"Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only answer."--Dorothy Day
(1) Reading back and finding beautiful things from the past 3 years, that continue to be beautiful. (ie. Barack Obama, Fun with friends, Weddings!, etc.)
(2) The opportunity to negotiate.
(3) The beginnings of chilly-but-not-quite-cold weather season.
Tonight I went to see Michael Moore's newest liberal propaganda piece. I heart liberal propaganda...for real. Toward the end of the film, he talks about the success of the labor movement during the Great Depression, and the supportive response of President Roosevelt. In his last State of the Union Address, he spoke about the American government's responsibility to support its citizens in their pursuit of happiness and the right to equality in all aspects of their lives. It is a simple statement, but something that is sadly so, so far removed from where we currently reside. But we have Hope for tomorrow. Read on....
Excerpt from President Roosevelt's January 11, 1944 message to the Congress of the United States on the State of the Union:
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;The right of every family to a decent home;The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.
From my earliest memories up until a series of unfortunate grades my junior year of college, I always saw myself being a school teacher. First elementary school and then, as the sarcasm and cynicism took hold, a high school English teacher. But as I finished my BA in 2001, I began to rethink and embarked on a period of corporate work as a book copy editor. So when I moved to NYC in 2002, it was to do this. And certainly my year at the college newspaper and some time textbook editing were enough to get me a stellar job during a recession when most publishers were laying off the majority of their workforce. Of course. So after about 6 months in the City and about 15 temp jobs, I began volunteering on the days I wasn’t working and to rethink my rethinking. My volunteer job was with the GMHC, where I still volunteer today, and I was one of the people in charge of intake there. I would gather each new client’s information and discuss with the person what services were available to them, and then bring this to the social worker in charge, who would assign them appropriately. This social worker and some friends I had made at Manhattan Church were my advisors as I decided to embark on a new career.
Even as a child I had a strong sense of justice and a powerfully empathic heart. This led to a wicked combination of tattling and friendship with the weird kids, which made me very popular. This has followed me and probably led me to some strange life decisions, and to what can some days be called a successful career.
Since I’ve started officially social working, I have worked with a day program and a food program for people living with AIDS; with a home visiting program for the elderly; in a public hospital as a social worker for people with HIV and in supportive housing for people with mental illness; as an outreach worker for people living on the street and as an administrator for a program for people with mental illness who are attempting to move their lives forward. In these jobs, I have been a party planner, a surrogate grandchild, an advocate, a good, impartial friend; I have put on talent shows and fashion shows and planned memorial services. I have purchased cigarettes, coffee, sandwiches, donuts, shoes, soap, medications and once a big TV. All these things in an effort to better someone’s life situation, to bring them stability and joy and safety and understanding. To fulfill the basic human need of love and belonging.
The job is obviously challenging. In my profession, it is a sign of burn-out if you begin to find the work mundane. I have found, as I have been doing this for about 5 years now, that I reach a point every so often when the weight I bear for others becomes too much for me to bear myself. I am learning to carry less and am finding ways to cope with the frequent times when my work seems futile, and my valleys are becoming less frequent and not as deep. And faith is one of the things I’ve learned to turn to.
In preparing for this I was trying to find scriptures to go with what I was saying here. I searched ‘refuge’ and ‘justice’ and ‘poor’ in the online Bible. And then I went to my own, real-time Bible and looked at the things I have marked and underlined in it. And some of those were the scriptures read today. I have always had great difficulty separating religion from life experience. I was reading an editorial about the career of Senator Ted Kennedy this week and it said that he had an “insistence that politics be grasped and administered through the prism of human needs.” At this point in my life, I feel the same way about work and faith. In seeing each person as a child of God, the person is no longer just a client, a number or a statistic. They are a human being in need of, and deserving of, dignity and compassion.
In my work, there’s a very thin line between brilliant success and utter failure. Dealings in the human condition sadly complicate things. A person knows that they are better off living inside, but finds themself afraid and claustrophobic when they are finally moved off the streets. And it becomes easier for them to live in the park during the summers. Great strides might be made toward health and stability for a person with mental illness, but regardless of resolve, the mysterious nature of brain chemistry may still land them in the hospital every 6 months. And so compassion is our highest goal. Seeing the face of God in every man, woman and child, and knowing that they are worthwhile regardless of the hate they may spew or the seeming wickedness of their behavior, and being an example of love in their lives. That is all we can do some days. And I believe that this is enough. For “what does the Lord require of us? To do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”
(1) SYTYCD...for real, the funnest thing ever.
(2) Grown-ass people finding bliss in 4th of July arts & crafts.
(3) The beauty of possibility.
The timing of my trip just happened to coincide with Austin Gay Pride weekend. Since moving back to Austin, Nathan has started to go to the University Baptist Church. This is a place I always wanted to go while I lived in Austin. While we were in school at UT, UBC became notorious because it had chosen to disaffiliate itself with the Southern Baptist Convention and decided to become a welcoming and affirming church, something very bold even in a liberal mecca such as Austin. On Thursday night, while I was there, the church hosted a Gay Pride Unity Service. This service brought together people from many different faith traditions to show unity and solidarity as a community, and to worship together. The experience of being in a room full of people who have taken refuge in this church, many of whom have been rejected by their families and faith communities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, was simply profound. People being able to rest there and fully feel a part of a community of faith, knowing that there is safety and acceptance for them and their partners and their children and families.
And so I feel renewed. There are so many grave injustices that we encounter everyday that seem insurmountable. But this is not one of them. Every one of us who is part of a community of faith has the power to undo this. The power to extend a hand, open a door, open a heart and see justice done.
At the end of the service, one of the choruses sang a song called, Draw the Circle Wide. This is what we must seek to do...draw the circle wide, wide enough for everyone to stand inside. Everyone. Everyone, EVERYONE. No one stands outside.
Let this be our song, no one stands alone, standing side by side,
Draw the circle wide.
God the still point of the circle Round whom all creation turns;
Nothing lost, but held forever, in God’s gracious arms.
Let our hearts touch far horizons. So encompass great and small;
Let our loving know no borders, faithful to God’s call.
Let the dreams we dream be larger. Than we've ever dreamed before;
Let the dream of Christ be in us, open every door.
I, very unlike myself, stopped to observe and see if I could figure it out. And then I noticed the clear blue sky. And then a police helicopter. Then 50 or so cops go by on motorcycles. And then some dark cars with dark tinted windows just light enough to see the faces of the people inside. The people in front of me said, "He must be in the second car." I look up and see in the second car a very familiar face. "What?!?!" I said loudly in my head. "That's Barack Obama." And then he was gone. The scene on the street afterward is my favorite part. We all stood there for a moment and then started slowly walking up the block again, but our smiles are wider, our hearts are lighter. Some people have yet to be able to move, but stand there hand on chest in besotted sigh. Others call their friends, their moms. "Mama! I just saw Barack!" It was like a cross between those pictures of the screaming girls at Beatles' concerts and the "We Got Annie!" scene in Annie. I'm gonna call it We Got Barack. Holy cow! Those 30-seconds are so worth the crappy 8 hours that preceded them.
The Bergen Street stop in Brooklyn has always been one of my favorite stops. It is where CCfB met for the first year, and meets now. It is where the G and F lines meet, so Nathan and I used have outdoor summer dinners there before he moved to Queens, before he moved back home. And it is where you got off to go to the home of my dear friends, Joe and Laura Hays. Their apartment has always been what I wanted to my home to be. An inviting space that is often filled with good food and lots of friends, and that is subsequently the backdrop for lots and lots of wonderful memories. Thanksgivings and Christmases, Easters and birthdays, random nights when people come together for no particular reason other than to enjoy each other’s company. Countless trips to hang out with their daughter, my six year-old friend Sophia. The F-line is the one near my home, so I passed by their stop each morning on my way to work, and have a distinct memory of riding by on the day they finally got to bring their son, Ira, home from the hospital, realizing that their family was finally complete. And today, as I rolled by, I remembered that today was the day they would be leaving for St. Louis.
Joe and Laura are the founding pastors of my church, Christ's Church for Brooklyn, and have always encouraged each of us to be fully ourselves, and to allow God to love us as we wholly are, and thus to allow others to love us in this way too. We will miss them so, so much as we carry on without them, knowing this is the most important thing, as Sophia always tells us, "To Love God and Love Others!"
Let me know if I missed anything.
P.S.--Feel free to leave me explanations, but please don't leave me bigotry or misused Bible verses in the comments. I will delete them and you will have wasted your time, and then I will be forced to go to your blog and leave extensive discourse on why 90s Madonna was great, but nothing compares to 80s Madonna, and we won't even talk about millenial Madonna. You've been warned.
When I read the papers and on the rare occasion that I watch the news, I can only sit and sigh (or on occasion curse). Stories of increasing home foreclosure means more people will be homeless, and these people will be families with children or elderly people with little income. Stories of increased crime and violence in all corners of the globe, the economies of entire countries nearing collapse, mounting global poverty as aid slows due to lack of funding. And I do not know how we got here or why this was allowed to happen. I am perplexed at the short-sightedness of all our solutions, not understanding that crime rises for a reason, that young men turn to terrorism for a reason, that even pirates have families. That nothing occurs in isolation of what has come before it. I do not believe that people turn to crime because they are lazy, or terrorism because they are evil. It is centuries of prejudice and acts of terrorism carried out by so-called liberators that have led us to this point.
But I guess it's easier to answer problems in isolation. To address terrorism rather than intolerance. To address piracy rather than poverty. And I don't say this in a self-righteous, 'look at me talkin' about lofty social problems" sort of way. I mean it for real. If we admit that we are responsible for these problems and that it is our responsibility to now solve them, then it can no longer be someone else's job to think about these things and to make them better. It's yours. This is where I'm living. So yes....wrath.
I wish, oh how I wish, I was able to fully believe in something. At times I find myself envying some of my patients, because they can say with utmost certainty (however delusional it may be) to God speaks to them, and knows them, and has a purpose for them and for their suffering. But I cannot see this most of the time. This week I have watched a television show about child soldiers, read a story about the irreparable harm done to prisoners put in solitary confinement or by the social isolation of homelessness, and listened to scores of stories about desperation, and destitution, and deprivation. And I sleep less, and work more, and make an attempt at prayer, and contemplate another tattoo, or a drum, or an angsty pair of shoes. And I think about the possibility of God actually working that way. Of having a purpose for every person and every horrible occurrence, at hope coming from despair, and joy from sadness. I take a deep breath and I step off to begin a new day. And I hope that belief can come from wanting. That peace can come from belief.
And then I read an article in the New Yorker about Mumbai, in the wake of Slumdog Millionaire. The children who live in the slums of Mumbai, like those portrayed in the movie, live off of what they can find to sell, what they can find that's edible. They die from preventable diseases, and have a rate of malnourishment equal to that of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. All of this with burgeoning business and tourist enterprises within reach, but blocked by walls of concrete topped with barbed wire and broken glass.
This brings me to our border fence. We read each week about new violence in Mexico, how the cities are not safe and it's spilling over into the US. We continue to build the fence to keep out the poverty we have forged that we must now keep on the other side of the wall.
We go to great troubles to separate ourselves from the disastrous world our greed and selfishness and prejudice has wrought. We create refugee camps and resettlement plans rather than find ways to forge a lasting peace. We create vast networks of homeless shelters and food pantries rather than creating affordable housing and assuring that every person is fed as they should be. Walls are no substitute for justice.
And so I find myself starting a new chapter in my life. I've decided it's chapter 4--childhood being chapter 1, Austin life chapter 2, early NYC chapter 3. When Nathan first confirmed for me that he was going home, I kind of panicked, not being super-fond of change. I have always had him there, as my go-to for advice, and ER escorts, and dinner, and drinks, and brunches (oh, the brunches), and the occasional financial bailout. And so I began to search for another point of stability, and I found CCfB. But then a few weeks ago, we were told that CCfB as we know it will soon cease to exist. The focal point of my week, going to PS 261 and talking to Joe and Laura, and the brilliant friends I've made there, will no longer be there due to issues of funding and logistics, and that stable point was gone. So again, I panic a little.
But I awoke this morning, knowing that I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. None at all. The fundamentals will be the same, but some fundamental things will be missing or just drastically different. My world will be rocked. And I have decided that this might be good. No matter how wild and impulsive I might seem, how edgy and adventurous, my every move is planned. Tomorrow, I begin chapter 4 with no idea what might come, and no idea what chapter 5 might look like. And maybe that's alright.
Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, oh God, and true to our native land.
We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day.
We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration.
He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.
Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.
For we know that, Lord, you are able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.
We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.
And while we have sown the seeds of greed — the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.
And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.
And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.
Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.
We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone. With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around...when yellow will be mellow...when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen. Say Amen. And Amen.
What was your favorite moment today?
There is a program on NPR called "This I Believe." When I began listening to it, I also began thinking about what it is that I believe, above all things.
I believe in hope.
In the summer of 2008, I got my second tattoo—the word hope in a box on my left wrist. With time and the weathering caused by its odd location, and because of my penchant for punctuation, it has come to look like a command stamped permanently on me. The tattoo artist, Jeff P. (look him up, he’s very good), asked me why I was getting it. And I replied, “Because, sometimes I need a reminder.”
Since I got the tattoo, I’ve begun to notice the word everywhere, like when you buy a car and begin to see it all over the road. In the mundane, “I hope that goes on sale,” “I hope you are well,” “I hope this economy gets better soon.” In poetry, “Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul,/And sings the tune--without the words,/And never stops at all”. In politics, for “while we breathe, we will hope.” In a speech by Harvey Milk, “The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right.”
I’ve thought a lot this year about hope. What it really means to give someone hope. To show them what might be. In Spanish the word for “hope” is the same as the word for “wait.” Waiting for something better. Waiting for something to come along that will bring us out and make things better again. Hope moves us forward when things get rough. Hope is the last thing we turn to, and the last thing we lose. Hope gave us a new president.
Hope will spur us forward into tomorrow, despite our failing economy, our knowledge that the world is not as it should be—that millions of people live in poverty, their lives torn apart by war and disease, their hearts broken by the destruction of their homes and families, feeling forgotten by the world community—for tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow our president will close Guantanamo Bay. Tomorrow our president will listen to the millions of voices crying out for change. Millions of voices who have gone unheard until that day. But my hope does not lie with Barack Obama alone. It lies with the fact that millions of people actually believe that something better is possible, and that we have the power to make a better world.
Today, I can feel the collective inhalation of a coming global sigh of relief. The deep and cleansing breath of a New Day.