Category Archives: Life in General

A New Birth of Freedom

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I, said Gandalf, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us.” .

J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings)

Reading biographies and histories during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been struck again by how ordinary people’s actions affect the arc of history. Whether they went to the front lines of battle or protest, prepared meals or tended the sick, wrote letters or lobbied, planted Victory Gardens or registered voters, made bandages or masks, or organized neighborhoods–or on the other hand, closed their eyes to everything beyond their needs and wants–our forebears’ actions affected the world for good or ill.

Gandalf from Lord of the Rings

Now it is our turn to decide what to do with the time we have been given, to use it for good or ill. Will we speak and act for good? Will we do that which is uncomfortable or costly or boring or dangerous to help ensure that goodness, freedom, justice, and democracy win? Will we take time away from what we would ordinarily do and add our weight to the scales of justice and goodness? Or will we think our participation is so minor that it won’t make a difference if we let the moment pass?

I know. All of us wish we could live now as it were 2019: seeing friends and family, tending our gardens, volunteering as usual, and watching The Great British Baking Show. But it isn’t, and we can’t.

This Is Our Time

It is 2020, and millions of lives, the climate, a racial reckoning, and the future of American democracy are at stake. It is not overly dramatic to say that the November election is crucial to America’s survival as a free, democratic country. It is also crucial for controlling the coronavirus, saving lives, education, the economy, and dreams. It is crucial to saving the climate and healing the planet. Need I say it again? The American journey towards a more perfect union is on this year’s ballot.

With this in mind, President Abraham Lincoln’s words carry a new meaning for me this year. The fight of which I hear him speak is no longer on an American battlefield but at the ballot box and in the court.

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

President Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1883

It is our turn to ensure that the American Experiment survives the forces that would destroy it from within and without. It is for us, the living, to protect and preserve in our time the freedoms for which our forebears “gave the full measure of devotion . . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Please join me in this effort by doing one or more of the following.

Decide What To Do With The Time That Is Given

  • Vote
  • Pledge to vote early and avoid long lines on Election Day. Tell five friends to do likewise.
  • Volunteer with Reclaim Our Vote (here) to ensure people of color in voter-suppression states are registered and know where to vote.
  • Be a poll worker if your Covid-19 risks are low. Poll workers are in short supply this year.
  • Host or join virtual house meetings for a candidate you support.
  • Make financial contributions to candidates, the NAACP, or the ACLU.
  • Contact your Board of Elections to clarify where you can vote this year and the dates of early voting.
  • Request an absentee ballot immediately (if requests are necessary for your state) if you plan to vote by mail. Tell five friends to do likewise.
  • Talk to friends, family, and acquaintances about what is at stake and enroll them in the effort.
  • Share this post with others.
  • Pray. And when you pray, move your feet.

The Resilience of Hope

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, I put a table with colored chalk and hand sanitizer near my front sidewalk with a sign reading, “Please draw a picture or message of hope. Please use sanitizer before and after. Stay safe. Stay well.”

Almost instantly, people began drawing and writing. When rain washed away the chalk, they drew new pictures. Week by week the pattern continues: hope drawn, hope gone, hope drawn. The resilience of hope visible on my sidewalk.

When I first set out the chalk, I had no idea what would happen. Would we become the crazy people with chalk in front of their house? Would anyone draw? Would it matter? Like priming the pump at a fundraiser, I drew a smiley face to get things started, then took my dogs for a walk.

By the time I returned, there were pictures on the sidewalk. Within days, there were rainbows, flowers, stars, a car and a unicorn. There have been trucks, cats, dogs, houses, families, and smiley faces–even one wearing a mask. Today there are fireworks, pets, mountains, and flowers on my sidewalk.

I was moved by what people drew that first week. I was awed. I still am.

Some people draw, others write messages: Believe hope will come. We will get through this. Love, Peace, Hope. Be Kind. Wash your hands. Thanks for letting us draw. Together.

My sidewalk makes people smile in an otherwise grim time.

People have been leaving messages and drawing pictures ever since. Some people pause to look at the drawings and smile as they continue walking. Parents have said my sidewalk is their child’s favorite part of their daily walk. Teens have shown me which pictures they drew and messages they wrote. Adults have thanked me for giving them a place to share. The sidewalk project has helped build a sense of community that counters our isolation. When I need a lift, I walk out to my sidewalk and feel hopeful that we will make it through.

As the weeks pass and the world around us changes, so, too, have the messages changed. They began with “Stay safe; Wash your hands; Love, Joy, Hope; Hope will come.” After the killing of George Floyd, they’ve included “Black Lives Matter,” and “This Sidewalk Is a Blessing.” June arrived and “Happy Pride Month” appeared. This weekend, someone wrote “Just Mask Up or Stay Home” in beautiful colors. Always, there are messages of “Be kind; It will be OK; We’ll get through this.”

Today the sidewalk art includes green mountains beneath a blue sky and yellow sun, “Black Lives Matter, Just Mask Up or Stay Home,” a house, fireworks, a dog saying “Woof,” and flowers. When my own green shoots of hope wilt in the face of the day’s news, I stand at my sidewalk and feel hopeful.

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love,” says Mother Teresa. I can’t do great things to change the world, but I can do small things with love. One of those small things is to set out chalk and sanitizer and create a canvas for people to share dreams, resilience, and hope with others.

Even when it’s washed away, hope is resilient. Breathe it in: We will make it through.

White Clown fish Swimming in Water

A White Woman Speaks About Race

The release of videos of George Floyd and Ahmoud Arbury’s murders and Breonna Taylor’s death at the hands of police, combined with the systemic racism made evident by the Coronavirus Pandemic, has finally convulsed the U.S. in outrage. It’s time for a giant leap forward as a country.

The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus wept when he heard his friend, Lazarus, had died (John 11:35). Those words, “Jesus wept,” echoed in my heart over and over as I watched the videos of Floyd’s death, demonstrations against police brutality, and violence by civilians and police. I wanted to do something to make things better but sat numb with tears on my cheeks, instead.

Also echoing in my heart was the part of what Christians call “Palm Sunday” in which Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and, according to the Gospel of Luke, says, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace: But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). It seemed to me that Jesus was weeping with us, as well. Oh, that we knew the things that make for peace.

The Impact of Privilege

I write this as a white American woman privileged by the color of my skin in ways that I am still trying to understand even after years of growth. White privilege is so ubiquitous that calling it to our attention is like trying to get a fish to notice the water in which it swims. Changing metaphors, understanding how privilege works is like peeling layer after layer of an onion.

White privilege affects every dimension of life–for good and ill– from the time a person of any race is born in this country. George Floyd’s murder and the Coronavirus Pandemic are an inflection point challenging us to look in the mirror so that we might see the inequality reflected there and our participation in it.

One example of my privilege is my freedom from fear that I–or a partner, friend, or family member–will be harassed, beaten, or killed while doing the ordinary things of life such as going to the grocery, jogging through the neighborhood, sitting in a car with friends, or sleeping one’s own bed. I don’t worry whether the males in my family will return home alive each time I tell them goodbye. No African American in this country shares that privilege.

Police Car Lights by Scott Davidson

Another example: When I see flashing red and blue lights behind me, I worry about the cost of a traffic ticket but not if I’ll be killed. No African American shares that privilege, either, no matter their age, education, or social status. College professors, members of Congress, corporate C.E.O’s, and firefighters have been questioned and harassed by police officers solely because their race made them seem “suspicious” to white folk.

George Floyd’s murder triggered the protests of the past two weeks, but the power and size of the protests are rooted in four centuries of systemic racism. From economics to criminal justice, health care to pollution, education to employment, politics to internet access, systemic racism affects every dimension of American life.

The United States of America can only be its best self when we address the systemic racism and unconscious biases that pervade it. If we are to become a more perfect union and the country the world needs us to be, we must set aside the patterns of privilege and systemic racism in which we swim.

Moving beyond tears

The day after the Trump Administration cleared a peaceful protest in Lafayette Park with tear gas and rubber bullets so the President could hold up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, for a campaign photo, I opened my own Bible re-read the stories surrounding Jesus’ tears in John 11:35 and Luke 19:42.

This time, I noticed that the stories don’t stop with Jesus’ tears. Jesus’ grief moves him to action in both. He dries his tears and goes to work. Jesus raises Lazarus to life, telling bystanders to unwrap Lazarus’ bindings of death. They do. Lazarus lives.

Jesus leaves the Mount of Olives after his words to Jerusalem and rides into the city. He drives money changers from the temple, heals the sick, confronts oppressive power, and teaches a message of love. He is killed for being a threat to established power.

No less than Jesus was, we are called by God to dry our tears, channel our anger and grief, and focus our energy on doing that which brings life, creates justice, and makes for peace,

White folk like me need to educate ourselves about racism, systemic racism, and privilege; and our role in them. We need to do this without asking people of color to teach us. It is not their burden to educate us. It’s our responsibility to listen, learn, and act; our responsibility to be humble, pry our fingers from power, and with our siblings of color create a country where all God’s children live truly free.

Staying home during the pandemic doesn’t have to mean being passive. To my white brothers, sisters, and siblings, in particular, there are actions we can take against systemic racism even as we follow health guidelines and stay safe during the pandemic.

Anti-Racism Actions During Quarantine

Read

The Impact of Systemic Racism and White Privilege
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Color Blindness, by Michelle Alexander
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin
History
The 1619 Project by Nicole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times (here)
Taylor Branch’s 3-part history of the King Years: Parting the Waters (1954-’63), Pillar of Fire (1963-’65), and At Canaan’s Edge (1965-’68)
Changing Ourselves, Our Workplace, Community, and Country
How to Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi
Thrive: The Facilitator’s Guide to Radically Inclusive Meetings by Mark Smutny
Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces, by Karen Caitlin
Poetry and Prose
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel, by Zora Neale Hurston
Book Lists and Links
Vroman’s Bookstore of Pasadena Anti-racism Reading List (for adults, youth, and children)
-Third Place Books of Seattle Anti-Racism Audiobook List
Black-Owned Bookstores on libro.fm can be found on this Instagram post.

Watch

Just Mercy (Movie)
Harriet (Movie)
Selma (Movie)
Mississippi Burning (Movie)
BlacKkKlansman (Movie)

Write and Telephone

-Several states (primarily in the South) have removed people from voting roles to affect election results. Many of these people first learn about their removal when they try to vote. Join the Reclaim Our Vote Postcard Campaign (here) to notify these voters in time for them to clarify and restore their status. ROV has already contacted over 1.5 million voters.
-Register with Indivisible (here) and/or Black Lives Matter (here) for up-to-date writing, calling, and in-person campaigns.
-Additional links to websites, organizations, and resources for change

White People: Weep. Listen. Learn. Act.

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