Deliberately destroying families: It cuts like a knife.

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More days than not recently, when I listen to the news on NPR on my long commute, I burst into tears.

Loss of constitutional rights. Gutting of the environment. Shooting of children, for God’s sake. Ugly words hurled at the same children, who speak up and act to try and stop the shooting.

I suspect I’m not alone.

The story that made me cry this morning shook me to the core. About an immigrant mother and child, taken into custody. The mother is being held in California, the seven-year-old daughter in Chicago. I repeat, seven years old.

The report gave me chills of terror this morning. Writing about it now I’m experiencing that same loss of breath, the same chills. I’m imagining one of my own babies at that age, and what it would have meant to them to be torn away from me. Sent 2,000 miles away. Unfamiliar with the language. Lost and alone. Terrified.

I can’t stand it.

It makes not one tiny scrap of difference to me that this mother and daughter are in the U.S. “illegally.” Whatever situation forced them to come here together can only have been desperate. All I care about is that our federal officials have done this horrific, evil thing. And they’re doing it more and more often – at least 50 immigrant families have been torn apart in this way in the last year. It’s their idea of a good way to keep families from crossing our borders in the first place.

But these are human beings, who love and need each other to survive. Separating a child and her mother is an act of government-sponsored cruelty and torture.

As with every post-mass-shooting scenario (and how repugnant it is that we’re so familiar with those scenarios), thoughts and prayers are not enough. But, beyond writing to elected representatives, I don’t know what else I have to offer.

I despise our nation’s leadership with every fiber of my being.

 

 

 

We cry out for change.

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I don’t ever. EVER. want to hear the phrase “thoughts and prayers” again.

I know I’m not alone in that despairing, yet angry, sentiment.

The thoughts and prayers of our NRA-owned lawmakers aren’t doing a damned thing for the ever-increasing numbers of human beings whose lives are permanently shattered every day by gun violence.

In a day or two the Florida school shooting will fade away, and Americans will collectively forget (with help from our lawmakers who insist “now is not the time” to talk about it) and move on to the next outrage. And then, in a week or so the next shooting will occur and the cycle will start again.

We’re clearly a broken nation. Our government “shuts down” on a regular basis – a glaring symptom of that broken-ness. If lawmakers can’t even manage to keep our institutions running, they definitely can’t tackle a problem as multi-faceted and powder keg-hot as gun violence.

I am convinced there is no one solution to our self-inflicted national shame. Blaming mental illness won’t do it (especially since that’s just a convenient talking point, with no intention of actually helping the mentally ill – who, by the way, are rarely the perpetrators of violence). Turning our schools and offices into heavily armed fortresses won’t do it. More restrictive gun laws alone won’t do it. Increased gun ownership sure as hell won’t do it, though the NRA and gun manufacturers would have you believe otherwise.

All of the commonly discussed (and routinely forgotten) options are technical solutions to one gigantic whopper of an adaptive challenge.

This kind of challenge obviously has no clear-cut answer. It requires listening and learning. It’s the work of many, many concerned people – not just the power-hungry people we elect to do the work of governing. It requires the ability to try new things, act experimentally. It will take a long, long time, in which we’d have to settle for progress rather than a quick fix.

In other words, the cure for our broken nation and its love affair with guns requires wisdom and intense effort on the part of every single citizen.

That prognosis isn’t merely daunting; it feels pretty much impossible. Quite honestly, I don’t think we’re up to the task.

But if I want to manage my own despair, I’ve got to do what I can. That starts with writing every single one of my local and national lawmakers to insist they work for change. Considering that my state has some of the most dangerous gun laws in the nation, that action feels rather futile. But it’s something I am capable of doing.

I have a small amount of disposable income that I can choose to donate to an organization such as Moms Demand Action or Everytown. I’ll contribute, though again it’s a gesture designed more to maintain my mental health than to actually create change.

I ask you, friends, in all sincerity: What will you do? Please share your thoughts.

 

 

Hobby? Or avoidance strategy?

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It’s extremely difficult for me not to curl up into a ball of utter despair over what’s happening in our nation. I am convinced by careful perusal of many different news outlets and study of government documents, memos, and testimonies, that the American experiment is near its end.

45 has flirted with constitutional crisis for over a year now. The fact that he signed a bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress but is now refusing to enforce the law? Full-blown crisis, friends. What does that law address? An incredibly convoluted scandal involving murder, money laundering, and Russian and U.S oligarchs – a scandal that directly benefits 45 and his billionaire kleptocrat buddies. A tip for those who hadn’t heard: “Russian adoption” – the ostensible topic of the pertinent meeting that took place in 2016 –  is actually code for this scandal, 

This complete dismantling of our constitutional democracy is only one of the many evils being carried out by this poseur of a president. Just a little reminder: The “us” first, anti-immigration, nationalist vitriol spewed by this man and his supporters is exactly what brought about every war across the globe over the last 150 years. 

Tonight is the annual State of the Union Address. I feel compelled to watch, and yet I’m truly afraid it will trigger another crying jag like the one brought on by the November 2016 election. I’m not sure I can do it.

And so, I’m knitting. Handwork has always been a joy for me. Now it’s an escape. A therapeutic, all-absorbing act of pushing down the despair. Before Christmas I turned out 10 scarves that went to guests of my organization’s Christmas Store (in which friends from our urban neighborhood shop for gifts for each member of their family, free of charge). Since Christmas I’ve produced a few more scarves. And as ugly news report piled on top of ugly news report, I craved something more challenging. After several disastrous attempts, I’ve finally mastered a mitten pattern.

When temperatures dip, as they have frequently this winter, we set a box of donated gloves, hats, mittens, and scarves in our waiting room for our neighbors. My goal is to contribute a couple of pairs of mittens to that box each week.

I march. I donate. I write. I post. Yet my influence on the fate of our nation feels negligible.  So I distract myself with tiny efforts on the side of good.

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply,, he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

“That Would Be Enough.”

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Summer 2017 was big. “Hurricane” big. “Blow Us All Away” big. HAMILTON IN CHICAGO big!

Yes, the whole fam piled into a car and drove north for a long weekend in Chicago to finally sit in the audience for the musical we’d been listening to and singing along with “Non-Stop” for over a year.

My heart started racing the moment the theater sign came into view. Our seats were nearly as high up in the balcony as it was possible to get, but we we were so excited we didn’t even notice all the stairs.

Aaron Burr stepped onto the stage with the words “How does a bastard, orphan, immigrant, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”

And for the next 3 1/2 hours I scarcely breathed. Literally on the edge of my seat, with tears in my eyes at every moment, I took in the movement, the costumes, the  lighting, the rhyme and rhythm, the intensely touching music and instrumentation, the deftness and piercing accuracy of word choice. All this, coupled with the heartbreaking beauty of seeing our U.S. origin story told by people of color; people who have been historically and systematically dis-included from the American dream.

I’m definitely a musical genre buff. But “Hamilton” is much more than a musical. I’m certainly not original in considering it a cultural phenomenon, a perfect expression of the zeitgeist. The line that in every performance makes the audience shout for joy, “Immigrants – we get the job done” are words of defiant healing in the face of dangerous nationalistic sentiment.

It was a life experience that will be forever a touchstone.

The importance of this event was, in part, due to my joy in sharing it with the four people who mean everything to me. Knowing that it meant as much to them as it did to me. Even as my children age and naturally drift further away, this experience underscored that we’re soul mates.

It’s horribly painful to live in these days of the demise of democracy. The genius that is “Hamilton” helps us find the courage to say, “Look around, look around…at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

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The question of “deserving.”

Something pretty monumental happened over the weekend: I got a “new” car.

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I know purchasing a 3-year-old SUV is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But it’s a huge deal in our family. For me, it’s largely a huge deal because now I’m living with GUILT.

Guilt because we doubled our car payment. Guilt because it’s a very luxurious model, with very few miles on it. Guilt because the SUV I was driving was perfectly reliable and met my basic needs. Guilt because we bought the new one from a reputable, big-name seller.

Really, what all that guilt boils down to is the question of “deserving.” It’s not a word I like; not a word I would ever assign to others. In general I think it’s rare that anyone actually gets what they “deserve.” I look at the people we serve here at the urban Community Assistance Center where I work – these folks deserve a good education, safety, health care, adequate food, dignity. But in our society they don’t get much, if any,  of that.

On the other hand, look at what our White House administration and congressional leaders have. Power, wealth, fame, comfort. I can’t honestly say a damn one of those people deserve it.

And then, too, what is wrong with us (largely us in the U.S., I suspect) that so much of our identity and self-esteem is tied up in what kind of vehicle we drive? It’s pretty disgusting, really.

I’ve only ever owned one new-ish car in my life, 30 years ago, post-wedding and pre-kids. Every other car I’ve ever had charge of was a risk to drive every day. I never knew when I might end up at the side of the road needing a tow. Until my last SUV, that is, which was ten years old but ran perfectly. In other words, this is the first time I’ve ever replaced a car that wasn’t a danger to myself and others. The first time I’ve ever bought a car simply because I wanted something nicer. Bottom line, I recognize my own privilege, which I’ve done nothing to deserve.

GUILT.

But…oh, that smooth ride. No symphony of rattles from every interior piece of plastic. The seat warmers. The remote start and power lift gate, the rear view camera and voice- activated bluetooth. Pure hedonism.

So…can I let go of the guilt and just enjoy my new ride? Fingers crossed.

 

 

 

Like a chalk drawing in a rain storm.

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Today a colleague and good friend got into the office a bit late. Kelly came straight to my office, sat on my little sofa, buried her head in her hands, and started sobbing.

Had she been in a wreck? Had an argument at home? Gotten some bad news?

I joined her on the sofa and patted her back, and quickly her story came out.

This morning the temperature here in Kansas City was below zero F, with a wind chill of -18. As my friend had come into the building, she brushed past a woman who was just leaving; she’d come in to ask for one of the sack lunches we give out to folks who need them to get through the day. This woman had nothing over her clothing but a thin bed sheet wrapped around her shoulders. No coat. No gloves. No hat.

Turned out, she didn’t speak English. Kelly managed to get the message across that she should stay put for a moment. She dashed to our warehouse, where we have a few coats left from our charity Christmas shop in December, at which low income families come to pick out gifts for everyone living in their household, free of charge. All she could find was a men’s coat, but she hurried back to the waiting room with it. The woman accepted the coat, with tears and many repetitions of “Gracias!”

It seems like a happy ending. So why was my friend so distraught? I knew without asking, but she said it anyway.

“What we do is just chalk drawings in a rain storm.”

She’s right.

Kelly and I have had this conversation before. One day in December she and I made Christmas gift deliveries to seven of our agency’s homebound clients. It was an afternoon of driving through neighborhoods we’d never dare visit after dark. So much need. So little hope. Poor schools. No grocery stores. Few jobs. Very effectively segregated, 60 years after the civil rights movement.

We wished we could feel good that afternoon, making Christmas a little brighter for seven individuals/families. Instead we finished the day emotionally exhausted and incredibly discouraged. How many hundreds of crumbling homes did we pass by that day, where that same help – and more – is needed?

The church-backed nonprofit organization Kelly and I are employed by does excellent work. It’s a well-respected force for good in our city. Even though there are significant down sides to my new job, I’m thankful to be there, doing work that I know is meaningful to the people we’re able to touch. And yet, no matter how much good we do, it’s only a tiny drop in a distressingly enormous bucket.

Charity is not enough. It will never, ever be enough in this greedy capitalist nation. It will never, ever be enough as long as our government officials follow the cruel philosophy of Ayn Rand (I’m looking at you, Paul Ryan) and Confederate heroes (I’m looking at you, Jefferson Beauregard  Sessions III). Nothing will be righted until every single child in many successive generations receives a top-notch education. Until every single person of every color, religion, sexual orientation, and gender expression has the same economic rights, the same voting rights, the same dignity.

Until that day comes, we watch the chalk drawings we hastily scribble on the sidewalk wash away with every rainstorm.

 

 

 

 

Glimmer of hope.

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I had a working coffee date yesterday afternoon that unexpectedly reminded me of one of the reasons I stepped away from blogging.

That sounds like a negative comment, but the meeting was anything but negative. Quick summary: The organization I work for offers financial education classes a couple of times a year to clients who are making real strides in moving toward stability. The kids belonging to these folks need a safe place to be for the two Saturdays their parents are in class, and one of my duties as Volunteer Coordinator is to find groups that will provide a day for the kids that includes supervision, activities, and lunch.

Finding volunteers to take on this type of task is where my 13 years in local ministry comes in handy. (DISCLAIMER for any new readers out there: my background is in leftist, progressive theology. For my own peace of mind I always make that fact clear.) I have a lot of relationships I can leverage, and I have enough street cred that I’m able to build a lot of new partnerships. In this instance I reached out to the youth director of a church I’ve worked with in the past.

Chris is…awesome. To look at him, you’d think he’s the stereotypical super-hip fundamentalist pastor-type. (If you have much background in church work, you’ll know what I mean. If you don’t, watch this hilarious but all-to-realistic parody.) In fact, that’s Chris’s history. But he had an epiphany somewhere in young adulthood, and is now among the most “woke” guys I know.

So Chris and I were discussing the plans for his group’s day of supervising 14 kids from rough neighborhoods and traumatic backgrounds. One concern I had was that he was bringing teens and adults from a super-affluent suburban church to manage this event, and these well-meaning folks might be a little…ummm…shocked by the challenges of hanging out for a day with the urban kids they were charged with.

Chris reminded me, though, of where he’s at and where his ministry is at. He’s heavy-duty involved with issues of racial justice, and he’s brought his youth group along with him on the journey. The work they do together involves examining their privilege and learning to respond with love and grace to injustice. It’s an uphill battle, as these teens’ parents are largely coming from the extremely opposite ideological stance.

Our talk about the day of the financial education class quickly moved on to how we’re coping with the brutal ugliness of the current U.S. president and the ass-kissers in the White House and Congress who let him get away with sickeningly unacceptable words and actions (it was the day after the “s**t-hole countries” comment). Chris described to me the night of November 8, 2016, when his kindergarten daughter went to bed thrilled that she’d helped her mama vote for “the girl,” and how proud she was going to be when she woke up to the first woman president. Choking back tears (yes, over a year later it still makes me cry) I shared my own traumatic memories of that night.

It was an emotional way to end the week. I made a conscious effort to take away with me, though, the glimmer of hope that comes from the work my friend Chris does with his teens to change attitudes; the work he’s doing to change the world.

To come full circle, how did all this remind me of one of the reasons I quit blogging? The problem is, I can’t not write about the despicable and deliberate damage being done to our nation by those in charge. By voters who could sweep race-baiting, sexual assault, and lying under the rug and still vote for the person who is now our 45th president.

It’s on my mind every moment of every day. I continue to go about the everyday life tasks of managing a full-time job, a house, and a family. But looming constantly in the background is a deep and abiding disgust and fear that can’t help but come out in my writing. And I figure readers probably don’t want to hear that in every post.

But here I am, at it again. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

 

Adventures in housecleaning.

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Confession: my own cleaning supplies are not this attractive and neatly arranged.

I am, by default, the main cleaner in our household.

The Husband doesn’t notice dirt OR clutter. When The Boy is home, he has the same blind eye (though, oddly, I’ve noticed he keeps his dorm bedroom and bathroom spotless. Hmmmm…) Middle regularly assists with everyday kitchen cleanup, but she’s so preoccupied by her first year of teaching that a clean, tidy environment isn’t at the top of her list.

I, on the other hand, am pathologically averse to clutter and go around tidying and putting things away every moment I’m home. Historically the actual cleaning bit has never been as important to me – until November 9, when our nation became so filthy and disgusting that I became compulsive about keeping my own, safe nest immaculate. Not joking.

So…today as I worked through my Saturday task list, I came across a couple of fascinating (?) details:

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It’s a complete mystery to me how “low” can be a lower setting than “bare,” which means, presumably, “bare floor.” Is this a setting for vacuuming in a trench? Who’s doing that?

No photo for this one, and you’ll thank me:

I’d like to hand it to whatever male in our household is capable of creating pee stains clear away from the toilet, next to the baseboard. And by “it” I mean a package of antibacterial surface wipes.

Thank goodness I’m done with my compulsive cleaning for the day.

Pink, pussies, and passion. 

I’ve never been a pink kind of person. You won’t find anything even remotely pink-ish in my wardrobe.

Until this week.


My favorite cozy winter activity is knitting. As of last weekend, that hobby has intersected with a passion. 

Yes, I’m knitting pussy hats.

I know there are some strong feelings surrounding this unusual item of headgear. 

I’ve heard concerns from transgender friends who are uncomfortable with the emphasis on female body parts as a symbol of the current feminist resistance movement.  I can understand their feelings. 

I’ve read ultra-conservative anti-woman women calling the hat (and its name) vulgar, vile, and disgusting. 

Here’s my take: The POTUS Who Must Not Be Named has publicly, over a long period of time, objectified women and their body parts. We’ve all seen the videotape in which he bragged that he likes to “grab ’em by the pussy.” His words and actions are absolutely indicitive of the direction women’s rights (as well as rights of minorities) are taking and will continue to take now that he and his gang are in office.

THAT, my friends, is what is vulgar, vile, and disgusting. Those are adjectives that perfectly describe the POTUS WMHBN. 

I am making and wearing a pussy hat to claim the word back. To declare just as publicly that women have control over their own body parts, and that those parts are OFF LIMITS to lecherous men. There are few women who don’t have a story they can relate about being touched, grabbed, and groped against their will. I remember the kid in junior high whose favorite pastime was to do exactly what the POTUS WMNBN bragged about – sneaking up on unsuspecting females, including myself, and reaching between their legs for a squeeze. 

And I say NO MORE. We will not tolerate sexual assault and the ugly male privilege it stems from, and we must fight against its proponent-in-chief.

So far I have eight orders for pussy hats from friends, family, and coworkers (side note: I work for a mainstream denomination church) who support the resistance movement. I’m happy to buy the yarn (though pink yarn is very difficult to find recently!) and do the work. All I ask is that the recipient make a donation, of whatever amount they wish, to Planned Parenthood. 

Check out Pussyhat Project

Join the resistance.