Spiritual Practice: Faithing Over the Lifespan (Stages One and Two)

In Greek, faith is a verb. Faith is an action, not a thing. Faith moves and breathes and grows with us in predictable stages. In the same way that Erick Erickson described predictable stages of emotional growth and development, others have described noticeable stages of spiritual development. These stages have been identified across religions and outside of religions as our spiritual development is a part of all human development. Over the next four blogs, I hope to describe an overview of these stages, but there are excellent books about these for those interested, which I will link here.

Stage One: Ages one to two years. Although the stages do not always follow chronological ages, stage one is an early part of development as it is mostly preverbal spiritual development. It has to do more with the way we are parented than it does with us.

Spiritual development begins from the moment we are born, or some would say that we begin to develop as spiritual beings even before we are born. Scientists say that new parents, with dilated eyes from the intensity of the childbirth experience, “gleam” into their baby’s faces, connecting brain to brain and stimulating brain development.

Celtic theologian John Phillip Newell tells of talking to OBGYNs about the first moments of a newborn’s life and hearing the consensus that looking into a newborn’s face was akin to looking directly at the Divine.

So, what is stage one of our spiritual development? It’s building trust. If a parent is consistent with us at the early ages of one and two, if our home is predictable and our needs are met, we learn to trust. Trust provides safety for a child to trust God as well.

If we are raised in a neglectful or abusive environment, this lack of trust is hard to overcome. Similarly, if we are raised with the idea of a scary and vengeful God, it will be hard to move past the guilt and fear which comes with that.

We know from studying children with attachment disorder that neglected children have a hard time developing any connected relationship. Interrupted stage one faithing can lead to difficulty trusting that God is good, safe, and available. It can also harm our relationships with others.

Stage Two: Generally, this stage is from ages 3 to 8 years, but we can get stuck in our spiritual development at any stage and have trouble moving forward, as we have seen in stage one.

Stage two is about black and white thinking. It is a necessary time to understand good and evil, heroes, and villains. This is why, in the Christian tradition, we tell children about all the wonderful Bible Stories like David and Goliath, Moses parting the Red Sea, or Noah and the Ark. Children need those heroes and this kind of concrete understanding that God as good, loving and will protect us from evil.

But you can see what happens when religion gets stuck at stage two thinking. It leads to legalistic fundamentalism in which there is only black and white with no room for gray.

You may have seen a bumper sticker that says, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” This is a classic example of Stage Two thinking. There is no room for discussion, no room for gray.

For our next blog, we will look at Stage Three, a very happy spiritual development stage full of belonging and spiritual growth. But it can have its drawbacks too, if we get stuck there.

So, why is learning about faithing over the lifespan a spiritual practice?

First, it gives us words for our experience. I LOVE to have words for my experience.

Second, it helps to understand when you meet folks in a different stage than yours. Since we all share similar paths of spiritual develpment, we can appreciate that one stage is not better than another. They are all essential building blocks to grow on. We don’t forget what we learned in a previous stage; we incorporate it and build on it as we move to the next stage. Also, we cannot force a person from one stage to another. God is in charge of helping us grow.

Third, we might realize where we got stuck along the way and be able to untangle and move forward in our development.

And fourth, when we get to stage four, which is a time of spiritual disorientation, we are going to need all the help we can get to understand what is happening to us! Hang in there, folks. Help is coming.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on your faithing journey. Can you see your own stage one or stage two history? Does any of it make sense?

Spiritual Practice – Reading Fiction

Okay, you might think this is a stretch, even for me, when I can find a spiritual practice in anything; but hang with me a minute, and I’ll explain. Fiction is what has kept me sane during this pandemic. You see, as a therapist, it is my job to keep all my clients sane, so who keeps me sane?

Well, apparently, it’s Robin Hobb. My spiritual director recommended Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book of The Farseer Series, and 12 books later, I’m still enjoying her writing. It’s a riveting fantasy with memorable characters, but with even deeper themes running through the book about racism, spirituality, loyalty, etc. I’ve been unable to put them down. 

I’m sure no one would argue the spiritual power of The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, or A Wrinkle in Time. So, here are some other books that have resonated deeply for me from the fiction world.

I may have read these several times and still watch the movies to cheer me when I’m down.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series: I had a disagreement with my bestie when this book came out. She said it was of Satan because of the wizards and witches (see the last paragraph for a rebuttal). Of course, that gal never read the book. For me, the series overflows with Gospel themes: love, loyalty, friendship, bravery, doing the right thing even when it’s hard, and ultimately laying down your life for your friends. Beautiful!

Susan Howatch’s Glittering Image: This is a classic for people in the world of Spiritual Direction. It speaks of our true and false selves and how we need to peel back the onion of the glittering image we present to the world to find our true selves.

Angie Taylor’s The Hate U Give: I may have read this book twice AND watched the movie. Talk about an education in systemic injustice: so much goodness and pain in one book. Everyone should read this one.

Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games Series: Talk about a hard look at the 1%. The Capitol is where the money is, and all the other districts starve. Or The Capitol could be compared to America, which uses most of the world’s resources. This book is about the hard facts of war and what it means to sacrifice for those you love. Good stuff.

Jan Karon’s Mitford Series: I have to include this since I read all fifteen books. Such a charming town, and the main character, Father Tim, is the priest we all wish we had. He is kind and loving, gentle, and awkward. So fun to read.

Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing: Opens our eyes to how slavery separated families and the repercussions—beautifully written. 

Honestly, I could write on this topic FOREVER! So, I’ll end with one of my own.

Jacci Turner’s The Retreat: I wove a storyline in with spiritual practices, so you feel like you’ve been on a retreat after you read it! At least, that’s what the reviews say.

I’d love to know how fiction has encouraged, challenged, or informed you spiritually. Drop me a line and share a book!

Photo by Mark Neal on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Thriving Despite

If you’re like me, your current state of mind is that of escaping. By that I mean by this point in the year we have had a pandemic, fires, smoke, racism, and politicking; I want to crawl into a cave and wait until it’s all over. 

I’m not alone. I have friends who are so discouraged by the state of our country they are investigating other countries where Americans can relocate.

I have friends that have packed “go bags,” not to escape fires, but to try to escape the coming apocalypse.

I read an article about how humans are built to withstand short term conflict, but long term, ambiguous danger is not something for which we have a context. I guess World War Two might have been the last time folks felt this way.

It. Is. Getting. Hard.

So, what do we do? Crawl into a hole? Give up?

Thankfully for me, way before the pandemic, I committed to teach two writing classes this fall and to begin a new training program for spiritual directors.

 Life. Goes. On.

There are jobs that need going to, kids that want food, spouses who need our attention.

If you’re on the verge of giving up, tossing in the towel, taking a literal long walk off a short pier, please ask for help. We need each other to get through this, and the suicide rate is rising as we speak. Reach out, call the hotline: 800-273-8255 PLEASE! We need you. We need your voice, your gifts, your intelligence to make it through this.

So, how do we thrive despite all that is happening?

  1. Give yourself a lot of grace. This is not a time to be hard on yourself. This is a time to slow down and lower the bar. Instead of being the best employee, try to be a good one. Instead of being the best parent, try to keep your kids fed and sheltered. Hug them occasionally. Grace. Grace. Grace.
  2. Give others a lot of grace. Right now, that is hard. We are more polarized than at any time in history. It is interesting that on my Facebook memories, I made the same statement eleven years ago. I guess this has been going on for a while. But, what does it gain us to disparage other people? Most of us are living in fear right now, and if your trauma brain is activated, you’re going to believe all the fear mongers because they make sense to your animal brain. We are all walking around in a trauma response. We need to try and put on glasses of love, to look at everyone as if they are doing their best, to give them the grace we desperately need ourselves. 
  3. BE WITH PEOPLE. I know we are in a lock-down situation, but there are safe ways to be with people. Social isolation is killing us. A neurologist just told my friend that locking up our seniors for their safety in these care homes is causing quicker onset of dementia that wouldn’t have happened if they could see each other and their families. It’s a challenging problem. We don’t want them to die, but they are dying of loneliness. How can we see people and be safe? Meet outside. Go for walks with someone. Have dinner in your back yard with a couple of folks. You can sit six feet apart and still enjoy each other’s company. We need to be with others to thrive.
  4. Find someone to care for. There is always someone who has it worse than you. Adopt a shelter animal, send money to people who have lost their homes via fire, tutor a child online. Try growing a succulent, they are hard to kill, trust me. Giving to others gets our minds off ourselves, which, if not unchecked, can quickly become a central occupation when we are stressed.
  5. Practice self-care. Read good books, watch positive TV, take naps, eat well, and exercise. The usual. We need that more than ever.
  6. Learn something new. Nothing lights up the brain like trying something new. Take an online class. Heaven knows there are a lot of those offered these days. Teach one! That will light up the brain for sure. Mine is quite lit these days with the class I’m teaching and my book club which is reading, “How to be Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi. There is so much to learn. My brain is on fire!

I’d love to know how you are surviving this difficult time. We need to share resources, ideas, and encouragement. Just know, I’m in your corner, and I’d love to hear how you are doing. If you’re in a cave, it’s okay to tell me.

Photo credit. Owl, mine

Family Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice – Releasing Anger

Election seasons can bring up a lot of difficult emotions. What do we do with our anger? My first thought is: Along with Dilbert, we all need to take a break from social media!

Strong “negative” emotions were not allowed in my family when I was a child; anger, grief, and sadness were all suppressed. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned these feelings are not negative emotions; they are just emotions. They are as much a part of me as happiness, joy, and delight. But, learning to be comfortable with them has taken longer.

I love how the ancient scriptures do not condemn these feelings. Psalm 4:4 teaches,

“When you are angry, do not sin.”

It doesn’t say don’t be angry, but when you are angry, don’t hurt anyone or yourself with your anger.

What do we do then, when we are angry? I’ve written before about the Welcoming Prayer. It’s always a good place to start. When any uncomfortable emotions come, welcome them and sit with them. Acknowledge them as part of you and ask what they are trying to tell you. If we listen, we can learn what is bugging us. If we suppress those feelings, we will most likely have physical difficulties like stomach aches or headaches. Suppressed emotions don’t magically go away; they just come out in different ways, hurting our own bodies or hurting those we love.

How do we release the anger from our bodies? When I was a mom of young kids, working, and going to graduate school, I felt anger and frustration as I tried to juggle all of my responsibilities. I call it my Alanis Morrissette decade, as I loved her angry Jagged Little Pill album. I’d crank it up and do some angry vacuuming to release my anger, or I’d go for a run and pound my rage into the pavement.

When my son was little, he had a lot of anger, mostly because he didn’t have the words he needed to tell us what bugged him. I taught him to pile up pillows and hit them with a plastic bat. When he outgrew that, we got him a punching bag, and when he was angry, he’d wail on that. Once he hit it so hard, he knocked it off the hook. Can you see why we need ways to get the anger out of our bodies? If that anger had been directed at a person, it would not have gone well.

My daughter Stephanie made this mosaic

In Cindy Bunch’s book, Be Kind to Yourself: Releasing Frustrations and Embracing Joy, she introduces the idea of releasing anger by smashing things. She suggests waiting until no children are around so as not to scare them, and then dash plates onto the cement to break them. She used this idea after her divorce when she was grieving. She says that when you are done smashing, you can either sweep up the broken pieces and throw them away or use them to make a mosaic, showing how you can make something beautiful out of your grief.

Some people garden, taking their anger out on those pesky weeds, others exercise, scream in the car, or weep in the shower. Of course, once you have words for your anger, it’s always good to talk to someone about what’s bugging you. A friend, a pastor, a spiritual director, or a therapist can be a big help. I’d love to know how you release anger. What have you found helpful? What works or doesn’t work for you?

Photo of lion by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Photo of runner by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice – Making an Altar

Six months into the pandemic things are getting difficult. Civil unrest around seeking justice for people of color continues and America can’t seem to get a foothold on this virus. Massive numbers of people are dying and sick. Today, I may have forgotten to put on pants. Thankfully, I don’t really go anywhere these days. Anyway, I thought it would be a good time to focus on something positive.

In the Old Testament people were always stopping to build altars, or memorial stones, to mark important events in their lives with God. I’ve been reading the coolest little book by my friend Cindy Bunch. She and I went through our spiritual direction program together. Her book is called, “Be Kind to Yourself: Releasing Frustrations and Embracing Joy.” In it she has a ton of very accessible spiritual practices.

The one I want to highlight is making an altar. I’ve never tried this, although Cindy makes alters all the time to celebrate or mark significant events. They are temporary things that she takes a picture of to remember each event. She may leave them up for an hour or for weeks; she may make them indoors or outdoors. She marks what she  calls “moments of grace.”

“You could pick up items on a walk, arrange them outside, use the altar for prayer and meditation, and then walk away from it as a way to reinforce the moment but not hold on to it. You can, of course, take a picture to preserve the memory and return to those moments of grace.”

I decided to make an altar representing what is getting me through the pandemic. First, I thought of books. I’ve been reading Robin Hobb’s Assassin series (I’m on book 13) and it is so engaging, I just love it. So, I put a stack of those on a chair. Then I added a paint by number kit I sent for. It’s ridiculously hard but I’m enjoying it in small bits. Of course, the Black Lives Matter protests are ever on my mind and I’m committed to learning and listening, so I added two books I’m reading with my book club. And I added a candle to represent my spiritual practices, which I am enjoying most every morning. Without these I would probably not be surviving at all.

If you’d like to give this practice a try, I’d love to see a picture of what is helping you get through this pandemic. And I’d highly recommend Cindy’s book as it is a very important time to Be Kind to Yourself! Otherwise you might just leave home without your pants.

Photo of altar rocks by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Second pic is mine

Spiritual Practice – Bridge Building

            It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when the world is falling apart. I often ask myself if am I doing enough to help move things forward. What can I do?

 Recently a business in our town had a rock thrown through its huge plate glass window. Small businesses in our area are going through a really rough time so my husband and I decided to meet there for coffee as a sign of support. When we arrived, we found our friend outside, who is a trans woman. She is very tall, has remaining “masculine” features and she is loud and proud! She was wearing a bikini and standing outside the business holding up a black lives matter sign. We went up to say hi and have a chat and I noticed that other folks walking by looked confused, or even scared as they passed her. Some openly stared. These reactions are common to the experience of trans women. We invited her into the business to buy her a coffee and then the customers around us seemed to relax.

It was as if our acknowledgement of her humanity allowed them to do the same. It took away her “otherness.”

            This was a very small thing to do, but it is an example of bridge building that we can look for every day. So many people are blowing up bridges right now, especially on social media. Just read the comments on any news or corona-related post and see the haters with their bombs sowing division. Bridge building is a small drop in the ocean of justice and healing, but as we each do something small it will become a river of love healing our land.

Mother Teresa said, “Do small things with great love.”

            What are some small things you can do to build bridges?

We can amplify the voice of someone whose voice is marginalized. A friend of mine organized a protest of a local park named after a white supremist. I stopped by for about a half hour, created some of the available art, and took a lot of pictures. Then I went on my Facebook and the Black Lives Matter pages and shared those pictures, thanking my friend for organizing the protest. If you see a post by someone of color, reshare, like, or comment on it; that amplifies their voice and builds a bridge from your friends to theirs.

We can stand with someone who might be treated unfairly and lend them your unspoken support. That’s what we did with our trans friend. We just stood by her, talked to her and bought her coffee. Two middle aged CIS gendered folks treating a friend with dignity allowed others to see her as a person, one that was safe to approach. Others felt free to interact with her more. You can do this by attending peace vigils or protests too.

My friend Jessica wrote this book. It’s short and informative, read it!

Or we can buy books by people who are different from us, read them, and then leave reviews. One idea I heard was to make a commitment to do this for a year. What a great way to learn new things and hear new voices. What bridges will be built as you talk with your friends about these books or post about them.

You might go for a walk with someone who sees the world differently than you do and just listen without judgement. I wrote about this earlier and it was a great experience for me to learn why my friend was against mail in voting. She had some legitimate concerns. A bridge was built between us that strengthened our friendship that had been weakened by political differences. Friendships are more important than politics.

My husband and I were talking about Jesus, who was a great bridge builder. Whenever he met a tax collector, clearly one of the most hated populations in his day, he wouldn’t mention their “sin,” he just saw them as people, and generally invited them to lunch. In fact, he rarely confronted anyone’s sin, except those of the Pharisees who were trying to keep people away from him. He did have some harsh words for them. Yes, let’s stand up against that kind of injustice, those who make policies to harm the orphan, the widow, the prisoner, and the immigrant. We need to vote them out. But, let’s put on our Jesus glasses and try to see people the way he did, as humans to be loved and cared for. Let’s look for ways we can build bridges.

What ways have you found to build bridges in this difficult time?

Photo’s mine

Spiritual Practice – Enjoying Art

One beautiful thing to come out of the Pandemic is an unprecedented outflow of art. Suddenly musicians are releasing songs from their living rooms, art galleries are opening virtual tours, and DYI arts and crafts are booming. I ordered a paint by number art canvas and when it came, I thought I’d lost my mind. But, working on it slowly is actually relaxing. Why is there such a deep need for art during a time of crisis?

Somebody help me!

I remember reading about Solomon building the temple in Jerusalem. He was directed by God to put as much beauty into the temple as there was structure. God knows we need beauty. Of the interior walls alone it says, (1 Kings 6:14-22)

He paneled the main room with cypress, which he overlaid with fine gold and decorated with palm trees and chains. He adorned the temple with precious stones for beauty, and its gold was from Parvaim. He overlaid its beams, thresholds, walls, and doors with gold, and he carved cherubim on the walls.

An artist’s idea of Solomon’s temple

Then I think about Burning Man, where artists spend a year building art features that will be burned when the week is over! It seems like such a waste, but the artists want to enjoy making art for art’s sake, not for the commodification of art in the outside world.

Black Rock City Temple, My son helped build this!

Paul Gauguin said, “Art is either revolution or plagiarism.”

In Reno, artists are meeting every evening to create art around the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It is giving them joy, passion and expression during a very dark time. People who come to watch them work end up in conversations that would be difficult otherwise.

They agree with Louise Bourgeois who said,

“An artist can show things that other people are terrified of expressing.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda made his play Hamilton into a movie to be released in theaters in October of 2021, but because of the virus, he released it on television so that millions could enjoy it. If you haven’t seen it, find a way. It is amazing and the songs stick in your head forever!

Gerhard Richter said,

“Art is the highest form of hope.”

We need hope right now more than anything else. So, I encourage you; take some time to draw, sing, paint, dance…whatever you enjoy. Watch other people share their art. Let your soul be lifted by beauty. It is not a waste of time. We have a God given need to experience beauty, now more than ever.

Let me know how you are enjoying art and what art means to the health of your soul.

Pictures: Burning Man art top, Paint by numbers, mine

Temple Art Solomon’s temple

Spiritual Practice: Cocooning

                I was recently in an online training on John O’Donahue, the Irish poet, priest, and prophet. The trainer talked about two kinds of time: receiving time and surface time. We live mostly in surface time, going about our business, but occasionally we take the time to get quiet, to go deep, which is receiving time. And when the trainer said those words I started crying and couldn’t stop.

            After some reflection I realized the hardest part of this coronavirus isolation for me has been missing out on the places I normally go for receiving time. My weekly trips to the library were gone, my monthly prayer retreats to the Mercy Center were gone, the road trips to the giant redwoods my husband I and enjoy were gone.

            John O’Donahue lived in the Burren in Ireland. The Burren is a large area of County Clare that is not the beautiful green we expect of Ireland, it is a barren rock-strewn area. Yet O’Donahue found beauty there. But I’m having a tough time finding the beauty in my own quarantine “burren.”

How do I develop the ability to rest and settle down during the virus when I can’t leave home? My husband and I walk the dog in the desert most days, but now there are dozens of other people joining us. I have my own room in our home for writing and reflection. But at home, I have a hard time settling as there is always the distraction of a chore that needs doing or a snack calling to me. I have a lot of excuses.

            This week I took a risk. I asked my friend if I could hang out in her spare room for the day. What a blessing it has been to be away from my home after four months of isolation. I’m just across town but it is quiet here and there is nothing else needing my attention.

            Why are times of silence and solitude so important? I’ve written much on this topic in this blog. If we look at Jesus as a model, he would withdraw to quiet places, such as a desert, a garden, or a tomb; and there the deep work was done, preparing him for what was next.

The whole world is cocooning right now because of a virus and radical changes are happening. And we “white” people now have an opportunity to dig deep, admit our racist tendencies and listen and learn new ways of being in the world. It is intense, hard and revolutionary.

            This space of solitude is called many things: the waiting room, the desert, liminal space. But I prefer the picture of a cocoon. A cocoon is a soft sanctuary and looks peaceful from the outside, but inside things are happening! A caterpillar is dissolving and its imaginal cells are fighting their way into becoming a butterfly. Cocooning is a very active period of waiting. Radical changes are happening if we allow it.

            Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by the pain in the world I physically cocoon. I curl up in the covers on my bed and picture myself wrapped in a cocoon of God’s love, safe and at peace. This allows me to refuel for the fight for justice. We all need to pause and take a breath. Contemplation must undergird activism or we will burn out.

            I’m not the only one who thinks about cocooning. I just started reading Sue Monk Kidd’s book, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions, and I found that she also uses cocooning as her analogy for growth during periods of waiting.

“Waiting is both passive and passionate…it’s a vibrant and contemplative work. It means descending into self, into God, into the deep labyrinths of prayer. It involves listening to the disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places we live falsely. It means struggling with the vision of who we really are in God and molding the courage to live that vision.” (pg. 14)

She points out that trying to leave the cocoon before it is time can be damaging. A butterfly actually builds and strengthens its wings while trying to get out of the cocoon and “helping them along prematurely” means the wings will never grow strong enough to fly. Staying in our COVID isolation is very hard, but, leaving before it’s time could hurt us as well. We are invited to stay in, even though it feels like death. We can use this time to continue to grow, change and develop as people in ways that we cannot in surface time.

As I discovered, isolation does not equal cocooning. How can we find places to settle to where we can listen deeply?

Try one of these:

  • Open your coronavirus bubble enough to trade babysitting with someone so you can have time alone.
  • Get outside in nature, somewhere beautiful or look for beauty in ordinary places.
  • Continue to stretch yourself by reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching documentaries of people from a different culture than yours.
  • Borrow a friend’s spare room for a day.
  • Take a long drive in the car without the radio on.
  • Sit somewhere and stare at a tree for an hour. It’s amazing what will come up.

I’d like to hear how this time of cocooning is helping you to examine yourself deeply? How are you finding space for solitude? What are you learning that you will take with you into our new world?

Photos:

Cocoon

The Burren Pic

The Carin Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Listening and Learning

            Wow, it’s been an intense few weeks, hasn’t it? Black brothers and sisters are sharing their stories of pain and suffering. They are being extremely vulnerable and we honor their courage.

            In light of that, I’ve had some white male friends reaching out with questions, and I must say I’m thrilled this is happening.

            The first person asked, “Is there a place for us in the Black Lives Matter movement?” The answer is, “Yes. We are invited to the table, but not to lead, and not to dominate the discussion — but to listen and learn. Then, we are invited to help our white friends as they navigate this conversation.”

Fantastic things are coming from this. Large numbers of white people are gathering to read books by black authors and watch informative movies. Netflix and Amazon prime are highlighting these movies. Large numbers of white folks are joining protests. There will not be a race war; we will stand side by side for equality.

I think I’ve gotten an email from every business where I’ve ever purchased something telling me they support Black Lives Matter. If you want to be encouraged by an example that shows people are listening, check out https://www.babynames.com/.

            Another white friend asked if it would help to share his story of suffering at the hands of the police when he was nearly homeless and supporting himself by dumpster diving. His story was horrendous and his pain and suffering were real, but the answer was “No, not now. Maybe later.” The black community has been unheard for four hundred years. It’s time to let them speak.

            Another white friend asked if it would help to share his history of pain and suffering because of his extremely white skin. It has been very painful for him and it has affected many parts of his life. The answer again is “No, not now. Maybe later.”

            The beautiful thing about these conversations is first, they are asking! And second, they are receiving the “no” answer without flinching. They are graciously stepping back and making room for black stories to dominate. This is wonderful progress. Thank you, wonderful white brothers!

            This reminds me of the #metoo movement. I’m sure there were men who could have used the #metoo awareness to talk about being passed over at work, but they let the women speak. Because of that, things are changing. High profile rapists are now in prison, and a record number of women are now holding political office, and we are witnessing renewed progress in in women in sports and other places demanding equal pay.

            The BLM protests are already having an impact as well. Policy changes and new legislation are being passed to change the way police operate. We can hope this translates to more black people and people of color moving into leadership in all of our places of power in the nation and to changes in the prison system as well. Only if we live, work, and get to know each other as humans will we truly learn to look beyond the color of our skin.

Lantern Festival, Nevada

            When my daughter adopted a black child, I wanted it to be easy. I wanted her to be “ours.” But I have to admit, it took a while to see beyond our skin color difference. She felt “other” to me. Only as I grew to know her and love her did that “otherness” fade away and she became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.

When my husband’s gay colleague started inviting us to birthday parties, I wanted it to be easy, but I felt on the outside. Only as I came to know them, to rejoice over their joys, and mourn over their pain, did they cease to be my “gay friends” and just become my friends. Now they are more like family to me.

            There is another kind of listening and learning that is critical right now in our polarized nation. A conservative friend who told me via text that she disagreed with me about a social media post I made about mail-in ballots. I suggested we meet for a stroll and conversation. We had a fantastic talk and I learned things from her I didn’t know. I now understand why some folks are against mail in balloting. The sad part is that she has reached out to other friends who don’t even text back.

I would never let politics get in the way of my relationship with someone I love. We are better together, if we can listen and learn from each other.

            How are you listening and learning? We need to encourage each other. If you have questions, this is a safe place to dialogue about uncomfortable topics. I have to approve comments, so no one can attack you! Comment away.

Photos: Top Reno Black Lives Matter Vigil, mine

Photo of white man by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

Photo of the Lantern Festival, mine

Spiritual Practice: Opposing Injustice

Me at the Reno BLM Protest

The recent murder of George Floyd has once again brought to the forefront the state of racism in America. Thousands have rallied to peacefully protest, and small groups of agitators have turned these peaceful rallies into riots, bringing violence and destruction.

I walked in the Reno protest. One thousand people walking together, many holding signs. It was beautiful. Later that night a group drove into town and started breaking windows and burning property. That was not Reno, and that was not the organizers of the march, who immediately condemned the violence. There is much speculation about who the rioters were but no one knows for sure. Our community was heartbroken but turned out the next day to help clean up. That is who we are.

As I write this, it is #BlackOutTuesday. You may have seen some black profile pictures on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. It’s a day to stay off social media and dedicate ourselves to learn more about racism and what we can do to end it. I’m still learning, but I want to share a few ideas which I will post Wednesday. Here are some easy onramp ideas to help us move forward.

  1. Listen. If you read something a person of color has written online, or if you are in a conversation with a person of color, don’t say “But what about…?” Just listen, ask clarifying questions and learn.
  2. Read. Read outside of your own culture. We often read from only our own culture. Let’s expand ourselves. Try one of these books:

Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? I read this book and it really helped me. It also led to my writing of the book, Cracker (see below).

Yesterday I joined a small group of people reading, Between the World and Me. I want to continue to grow, learn and understand.

Or if you prefer fiction try, The Hate You Give, which is also a fantastic movie and will help you understand how riots happen.

  1. Vote. Think about being involved in local politics or voting for candidates who support justice for the marginalized. Maybe you could staff a voting place, canvas or drive someone to the polls.
  2. Pray. Never has our land needed prayer more. This is a critical time to open ourselves to the Spirit of God. We need divine intervention to move forward as a people. Some people are too devastated even to pray. For them I recommend closing your eyes, lifting your hands, visualizing the hurting world and placing it in the hands of the divine. This is big and painful and we can’t shoulder it all at once or alone. Many groups are gathering together online to respond in prayer.
  3. Hope. For me, I find it a painful yet hopeful time. This quarantine has given us time to pause, look deeply at ourselves and take stock. We see the good in all the beautiful creativity that has gushed forward. We see the pain and fear, even the hate that has also been unleashed. It’s time to stand against the fear and hate. It’s time to heal the pain. It’s time to move the earth toward love and peace. We must pray together, work together, hope together.
  4. Act. DO SOMETHING/SAY SOMETHING. Speak out on social media and take the heat. Trust me, I know that is hard. I try to keep people from arguing on my wall but it seems to happen whenever I speak out. I try to respond in love and have taken breaks from Social Media to keep my heart from becoming bitter. You might try to march in a protest or stand with the marginalized in some way. Silence is not an option.  Call or write your representatives and ask, “What are you doing to change the systemic oppression of people of color?” Check out http://www.Theactionpac.com for up to the minute information about how to be involved.

When I was in middle school, I was trying to understand racism and my librarian (yay for librarians) recommended some books which I read and still think about today. One of them, Black Like Me, was a true story about a man who takes pills to turn his skin black, perms and dyes his hair and experienced life as a black man. His experiences were life changing for me because it was an opportunity as a white person to know what it felt like to live the black experience.

A few years ago, I was thinking of that book. I wrote Cracker to help people today have that same experience through  fiction. It flips the script so that we are forced to walk in a world where white folks are the oppressed minority. Everyone who reads it, black and white, says it’s really hard to keep yourself from flipping the script back over, but all agree it makes them more mindful of things like microaggression, systemic injustice and racism. It has a discussion guide in the back. It’s a good starting place. You can find it here.

Let me know what you are learning or trying in standing with our brothers and sisters of color to bring about a better world. Stay safe!

Photo of black women by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com