not because we were good enough, we too will offer our love and resources not just do those who “deserve” it but to those who are undocumented and incarcerated. We will also work to reform both the immigration system and the prison system, which has become a modern manifestation of segregation.

In the culture of Jesus’ day, strong hierarchy existed. Owners over slaves. Men over women. Jew over Gentiles. Jesus made it very clear that in his Kingdom, power structures were not welcome. We recognize the movement of the early church toward this goal, and we join their momentum by rejecting any theology in which men and women do not share the same power, recognizing the heart of God is the shared power of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Following that model of mutual submission and mutual power, we continue to fight for the rights of women, including the equalizing of the wages of women, specifically women of color, with what men make to do the same job. Furthermore, we will stay committed to the causes of refugees, immigrants, and minorities, recognizing how many of them are women who face complex challenges as a result of multi-faceted disempowerment. We also reject the over-empowered stereotype of masculinity in the church knowing that quiet men, artistic men, and cautious men are also strong.

We understand these conversations are unknown territory for you, and that sometimes you are scared and confused by them. If you are wondering how you can interact with us around these topics, please keep the following in mind.

  1. We have spent our entire lives learning the intricate nuances of your views, not just the broad strokes. Please take the time to approach our views with genuine curiosity and learn about them too. For a while, this will require you to do much more listening than talking.
  2. Please understand we live in a different world than you do. The gay community, the immigrant community, the minority communities, are tangible to us. They are represented by faces and stories of people in our actual lives. They are not a concept we debate; they are people we love. When you are talking about “them,” please talk as respectfully about these communities as you would about your own friends.
  3. Please don’t be scared for us, or let your fear convince you to try to sway us back to your side. What we need is more respectful and honest dialogue between those who hold diverse views. These diverse views are part of the fabric of not only our country, but our church. They are an important part of finding balance amongst ourselves, and erasing different views should not be the goal. When you approach us with a clear agenda to change our views back to the ones you feel more comfortable with, we can tell that is about alleviating your own anxiety, and we shy away from participating.
  4. Don’t call us names or label us. Don’t assume our intentions. We are still the same kids you raised, and if you want to know what drives and motivates our beliefs and actions, just ask us, and be ready to listen to the response.

Also, if we seem abrasive or disrespectful, that is not our intention, though we understand the impact is still just as painful. Please be patient with us in our confusion. Just as you are working through your own anxiety about our new paths, we are working through the disillusionment of seeing you leave behind some of these core tenants of your faith in ways that, to us, seem both selfish and financially motivated, something we never thought we would witness coming from the very people who taught us about selflessness and sacrifice.

We are confident there is a way to find common ground and common language. We are also confident it will be messy and require lots of effort. We welcome the investment of our time and energy toward these important conversations, starting in our families with those we love most, including you.

Sincerely,

Your Children

A Therapist’s Open Letter to Abuse Survivors Impacted by the Election

TRIGGER WARNING: This post is in support of sexual abuse survivors. For some, reading this post could be triggering.

We’re all surrounded by campaign slogans and hashtags.

Make America great again.

#nevertrump

I’m with her.

Today, I want you to know, I’m with you.

I will be at the polls, like many Americans, casting my vote. But I don’t want to talk about what candidate I will support. I want to instead say that I see you, I hear your silence, and I will continue to fight for your cause, no matter the results of this one vote.

I cannot imagine what it has been like to be you over the last several months.

No matter how much you try to get away from it, you cannot turn on your TV, open your social media feed, or go to a happy hour with friends without it being either right in your face, or bubbling just under the surface, taunting you with its ability to break through at any moment.

That message. That same familiar, haunting, and infuriating message.

The message that your body is for the powerful, and you are powerless.

That your “yes” isn’t required when their “yes” exists.

That your “yes” is implicit, that it doesn’t need to be said.

That something would be wrong with you if you had a “no.”

That your exploitation is something to be mocked.

That the language used in our society to covertly train men to exploit women isn’t actually dangerous.

He’ll make America great again, he says.

He can touch whatever body he wants, he says. Just because of who he is.

He knows ahead of time that woman will want him, before they decide if they want him, he says.

You’ve heard all of this before.

And when you hear it now, it’s like you are split in two. Part of you is full of unfathomable rage while the other part is pulled into the deep shame that comes from wondering if it’s all really true, if he can touch you and if you really do deserve a chance to say “no.”

It’s just “locker room talk,” he says.

It doesn’t need to be stopped. Because it’s harmless.

Except that it’s not. 

Because I know you can feel it.

You can feel it in your throat when your voice won’t come out, and in your body when the terror of the memories freezes you, and in your sweat when you wake up from the dreams, and in that hole in your heart that comes when you discover, once again, that you are utterly lonely in the pain of your story.

And you’ve tried before to hide from it all, but you know that there really is no way to isolate yourself completely, and that when you try, the isolation creates new problems and new pain.

It must feel like you have nowhere to go. Nowhere to take the story that it feels no one can help you hold.

I’m so sorry.I’m sorry for your pain, and for the fact that just living and breathing as an informed citizen has multiplied it. I’m sorry for the ways I have implicitly supported your trauma by not speaking up when I should have and not fighting against the forces in our society that continue to make exploitation possible.

Words are both empty and hold immeasurable power.

As you attempt to release and pour out the words that take life from you, I hope the following words can hold you up.

No matter what happens tonight, please do not let a bully define your narrative today. You’ve had to live in a bully’s narrative for far too long.

Use today to find ways to claim your voice, to break the silence of your own and other’s pain in whatever tiny way that feel right in the moment, take time to reflect on your own value and the fact that no one else can define it, and take care of yourself by continuing to find places where your story can be held in community with those who can tell you the truth, as many times as it takes.

Though it might not be obvious, today, you are seen.

Today, your story is heard.

Today, your pain is real, AND your continued healing is possible.

 

 

A Letter to My Toddlers

To the 3 children God has entrusted to me,

Today was a hard day in our world. Really, they all are. Not a day goes by without struggle, without death. Today just hit close to home because Philando Castile lost his life in our city yesterday during a routine traffic stop over a broken tail light. His girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter watched his life slip away, simply because his skin was black, and black men die all too often when they interact with the police.

A little girl your age witnessed a shooting, watched her mother lose someone she cared deeply about, and got the message that her skin color, instead of being full of beauty and survival, makes her vulnerable to danger and death.

My loves, you need to know that the police are still good. Even these officers have undoubtedly risked their lives countless times to serve and protect innocent lives. It’s just that they cannot get away from the unconscious prejudice that convinces them in a split second, without any evidence, that the person in front of them is  a threat. This prejudice is there under the surface for most all of us humans; most of us are not holding metal power in our hands when it comes up.

Tonight I’ve been contemplating how to raise you in this kind of  world, not only how to help you make sense of it, but also how to help you become a part of healing it.

I do not know much about this parenting thing, and I know even less about racism. Here is what I do know.

I am much more concerned with your ability to share power than I am in having authority. In a basic sense, I want you to be able to respect hierarchy, to understand that there are certain aspects of life, mostly concerning safety, that parents and teachers and bosses and lawmakers get to decide. However, for the majority of life, you will be sharing power with others, sometimes as a person with more power and sometimes as a person with less. I want you to leave home having practiced power. If my authority takes away your opportunity to have any, you will leave not knowing how to hold your power in a way that makes space for both yourself and others. I want you to know what it looks like both to respect others when you have power and to expect respect when you are submitting to the power of another. In order to have that wisdom, you need to have power of your own. I hope this will make you the kind of person who can see when power is being used for oppression and know that is worth fighting against.

I am much more concerned that you understand God’s immeasurable, unconditional, unexplainable, and completely irrational love for you than I am about how many sins you commit, how many scriptures you memorize, or how many rules you break. I want you to know that you are the center of his universe, the object of his affection, the hero of the story he is weaving in the world, and the focus of his desire. I am hoping that if you know this to the tips of your toes, it will make sense when I tell you that so is everyone else–that God is being enough for us all to be the center of the universe because God operates outside our concept of space and time and has a love big enough for everyone. I am hoping this will help you internalize the deep conviction that there is no such thing as “other” people. There is only humanity, and that when humanity is hurting, God’s love covers “them” and “us” because really there is only “us.”

I am far more interested in helping you understand the impact of your actions than I am in giving you consequences. I understand that both shame and fear would motivate you in the short term quite effectively toward compliance. I am not really interested in your compliance. I am interested in your relational intelligence. When you hurt someone, I want you to see the impact on that person, feel in your gut what it is like to see someone in pain that you have caused, and then work toward repair of that relationship. Sometimes, I have to remove you from a situation so you do not cause more harm while you are not yet ready to repair, but that is not about punishment, it’s about preservation of the relationship. I want you to understand that at its core, life is about relationships. It’s not about behavior. My hope is that this will give you eyes to see the impact of our collective behavior as a society upon the marginalized and oppressed and know the impact is what makes the behavior inexcusable.

I am not afraid to show you when I am irritated with myself, with daddy, and even with you. I want you to be used to real people having human reactions. And I want you to see them from the people you trust the most. When you can see my unfettered irritation with you while simultaneously experiencing that never-ending, ever-expanding, impossible-of-ruining love I have for you, you will learn that irritation does not prevent love. My hope is that you will become the kind of person who can act in loving ways even toward those who, at one point in time or another, are not your favorite people to spend time with.

I validate your emotions even when they seem too big to me or when I have a different perspective. I want you to know that before I work to get my point across, I am interested in hearing you. I want you to expect from your relationships that others will make space for your perspectives and emotions. Just as importantly, I want you to be the kind of people who can let others have emotions and perspectives that might not make sense to you because you know that relationships are not about always agreeing but instead about making space for and understanding the unique perspectives that everyone brings. I hope this will help you see value in even those who challenge you, knowing that the richness in life comes from our diversity.

Someday, you are going to go out into this world to live your lives. You are going to start to understand the devastation caused by disordered displays of power, the breakdown that follows misunderstandings, the injustice that occurs when people cannot see beyond their own experience, and the vulnerable who get left behind when the relational impact of our actions is not considered.

I don’t want any of this to make sense to you. I don’t want any of it to be familiar.

I want you to be so used to radical love, empathetic understanding, differentiated perspective-taking, and power-sharing in relationships that you will be immune to the world’s poison, that instead of getting infected by it, you will be its antidote.

Love,

Your Mommy (who has a long way to go toward making my ideals come true)

 

 

What We Can DO About Orlando: Responding With Our Whole Selves

When tragedies like Orlando occur, in the days that follow, our response should be simple. First, we need to triage immediate needs. This means we need to stand in long lines to donate blood and send counselors to meet with family members and support law enforcement and first responders who are working around the clock. We need to metaphorically fire up our grills on our day off like Chick fil A, and deliver some sandwiches.

Also, we need to stand in solidarity. To grieve and remember. To make space for our own responses and the responses of those around us. To pause, notice, listen, and feel. We need to bring faces to life with stories of victims whose lives have been cut way too short.

Most of us can do those things. Most of us know how to respond actively to the immediate aftermath. Unfortunately, our nation is getting better and better at inspiring displays of community connectedness in the face of horrific evil and pain.

But, I also notice in myself and others a mounting sense of powerlessness. Because the blood and the sandwiches are only needed for so long before they are no longer necessary, until the need has become more intangible. And then what? We are creatures made for action. When we face injustice, most of us have the urge to act. But this injustice seems so big, so impenetrable, and so abstract. In fact, it’s so complex we are engaged in a national argument about what we are even fighting against. We aren’t sure if this is a hate crime or an act of religious extremism, a mental health issue or a gun control problem.

How can we take helpful and practical action against something we are instead arguing to define?

It’s a difficult question to answer, but if we don’t start somewhere, we will continue to be as ineffective as we have been.

We need to get our whole selves involved. 

Financially: We can support causes that stand for what we do believe in, instead of fight against causes we do not believe in.

Instead of fighting fear with fear, terror with terror, torture with torture, bombs with bombs, the Preemptive Love Coalition is fighting fear with love. They are providing life-saving surgeries, emergency supplies, small business grants, and educational opportunities to those who have been directly affected by terrorism. They are on the front lines, offering life to those whose lives have been taken. Perhaps one of the most rebellious acts against the terror in our world today would be to join them in answering with love.

The Compassion Collective is changing the world $25 at a time. They have removed  the excuse for most of us that we cannot afford to be a part of the solution. For the price of little more than one latte a week for one month, 80,000 people have raised over $2 million for not only Syrian refugees, but also mothers in Haiti who need a hospital in which to birth their babies, and LGBT youth in our own communities who are without homes.

For those of you to whom this tragedy feels connected to radical Islamic extremism, maybe one of the causes above could be a place to be part of a resounding “no” to the hate and terror some are attempting to sow in our world.

Beyond Our Door is a “Christian non-profit organization that seeks to respectfully see the ignored and overlooked, and then wisely offer care based on recommendations of our local partners.” It is an organization that recognizes that, with the right resources, individuals know what they need. It is about bringing forth the life that already exists, even in places that feel dark.

For those of you for whom Orlando seems to be about the marginalized, those who have not been given the dignity of being an expert on their own lives, perhaps Beyond Our Door is a place to contribute towards those around the world whose struggles remain unseen.

Physically: Some of us need to get our body involved. Writing checks is not how we were wired to contribute. If that is you, maybe you want to donate blood so it is on hand when the next person is shot in your city, even if only one life is lost and the nation doesn’t pay attention. Maybe you donate an organ you don’t need to a stranger on the transplant list as a statement about how you see the value of human life in the face of so much death. Maybe, you join up with Team World Vision and run a race to raise funds for those around the world who don’t have access to clean water, because injustice and inequality matters in all contexts, not just for those of a minority sexual orientation.

Cognitively, we could all contribute through a commitment to cultivate curiosity instead of judgement. We could seek to understand instead of evaluate and categorize. On a global level, we could lead dialogues focused on curious questions with open minds toward what we might discover when we let go of all we think we know. We can wonder about what might cause a group of people to believe we deserve to die and how we might have contributed to their perception of us. And we can do all of this without justifying their behavior or taking responsibility for actions we did not take.

Incidentally, some of us could make powerful progress by doing this in our personal lives and teaching our children to do the same. When we hear, “You are selfish,” from someone we love, we could skip the defenses and wonder aloud, “I wonder what about me and what about you came together to create that experience for you.” When we step back from judgement of others and shame toward ourselves, we are free to notice what is, and often, accepting what is can free us to live without the dividing lines we needed before.

What if we simply create a curious generation?

It might seem like an odd response to 49 deaths, but, if the vast majority of the population approached relationships with genuine curiosity and an open mind to learn, I wonder if taking 49 lives would feel necessary to be seen and heard.

Relationally: We can cultivate relationships with the “other.” The “other” is different for all of us. The “other” is whomever we know only by our assumptions and stereotypes and not by way of our direct experience. The “other” is those whom, if we are really honest, we are afraid to approach and move toward. The “other” is the person with whom we don’t agree. The “other” is the person whose contribution to the world we cannot recognize, whose inherent value in the human family isn’t easy for us to see. The “other” is the one for whom we have less compassion when we come face to face with his or her pain. The “other” is whomever we are comfortable keeping at a distance. As long as we indulge our urge and give ourselves permission to “other” those we do not understand, the soil will be ripe for continued inequality and injustice. Some of us can be a part of the solution by reaching out to live life alongside an “other,” without an agenda, until they have become one of us.

Systemically: It has been reported that the shooter in Orlando was actually a regular at the Pulse nightclub and that he had a profile on gay dating sites. Though we will never be sure, it seems this act of violence might have been an attempt to kill that which he could not accept about himself. The cost of being gay in our homophobic culture, and in families that cannot accept an LGBTQ identity, drives many in that community to violence toward self, and the number of suicides in this population continues to climb. This shooting may be an important reminder to all of us that violence turned inward can very quickly become violence turned outward, and that either is a tragedy.

For those of you who classify Orlando as a hate crime, maybe your response is to become an ally in your community to speak out for the systemic change we still need to strive for toward equality for  LGBT and other minority groups. It could be that it’s time to move your beliefs from your Facebook page and into your real life.

According to the Scientific American, “Americans account for only five percent of the world’s population but create half of the globe’s solid waste” For that, and countless other similar reasons, the United States is viewed by many in the international community as the entitled, spoiled toddler of the developed world. We continue to send the message to the global community that we only care about ourselves. Systemic theory would suggest that this might have something to do with the rest of the world’s response to us. So, possibly, before you join the bandwagon to drop bombs on some other country or initiate another war to completely destabilize an entire region, maybe a better option would be to join the Care for Creation committee at your local church (or most likely, create the committee if you go to an evangelical church). You might chose something as simple as volunteering to wash the coffee cups after each service to reduce the disposable waste contributed to the landfill each Sunday just because the people of God decided to gather.

Politically: No matter what side of the fence you land on, we can all agree to avoid the polarization that keeps us stuck and move toward the middle where traction is possible. We do not have to give up our ideals regarding the right to bear arms to agree that certain boundaries could exists to help keep us more safe. We can all start focusing on the common ground we can support instead of continuing to repeat our differences.

We really have no excuse for not becoming part of the solution. What we are up against is not a religion, it is a mentality that some members of one religion espouse, a mentality that convinces them they should not have to share the world with those they hate, that violence is the most effective means of gaining power, that power will right what is wrong with the world.

The reason I know this isn’t about a religion is that I see those beliefs in myself. And I see them in all of us. In fact, I see them in humanity.

When it comes down to it, we really all share the problem.

And we share in our responsibility to fight the problem in ourselves so that the problem is no longer the way of the world. 

It’s Friday. Period.

It’s been over ten years now since I fell in love with Friday. I had been entering this suburban sanctuary for a couple years on Sunday mornings, and then Wednesday evenings, full of questions, doubt, pain, and anger. Then, I took a short-term position filling in for an administrative assistant who was on maternity leave at church, and it happened to be during the period of Lent.

Lent.

What an unfamiliar word.

I had never heard of it, let alone the traditions that typically accompanied it.

Everyone else on the staff was giving up something for Lent. It felt like I should too. So, for my first spiritual fasting experiment, I decided to give up sweets.

At this point, I was more hungry for a God that could handle the current state of my  heart than I was for sugar, but I was only beginning to find him.

I started to wonder about this idea of letting go of something with an open mind toward what could come instead now that I had made some space.

To me, it was a beautiful and expectant metaphor.

I told some friends from my home church about it. I got a speech about how Lent wasn’t biblical, so I should be careful participating in any man-made tradition not prescribed in Scripture.

It wasn’t my first introduction to fear-based spirituality.

At least by this point, I was coming to understand the beauty in spiritual traditions outside my own, so I kept plotting away, undeterred.

Then, after several weeks, came Good Friday. I made my way back to that sanctuary and joined the darkness.

It was heavy.

Hopeless.

Full of death.

It was Friday, and it was familiar. 

At that time in my life, death was something I couldn’t get away from.

It was the first time I had ever understood what Friday was all about. I mean, I knew cognitively that it represented the day Jesus died. But I had never really felt the power of bringing all of my internal “Friday” to join Jesus in his.

It was like a deep, resonating, settling breath.

That Easter was like none I had ever experienced before. I had always known that Easter was about resurrection, hope, and new beginnings.

But resurrection after death is different than resurrection.

Hope after despair is different than hope.

And beginning after ending is not the same as starting from scratch.

It was all so freeing and full of life that I started to wonder why my spiritual tradition never introduced me to Good Friday growing up. My church had never even had a service.

Then I realized that in the church, it wasn’t just Good Friday that didn’t have a place. Though there were some individual exceptions for whom I will be forever grateful, I had an equally hard time getting the church at large to interact much about those internal Fridays I was experiencing either. When I talked about them, there were plenty of invitations to interact instead with resurrection, hope, and new beginnings, and not as much space for death, despair, and ending.

Good Friday taught me that there is a place for those. Like an actual stopping point in the story of God where we pitch our tent in the spiritual morgue and wait, and it’s exactly where we are supposed to be.

So, today is the death day. It’s about darkness.

And we are all talking about how Sunday is coming.

But today is the day where we learn how to be in our own Fridays and in other people’s Fridays with them.

Friday is uncomfortable and unsettling. It can make us want to usher in Sunday as a way to rescue ourselves.

Of course, we do experience Friday with knowledge of Sunday. We do not grieve as those who have no hope.

But knowledge of Sunday isn’t an excuse not to fully experience Friday. 

So, let today be what it is. Bring all your despair to the Cross, sit a while at the feet of Jesus on the day of his own despair, and know that you are in it together.

Feminist Mommy sat on a bed, reading the bedtime tales. Along came some thoughts that settled inside her, and made her want to bail.

Growing up in a private Christian school, I learned to dissect. Of course there were frogs in formaldehyde, but they weren’t the only thing we were tearing apart to inspect.

We were taught to cut into words, to pull them in pieces and put them back together again, to see how they fit into the body out of which they came.

It was all a part of being able to interpret our most important textbook: the Bible.

From that process, I learned to think critically about layered meanings and veiled allusions.

And this is precisely the part of my brain I am having trouble turning off when I read nursery rhymes to my children.

Therefore, I extend the following confessions from a feminist mommy trying to get through bedtime.

First, the gender stereotypes in these little stories are just unacceptable. Women are weak enough to need buns first instead of being expected to share them, fragile enough to be scared of a spider while sitting around eating curds and whey, and impressionable enough to fall down a hill simply because a little boy fell down first.

Incidentally, Jack got up, went home and took care of his wounds with no mention of him needing help from anyone. This story doesn’t say anything about whether Jill even got home (which isn’t as surprising as it should be). According to Wikipedia, there is an optional verse about Jill in which she gets whipped by her mother for causing Jack’s “disaster.” Figures. Women are responsible for saving men from their own disasters after all.

The rest of the rhymes have women making some tarts, caring for lambs, flying around on a broom, and riding a horse.

Let me remind you of some of those verbs one more time: scaring, eating, sitting, falling, causing, eating again, making, caring.

Sounds pretty passive, unless you count flying around on a broom.

Passive, and full of food. Leading to one of my personal favorites: “Jack Sprat could eat no fat; his wife could eat no lean; and so between them both, you see, they licked the platter clean.”

Could eat no lean.

Enough said.

But what of a woman who has a mind of her own, who is doing more than scaring and eating and sitting, and falling?

Well that appears to be the situation Peter the Pumpkin Eater finds himself in. See,  he had a wife and couldn’t keep her. So, naturally, he put her in a pumpkin shell and there he kept her very well.

Woah, I mean, we were just talking about some misogyny here, no need to escalate on up to a felony domestic. Not to mention, kidnapping your wife and storing her in a gourd may not make her want to stick around.

So other than holding hostages in pumpkins, what are the rest of the men up to? Well, with the exception of one who takes a great fall, it seems they are ordering around women. Or ordering around someone. Calling for tarts. Calling for pies, calling for bowls, and calling for fiddlers three (but at least he was a merry old soul).

And then what of the children?

When they escape the falling from cradles as babies, they are falling down hills, going to bed with stockings still on, stealing tarts (and getting beaten “full sore”), loving plum cake and sugar candy, and eating a Christmas pie. NOTE: All the above children are boys. There is also one boy who has found some competency in jumping over candlesticks, but the rest of them sound a lot like boys who will grow up calling for tarts.

Which puts in perspective the dilemma of Little Tommy Tucker who sings for his supper. “What shall he eat? White bread and butter. How shall he cut it without a knife? How shall he marry without a wife?”

Sounds pretty essential to survival. Ya know, being able to cut bread. And ensuring you have a wife.

I get it. To whom else would he call for tarts?

I’ll leave behind my commentary about the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker needing to be “turned out” after being found together in a tub to close with a couple of more disturbing wonderings.

Adjacent on two pages are the following:

“Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry, when the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away.”

Why is there a boy who kisses girls until they cry and then runs away when given the opportunity to play with boys (or be observed by others?)

I vote for a second verse about a little girl that kicks little Georgie’s ass for not asking before he touched.

It’s called consent people.

And then this:

“Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town, upstairs and downstairs, in his nightgown; rapping at the window, crying at the locks, ‘Are the children in their beds, for now it’s eight o’clock!'”

A guy running around town in his pajamas trying to figure out if the children are in bed, crying at the locks?

It always makes me want to ensure “Wee Willy Winky” gets added to the national sex offender registry.

Just in case.