It’s been a little quiet on the blog recently because … We got married! On an unseasonably cool day in North-Carolina-August, in the midst of the most torrential downpour, we finally, finally got married. Encompassed by the love of all our … Continue reading
I’m just in this disgustingly liminal space right now. Like when my boots pinch my ankle and i want to change them more than anything in the world but i’m waist-deep wading in snow. So snow boots are what i have to wear, too bad for blisters.
February always feels choppy to me, like the lack of three extra days makes every week compressed. And somehow, the sun setting at 5 and the snow that never ends is making every day stretch to the last crumb on the plate of a dinner i didn’t want to eat.
God, there are too many metaphors here. I’m taking a Short Story writing class, which i am gaga for, but it’s also seriously making me doubt every word i write. Is that too cliché? I ponder, pummeling into the keys. Poppins, whose now almost nine months old and still kitten-sized, has a new hobby: prying off keyboard keys. My “o” is affixed at a 45 degree angle for life, now. So i’m really pummeling the pondering keys here.
I’m ready for Lent. This Ordinary Time, endless February days in a month that shrank in the wash, is so last season.
I’ve got one foot squarely in Durham now, acceptance letter to grad school gratefully in hand. Really, i’ve got my fingers wrapped so metaphorically tight around it they’re Devil blue. But cupcake M&Cs at Mount Holyoke tell me i should feel sad it’s my last semester. I should have been all mopey when the 100 days to graduation banner went up in the campus center. Instead all i could do was whittle them down to the double-digits. Three weeks on a campus and then J is here. I’m done with the liminal, the liminal of long-distance, the liminal of last semesters, the liminal of bloody February and its bloody habit of cramped days that go on for 28 hours a piece.
Lent, though mopey in its dearth of Allelulias, has purpose. There’s the counting and the fasting and the focus. Advent is all in the waiting, the anticipation. I like Advent for the hopeful expectation, i dive into Lent for purpose in the slog. Especially in New England. Spring is kind of a rare commodity here – every April i’ve been through in MA has gone from gritty, grey snow to mud and sun-bathing in the span of about a week.
But for now, i’ll just keep griping about the blisters on both feet. And trying to remind myself i’m lucky to have shoes and really, i should just eat my damn cupcake and get over myself.
We would pile in the living room, my mom tucked in a blanket her mother had probably crocheted. Dad would make cocoa on the gas stove using his camping gear for effect. Even when we lost power it was still warm – gas stove and fireplace keeping us cozy. All the kids on the cul-de-sac, our one pair of wool socks each drying on the tiles around the mantle, would pile in for Dad’s cocoa and mom’s blankets. The first ice storm kept us home for a week after we moved to North Carolina.
Talk about a shock for kids fresh from Southern California.
I always felt sad at the end of a snow day. Sure, it was part grief of the impending return to school and the end of those days more magical than Saturdays because they were gifts given at 7:30 in the morning. But it was more than that.
It was how the neighbors, people whose names i hadn’t learned in four years of a shared zip code, all clustered at the top of the hill to watch us sled. It was the ache in my cheeks from the cold. Snow days weren’t just days away from school, it was like the whole world stopped to be together and outside while blanketed in quiet white.
I’m not exactly a fan of snow now. I drive my New England friends up the wall with my whining, my endless sweeping of the sand out of my room and wishing it was spring already. But i’ve not forgotten how delicious those days were, with my purple snow pants and the sleds my Dad kept stocked in the garage, just in case.
Yesterday, Jonathan and i were driving back from the Harris Teeter. An inch had spread on the asphalt in the half hour we’d been packing the cart with Merlot and cookie dough. Barely two miles home and it took us almost 45 minutes, pushing the CRV ahead of us until she had enough traction to crest the hill. People were abandoning their cars to push other people along, i caught an old man as he tumbled down the hill in boat shoes.
Certainly not the spinning hillside with glee i’d had when six and new to Carolina. But a snow day nonetheless. Neighbors clustering and capping it all off piled chin-deep in blankets, in our fire-place-free living room.
And somehow, the magic of a day off when it’s not Saturday doesn’t dissipate, even at 21.
The last stretch of highway we took wound its way through backwoods Virginia.
I’m always getting lost in rural Virginia. There was the time in 2011 when we detoured to Williamsburg and i got stuck on a one-laner behind a purple elephant playground strapped to a pick-up truck. That venture was followed promptly by the GPS dropping us off at a military base and me burping out profanities at the – kid you not – black cat scampering in front of the bumper.
This time is was because my directions had misprinted; we’d missed a crucial turn and had to improvise. So there we were, rounding mountain roads where Christmas-lit homes were few and gas stations even fewer.
It was late, really late, when two piping kittens finally saw us through our glass-paneled door. I wanted nothing more than to collapse into clean sheets and deep dreams.
So i did, for a night.
It’s been a whirlwind since, seven Christmas celebrations between then and now. Truly, they have been all that is merry and bright and deliciously tacky when it comes to snowcapped wishes. No snow, which is always my wish, and plenty of buttery goods and belly laughs.
Yet as we were wheedling our way through the navy dark, Jonathan remarked that it just didn’t feel like Christmas yet. Sure, the Bublé CD was on repeat, and sure we’d been filling up shopping carts with snowpeople goodies since before Thanksgiving.
His little sister later would say without Santa Claus, the magic was basically gone. Christmas wasn’t as fun, she said.
I was inclined to agree. I’d uncovered the red suit myth early in second grade; “It just seems so overdone,” i’d sighed to my mother. Her eyes were up to her eyebrows. We were in CVS. “Like, there are too many Santa Claus things for sale for him to be real.” Gesture to the Christmas aisle that had been on display since Halloween. It didn’t take two minutes after my mother’s confirmation of my suspicion that i informed my younger brother. He had not whiffed too much consumerism to ruin his fantasies.
I love Christmas, but the commercialization is fundamentally empty. The Hallmark-a-fied pressure to have a stupendously sumptuous supper – or at least a plastic family to laugh over a tanked turkey – is enormously impossible to live up to. And these standards used to make me feel so sad when a family fight erupted or when the boys and i had to shuffle between houses on Christmas morning. This wasn’t what it was supposed to be like, i thought. We’re supposed to all have tacky Christmas jumpers on and crack up at family stories shared over eggnog and mashed potatoes, we’re meant to unwrap the utterly unexpected but totally perfect present.
For the first time, my mother’s church sponsored a Christmas Eve service outside. It was her idea, to gather around fire pits and dole out hand-warmers to the sounds of lessons and carols. Like the first Christmas, she’d said.
My toes were numb by Isaiah, and when the peace went round i mostly waved to people from my newfound spot by the fire. Smoke watered my eyes.
And yet, as cold and imperfect as it was, it was Christmas. Not in the heartwarming, what-a-spectacular-night sort of way. The bite of the cold was real, the smoke unpleasant, but the candles in the dark and the camaraderie all who gathered experienced in staving off the wind was just as real.
I think it’s easy, when reading the Christmas story, to only see the wise people bringing gifts or the miraculousness of the humility of Jesus as a baby. We don’t read about Mary’s labor pains, her lack of pain killers or discomfort at giving birth over hay and goat manure. My mother preached about fear, the fear of the shepherds as parallel to the fear of Herod until each made their own choices. Yet Nativity sets focus on demure porcelain faces, not raggedy or wild-eyed wonder.
I wonder if it’s this fear, this acceptance of the wildness and imperfection of Christmas, that makes it easier for us to want the Hallmark version. To hope for a happy holiday instead of a frostbitten service singing about a silent night, waiting for a sign we won’t fully understand.
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The run stretched from the fold of my knee to my ankle. I toppled out of the car, engine still purring, legs wobbling at their unaccustomed new altitude.
“Just stay in the car!” i craned my neck back at Jonathan, his fingers still thrumming on the wheel. He’d probably put NPR back on without me there. I’d been too nervous to listen to the latest exposé on Joy Division, or whatever.
The lady behind the Rite Aid counter gave me a perplexed once-over, my shimmery pink swath of a dress and elegantly messy bun a vision of out-of-place.
“Y’all carry tights?” i was practically yelping, in need of an inhaler but afraid to elevate my heart rate any more.
“Back row, near cosmetics.”
Heels clacking and eyes as wide as my eyeliner would let them, i flailed my way to the rear of the store. My salvation: rows on rows of Leggs silky-sheer. Five dollars later, i was doubled over in the dingy back bathroom struggling to pull a mess of nylon over my prickly legs. Hopping from foot to foot, i plucked off the ring my Grandmother had given me for my high school graduation, gingerly placing it on top of the toilet paper dispenser. As beautiful as the blue stone was, the beast was the reason for this four-inch-heels sprint through the drug store.
And there i was: legs in nylon knots, trying not to collapse into a hypoglycymic meltdown Rite Aid toilet stall, twenty minutes before the moment i’d been dreaming of since second-grade carreer day.
It was the night of the Talking Taboo book launch.
My book, the real book – not the Advanced Reader’s Copy – was tucked next to my vintage leopard-print coat in the car. I’d outlined in pencil the excerpts i would read, rehearsing with a hairbrush-as-microphone like i was still sixteen and auditioning for American Idol. I’d spent the afternoon slathering myself with hollywood mascara, not caring that i’d be overdressed because you only get one first book launch and this was the dress i felt the strongest in. Pink, effeminate, swishy, and tender. Not a congruent image to the ball-busting feminist ricocheting off the Rite Aid toilet stall walls, but just as much me as the foulmouthed bra-burner found on page 170.
I wound a stretch of scratchy toilet paper around my hand, dabbing at the smears in my foundation. Surrounded by flourescent lights and graying tiles, i stared myself square in my mirror-face. You can, you will, you have. I plucked up my Grandmother’s ring and smoothed down the faux-silk of my skirt.
Jonathan had turned NPR back on by the time i wobbled my way into the passenger seat. Graciously, he turned the volume off and gave me his best honey-you-can smile. With one hand on the wheel and one hand wrapped tightly around mine, he drove the final two miles to the Reality Center downtown.
“You got this, babe.” He’d donned a sport coat and khakis for me, never letting me be the only one overdressed again. In his pocket was a pen, one i’d use later to sign my first book.
“Do i have lipstick on my teeth?” i blurted. He shook his head. “And you’ve got my inhaler?” He tucked the red plastic next to the pen. “Okay, okay, let’s just take a second.” I envisioned myself on my yoga mat, drinking in oxygen as muscles popped with tension-release. Whispered a prayer of thanks, a prayer for confidence, a prayer of humility.
Half-wobbling, half-strutting, we made our way inside.
current jam: ‘rise to me’ the decemberists.
best thing: signing mary’s book!!
Little by little, this book is making its way out to all those who pre-ordered their copies. (And if you haven’t received yours yet, no worries! It’s coming, i promise!)
People aren’t just snapping sassy selfies; i’ve been to one fantastic event already – the Homegrown Preaching Festival in Durham, NC, sponsored by (my favorite non-profit) the Resource Center for Women & Ministry in the South. We had a phenomenal conversation about shame, preaching tough texts, and writing in our multitude of authenticities.
The best part for me, though, was that my mom finally got to read my essay.
I say “finally,” like some centrifugal force was withholding information from her. Really, it was knee-knocking me. But an hour or so before the event, i figure the caving needed to happen and she best know what she was getting into. Spoiler: my mother is the direct inspiration for my essay, as she is my inspiration in my every day. Talk about one helluva boss lady.
Needless to say, my knee-knocking was a moot point. There were tears. Sloppy, mommy-and-me tears.
So it’s going to be hard to top event #1. But i have a pretty solid feeling that the next two big events i’m participating in are going to be hefty competition.
And you’re invited to both events!
The first is the official book launch party on Saturday, November 2nd from 5 – 7 PM at the Reality Center in Durham, NC. It’s free, open to the public, and there’s going to be cocktails AND readings from some of the contributors. And, of course, there will be books available for purchase. Seriously, what more incentive do you need?
The second is still in the works, but folks in the Pioneer Valley, MA, should mark their calendars for December 3rd for what promises to be an excellent conversation and reading at All Saint’s Episcopal Church in South Hadley. Details to follow!
These aren’t the only events connected to the launch of the book – be sure to keep tabs on the event page of the official website for more readings and conversations!
I hope, for those of y’all in the NC area, to see you at the official launch party!
best thing: cabin trip tonight!
current jam: ‘marry you’ by jason derulo. typical.
This Friday, i’ll be sitting in my best blazer on a panel with some of the best womyn i know, talking about shame at Homegrown: North Carolina Women’s Preaching Festival 2013.
Talking Taboo is on the launchpad, y’all, on a catapult ride to a Mary Daly-esque outerplanet. (Or maybe that’s just my personal NASA-themed fantasy…) The books have shipped, and orders are coming in at local independent bookstores across the country so you can get your hands wrapped around our 40 essays dismantling taboos and reconstructing faith.
And somehow, as deliriously excited as i am to be in print, i’m also still kind of crapping my pants. My essay is, after all, entitled “Sex, Shame, and Scarred Knees.” It doesn’t take too much imagination to realize it is acutely personal and confrontational in one swath of five pages.
But that’s the whole point, for me, in talking about taboos: going for the gut, the personal jugular. I get so frustrated with academic hoopla that over-objectifies ideas and only wants to talk about problems as if they exist in this neutral universe. Like system problems exist outside of our own experiences.
It’s partly a feminism thing; i can only tell my story, and my story is a gradient of privileged (white, cisgendered, American citizen, middle class…) as is the stories of every thinker from Max Weber to Alice Walker. It’s also partly a theological thing; sitting in a stuffy room all day talking Christology is a necessary part of the learning curve, but it’s only relevant when we can embody what we discuss. Feminist/womanist theological ethics – my particular field – is a brilliant, needed, complicated, and an evolving facet to the study and practice of religion. But i still believe feminist theological ethics (or any conversation, really) matters most when we can implement what we talk about in the academy in to real life.
And real life can be some tough shit.
Tough, personal, painful shit. Like feeling isolated, marginalized, ridiculed for pushing back on heteronormative and sexist sexual ethics. Or thinking my body was too fat and too hairy and too imperfect to be lovable, even by its inhabitant.
It was not easy to write about my shame in any place other than my well-hidden cavern of angst and Kahlil Gibran quotes: my journal. My first twelve drafts or so were so externally-focused it felt more like a gender studies essay than a personal confrontation with taboo.
But i knew, i knew i was not the only person in the world who had struggled with the church’s perfectionistic teachings on human sexuality. And it was the thought of writing to younger me that made me be bold. If one – just one – pre-teen girl could crack open my story and heave a sigh of “it’s-not-just-me,” than my exposure would be worth it.
So on Friday, i’ll be talking about just that: how do we speak out against the shame that has silenced us?* I’m the first to say i’m no expert. Hell, my therapist would gladly tell you (were she not bound by HIPAA) i’m in a daily uphill slog against self-shaming. There’s no five-step plan that frees us for life from shame. It’s a systemic thing, shaming womyn for our sexuality (and you know, a million other things people of every gender are shamed for).
But the thing about systems is this: we’re all participants in the system, which means we all have the potential to disrupt the system’s power over us in our own narratives.
buy the book here!
best thing: flights home in less than 24 hours.
current jam: ‘eavesdrop’ the civil wars.
*not a rhetorical question! how do you speak against shame? what barriers prevent you from speaking against shame?
There have been a slew of reasons why this blog – WanderingWrites – has remained vacant until now. But certainly one of the most life-giving reasons for my hiatus has been this group of energetic, electrifying, and eager young woman. It’s been a delight and a privilege working this summer at the Resource Center for Women & Ministry in the South and working behind-the-scenes with the (almost ready to publish!) Talking Taboo anthology. Here’s more about Courageous Conversations, reposted from the Talking Taboo website!
Originally posted on talking taboo:
post by contributor elizabeth mcmanus
When Erin Lane, co-editor extraordinaire, asked me to submit an essay for the Talking Taboo collection, my first reaction was to leap-dance around my room to Whitney Houston.
My second reaction was spine-curling panic.
Panic, for two reasons. One: i had to choose a single taboo to write about, when the options before me filled a book three times over. And two: whatever i wrote about was going to go public. Something everyone from my favorite professor to my future in-laws could peruse.
I felt like i was about to do a strip tease for everyone i knew, and for everyone i didn’t. Rationally, i realized that the possibility of everyone i knew reading my essay was slim, but rationality isn’t my strong suit when Whitney Houston is at a decibal-shattering volume.
So i met with Erin. Armed…
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I think the way we tell stories can betray something fundamental about our character. Scholars of nationalism like Sumathi Ramaswamy and Benedict Anderson both argue that the mediums in which we express our national identity – words, songs, maps, monuments, images – convey the fundamental ideas clung to by nationalists.
And in between the sizzling sounds of hot dogs on the grill and the anticipation of pyrotechnics tonight, today is a day wherein America’s national myth is most salient. When i go to the Durham Bulls ballgame tonight, all will be asked to rise and pledge their allegiance to a flag embodying “liberty and justice for all.” We’ll sing an anthem metaphorically tied to this day in 1776, but with poetry actually written during the War of 1812. And, assuredly, someone today will praise the “Founding Fathers” for all that they sacrificed to give us our freedom.
But a suckerpunch of a question begs to be asked.
Because while tonight i’m going to, undoubtedly, relish in the Great American Pastime of eating and watching men chase a ball around a field, i don’t have to worry about my income going to waste on yet another hot dog. 17,000 North Carolinians are now without any kind of unemployment insurance. At my church’s food pantry on Tuesday night, a woman whose Medicaid has been slashed asked for money to cover her rent. The medical expenses were too high without her government’s provision.
Because while tonight i can chit-chat about wedding plans, many of the people whom i love most in this world cannot share in the same legal and religious benefits my male partner and i will with a marriage recognized under the law. A section of DOMA may have been overturned, but Amendment 1 still stands as a barrier denying same-gender couples the rights married hetero couples enjoy.
Because while i have the luxury of a flexible job and means of transport to vote on election day, the push in the NC Legislature to cut early voting, same-day registration, and mandate a Voter ID be shown at the polls will mean thousands of people will be unable to vote. It is an overt suppression of the people’s voice guised under the name of the “Restore Confidence in Government Act.” (Which has a seriously ominous tone to it).
And yet, this government was founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all. So the question begging to be asked is: exactly who makes this “all” category for liberty and justice? Who gets to feast at this table of red, white, and blue democratic delights?
Something is rotten in the state of North Carolina.
There are many spheres of action and storytelling in which the people can move to confront these injustices; i’ve written about my experiences with the Moral Monday movement and i stand by the work that the NAACP is doing. Coalitions of people engaging in civil disobedience is a frank and profound confrontation. Yet this is by no means the first time people have marched, peacefully, to confront injustices. The suffragette movement, the Civil Rights movement, LGBTQIA Pride marches, Slut Walks – to name a few – have all used visibility and loud but peaceful protesting to convey their calls for equality.
Yet none of those people are plastered on the banners outside today. Our Founding Mothers don’t have their very own 1776 musical starring the guy who played Mr. Feeney (Abigail Adams ever excepted, of course). Instead, white, socially affluent, cisgendered men who owned property signed a piece of paper that called for a revolution. A revolution that, while politically revolutionary in the scope of nationalist history, did not fundamentally change the power structures at be in the colonies.* These same men were privileged under King George and would continue to enjoy such privileges after the war.
So, in the spirit of Liberty and Justice for All, i wanted to amplify the stories of other Freedom Fighting Founding Parents today. These are the people from whom i claim my nationalist history, people who made profound sacrifices and waged their own kind of war against injustice and oppression. They aren’t perfect, but no one is. What matters to me is how we carry forward the good work they did. This is by no means a complete list – and i invite you, in the comments, to add your own. Who are the people who inspire you to pursue liberty and justice for all?
Fannie Lou Hamer: Instrumental in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 in conjunction with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Fannie Lou Hamer remains one of the most powerful leaders of the American Civil Rights movement. Her speech to the Democratic National Congress was seen as so threatening to the powers at be, then-president Johnson held a press conference at the same time to divert the attention of the media. This attempted erasure of her and the cause for which she stood did not deter her from running for Congress the next year.
Sojourner Truth: Her most famous speech rings with earnest and gut-wrenching truth even today – “Ain’t I a Woman?” Sojourner, an escaped formerly enslaved person, advocated tirelessly for women’s rights despite her exclusion from much of the movement because of her race.
Audre Lorde: Author of two of my most favorite essays of all time, “Uses of the Erotic” and “The Master’s Tools with Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Audre Lorde was a modern-day prophet. Her words on the importance of deconstructing race and gender in tandem still hold true today. She described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” and lifted high the beauty of differences and diversity.
Eilzabeth Cady Stanton: Spearhead of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 and fierce fighter for the 19th Amendment, Stanton also worked in conjunction with the abolitionist movement. She, along with a committee of other women, published the The Woman’s Bible which posed theological challenges to the idea that women must be subservient to men.
Dolores Huerta & Cesar Chavez: Co-founders of the National Farmworkers Association (now the UFW), these two activists propelled the intersectionality of labor rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, and civil rights to the forefront of justice conversations. My favorite Chavez quote is: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
Coretta Scott King: Though her husband is heralded as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Coretta is not to be underestimated. Her work in civil rights began at Antioch College long before meeting Dr. King – who told her, on their first date, he wanted to wed her. She fundraised for the SCLC, marched with Dr. King, and was in their home when it was bombed during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the wake of his assassination, she carried the cause forward in founding the Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
Frederick Douglass: Most renowned for the first of his three autobiographies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, A Slave, Written by Himself, Douglass was a fervent advocate for abolition and women’s rights to vote. He took numerous speaking tours and was a prolific writer over the course of his life, working with Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War to eradicate the enslavement of African-American people. [Update: Douglass also wrote a seriously good speech entitled ‘What to the Slave is the 4th of July’ which is a must-read!]
Mary Daly: My favorite image of Mary Daly is her most iconic portrait: her wielding a battle-axe. A professor of theology at Boston College, a Jesuit institution, Daly was a self-proclaimed “radical lesbian feminist” who advocated for profound change in the Catholic and Christian church as a whole. Her book Beyond God the Father is a foundational text for anyone seeking to study contemporary philosophy, feminist ethics, or theology.
Who would you add to this list?
current jam: ‘we shall overcome’
best thing: strawberries. also, this incredible video.
*for a further explanation for why the american revolution wasn’t much of a revolution, here is an excellent and informative john green crash course video for you!
I was ankle-deep in mud, my clammy hands in knots as i looked for her brown-haired head. The crowd was making itself a Red Sea, an aisle split down the middle of rainbow flags and Have Mercy placards. “It’s not that bad,” the lady next to me was saying. “The handcuffs hurt, but the officers are all real polite. What’s her name?”
“Hannah.” I replied, still trying to get tippy-toed height to catch her eye. “Her name’s Hannah. She’s in the white stole.”
My mom, freshly-turned 50 and a lifelong goody-two-shoes, was about to get arrested.
There was a man at the podium bringing down the house with prayers for healing and reprimands for the NC Legislature’s racist policies. Rev. Barber, president of the NC NAACP stood directly in front of us, fingers tapping on his waiting microphone and looking solemn. Focused. His disgust at the NC Legislature calling the 1965 Voting Rights Act a “headache” rang in my ears.
In February of 1965, in Marion, Alabama, one of the most profound but least known civil rights marches took place. James Orange, a member of the SCLC, had been arrested for organizing a voter-registration drive. 400 people had gathered in the Zion Methodist Church in Marion to walk, peacefully, in protest of the arrest. A police blockade met their walk, wherein 50 state troopers descended wielding clubs on the unarmed crowd.
Jimmie Lee Jackson, a US Army veteran, was among the crowd. He took refuge in a café, where he was beaten and shot twice by state troopers. He was trying to protect his mother. He died from his injuries 8 days later.
Jimmie Lee Jackson was the first martyr killed in the fight for the Voting Rights Act.
And Governor McCrory has called this act “a headache.” In the same week that the US Supreme Court has, in the words of Justice Ruth Ginsburg, thrown out the umbrella in the midst of a rainstorm, the very reason the Voting Rights Act came to pass is under fire. The North Carolina Legislature is threatening to pass a Voter ID law under the so-called “Restore Confidence in Government Act.” The same act that would restrict/eliminate early voting – a tool used predominantly by students and racial minorities.
And the Legislature does so in the same breath that denies 17,000 unemployed NC citizens their unemployment benefits, what Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman calls a “war on the unemployed.” And refuses to expand Medicaid. Riding on the heels of last year’s viciously minded Amendment 1, which mandated the only legal union recognized by the state was a marriage between a man and a woman – denying rights to victims of domestic violence in unwed partnerships, same-gender couples, and anyone not wed in the eyes of the State.
And this is only the beginning of our grievances with these elected officials.
Last Monday, Jonathan and i sang our voices hoarse in front of the North Carolina Legislative Building. We’d gone to the growing Moral Monday movement with our friend Aaron, each bearing a sign condemning cuts to public school funds and demands for racial equality under the law. These gatherings are headed by the NAACP but comprise of every body of people from labor unions to Planned Parenthood volunteers to more clergy of all faiths than you could shake a Eucharistic loaf at.
Last Tuesday, my mother worked at her church’s food pantry – as she does almost every Tuesday. She goes, as the pastor, to pray with the people who gather for the food they need to feed their families. In her own words,
“[…] nothing in my life compares to what I hear in prayer time every Tuesday night. Last week, when I asked for prayer requests someone told me she was peeing in a can in her house because she couldn’t afford to have her septic tank cleaned out. The toilet was all stopped up, she said. Her prayer was that through God’s mercy SOMEONE would help her and her family out. […] And the week before I prayed with a Latina woman whose son was being deported. Her tears dripped on my hand as I offered up a begging prayer for safety and mercy. What else was I to do?? I just didn’t know. I was so angry at our immigration laws and our sense of nationhood that supports them. I confess I was having a hard time loving the Pharisee in that moment…..but I prayed anyway and that prayer changed me.”
So yesterday, as i stood ankle-deep in mud, my mother clamped her hands in prayer and began to walk through that Red Sea. She began to walk for the women she prayed with on Tuesday, for her LGBTQ friends and family, for the unemployed and the suffering. I caught sight of her before she saw me.
In my head, i was still rubbing her arm at the legal briefing, singing and chanting not one step back! In my head, she was my Southern-lady mother who grew up on a farm in the rural south, a woman whose refusal to stand for oppression was born out of an acute understanding of what it means to be oppressed.
And then my eyes were full of her, full of her scared but determined face. Around me everyone yelled their thanks, their praise, their you-are-a-hero shouts.
We met each other’s gaze, each of us weeping with pride and humility and worry, and then she was gone.
Walking the gauntlet, she’d tell us later in front of the Wake County Detention Center. Walking into a building where they sang “Amazing Grace” and quietly were escorted, cuffed, out. Walking into a building where she would crack jokes with the police officers. She wrote later her heralding as a hero juxtaposed sharply with feeling like “an insignificant sacrifice.”
My mother had a lot of privilege in getting arrested. Her job is not at stake, she didn’t have to post bail or even worry that her time in the Detention Center would linger longer than the night. She, praise Mother Mary, did not face the same fate as Jimmie Lee Jackson. The police officers that arrested her did not beat her with clubs.
We are white, cisgendered, middle-class American citizens. And we know that this gives us undeserved privilege often at the expense of people of color, trans* people, people without such job security or citizenship. We pray for a day when radical equality exists among all humanity.
We are not protesting as a means for speaking for people who cannot speak for themselves – marginalized people have their own voices that must be listened to. Not at all. We protest with uniquely our own voices, voices that are allies and amplifiers and advocates and women who won’t stand for such sexism, racism, homophobia, and greed. We protest next to signs that read: Non-theists have morals too! We protest knowing that the arrest of over 650 people now 9 weeks into these gatherings are not going to turn the tide overnight. We protest knowing our own humanness, our own frailty. But we protest, and we protest loudly.
She wrote: “I didn’t go to this protest because I dislike republicans. I don’t. It wasn’t because I love democrats. They, too, are politicians. Who I love and who I vote for every time is this God-human Jesus. I LOVE the politics of Jesus. I am smitten with his curious ability to love the leper AND the Pharisee. I want to be like that!! People like that can never keep their mouths shut!”
And i, i am grateful i have a mother who won’t keep quiet. Who practices what she preaches – literally. Who on her unsteady feet walked into a building where she knew she would face arrest. Who practices meek boldness, fierce conviction, and humble love.
That, truly, is the greatest privilege of them all.
For more on Marion, Selma, and a theological approach to the Civil Rights Movement, i highly recommend Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice From the Civil Rights Movement to Today by Charles Marsh to provide a comprehensive overview. For more on civil disobedience, nonviolence, and the history of theologically-led political action, i recommend A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. edited by James M. Washington.