Monday, March 21, 2016

Cultivated Power

She reaches up to break through
the frozen barricade. 

Finding the sun. Finding the air. Finding a way. 
Up and out. 

Metal and muscle stashed away for the time. Impotent. Waiting. Waiting.

But she with forceful struggle uncurls. Unfurling tiny, sweet, tender, tendrils.


Breaking through she lifts her face to the sun and unveils.

Warmth and light
Revealing. Revelling. 
Undeniable. Unfathomably lovely. 

A beacon of hope. Life. Creativity. Ingenuity. 

And exquisite frailty. 

Exultation. Proud and powerful. Jubilant. 
Shouting for joy.

Winter wants another round. 
Weighting. Weighting. 

Shaping her gift: an icy stole. 
Hard. Harsh. Heavy.

She shrugs. She bends. She bows. 

She dances, adorned with sparkling crystals. 
Underestimated beauty. 

Fragile. Frail. Unbroken. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dancing with Strawmen

A conservative friend posted this letter and asked his progressive friends to respond. I don't think my progressive friends claim me in their ranks, but I identify (with hesitation) as a democrat and I took the bait. After some back and forth, he suggested we get back to the point. This letter. 

This letter is, to my mind, emblematic of deep political divide. We are not talking with each other, we are talking about each other, and sometimes we're screaming. This letter is not aimed at me. It is aimed at similarly minded people who are also angry at me. It is not intended to wake my mind to new ideas, it is intended as a jeer. The reader, not me, is expected to laugh and pump fists in loud agreement about the idiots on the far side. 

But my friend, a thoughtful conservative, did not hear what I heard. Fascinatingly, he didn't even hear the insult aimed at me. So deep is the divide, that where I heard insults, he apparently heard truths. So, line by line, I wanted to make sure he read the same thing I read. 

Dear lazy, liberal “Christians”

The letter tees off with what is among the most offensive thing he writes. I'm not a "Christian." I'm a Christian. The scare quote implication is deeply (and deliberately) offensive. Rightly, faith informs politics, not the other way around. Using politics as litmus test for faith is, um, uncharitable. And wrong. And rude. 

who think it’s totes okay for government to be “charitable,”
Style. You are implicating youth, I suppose? We're totes diverse. Totes. We also don't think the government is charity. I assume this is an indirect reference to social safety nets. 

Stop it. You’re lack of understanding for how government works is just terrifying.
*Your. But I am a terrible editor and I make a thousand typos a day. I won't judge you for the mistake, tempting though it is when the following phrase is, "lack of understanding." 

Not terrifying in the peeing my pants kind of way, terrifying in the Pontus Pilate way. You know, the guy who cleaned his hands of the matter and allowed Jesus to be crucified. “Mob rule” won that day, logic did not.
*Pontius. Sorry. I will stop. It is the line by line thing. It makes errors pop out. I make 'em by the million. But then, I try not to call other people stupid. 

Anyway. Sweetheart, I am so glad you are not afraid of me. Coming from the side of the aisle which is currently imploding over the masses loudly choosing a barbaric mouthpiece over leveler heads, there is some irony. "Give us Barabbas!" It is so clearly and obviously the wrong choice, but your party is too angry to care. But you are not comparing us (me) to the masses, you are comparing us (me) to Pontius Pilate. He didn't choose evil; he allowed it to be chosen. 

Am I saying you crucified Jesus? No, of course not, but I am saying you’re wiping your hands of responsibility by allowing the government to be “charitable” on your behalf. Not only is that just plain lazy, it’s anti-Christian on principle. It also shows a complete lack of understanding for how Christianity works. Even if you do have a Jesus fish on your car. Lemme guess, you drive a Prius? We’ll address that in another post. But please, understand, if you take away nothing else from this column, the left lane is for passing!

OK. So, there are a lot of evils we could talk about. (There are even a few which might work in your comparison.) but you chose governmental charity. Can we talk about that? What exactly are we talking about? I assume you are not a complete monster and you do not oppose all social safety nets, right? You are attacking a category, but you wouldn't approve of abolishing it. That is because, rightly implemented, the category is not about charity but justice. Both/and not Either/or. Social safety nets and charity. We don't pick.

Jesus called his disciples to care for the least of these. The poor, the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit prisoners, etc. This is Christianity 101. We all know it. As Christians we’re called to be Christ-like, to be his disciples, to preach his word. All good things. Put a giant check mark next to your Jesus fish.
This is going to sound like a slight detour, but hang with me. Christianity 101 has been skipping a chapter- the same chapter for as long as I can remember. Everyone knows the list. There are not many places where Jesus says, "Do this or you'll go to Hell." Where he does, we should notice. Largely, we do. Your list: the poor, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner-- it is the right list. You are reciting, not quoting so I won't hold the omission against you. But let's notice anyway, because everyone makes the same omission and I cannot bring myself to believe that Jesus would approve. The verse in question says, "Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’" 

Did you notice? Hunger and thirst can be paired, so we won't call that an omission. Likewise, ill and in prison. Who are you leaving off the list? The stranger. Always the stranger. Go ask anyone to quote that verse and, the chances are unless they look it up they will make the same mistake. Who is the stranger and why is he on the list? Why does everyone forget? Scripture has a lot to say about this guy and it is uncomfortable. There is room for discussion, of course, but discussion isn't happening. Here is one place to begin: 21 Stranger Claims in the Old Testament.
Here’s the rub, though. Who did Jesus tell to take care of the poor, the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit prisoners etc.? His disciples. Okay, yeah, that does sound obvious, doesn’t it, what with me pointing it out all of one paragraph up? Welcome to the literary technique of “foreshadowing.” But for some reason you leftist Christians have confused Jesus’s teachings to his disciples, with instructions for government.I get it, sometimes Jesus used parables to make things easier to understand. In the days before Twitter, Jesus had to simplify a lot of things so people would remember his teachings and subsequently pass them down via oral transmission. Yet despite his over 140 character limit, Jesus never said “Blessed are those who believe the government should tax people, so that government can redistribute it and give to others. Because personal responsibility is overrated. #FeelTheBern” Unless I’m missing a beatitude.
 If you get to repeat, I get to repeat too. Both/and not either/or. Social safety nets do not replace charity. If you think they do, you do not understand either one. 

Jesus tells us to do all these things, but he doesn't say how. Is donating to a soup kitchen OK, or is the act too far removed? Is any cooperative action OK? There are fools on both sides who are spouting off about how Jesus would vote for their guy and we should too. Snopes even had to refute one popular idiocy saying that the pope had endorsed Bernie. So I get it. You are hearing nonsense. Here's the thing: Jesus wasn't a Republican either. In his great wisdom, Jesus did not come to a time and place where participation in civil society meant voting for one of two immoral parties. The whole WWJD thing nearly always sounds weird to my ear. The incarnation means we are both to act as Jesus and to see Jesus in each other, even when the other in question happens to be running for office. Diverse opinions and perspectives nearly always add value and sometimes more than one is true. So how are we going to do the things Jesus said we have to do? We are likely going to disagree about the answer, but that's OK, provided that no one thinks an appropriate answer at the Pearly Gates is, "I voted." You want that point? I'll give you that point. Voting, even voting for social safety nets, does not absolve anyone of the critical commands in scripture. 

Oh, but you say the government are the people because the government is actually funded by the people. Therefore the government, in the mind of you, is made up of Jesus’s disciples? Clever.Okay, let’s talk about that.
I'm not owning that garbage. Nope. But then, I also refuse to say that we are a Christian Country. 

In short, no. You’re wrong here too. Sucks, don’t it? See, in order for the government to give money to people who do not have it, or have not earned it, the money must first be taken from people. Yes, it is taken. Sometimes by force. Most people, if given the choice, would not volunteer their money to the government. Put simply, taxes are not voluntary, charitable donations. Still with me?
Ugh. Dude. With the tortured youth rhetoric. Whose voice are you mocking? Did you find some nitwit, redneck, Christian, Sanders-supporting, liberal millennial? Is that a thing? I guess I should count my blessings. If your strawman was a hipster we'd be parsing bespokes and perchances. 

But your point. No. Taxes are not charity. And no, they are not voluntary. We are with you, captain. Except for that quip about people who have not earned it. Do I sense poverty shaming? Foreshadowing again? Meh. I'll let you get there. 

 I’m feeling the Jesus theme, so let’s have ourselves a parable.Two men are walking on a street. One of them is a cis-gendered man, the other is a white transwoman. Multiculturalism. They come across a homeless woman, who has scrawled “Will Work for Food” upon her sign, probably with a pen which is toxic to the environment. One of the men says “This saddens me, someone should do something.” The other man agrees, responding “Yes, someone should do something about it.”A third person walks by. Gender neutral for purely illustrative reasons. Let’s call it/zi “Jordan.” Stay with me on this one, leftists. Both the transwoman and the cis-genered man stop Jordan. One pins Jordan to the ground, the other takes his wallet by force, removes 38% of the cash, pockets a large percentage for himself (administrative fees) then gives a few dollars to the homeless woman.Pleased with themselves, the tranny and the cis-man pat Jordan on the back and say “Thanks for being charitable.”In case that wasn’t clear, if you’re the “Christian” who thinks the government should give money to others, you’re the tranny. And possibly a sex criminal, we won’t know for sure until you meet a jury of your peers.That’s not transphobia, by the way,
YES IT IS. Did using a slur make you feel better? It is a huge distraction from your point. An illuminating and bilious distraction. But finish anyway.  
 I was merely distinguishing my parable from the many parables Jesus told about work, or being charitable to others, or the one about the mustard seed, but didn’t tell about the government redistributing wealth. Again, perhaps I missed that part. But I know for certain Jesus never used a transgender in his parables. Confusion averted.
Confusion is still dancing circles around your convoluted "parable." (See? I can do scare quotes too!) But, lets get straight to the point, shall we? In your story, two people assault a third to give a few bucks to a homeless woman and that, you think, is representative of liberal Christian voters? Let me just ask, what if we cut the homeless woman out of the story and insert, say, war. Does that represent conservatives? Of course not. Because no one sane actually thinks that taxes and robbery are the same thing. 

I don't actually know you. Maybe you are an anarchist or an idiot or both. But let's assume not. You don't object to taxes generally. You don't even object to legal ramifications for people who refuse to pay. You object to tax money being spent in specific ways. This "parable" is all bluster and steam. 

Now that we’ve established you’re being a miserly crapweasel,
Hang on. I have to talk to my friend who posted this for a second. J- See? The name calling is not "alleged." It is repeated. Did you really miss it? -B
let’s also take you to task for not giving at all. Across the board, regardless of income level or faith, Conservatives give much more personal contributions to charity than liberals do…
Conservatives give more regardless of income level. I have seen those numbers too. The same data set provides other tidbits. Gays give more than anyone else, for instance. The very stingiest of all are secular conservatives. Fascinating. But to your actual point, it turns out that religion, not politics, predicts donating habits. Religious liberals and religious conservatives give pretty equally. Faith is not irrelevant. Look it up. Then stop spitting on my Jesus fish. 

Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.Because, as leftists of course, you think “charity” is a vote for Bernie Sanders. This is incorrect. See above parable. See also,the Bible. See also a dictionary which will outline the difference between charity and taxes. Cross-reference to see if they’re synonyms. Tell me what you find…
Oops. I responded before you finished. Sorry. See above. 
So please, for the love of what Jesus actually taught, stop voting for politicians who promise to raise taxes.
Get ready for non-sequitur in 3...2...1... 
You’re not being charitable, you’re not being Christ-like.
Bam! There it is. Maybe I am not. I am trying. In any event, my voting habits are not predictive. 
You’re just being an easily exploited rube with zero critical thinking skills. No, your Jesus fish will not absolve you of this one.
Name calling again, my friend? Rude. 

Listen. Reasonable people can disagree about taxes. What does a fair tax look like? How high or low? Progressive or flat? Reasonable people will also disagree about where the money should be spent. Defense spending or social safety nets? Veterans? Space programs? Education? What should the budget be and how should we allocate the funds? We will argue about priorities and budgets. These things matter and reasonable people will disagree with enormous emotional energy. If you want to have that conversation, I am listening. 

Reasonable people do not equate taxes and aggravated robbery. 

Oh! And by the way. The Jesus fish thing? I don't know why you keep bringing that up. We liberals more commonly sport COEXIST stickers. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

hijab solidarity

I have been thinking about it for some time. I have a couple friends who have done it, but none locally. Is this a thing I want to do? Do I want to wear a hijab?

I am homeschooling my oldest daughter and February is black history month. We've been going to the library and choosing books. I let her choose her own books. She chose a book about Frederick Douglass and a book about Abraham Lincoln and one children's book about a cotton picking slave. We've been talking about slavery and the idea that people can be treated like property. We talk about history since slavery was abolished in our country. We talk about racial bias and discrimination. We talked about different forms of discrimination. We talked about how discrimination thrives when it is tolerated. We talked about how sometimes discrimination is overt, but sometimes is quiet and insidious. We talked about how it isn't gone. Some people live in fear even now.

And then I knew. I want to do this. It is not OK with me that some of my neighbors live in fear.

I need my kids to see that it is not enough to disapprove quietly in your home. This tiny and safe act is barely more than quietly disapproving. But it is visible. And my kids would see. We are not people who allow discrimination. Maybe we don't know how to fix it, but we won't tolerate it. And that is not nothing.

I read criticisms of hijab solidarity. You cannot lay claim to an understanding of oppression just because you wore a symbol for a day. That is kind of like the Romney thing (remember?) when he told America that he understood poverty because he ate ramen and used an ironing board as a table.It is nonsense and it is offensive. Also, many Muslim women do not wear the hijab and some even see it as a symbol of oppression.

I will not claim any insight into an oppression I have not experienced. That voice is not mine and if you are not already listening, you should be. There are first hand experiences all over the place. Whether for themselves and their friends or for their children or even the children themselves, the voices are there and you should be listening.

As a Catholic, I am familiar with a disagreement about whether a veil is a symbol of faith and/or humility and/or femininity or a remnant of a patriarchal iteration of the faith. I do not have any opinion at all about whether or not Muslim women should wear the hijab beyond this: it is not a choice which should be influenced by fear.

I chose to wear the hijab.

I worried about what to wear. Was my attire going to reflect a culture I couldn't claim? I put on bland, grey, modest clothing which wasn't going to reflect anything at all. Then I found my favorite scarf. But I worried again. Can any scarf be a hijab? Are there rules? Is my French floral thing all wrong? But, I had committed and that is what I had.

I didn't know how to put it on, but youtube has a million tutorials. I watched several, and then I played with the scarf until it framed my face. Is my hair supposed to be fully covered? Tight around the chin or no? Apparently, there is a thing called a hijabi pin. I didn't have one and I couldn't find a safety pin, so the wrap is looser than I liked.

I was self conscious about my face. I am not usually. But, wrapped, it felt on display. My eyes are not symmetrical and my teeth are crooked. I noticed every blemish and wrinkle. I put on make-up. Not much, because I am still me and I just don't know much about make-up. Just lip gloss and mascara.

I ventured downstairs where the kids were waiting and ready to go outside. I was all worked up in my head. Were they going to ask? What would they ask?

But they didn't. My two year old told me, "I like your lips."

We went outside and all the sudden I wanted to run back in. What would my neighbors think? What if I ran into someone I knew? What if a stranger asked me questions? What would I say?

Fully clothed, with more covered than I am used to, I felt naked. I felt exposed. I felt like I was showing something personal which perhaps I'd prefer to keep private. Why? What was I showing? My own faith was as neatly tucked away as it generally is.

I realized that I was afraid, fairly or not. I did not expect to encounter any rudeness in my area, but I didn't even want to see questioning eyes. I picked up my head and I smiled.

In the end, I was not out for very long. It was strange and harder than I thought it would be. I felt like a coward.

I will probably do it again and maybe I will get more comfortable. Maybe I will even get better at scarf oragami.

It is a tiny act. But in my house, it is a beginning of a discussion. It is a quiet but visible choice. We will not tolerate religious bigotries.

I am an American. But I am a Catholic first.

"I'm a Muslim, but I'm an American first." When I read it, I thought it was jarring. I'm an American, but I'm a Catholic first. Unapologetically. But the thing is, I'm allowed to be. No one demands that I apologize or undermine my faith. No one. They might not get it and they might even make laws which prove the ignorance. (Guys, no. We oppose birth control as such, not just if it causes abortion.) But I'm allowed to disagree. And I'm allowed to cite my faith as reason. I'm allowed to be Catholic first.
Religious freedom means nothing if it excludes unpopular religions.
A popular evangelical leader went on a popular TV program and made the accusation that Muslims are infiltrating DC and the White House. The interviewer got credit for pushing back: what evidence do you have. (None, as it turns out. Hearsay.) But it's the wrong criticism, right? The whole accusation was that Muslims are there. Not terrorists Muslims or jihadists or whatever the buzzword du jour might be. Just, Muslims are there. The right response is, "Of course there are Muslims in positions of authority and giving advice to those that are! Without them what hope do we have of diplomacy with Muslim nations? Worse, what claim do we have to moral high ground if religious freedom is a myth?
Christians, my friends. My people. My brothers and sisters. We cannot get this one wrong. I'm disgusted. The short-sighted, selfish, fearful bigotry has found voice and its growing. Reject it. Not in my name. Not in my country. Claim the mantle of freedom and love without fear. Religious freedom which only applies to Christian is a lie. No one in America should be afraid to observe their religion. No one in America should have to hide or apologize for their faith.
Disagree, if you do. Loudly and openly. But with love and respect and welcome. Freedom and faith demand it.