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: 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