Category Archives: Resilience

I Had Dared to Hope

I had dared to hope that I was finally healthy enough to bring energy and imagination to the world again.  But Whack-a-mole returned.  A few weeks after I wrote a New Year’s letter celebrating my improved health, I was diagnosed with heart failure almost as severe my original diagnosis 13 years ago. A specialized pacemaker, a new medication and medically supervised exercise hold out the hope of a stronger heart.  I need ways to hold onto this hope and persevere in “working the program.”

As the U.S. commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, words of King included in an article in the Washington Post inspire me to keep on keepin’ on.

In “King was unpopular and demoralized before he died. He pressed on anyway,” Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick remind me of both a part of the Civil Rights struggle many of us forget and the perseverance of hope:

The shot that echoed in the Memphis dusk 50 years ago still reverberates through our national life, yet there is so much about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. we find hard to absorb.

In our long effort to moderate King, to make him safe, we have forgotten how unpopular he had become by 1968. In his last years, King was harassed, dismissed and often saddened. These years after Selma are often dealt with in a narrative rush toward martyrdom, highlighting his weariness. But what is missed is his resilience under despair. It was when his plans faltered under duress that something essential emerged. The final period of King’s life may be exactly what we need to recall, bringing lessons from that time of turmoil to our time of disillusion.

Celebrating the march out of Selma, Ala., and his early prophetic optimism made sense in the heady Obama years.  Now, we need King’s determined faithfulness.

Once refusing to get on a flight in 1967, King called his wife, Coretta, from the airport saying, “I get tired of going and not having any answers.” His opposition to the Vietnam War cost him support. At a time of emerging Black Power, King’s dream of integration and nonviolence seemed to many insufficient, almost passé. Yet he died still trying to confront “the evil triplets,” how “racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together.”

An unguarded King who still speaks to us can be found in transcripts of Southern Christian Leadership Conference retreats. [At the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, S.C.,] he told his staff in 1966, “I am still searching myself. I don’t have all the answers.” He challenged them — and us — “I’m not talking about some kind of superficial optimism which is little more than magic. I’m talking about that kind of hope that has an ‘in spite of’ quality.” 

[Just four months before his assassination, he told a similar gathering,] “Hope is the final refusal to give up.” King did not just assert this but also lived the belief, by continuing to put his body into his nation’s gun sights. His lack of answers did not keep him from his destiny — which was not fate so much as the result of his choice to show up, to keep on.

Every era finds the King it needs. The version we need now is a King who pressed on through doubt to see a radical vision, as we must [with] the challenges we face. King ran out of certainty but never faith.
(Emphasis mine)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/king-was-unpopular-and-demoralized-before-he-died-he-pressed-on-anyway/2018/04/03/06f9f1d0-345b-11e8-8bdd-cdb33a5eef83_story.html

 

Join the Frogs with Me

It’s almost time for the frogs in the wetlands beside our house to awaken from their winter lethargy and announce their presence.  Our time to awaken has come, too.

As much as I hate publicly calling someone racist, the time has come.  President Trump is racist in thought, word and deed.  He is not the first such occupant of the White House.  Eight Presidents owned slaves while in office.  Woodrow Wilson screened the KKK movie, Birth of a Nation in the White House.  Franklin Roosevelt turned away a ship of 900 Jews fleeing Europe because he didn’t want more Jews in the U.S.*  Richard Nixon used his racist Southern Strategy to become President and Ronald Reagan trumpeted the Welfare Queen.  Until 1965, our immigration policies were written to exclude nearly all immigrants from everywhere but Northern and Western Europe.  Some, like the Chinese Exclusion Act, were particularly heinous.

Scratch below the surface and America’s systemic racism is still visible.  That has become abundantly clear in the past two years.  Those racist currents have again become dangerous as President Trump fans the flames of nationalism, White Supremacy and Christian exceptionalism.

Why do I say President Trump is racist and in thought, word and deed?  He proudly denigrates people of color and Muslims.  His vile comments encourage xenophobia, greed and hate.  His words give succor to those who burn mosques, deface synagogues, and destroy black churches.  His policies against Latinos and Muslim majority countries are break families apart and terrorize U.S. residents.  His comments and actions are considered so derogatory and racist around the world that they endanger our diplomats and military personnel.

Some White folk say the President ought to be free to speak the way they, themselves, do at home and in pubs, as if their racism is O.K. and his ought to be, as well.  But when President Trump uses vile language to speak of Africa, Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras,  or racist language about people here at home, there is much more at stake.  His words carry the full power of the United States, for good or ill.

This is not a game.  It is not innocent.  It is not harmless.  It is life and death.  It is nothing less than the future of our country and the world at stake.

Like the frogs beyond my garden, it’s time for us to raise our voices and start moving.  Citizens have moved this nation towards its ideals in the past.  We can do it again.  We must do it again.

Two citizen movements in U.S. history inspire and prod me to action:  “citizen spies” in Los Angeles and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and ’60’s.

As the KKK and neo-Nazi groups grew in power across the U.S. in the 1930’s, a handful of  citizens in Los Angeles thwarted White supremacists’ plans to torch Boyle Heights and its residents with flame throwers mounted on pickup trucks.  They also disrupted plans to  murder Jewish movie stars and businessmen, and to seize armories across the Los Angeles Basin.  With courage and determination, they acted on their values.

I draw strength, too, from the young Blacks of the Civil Rights Movement who sat in White sections of lunch counters in the South; Black and White Freedom Riders who were beaten and jailed as they registered Blacks to vote; and Black citizens who risked their lives standing up for one another and trying to claim their right to work, love, worship, vote and travel unhindered.  With bravery and determination, they acted on their belief in the ideals of America.

Most of the people who have bent the arc of America’s history towards justice were ordinary people like you and I.  They gave time and energy, skills and expertise, compassion, hospitality and life experience–sometimes even their jobs, homes, and life.

Now it’s our time and turn:  Our time to be courageous and creative.  Our turn to reclaim America from those who tarnish it anew with racism, injustice and greed.

If you’re looking for ideas, here are a few to choose from.  Voice your concerns and beliefs to family, friends, coworkers and members of your church/synagogue/mosque.  Challenge their comments and jokes.  Join Daily Action Text Alerts to participate in coordinated phone calls to Congress.  Contribute money to the NAACP, ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center.  Volunteer with groups that protect immigrants.  Pray.  March.  Run for office.  Read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Learn about White Privilege, systemic racism and how change occurs.  Listen humbly to the experiences of people whose race is different from yours and learn.  Look in the mirror with honesty, and change.  Be creative and courageous.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

 

*At least one quarter of the Jews on the German ocean liner, St. Louis, died in the Holocaust after returning to Europe from the Port of Miami.
**The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 removed limitations of previous policies and, with a more generous quota system, instead based immigration on merit and family connections.
***“Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America,” by Steven J. Ross, Professor of History at USC. 

Small is Huge

Peace LilyRob and Ruth asked if we’d like houseplants they can’t move to their new home.  “Sure!” I responded.  Ruth, with a green thumb and a love for gardening, has a gazillion plants in her home.

While Rob fixed us Saturday brunch, the rest of us walked from room to room, choosing plant after plant for the brand new homeless shelter my husband manages, Compass at First Presbyterian Church of Seattle*.  We loaded 7-foot palms, Christmas cacti in bloom, weeping begonias and Aspidstra; plus tables and artwork, African masks, Peruvian baskets, and two bags of clothing into our pick-up.  The stark white, newly renovated rooms of the shelter need softening.  These would make a good start.

Of the four of us, only Mark realized how much this would mean to the shelter guests.

When we arrived at the shelter, guests emptied the truck in minutes.  One guest with a horticultural degree called each plant by its botanical name as it came in the door.  Another was reminded of the Christmas cacti that filled the deck of her childhood home in California.  A man whose calligraphy decorates the dining area brainstormed where to hang a large, colorful Picasso.  Yet another removed a safari shirt from a bag and, beaming, told me, “This is my Christmas present.”

As we drove home, we were a stew of conflicting feelings:  joy, humility, and gratitude, horror and rage.  We wiped silent tears and blew our noses.  We were lost for words.  How does one speak of the unabashed joy and gratitude we encountered as we delivered what seemed to us like mere plants?  How does one not feel humbled by the guests’ appreciation for the beauty such seemingly small things bring?  How does one articulate awe at the joy of such folk as they decorate a warm, safe, hope-filled shelter for themselves and future guests?   And how does are society justify throwing away people when they or their circumstances become difficult?

HomelessTents_Seattle_KIRO7_620-620x370The next morning, we brought a second load of plants.  It was like walking straight into a geyser of joy, gratitude, and pride.  Guests showed us plants from the day before which they had trimmed and watered as beautifully as if they were in an expensive nursery and which made the rooms softer and more human.  The shelter was full of hardship, resilience, joy and community.

Mark and I headed upstairs for worship.  The scripture read and discussed was a fitting close to Thanksgiving weekend and the beginning of our preparations for Christmas.  As you proceed through the month of December, I pray it will stay with you as it has with me.  Even the small can be huge in impact.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  Matthew 25:31-40

*The newest shelter in Seattle, Compass at First Presbyterian, provides a safe temporary home 24/7 for 80 men and 20 women from homeless encampments in Seattle.  Staff works intensively to locate permanent housing in 60 days, assembling documents such as photo IDs and birth certificates and helping with employment, medical and psychological care as needed.   King County has the third largest concentration homeless in the U.S. behind New York and Los Angeles, 11,643.