Faith, Hope, and Bikes: Turning Cyclist Attacks into Community Dance Parties

In light of the Passover and Easter holidays upon us, I’ve been pondering Judeo-Christianity a lot this week. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ words about peace and reconciliation, things he talked a whole lot about, while he was silent or had little to say on the heated issues that so often people associate with Church or religion. He said things like “Blessed are the peace makers” and raised the bar on love by saying, “What good is it if you love only those who love you? Instead, love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you.” He talked about creating Heaven on Earth, not just trudging through this life in order to reach some celestial afterlife. He believed we could experience some of that good stuff right here, right now.

And everywhere I’ve looked this week, I’ve encountered these sweet drops of Heaven that I think Jesus was trying to tell us was possible to experience on this side of the planet in our human bodies. On Sunday, I encountered it through Free Hugs at the Farmer’s Market. The next night, I experienced it when someone I never met before not only helped me find my friend’s dog that I lost (I know. Some friend, right?), but gave me a hug afterwards and offered to make me tea, willingly going out of his way at 11 PM on a weeknight for a dog-watcher he didn’t even know. But I think the example that speaks the most to me of all this love and peace and doing-good-in-the-face-of-bad stuff is what’s going on in the Baltimore bike community right now.

Last Saturday evening, a cyclist was attacked by a group of youth while riding home along Guilford Avenue. This cyclist bikes with a video camera attached to his helmet everytime he rides in light of a friend who was a victim of a hit and run. Since then, he bought a video camera and regularly records his commutes, unaware, I would imagine, of just how handy this would come this past Saturday when a group of young kids attacked him, punched him, and tried to steal his bike. He caught this 1:20 clip of the event before his camera shut off after the camera battery disconnected. It’s hard to watch, and even more personal knowing it occurred on an intersection used by so many bike commuters, my friends and I included. Attacks have occurred previously in this area, though at random.

The cycling community is one in which finding a friend, an ally, someone to connect with is never hard to find. In fact, most of the time when I bike throughout the city, I regularly make some form of human acknowledgement with other cyclists I see. A head nod, a wave, a hello, a “Hey, isn’t this a great day for a ride?” while we’re stuck at a red a light. Oh, and my favorite, the guy who gave me a peace sign as he rode by on a fixie.

So news travels fast in our little-but-ever-growing cycling community and it wasn’t long before we were dialoguing with each other in person and on social media about the event. I was amazed at the discourse because it seems as though all of the advocates get the fact that if kids just had more community inclusion and opportunities for recreation and play, they wouldn’t be out here committing crimes like this. Crime not being the problem, but the output of what happens when opportunity and meaningful activity cease to exist in an area. So instead of creating an us-vs them blaming mentality, activists decided to booth volunteers in the area in which the attacks occurred to “Bake some cookies and sell them! Make balloon animals for kids! Have a dance party! Whatever – the point is to be out on the street, watching for potential trouble, and nipping it in the bud before it happens!” (source: BikeMore google group). It’s ok to get angry about crime, in fact, humans harming other humans should arouse that emotion inside of us as a protective instinct to look out for one another. But what’s more beautiful to me- and to the other activists I know, is to turn something tragic into a reason to bring the whole city together to dance in neighborly love. That’s beauty. That’s Baltimore. That’s why I now almost come to expect activists to show up when injustice happens because everywhere I go around this city, I meet people whose hearts and voices refuse to be quelled in the midst of violence or oppression.

I think that’s what the Prophet Isaiah meant when he said, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will study war no more” (Isaiah 2:4). Except instead of swords, we have present day street violence. And instead of plowshares, we have creativity. Creativity to create bake sales, balloon animals, dance parties, hula hoop contests, and community interaction in place of violence.

Earlier this evening, I stopped by one of these volunteer booths for a Cyclist and Pedestrian Appreciation event that members of  the Greenmount West community organized. Community members waved to cyclists and passer-bys and invited them over for snacks and conversation. Said one of the women I spoke with at the event, “We don’t like our community being known for violence. This is a chance to change that.”
This is what I love about the biking community.
This is what I love about Baltimore.
This is why I doubly love the Baltimore biking community.

Members of the Greemount West community with cyclists and advocates. Photo: MO 2014

Members of the Greemount West community with cyclists and advocates. Photo: MO 2014


While the media shouts of violence and drugs, we are out here, out here in these open spaces linking arms and bike locks singing of something else possible.

While the cynics are out there saying “the city would be great if it weren’t for these hoodlums” (unfortunately, those are actual words I read on Facebook about this particular incident), we are out there finding these kids so that we can introduce them to you by name and not by label. We will learn their stories and they will learn ours and together we’ll ride our bikes at Bike Party or maybe down the street to the nearest bike collective. Or maybe I’ll teach them how to change a flat and they can show me how to pop a wheelie. Because we can all learn from each other, no matter our age or background.

The Cyclist and Pedestrian Appreciation event today indeed reminded me that it was Good Friday, that violence, much like Jesus’ death, doesn’t have the last word, and that faith, hope, and love are not just quotidian metaphors, rather, they are tangible exchanges we can choose to give every moment, every day.IMG_0662

My heart is so full.
And my stomach is too, thanks to the snacks the Greenmount West community brought today.

But we’re not done.
Because like BikeMore said, we can run with this.

So next Sunday afternoon April 27th, I’ll be out there with hula hoops and water balloons. Another guy I met today offered to bring his guitar. And another said that while he couldn’t play music, he could bring a bunch of his friends.
So come join us Sunday evening April 27 on Guilford and Lanvale, say 4:30.
We’ll stack our bikes up next to each other’s and say hello. We’ll learn each other’s names, and faces, stories, and dreams. And then we’ll dance. Because we love this city, we love each other, and are willing to raise hell and create heaven by speaking up out of the silence and stepping into communion. Because that’s there the love is. That’s where the life is. And that’s how community will continue to build, one neighbor, one cyclist, one activist at a time.

Let’s dance.

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The ABCs of Gender, Sexual, and Racial Equality

Photo credit: Leanna B. Powell

One of Baltimore’s cafes that promotes equality right on down to bathrooms. Love Red Emma’s! Photo credit: Leanna Powell

I’ve been having some of the most mind-opening conversations of my life recently as I’ve been interviewing women and men about gender and listening to podcasts covering privilege, gender, and sexuality. In discussing and listening, I’ve come across terms that I was unfamiliar with (such as “cis-gendered”). This piqued my curiosity to learn more about gender, sexual, and racial equality. Below are some terms that may be helpful in educating ourselves and others about gender, sexual, and racial equality. This list is by no means comprehensive, but just a smattering to get your feet wet. Whether you’re well-versed in your equality vocabulary, or just beginning advocacy efforts, you are needed. No matter where you are in the journey, let’s ask each other questions, have a posture of a learner, ask how we can help one another as allies, and change the world. Comment below with your experiences in allyship, advocacy, or questions about these words/topics.

Asexual: one who does not experience sexual attraction
Ally: (in context of equality) one who unites with other causes, organizations, or people to promote the global concept of equality promotion (ex: a gender ally, an LGBTQIA ally)

Binary supremacy: the belief that genders fall into two (and only two) separate and distinct categories and that a male or female identity is superior to other identities
Butch: A woman who adopts what would typically be considered masculine characteristics. Note: This is not a derogatory word when used for self-identification. Just like “gay,” or “retarded,” the word is not inherently disrespectful; it’s only disrespectful when used inappropriately.

Cis-: as in, cis-gendered: identifying with your biological sex.
Cis-privilege: The benefits and privileges that go along with identifying with one’s biological sex.

Dyke: Lesbian. Note: this is not a derogatory word if someone self-identifies as a “dyke.” Some women do not like the word “dyke” because of its oppressive roots, while others have reclaimed the word and found identity as a “dyke.”

Egalitarian: Having equal rights, regardless of social, economic, or other distinctions such as income, race, or religious or political beliefs; as in egalitarian marriage (vs. complimentarian marriage),  for example.
Equity (vs equality)In simple terms, equity is equipping everyone what they need to be

equity

Photo credit: Everyday Feminism

successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Consider the image below- if everyone was equal, they’d have the same view, right? But what about the children? They need a boost to be able to enjoy the same view. Policies like affirmative action are temporarily necessary to give equity to educational and career opportunities until people of less privileged backgrounds who’ve had long histories of exclusion can experience equality.

Femmephobia: The devaluation, fear, and hatred of the feminine and anything commonly related to femininity (the color pink, high heels, etc.) that denotes femininity as inherently inferior.

Gay masculine of center: One example of many forms of self-identification, this identity is used by some women who tilt toward a masculine side of gender identity
Gender binary:
Classification of sex and gender as two separate and distinct identities: feminine and masculine

Hapa: A term that originated in Hawaii to describe one who identifies with mixed racial heritage, with partial roots in Asian/Pacific Islander ancestry.
Heteronormativity: The social and cultural constructs that assume heterosexuality is the norm.
Homosexuality: A word some find hurtful, as it links to days when homosexuality was a clinical disorder (some instead advocate using “a person who is gay/lesbian”); a term that The New York Times dropped from usage in 1987, while Fox News continues to lag behind.

Intersectionality: The concept that cultural oppressions (i.e. gender, race, class, and sexual orientation) are all intertwined and that we can be oppressed through multiple identities (ex: a gay African American can be discriminated against for being BOTH gay AND African American)
Intersex:
A condition experienced by approximately 4% of the population in which there are genetic, hormonal or physical differences thought to be typically male AND female. Some choose to self-identify as intersex, while others find this identity troubling. One thing we can agree on: Don’t use the word ‘hermaphrodite!’

Jail: The place 97% of rapists don’t enter; the place where a gay Ugandan can go by law simply for being gay through the 2014 Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act (rooted in laws from British colonization); the place where interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving were sentenced to for interracial marriage in 1958.

Kinsey scale: A rating scale developed in 1948 in order to account for research findings that showed many people did not fit into neat and exclusive heterosexual or homosexual categories.

Late onset adrenal hyperplasia: One example of an intersex presentation affecting 1 in 66 individuals.
LGBTQIA: Acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual/Ally

Microaggressions: small, everyday examples of negative statements about a non-dominant group or marginalized identities; may be implicit or explicit.  
Monosexism: Belief that a person can only be attracted to ONE (and only one) gender.

Non-binary: Umbrella term for anything that doesn’t fit in the stratified gender binary model; one can self-identify as non-binary.  

Outing: When someone reveals another gender identity or orientation often without the person’s consent or approval.

Pixie manic dream girl: A female trope known to be carefree and playful and whose primary role in a film, book, or television show is to awaken the heart of a man. What does this have to do with equality? Equality is a byproduct of acknowledging the unequal or oppressive messages we encounter in everyday life, including media and advertising.
Privilege: A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. In simpler terms, “a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.’

Queer: Umbrella term for one who identifies outside of the societal norms in regards to gender and sexuality; once was considered a derogatory term but has now been reclaimed by many LGBTQIA as a desired form of self-identification.
Queer femme: One of many forms of self-identification; typically someone who identifies as a lesbian who exhibits typically feminine traits.

Racialized sexism: When women of color are discriminated against in both race and sex, often stemming from issues of privilege

Sexual entitlement: Belief that another “owes” you sexual encounters that can take the form of sexual harassment, ogling strangers, and demanding sexual favors. While any gender can act sexually entitled, women disproportionately experience male sexual entitlement as expressed in many media, language, and cultural norms or attitudes
Sexual fluidity: Term used to describe that one’s sexual identity and attractions can shift throughout the lifespan; there is a tendency for sexual minority women to experience higher levels of sexual fluidity than men.

Third wave feminism: Current wave of feminism (though some advocate we’re in the fourth) that began in the 1990s focusing on changing cultural constructs of language, embracing intersectionality and allyship (in regards to sexual orientation/identity, race, and class), securing equal opportunities for women, and celebrating the accomplishments of women past and present.

Photo credit: UN

Photo credit: UN

UN Millennium Development Goal 3: One of the 8 goals established in 2000 by the UN to “promote gender equality and empower women” internationally

Vagina Monologues: Play written by Eve Ensler depicting womens’ experiences with masturbation, rape, sex, orgasm, female genital mutilation, menstruation, love, and birth.
V-Day: Global activist campaign started by Ensler to end violence against women and girls. V stands for Victory, Valentine, and Vagina.

Women only space: A place committed to empowering women in safe spaces; historically the women’s movement failed to include trans women but is now changing to promote inclusion. Opinions vary about women-only spaces. I personally have benefited from women-only spaces and also felt torn about them- a post for another time.
Woke: (Often “Stay woke”) A phrase used to encourage critical thinking about social injustice, often used in relation to racial injustice. The term can be traced back to singer Erika Badu in 2008 but became popularized during the Black Lives Matter movement.

Xenophobia: fear and hatred of strangers or of anything that is unknown or “foreign”.

You:  A person needed to address equity and privilege while engaging others in the discussion.

Ze and zir: Gender neutral pronouns that can be used the same way “he” or “her” are used. Ze is singular, as in “he” or “she-” “Ze laughed.” Zir is a possessive pronoun, as in “it:” “I called zir.”


 

 

 

Resources/Education
-Developing your awareness of cissexism
-8 Ways to Stop Street Harrassment
-Identifying problematic language
-Identifying gender neutral language
-Strategies to move past “privilege guilt” 

Share your own! Comment below!

 

 

Chickens, Snow Days & Ubuntu: What Clucking Hens Taught me About Love + Attachment

I can’t stop thinking about them; their cuddly little bodies and jovial clucks. While the weekdays can often slip away, one of my favorite ways to mark a no-work weekday snow day is to take a stroll up the street to an urban farm in my neighborhood and play with them. The minutes pass by leisurely, a slow drift from morning snow to calm evening walks under falling flakes, shining like miniature sugar cookies against the street lights. Somewhere in between those morning and evening hours, I take pictures of them like these:

IMG_0150IMG_0169chicken face

They’re chickens. But not just chickens. They’re Barred Rock, Leghorns, Orpingtons, and Black Chochins. They’re not just breeds, but have names, nicknames. Belle. Scratch. Buddy.

I’ve always wanted to go vegetarian and have done so in small bits and spurts. But after reading an article in Christianity Today this past October about Lamppost Farm, which provides chicken killing demonstrations in order to teach people about the sacrifice of Jesus’ death, my decision to go vegetarian was re-affirmed.

“One by one, the birds are hung by their feet on a backboard of metal sheeting with wood bracers, where their throats are cut and bled out. Next, the limp birds are scalded in 150-degree water before visiting the de-featherer, then the stainless-steel cleaning table. There, the feet, head, organs, lungs, and trachea are removed, in that order. The next bird does not die as gracefully. I make the cut more quickly, drawing the knife deeply through the throat in a single back-and-forth, like a violin bow. But when I release her, she flaps wildly for a moment in spasms that don’t seem involuntary. So violent is the reaction that the chicken actually kicks loose one of her legs from the holding prongs, and I must refasten her. Then, she’s still.  ‘It’s disturbing,’ [a participant says]. “It’s supposed to be,” [the farmer says]. “We’re not supposed to take a life and then say, Well, whatever. That’s not how we’re made.”

The fact that this group kills living creatures—creatures God created, mind you— in an attempt to show people that God loves us crushes my heart as I scratch my head, wondering, once again, “Have we missed the point of faith?” That people can disregard life and kill it in the name of God is beyond me. All of this left me feeling that I am no longer detached from the killing process that goes into eating meat. I now know, graphically, what a murderous process it is.

IMG_0135So since reading that article, I’ve been spending some with these chicken lovelies and my life has not been the same. Cuddled in the nook of my arm, this beautiful hen, softly cooing, pulls my heart, ears, and eyes in closer. The chickens taught me that we can choose to keep things close or far away. But if you are brave enough, and willing enough, to get really close instead of passively, comfortably at a distance from the unknown, things will change, will become real. Become visceral. You will be changed and you won’t be able to look at things the same way.

Because you chose to get close.

The closer I am to these creatures, the more I want to love them, hold them, see their inherent worth and dignity as a living creature, and do everything in my power to protect their life and well-being.

And isn’t that the way it goes with everything? The closer we get towards what we don’t understand, the more compassion we feel for others.

The closer we get towards poverty, the more we understand why not everyone can simply “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”
The closer we get towards people from sexual orientations other than heterosexual, the more we realize how unjust it is that these fellow sisters and brothers are denied 1,138 rights that heterosexual couples are freely granted.
The more we choose to center our lives around loving our neighbors and living sustainably, the more we reject capitalism and living solely for ourselves.
The more we leave our houses and two car garages, the more we interact with the world around us. As Jack Kerouac once said,

“The closer you get to real matter, rock, air, fire, and wood, boy, the more spiritual the world is.”

The more spiritual the world is, the more we are willing to sacrifice a car ride for a bicycle ride, and light switches for natural light. We become close enough to crave the sanctuary that the trees and humming rivers provide and see God far beyond steeples and pews, into everything the daylight and moonlight touches.
The more we get to know the names, life experiences, faces, joys, struggles, and dreams of someone from a religion other than our own, the more we come to recognize that we come from the same God, and we now see no divisions, just a flowing river of love pouring from my heart to your heart and everyone else’s heart in between.

Yes, outside, everyday, are people, places, and animals that invite us into holy, intimate connection. Into what many South Africans, including Nelson Mandela, call “ubuntu-” the concept that we teach each other how to be human. That I cannot become human without your humanness, for we learn how to become moving, walking, talking people from each other. “You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality — Ubuntu — you are known for your generosity,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains. “
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

The birds of the air, the waters of the sea, and even these adorable warbles of chickens with thick feathers and skinny legs have something to teach us. The invitation is waiting. The world opens up wide as you expand your heart in the spirit of closeness, togetherness, ubuntu, attachment, and learning.

Namaste.

The God in me greets the God in you.

Finding My Voice (and a little pep talk for the young girls out there)

keep the earth below my feetI had a professor in college who taught us about the “principle of leaving and entering,” i.e. one cannot move forward to the next [life stage, opportunity, job, city, destination, you fill in the blank] without making peace with what you’re leaving behind [be it college, your hometown, you get the idea]. At the time, I was dreaming about volunteering abroad after college, and ready to leave behind the America I knew. But what I didn’t realize at 22 is that the next stage of life would be just as much about putting things behind as it would be about pursuing new things.
A couple years after college, I burnt out.
I. simply. Couldn’t. keep. Up.
I lost myself and become bitter and cynical towards much of what I saw around me.
It wasn’t until 2011 that I realized just how many voices of the past were still lingering in my head, like flies in desperate need of a fly swatter. Voices of a spiritual community that said women were to be submissive, to “let their husbands lead.” Churches that said males were to be “pastor, provider, and protector” of his wife. Voices that said being a female pastor was a sin. Voices that made sure everybody knew what Christianity stood against, but left the world puzzled as to what we actually stood for. Voices that tried to rescue souls from hell, while ignoring the literal hells and Gehennas in the world going on right now. Sexual slavery. HIV/AIDS. Extreme poverty. Orphans without homes. Should I keep going?

In 2012, I began a journey towards freedom- freedom of religion, of dogma, of other people’s demands, of paved paradises- into a personal journey of development and enrichment. It’s looked like lots of open spaces, lots of gathering ’round the table over wine and sweets and savories, lots of finding and losing myself on bicycles. In this freedom, it’s as though God took me by the hand to lovingly, but firmly, (because the lesson was too important to miss out on) teach me that the thing about the past is just that. It’s in the past. It cannot hurt you again. It cannot continue to hurt you or frustrate you unless you let those voices zap your energy from the present moment.
For far too long, this woman’s listened to voices of the past that were squelching life, joy, zest for the moment. Alas, I looked myself in the mirror, a good ol’ stare yourself down, straight-up-talk, with a little bit o’ lovin’, and a lot of bit of firmness. I looked in the mirror, and noticed a cynic. Ugh. I hate that word. To me, it’s synonymous with a passive, complaining, do-nothing-to-change-anything kind of persona. So I asked God to silence those voices, the ones that were slowly, painfully, hauntingly taking away my joy, my peace, my resolve, and silence them one and for all, to free me from the people and places and noises that were no longer helping me become the person I want to become. I asked God to change me from cynicism into activism. Hurt into compassion. Bitter to better.

Somewhere in the process, I learned that I don’t need to fight anymore.. not against those voices, at least. A little whisper breathed into my heart,
You’ve been freed.
Let your load feel lighter, your burdens from heavy rocks to little pieces of shiny yellow sand.
Put the boxing gloves down.
Breathe.
You no longer have to defend, nor strive, nor try to make yourself understood.”

I thought it would feel easier. But then I realized that that’s not quite the way it works. The moment you stand for something, there is something you are implicitly standing against. The more and more you become the person you want to be, the voice that isn’t God’s will try to steer you off course. When you become YOU, not someone else’s version of you, you will disappoint people. But let me tell you something, you will become the person you were made to be. The more you will realize that the very people still standing beside you are there because they really do love you, they really do care, and they really do desire God’s peace and love and blessings upon you, not out of pity, nor spite, but out of a selfless kind of love that has found its way through the broken chains of redemption, giving voice and beauty to the very fact that you and I are both humans, composed of flesh and blood, and you and I have both been created in the womb.
I am freed now from what’s been zapping precious energy, and I can’t wait to learn, and love, and do, and grow, and experience with this new found freedom what God can finally place in my life in the thoughts and corners and crevices of my heart that were once holding onto hurt, bitterness, and a seemingly endless desire to be understood. I am free. I can only imagine what will go in those pockets of my heart now. I can love without mountains of expectations or fears of being hurt.
I can express bona fide joy—my smiles will no longer be a veil, hiding a voice that’s afraid of being mistaken as impolite, too afraid to speak up.
I can operate out of a place that points to the horizon and feel alive in my soul, and my bones, and my eyes; to live the story, full and raw, not dependent upon things be one way or another, but ever confident that this risk of living a better story is so much better than living in the choking weight of others’ voices that try to drown out the one true voice of who you want to become.

Go point to your horizon.

MOVE.
You don’t have time to respond to your critics.
You simply don’t have time.
Be you, the REAL you, ALL of you… that’s what the world needs.
Go seek.
Go ask.
Because what I hope that the girls of new generations come  to realize is this: that if ever there was a time for women to rise up and unite, the time is now. Oh yes, I’m thankful for my sisters who gave me the ability to vote. For women who went to college and challenged typical professions. But there is so much work we still must do.

Advocate.
Preach.
Lobby.
Dream. Louder.

May you listen to that one constant in your heart.
May you give voice and flow to all that longs to leap inside of you.
May your songs be peace, may your dance be love, and may your love bring freedom.

Because you have a voice that’s no one else’s.
We’re ready to hear it.

Thoughts on Solitude.

There was a bird outside my window this morning
Happily chirping its song; its story.
Another one joined in.

I’m not sure what they were saying
But I felt like their language spoke to my soul
Reminding me to go outside today
And spend some time in solitude.

So that’s what I did.
I zipped up my snow boots
And hit the trails
Climbing up powdered white paths
Sparkling like sugar cookies
In the mid-afternoon sun.

I glanced down at footprints of deer
And footprints of other hikers
Wondering what their journeys are like
And how they experience the world around them.

Sometimes I feel guilty going places alone.
Life is short
And people are beautiful, after all.

A couple years ago
I moved back to Baltimore
And within a few months, realized most of my friends had moved home or moved away
And I had a night
Where the few friends I had left
Were all busy
And I felt an immense loneliness come over me.

It was a cold, dark January evening and Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder
can be more than SAD; it can be depressing.
I was so lonely inside; I scared myself.

Have you ever had a moment like that?
Where you’re so caught off guard by what’s going on inside?

I did the one thing that I thought might help.
I called an old friend in New York just to make sure I was alive and breathing.
Luckily she answered.
She was out with friends
And I think she thought I was acting a little melodramatic

But never the less
A few words
From an old friend
On a lonely night
Melted away tears of despondency
And I vowed to never get that lonely ever again.

That was two years ago.
I’m thankful for new friends who’ve touched my heart
and for old ones who’ve stuck it out.

Although as a recovering people-pleaser and conflict avoider,
There are times when it would be much easier to keep inside my shell;
I’ve come to realize that people, community, are absolutely essential to personal growth,
apart from which my soul would deaden bit by bit.

But sometimes I don’t want to talk
And sometimes I need to be alone in my thoughts,
With God
Staring at vast skies like open pages.

I need to lie on my back
Let the grass be my pillow
And take pictures of the sun sinking behind open fields.

And sometimes,
In my calmest of moments,
I need only to be outside and sit there;
Doing nothing particular at all.

So I’ll sit on my front porch
While crickets sing to evening stars
And I’ll stare at the moon
Wondering what the moon sees when it stares at us.

All of this connects me back to the world around me
To God, to people, to the shifting Earth upon which we stand.
And all of this makes me realize
That solitude is an indispensable part of life
For wallflowers and social butterflies alike.

That solitude isn’t selfish
But creates room enough to embrace resonate beauty.
It disrupts the rush, the driving back and forth, the cacophony of sirens blaring through city streets.
It forces me to address the thoughts that keep resurfacing my mind
When it would be easier to keep ignoring them.

It lets me find myself under willow trees
Beside gurgling streams
That sound like the warm water
That will fill up my bathtub tonight.

It helps me find my center
Whether basking in sunshine
Or crunching in leaves,
Whistling along with the birds.

So may it be.

May we find solitude
That fills our souls
So that we are alone, but never really alone.

May we be filled with wonder
That prevents us from ever daring to think we can fully understand
This world, this beauty, the footprints and fingerprints of another.

May the birds’ song serenade you
Open paths guide you
God’s smile shine upon you
And give you peace.

IMG_1442

How do you find solitude? What do you, not do? Where do you go? Where don’t you go? How often do you experience solitude in your life?

Women in Combat? The outcry should be about war, not gender.

“In addition to questions of strength and performance, there also have been suggestions that the American public would not tolerate large numbers of women being killed in war.”

If it’s so “intolerable” for women to die in war, why does that make it “tolerable” for men to die in war? We have standards for how women should live, and now we have standards as to what are acceptable and unacceptable ways for women to die?

Up until today, I didn’t know the Women in Combat law existed. Maybe I live in a rabbit hole, but I actually thought that women and men could equally serve in the military. Apparently that just wasn’t true. One more way in which the sexes are valued differently in American culture, and one more battle won, I suppose.

But what if the issue at stake is not whether females are suitable for actively annihilating other human beings, but what if the real issue is war? How can we minimize it? How can we become blessed peacemakers? Perhaps we can view this as nothing more than a rally cry to “beat our [Ak 47s] into ploughshares?” (Isaiah 2:3-4) Maybe this is our time to “learn war no more.” If we can’t accept women dying in combat, perhaps we shouldn’t accept combat either.

Too simplistic, eh?

Just ask Ghandi. And Rosa Parks. And Martin Luther King.

And they will tell you that equality, nonviolence, and peace can not only coexist, but are entirely indispensable.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/23/women-in-combat_n_2535954.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

How I Spent The Holidays, 2012 Edition. ((aka Sex Ed with my Parents at Christmas Dinner, Sending a Message in a Bottle, and Creating Other Memories I Will Never, Ever Forget.))

The past ten days or so have been a total blur. I’m exhausted, elated, haven’t showered in three days, and for the life of me, can’t seem to remember what day it is and I’d have it no other way.

Something beautiful happened these holidays. Some of it, out of the ordinary. The rest of it, just simple moments treasured a little bit tighter and with a little more gratitude.

There was eating large handfuls of cookie dough, not worrying at all about the possibility of salmonella or the fact that we hadn’t eaten one vegetable that day.
There was a visit to The Peace House,where I was once again reminded that peace truly does exist in this world and all we need to do is create it. 

There was the pilgrimage to my parents house via Route 1 in which I sang along with Cat Stevens to “Peace Train” at the top of my lungs while simultaneously taking pictures of open fields and farms with one hand while driving with the other.

I watched Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” Graceland documentary with my dad as we mused in gratitude at music’s ability to bring together two disparate cultures, calling attention to peace, friendship, and unity in the midst of apartheid’s evil. We sang along to the fast high-pitched choirs of The Gaza Sisters chanting, “I know what I know; I’ll sing what I said…”

I took long walks with old friends.

I talked on the phone for an hour with a dear friend about our goals for 2013 and dreamed something bigger.

I taught my 28 year old sister with Down Syndrome how to use a plunger after someone in the family—-no one will fess up as to who— clogged the toilet. “Smells like poop!” my sister observed. “Yes, but not for long!” I reminded, shoving the plunger deeper into the toilet.

I got yelled at by my dad and sister for still being asleep at 9:30 AM Christmas morning. When I didn’t then promptly rise out of bed one minute after the yelling ended, my sister came in my room, turned on all the lights and jumped on my bed. And I deserved it.

I signed up for my first half Ironman in Boulder, Colorado, August 4, 2013 and went on my first training run: a cold, slow, 2.5 miles spent envisioning months of grit-your-teeth workouts with surges of endorphins, reminding me I am alive and have breath and a body.

I asked my parents “inappropriate” questions during Christmas dinner. “What was sex ed like for you when you were in high school?” After some confused looks from my aunt and mom’s faces, I realize the more appropriate question would have been, “Did you have sex ed?” to which I would learn, “No.” My brother blurted out that the only thing he remembers from high school health class was that his health teacher showed “a 70 year old man’s dong” and was told that, “at this man’s age, his thing will still work. But hers— her’s won’t.” I haven’t heard my mom laugh that hard in years.

My family and I watched The Christmas Story on Broadway the next day, thanks to my dad. My sister ate a foot-long hot dog, to which a 10 year old girl wandering around the restaurant pointed, and exclaimed, “That’s a big hot dog!!”

I spoke out about my feelings of seeing skimpy Aerie model’s plastered on illuminated billboards in Times Square, posing in nothing but a bra and underwear and indignantly stated that this contributes to the continued portrayal of women in hyper-sexualized, objectified, imagery.  I vowed to call it out when I see it and to not look the other way when the world represents my gender with stereotypes that do nothing but perpetuate the association of women as sexual objects instead of strong, competent people, imbued to make part of my life mission be to encourage women to celebrate the alternatives of these messages to discover the unlimited possibilities of who they can be with their lives, minds, and souls. (For more on this topic, see “Why it Matters Whether A Toy is Thin and Sexy or Not.”)

I sipped peppermint mocha with a mentor and walked away inspired, grateful, ready to make changes, and considered myself lucky to have such an influence in my life.

I biked down 34th St., Baltimore’s premier street for the best Christmas lights in town, with 500 people on bicycles during December’s Baltimore Bike Party. Stuck behind cars full of kids sticking their heads out windows, oooh-ing and aaaah-ing over Christmas lights, I sang along with some bikers who played “Tiny Dancer” from the back of their pimped-out bicycle. “Blue jean baby, LA lady…” we sang, gazing upward at white Christmas lights strung across the street, connecting neighbor to neighbor (and apparently biker to biker).

I went to the BBP’s dance party afterwards at the Pratt St. Ale House and made new friends. I celebrated a recent friend’s invitation to a “small group for people who are sick of small groups,” as she described a group of friends who are reading a Quaker book right now and finding ways to grow in their faith outside of organized religion. I almost got teary eyed. These are some of the very people I’ve been waiting to meet. I just didn’t know how to find them.

I ate lots of chocolate, especially at unusual times, like breakfast, without feeling one hint of guilt.

I had multiple sleepovers with soul-to-soul conversations, staying up entirely way too late every single night and I didn’t care.

I came up with three book ideas and glanced heaven-ward, asking God for just one to come out of my mind and onto matte paper.

I went on a New Year’s Eve late afternoon hike with my boyfriend and chiseled out pieces of ice encrusted on the water bank’s edges. We smashed them against the frozen stream, each time shouting out a regret of the past year or a promise to ourselves for the new year. “I’ll find a new job I love!” I exclaimed, smashing ice against ice. “This is for every time I people-pleased this year!” Smash. “This is for having a sense of humor next year!” It was free therapy, like whack-a-mole at the board walk, or popping mailing bubblewrap, only slightly more aggressive and freeing.

We said, “Why not?” to stopping by a small group of people gathered in front of the War Memorial on our way home. We dashed to the steps, where about 25 people gathered for an inter-faith prayer vigil to honor the lives of the city’s 216 homicide victims this year. Muslim and Christian pastors offered prayers and together, reading aloud the names and ages of each victim. The names of several one-month-olds were called and each time this happened, the woman next to me and I both gasped. We put our arms around each other tightly for the remainder of the vigil while tears rolled down my cheeks and snot dripped onto my scarf from my frozen nose. When the names were finished being read, tealight candles forming the number “216” were lit and Brian and I thanked the people who spoke, especially Michael, the Muslim man who used his words to express the need for people of differing faiths to come together in the name of peace and our God of Love to work together to end violence. He gave me his email address. Looking Brian and I in the eye, he sincerely invited us to sit down over coffee. I can’t wait to email him and get to know someone who worships Allah, the same God, I believe, that I worship, just with a different name. We walked back to the car, moved, calmed, and in awe of the beauty that still exists in the midst of darkness.

Moving into the latter part of the night, we gathered together eating meatballs and cookies and lots of guacamole around a table of six friends. My friend Rajni and I brought up the topic of our 2013 bucklist. “Bucketlist?” our friend Sam asked. “Yeah. It’s like a list of things that we want to do with our life, only we’re going to do them by December 31, 2013.” “But bucketlist implies you’re going to die at the end of the next year. Is that what you really want to call it?” “Ok, so not a bucketlist.” “An…. action list?” Yes. An action list. So we went around the table, each sharing tokens of our newly-created 2013 Action Lists. “Visit an Indian reservation,” Rajni shared. “Develop my sense of humor and stop taking life so seriously,” I offered. “Run a 3 hour marathon,” Sam declared. “Grow an urban vegetable garden,” Brian stated. We toasted to each of these dreams, played “2012” one last time while still in the same year, and left the house for New Year’s Eve fireworks at the harbor.
We ooh-ed and aaahh-ed over each burst and slow fizzle of dissipating firework in the cold nighttime sky, celebrating each and every one until the last firework of the grand finale. “Encore, encore!” We pleaded. Shrugging it off, we decided our night had only just begun. The six of us rolled, somersaulted, and crab-walked down Federal Hill Park until we were so dizzy that we fell down when we stood up. We walked along the harbor promenade and finished off a bottle of wine on the dock, deciding to send a message in the bottle off into the cold harbor waters. So we each wrote a token of kindness, like “live love,” and “This is your sign! Follow your dreams!” while singing The Police’s “Message in Bottle” and signed it: January 1st, 2013 Baltimore, MD and video-recorded the ceremonious toss of the bottle into the harbor. We walked away from the pier while one member of our group (I’ll protect their anonymity) peed on The Ritz Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton residences at the inner harbor are lavish condominium homes to the rich. Very rich. I applauded this person for his work, deeming it a big, “f*ck you” you to the rich. I realize we should love all people. I swear I try. But I just wonder where these people, with their Ferraris in the garage and high rise condo overlooking the harbor, were, when those 216 homicides took place this year and if they ever bothered to listen to the story of someone who knows the reality of life on the streets.

Proceeding onward, we walked right into the send-off a wedding. People in dresses and tuxes lined in a row with sparklers pointed in the air cheered on a bride and groom hopping into an old-school black carriage-like car. We stood near the line in our jeans and winter coats cheering on the bride and groom, as if we fit right in and had been at the wedding the whole time, whooping and hollering and celebrating along with a bunch of strangers at the dawn of a new year.

We meandered closer toward our destination, as if to hope that walking slower would make time slow down too, and stopped at the sand volleyball courts, where we made sand castles and wrote “love” in the sand with fingers in mittens. Sean, arguably the most social of the group, asked a guy dosing off in a parked truck to come out and take our picture. So we jumped in the air and the camera flashed and we said a big “thank you” and “happy new year” to a kind, tired stranger, desperately trying to prevent the final grains of sand from slipping to the bottom of this night’s hourglass.

As we headed back home, Brian hopped on my shoulders unexpectedly for a piggy back ride, and a group of young women cheered us on saying, “You go woman. I know, that’s right.” I couldn’t help but smile (and pray my knees would hold up just another block longer) and wish for the night to slow down. We spent the rest of our stroll linked arm-in-arm as a group, protesting adulthood, swearing it off entirely, proudly proclaiming we’ll live forever young. We wished every single passer-by on the street a “Happy New Year!” and it’s as though for one night, the entire world was civil and kind, like amiable old friends.

Rajni slept over and we stayed up chatting until sometime after 3:30 AM, excited about life, pondering adulthood, and how to live out our dreams and nullify normalcy and regularity, trading it in instead for life and vibrancy and contraire adventures. I climbed into bed and whispered into the atmosphere a “thank you” to God, bidding him/her goodnight, grateful for every stupid, beautiful, outrageously alive memory newly stamped in my mind and fell fast asleep.

I share these memories because I don’t want to forget them—the constant laughter, the friendship. I share them to etch every detail into a place I can come back to so that I can remind myself one day of what 25 felt like. I’m sure you have those memories too. Those times in life where you didn’t have a camera to capture every laugh, or a piece of paper to jot down every funny quote someone said that night, but still, you remember these moments. And I wonder what it would look like if we shared these memories to each other, to the world. And how much more beautiful this place would be. And how you would inspire me. And perhaps I would inspire you. And together, each human would inspire every other human. I wonder what would happen if instead of feeling pressure to adhere to societal definitions of “success,” we created our own anti-conformity and raised our hands in the air or sang or danced or cartwheeled or rolled down hills and rejected all that we’ve been taught for instead, what we feel, what makes us truly come alive, what makes us experience the beauty and wonder of life in all of its fullness. Because it’s possible. It’s happening already. We’ve only just begun. 

January First.

1/1/13.

Let’s see each other 12/31/13 and share deep belly laughs or shed a few bittersweet tears together as we talk about where this year has taken us and how we traded in fear for fearlessness.

Yes.
I can’t wait to see what we do with the year.

Because there’s 364 days left. And it’s all uncharted…

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The Peace House

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There’s a street in Baltimore where incandescent lights, flags, Christmas trees made out of recycled bicycle tires, and lit up crabs brighten cold December nights as people gather together year after year. Some hold hands, others push strollers, but each meander down the sidewalks with a sense of lifted spirit and joy, a little twinkle of hope somehow rising within them like the sun, undismayed and resolute, shining even if it’s going to be a cloudy day. Now in its 65th year, residents of W. 34th Street in Hampden, Baltimore put on a dazzling Christmas light display, multi-colored lights strung from one side of the street to the other unite neighbors in cheer as a “labor of love.” People from all over the world gather to check out this earnest display. Residents of each house on the block participate to emanate joy and unity, even though for them, this means a hike in their BGE bill, crowded streets with even more limited parking, and people roaming your street until all hours of the evening.

Each resident allows visitors to come up on to their porches and many leave out guestbooks for people to sign, noting that they delight over seeing where people have traveled from. I made my way down this street for an annual pilgrimage yesterday, just a short walk away from my house. I confess I began the evening with a slightly heavy heart exacerbated by too many conversations and images in the past week centered around gun violence or gloomy media portrayals of the fiscal cliff. I had just come from work, where I sat down with a man who had withered down to no more than 100 pounds, hospitalized from an opportunistic infection stemming from an HIV diagnosis. The holidays fast approaching, he whispered softly that his family doesn’t speak to each other. My heart broke. But this man had such a heavenly spirit in him, and warmed my heart with his resiliency, perseverance, and strength to keep hope alive for one more day. Needless to say, the presence of lights, people holding hands, arms draped around each other’s, smiling for pictures, made my heart grow warm on a chilling, windy evening. Of all the houses I visited that night, one stands out the most:
The Peace House. If you go to this neighborhood, it will be halfway down on your right. You can’t miss it. It’s the lawn with this emblazoned on the grass, welcoming you in:

IMG_1160I climbed up the steps and approached a table on the porch with a note from the house owners, Elaine and Ed. They describe the joy of living on this block, being able to mark a holiday season characterized by hope, goodwill, merriment, and joy. “Family and friends come together and peace seems possible. Whether it be a bright smile or the shiny eyes of a child or the kindness people show to one another, peace is all around.” They then invite each guest to write in a notebook what their vision of peace looks like, encouraging people to sign their name and mention where they’re from. Some of the comments in the book were funny, like “peace signs and pizza” and others were more serious, talking about being at peace within one’s soul to intentionally commit to bringing peace in interactions with each person one comes in contact with. Choked up, I continued to look around the porch. Pieces of fabric with “peace” written in over a dozen languages garnered the top of the porch like paper chain decorations. Dozens of rectangular flags criss-crossed above our heads: colored fabric with yin-yangs, the Star of David, the Celtic Cross, and other peace symbols. “Pray for peace” banners and rainbow “peace” pennants blew gently in the wind. “We can be the change we wish to see” emblem stitchery and a “Coexist” sticker (with the Islamic IMG_1181Star and Crescent, peace sign, the Jewish Star of David, and Christian cross) displayed to usher in the observance of peace as not only possible, but already occurring in this world. Also adorning the porch was a “world peace” display with newspaper footage of individual leaders who have stood for peace, containing images of faces such as Martin Luther King, Jane Addams, and Mohandas Gandhi, reminding each of us to take a stand for peace with whatever that looks like in our own creativity and passion.

It was beautiful, and just the reminder the world needs to hear more and more each day.

But perhaps what grabs me most about The Peace House is that when this couple moved here, the Peace House, as we know it, did not exist, but rather, what transpired came from the creativity, beauty, and imagination of their souls. Sometimes, we are met by doubters, by naysayers, by collective media and acts of violence that try to usurp beauty and harmony with discordance and chaos. But every day, we have a choice to make: to go along with the cynics or intentionally create acts of peace, beauty, and love for as many to experience as possible. The Peace House gave me hope that no matter what the news stories might say, or whatever the political or religious divides exist in the world, there are still places in which hope and peace and optimism dwell. That there are still compassionate people who want nothing more than to see the world engaged in love; people who don’t just pray prayers (though prayer may certainly be a part of the process), but actively, deliberately create safe places for peace to blossom. The type of place that offers a downhearted or weary wanderer just a little bit of hope, as if to say, “Don’t let your candle burn out just yet.”

Standing there on that porch, surrounded by words and phrases of such beauty, including a Christmas tree adorned with Tibetan prayer flags, and a banner crosshatched with “peace” in several languages, I knew, irrevocably, that peace can still be found and that even those who say peace on Earth is mere fallacy are welcomed in too, here at The Peace House, here in this world, where we can be active facilitators of peace, reconcilers of wrongs, through our homes, our relationships, our souls, and whenever we feel we cannot find it, that is where we must create it. Yes. We have to make peacehouses. We have to sing songs not just for our own ears, but together, whether on street corners in December or through rolled down windows in the spring time, laughing over off-key renditions of whatever catchy song plays from your radio at that moment. We have to speak and say a hearty, “hello!” to strangers, not waiting to speak only if spoken to.

Because there is more peace to be experienced on this Earth. We need only to get outside of our own microcosms of regularity and normalcy to create something more compelling, more inviting. And together, we will collectively taste shalom, pax, la paz, whirled peas, on Earth as in Heaven, this holiday season and always.

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What’s God So Angry About?

There’s things I keep being told about God that break my heart. I can hear them reverberate through my brain right now, voices that, almost hauntingly, make my stomach sink. “God is a God of wrath.” “How long, Lord, will you be angry forever?” Laments the Psalmist. “Where will you spend eternity- in Heaven or Hell? The day of judgment draws near!” shouts the billboard of 1-95 southbound. Here’s 60 more of those.

I get that we disappoint God and ourselves when we hurt one another. When we are selfish. When we forget about the poor and the vulnerable. When we miss the point completely, in all of our arguing and fighting instead of our loving and reconciling. I get that God is out there, somewhere, longing for us to get to know the one who knitted us in the womb.

But why is he portrayed as being so full of anger? Why does he hate our sin so much that he believes we should die for the time when we flipped off the …idiot… driver behind us? Why did he want baby birds or baby cows to die in order to assuage him into forgiving the sins of the Old Testament?

The American Psychological Association classifies anger into two dichotomies: constructive and destructive. Destroying an entire planet except for a dude, his family, some animals, and a boat would fall on the latter end of the anger spectrum. Inciting war? Also destructive. Completely rejecting an entire country? (Psalm 78:59) Destructive. Getting angry over injustice, over what Bono calls “stupid poverty” (preventable poverty, made possible through 30 cent mosquito nets that can literally save millions from malaria), over children being sold into sex slavery, over racism, over sexism, over homophobia, over unfair labor wages, over privilege, over entitlement, over hoarding riches instead of giving freely? Now that’s something worth getting fired up about.

I don’t know why, if our God is love, I’ve heard so much about God’s anger during the course of my Christian development. If you were to be describing a person using the vitriolic language I’ve heard used to describe God’s wrath, anger, and violence, I would be so afraid of this God that I wouldn’t want to show my face- I’d be hiding for shelter all day long, too scared to come out. But, oh, it’s not a person; it’s God. Why is it ok for God to do these things? Because God is who God is and God gets what God wants?

Isn’t there something better that our faith offers?

Isn’t there something more beautiful than wrath and anger and destruction? Getting angry and screaming? That’s easy. But I don’t imagine that a God who created the entire world, including everything, and everyone in it, takes the easy way out. I believe this God patiently wipes our tears after we apologize. I believe this God gives a look similar to the look my dad would give us kids when we did something wrong: We didn’t need to be spanked, or grounded, or punished (though sometimes we were). All Dad had to do was give us “the look” and my brother and I knew at once that we instantly disappointed the very person we love and respect so much. That’s enough for me to feel remorse and regret for my actions. And it was enough for my dad to express his disappointment without destroying me, killing me, or hurting me. And together, we’d have some heart to heart connection after the apologies have been said and the embraces, embraced. And none of that would have ever occurred if we justified our yelling, our destruction, our violence, our rage.

Perhaps the love I experience in those exchanges with my dad is the joy Jesus alludes to when he says, “blessed are the peacemakers.”  There is a gravity inside my heart that longs for God’s heavenly embrace when I’m scared, confused, and alone. It feels like an innate instinct. I think it’s because my heart and mind and soul know that I can trust this refuge, know that I am always welcome back in this Everlasting God’s arms. It must be. Because if my heart and mind and soul didn’t taste of this, and tasted the later- the burning anger, the fiery brimstone, it would protect me from it. For surely, I would die.

I don’t know.

All of this just hurts my heart.

The things I hear youth being told at conferences and conventions and camps about God and how we are detestable in his sight, but luckily, he’ll accept us because instead of making us die, He made some other man die because God loves blood as a means of forgiveness.

It causes me to wonder how we really view God.

If we really see him as so wrathful, how does that impact our relationship with him? Our trust of this God? Our fear of this God? Is this why people are so afraid to propose anything about salvation different from “believe or burn?” Because the God they know is angry and will send people there; no more second, or third, or ninety-nineth chance? What if the “unbeliever” walks gingerly into his or her first few moments of death and experiences a blinding light, struck by the beauty of the God he or she has spent their whole life ignoring, only to realize this wasn’t the God they were  intending to ignore. They wanted to ignore the little gods of hatred, bigotry, and shame. But instead they realized that those gods didn’t exist; at least not in celestial form. The only God that exists is the one who loved them from the start, before the start and now it’s nothing but two long lost lovers in an airport, embracing, making up for lost time, lost connection, and renewed relationship.

All of this makes me wonder, What are we telling our kids about this God? How does this impact their development into adulthood?

I can’t explain away the parts of the Old Testament (and New) that describe God in such violent ways. I think there’s allegory and metaphor, and maybe, just maybe, God didn’t actually write in this book about how much he hates people who don’t worship him, people who perhaps don’t worship him because they’re scared of the God they’ve been presented with.

If Jesus told us to love our enemies, is it not plausible that God and Jesus actually practice what they preach and love people who are too afraid to love him? Even the people who don’t believe in Him/Her because they think S/He stands for ignorance and hatred? 

I’m seriously not trying to be divisive here. My heart just hurts from conversation after conversation of trite remarks about God’s wrath without ever considering that perhaps certain voices in Evangelicism have blown God’s anger out of proportion. When I read this book, when I live each day, when I experience grace and mercy and forgiveness, when I experience the divine connection to God in prayer, when I see the beautiful sky at night, I’m convinced so deeply that we do indeed worship a God that I can confidently call “love.” It feels so good to exhale and shed one more layer off of an asphyxia-causing noose, a layer of dogma I’ve heard about God but never experienced- a God who is more concerned about our sin that the imago dei he placed inside of us.

When your God is love, you are freed to love. When your God is love, you don’t have to walk in fear of when this God’s next outburst will be. When your God is love, you are freed from the ridiculous notion that you have to get the words right, the verse memorized tit-for-tat, have an answer ready for every and any question that comes along. When your God is love, your God isn’t afraid of your questions. S/He simply sees them as an opportunity to connect with a soul s/he loves, and mutually, we gratefully delight in each other’s companionship. And S/He loves us so much that s/he longs to have such moments with us. It’s beautiful, really. And sure not lonely. And definitely not laden in anger. 

They say love is patient, love is kind, love is gentle, that love is not self-seeking.
They say my God is love.

And love conquers all. 

The Fiscal Cliff: Like the Wall Street Crash, “We Need a Little Christmas”

There are two hackneyed words that have droned on the web, radio, television, social media, and even in some conversations I’ve had this week: fiscal cliff. Not being an economist, I confess I dismissed most of it, just interpreting it as another way of phrasing the “not enough money” message we’ve been hearing about for the past five years, that further reiterate the messages of budget concerns I hear on weekly conference calls at work. Deciding, however, to become a little more informed, I found this Washington Post article to express “the fiscal cliff for dummies” (my words, not theirs). For those who can resonate with not quite understanding this issue, here’s a few main points:

The 2001 Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire on December 31, causing, among other factors, congress to discuss taxes increases/decreases and budget cuts. Congress has set a limit on how much money the U.S. can borrow, therefore, a deal must be reached.

Half of the scheduled annual cuts will come directly from the national defense budget, half from non-defense.

Social Security, Medicaid, supplemental security income, refundable tax credits, the children’s health insurance program, the food stamp program and veterans’ benefits will not be cut.

Discretionary programs (those that do not have earmarked funds) could face cuts. This includes educational and public health programs, to name a couple.

The Tax Policy Center has calculated that the fiscal cliff will raise taxes on 90 percent of Americans.

The tax hike would be largely progressive, with the tax rate increasing more on high-income Americans than lower-income taxpayers.

Those are a few highlights. There’s still a lot over my head. But that’s enough for me right now. I took a break from public radio this week— even though I enjoy listening to all the unique highlights and interviews I wouldn’t hear elsewhere— because somehow, whenever I’d leave for work in the morning, and whenever I’d leave in the evening, I always seemed to catch the headline news update. And most headline news reports this week have felt dismal. Parking my car after work this week and hearing words like “fiscal cliff” and “economy” swirling around my brain began to dull my ability to enjoy the blissful Christmas lights adorning the homes and entryways of my neighbors. So I decided to take a “media fast.”

A day into this “fast,” I went to Baltimore’s annual Monument tree lighting celebration, in which the city comes together for the lighting of Baltimore’s Washington Monument. Strolling the streets after the lighting and celebratory fireworks, I came across a quartet of women singing, “We Need a Little Christmas,” right there, on the sidewalk, taking a moment out of their evening to stop what they would have otherwise been doing, slow down, and simple sing a song of joy. A multi-racial crowd gathered around, cheering on the carolers, lauding them with applause. I listened to an older man with a broad smile tell me his about his favorite Christmas song -Oh Holy Night- and the joy that singing brings him. As we waved goodbye, tears warmed in my eyes, a little lump forming in my throat. I’m not normally this sensitive, but it’s just that this peaceful act of beauty has been missing from the news, often times, and, while I’m at it, missing in my life. Like when I complain about how long the grocery store line is instead of striking up a conversation with the man or woman in front of me, grateful to have an abundance of food to choose from and the ability to pay for it. It’s been missing from the world, as we shift our attention towards banter and money and taxes, when really, can’t this whole thing work itself out if we’d all just be a little more peaceful, a little more civil, be a little bit more willing to listen, and be a little bit more willing to cooperate cohesively as citizens of the United States of America? What would happen if, say, we shifted towards the spirit of unity that can so embody this time of year, a time in which every major world religion has a holy day to celebrate, or just finished celebrating a month earlier, as in the cases of the Hindu holiday Diwali and the Islamic New Year.

I think that’s what was captured in the gathering of people surrounding this beautiful quartet. Coming together, instead of dividing; finding hope, instead of despair; giving out of a loving heart instead of hoarding our riches to bless ourselves… isn’t that in the teachings of most major religions, anyway?

Interestingly enough, “We Need a Little Christmas” was sung in the Broadway musical Mame. The song is performed after Mame has lost her fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and decides that she, her young nephew Patrick, and her two household servants “need a little Christmas now” to cheer them up. Patrick protests, “but Auntie, it’s one week from Thanksgiving now!” Intransigent, Mame insists, “It’s time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough. For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older, and I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder. I need a little Christmas now.” I think Mame knew something powerful: the joy of this season can bring hope even in the midst of despair, like in the Great Depression Mame faced.

Though a fictitious story, the lesson that Mame teaches us in the mantra of “We Need a Little Christmas” parallels to times today. No matter how pollyanna or naive it seems, we too can experience peace and joy in the midst of daunting or disheartening headlines that reflect anything but the Christmas spirit. And maybe, if we could focus on things to be joyful about, like stories of kindness and cheer in the media this month, a little bit more than we’ve done during the other months of this year, perhaps that spirit of kindness will help us become united as one this holiday season. As the saying goes, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” For me, as someone who is guilty of taking life too seriously as I all too frequently rush around with my own agenda, only half-heartedly listening to the world and those around me, learning how to express gratitude and gratefulness in the midst of my selfishness and apprehensions. What about you? What about us? What if this holiday season, we learn that we are truly brothers and sisters, neighbors to love? Let’s reflect this spirit  in anyway we can; you use your gift, I’ll use mine. Perhaps your gift is being able to spread a smile across someone’s face as they gather around neighbors-becoming-friends as they hear you sing mellifluously of hope and joy. Perhaps it’s inviting some friends over for no reason at all other than to be together, celebrating the life we’ve each been given. Perhaps it’s gathering your family together and choosing an animal for a family halfway across the world to use as a source of income. Whatever it looks like, it looks like love, it looks like togetherness, and to me, it epitomizes the true spirit of Christmas. Yes,—-

For we need a little music,
Need a little laughter,
Need a little singing
Ringing through the rafter,
And we need a little snappy
“Happy ever after,”
Need a little Christmas now.