Humanity i love you

by ee cummings
Humanity i love you

because you would rather black the boots of
success than enquire whose soul dangles from his
watch-chain which would be embarrassing for both

parties and because you
unflinchingly applaud all
songs containing the words country home and
mother when sung at the old howard

Humanity i love you because
when you’re hard up you pawn your
intelligence to buy a drink and when
you’re flush pride keeps

you from the pawn shop and
because you are continually committing
nuisances but more
especially in your own house

Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
life in your pants and forgetting
it’s there and sitting down

on it
and because you are
forever making poems in the lap
of death Humanity

i hate you

Why Her?

We live in two Americas.

I have lived in both of them.

When I was in high school, there were rumors of Hillary Clinton running for president. At my nondenominational, evangelical church in Minnesota, the response was one of casual non-enthusiasm.  Someone told me that everyone who worked for her said she was really mean, unhinged. They didn’t say it, because we were at church, but they thought she was a bitch. I believed that person. I had no reason not to. Politicians have stressful jobs and are untrustworthy. Why would Hillary be different?

When I was 16, I asked my pastor what he thought of women being ordained pastors. He was ok with it in some cases, as long as they weren’t senior pastors—in charge of a whole church—but they could be pastors of specific ministries. Even at 16, this bothered me. There seemed to me to be no inherent reason for women not to be pastors (or presidents). I was in charge of the Bible study at my high school. Nobody stopped me for being a woman. Nobody thought I was doing anything important.

I didn’t pay attention to Hillary’s first bid for presidency, not real attention. I lived in France during the primaries, and I discounted everything I heard French people say about the presidential race. What did they know about American politics? They thought I was neighbors with Brad Pitt and Sylvester Stallone. They thought I could tell Bush to end the war in Iraq and it would be so.

I grew up in a republican household. My parents never had enough money. Our cupboards sometimes didn’t have food in them. My parents argued about money. I had the same bed spread until it had been worn to rags, the same sheets, the same towels. We were on the reduced lunch program, paying less than students whose parents were comfortably middle class. We shopped at thrift stores. I had summer jobs and babysat for family friends with children. We barely qualified as middle class, well before anyone noticed the middle class was shrinking.

In my home and in my church, it was a Christian duty to vote republican. My mother who had grown up mainline protestant, a Methodist, had a come to Jesus (the charismatic, evangelical one) moment in the early 80s and voted republican ever since. She couldn’t bring herself to vote for candidates who supported Roe v Wade. My dad was more a fiscal conservative and had been a republican all his life—or so it seemed to me. I didn’t know what homosexuality was until I was in the 4th grade. I thought lesbians were aliens from Star Trek, and I thought gay simply meant “happy” (thanks Shakespeare).

None of this bothered me. It didn’t bother me that a faith that had existed for two millennia had become so entwined with its current political tendencies, that I grew up wondering if Democrats were really Christians (an absurd notion, because both my grandpa and aunt are Methodist ministers as well as democrats). The people I knew were kind. They cared about each other. We volunteered together at soup kitchens. We prayed with each other. They taught me to be patient and kind, even when people were mean. They taught me to stand up to bullies, sit with the uncool kids at lunch. Be compassionate. Seek justice, love mercy.

Then it started to bug me. I was in college. It bugged me that men around me acted like I was dumb when I told them I was majoring in fashion. It bugged me when several of the men in my dorm blocked my departure from one of their rooms, manhandled me, so that another dorm-mate could get in position to pull his pants down and expose himself when I was finally let go. It bugged me that the female professors at my university had to remind students to refer to them as Doctor rather than Ms. or Mrs. It really bugged me when the leader of my former youth group at my church in Minnesota publicly shamed his wife, emotionally abused her privately, sexually harassed me and my sister, lied openly to the teens who attended the youth group, and the senior leadership did absolutely nothing to stop it. I had multiple meetings with the pastor who had known me since I was 8. I spoke to other pastors over the phone and in person, pleading with them to intervene. This man was hurting his wife. She confessed it all late one night to me. I was 21. I had no idea how to help her escape such a man. No one listened. I was incredulous that anyone could be allowed to continue in such blatant misuse of power, especially in a church, my church. I knew and loved these people. They knew and loved me. Why couldn’t they see what I was seeing?

I felt starkly disenfranchised from the church I had grown up in. It didn’t matter what I said, because I was a woman. It only mattered that he was a man, and he was in charge of something.

So I learned more. I learned from the vocal feminists who talked about how sexism played out in their mothers’ lives, how easy it is to demonize a woman compared to a man, how our unconscious biases work, what internalized sexism is. I found a different kind of church, one where the two millennia of history were embraced, where women had free agency, where Mary could hear my prayers and provide a sense of home. I persisted. I grew angry.

My anger was not isolated to the injustice of women. In fact, it was sparked by the death of Mike Brown and the inception of the Black Lives Matters movement. The inequality was palpable. It was sparked again with a live shooter at my Alma Mater where a student was killed and several were injured. It was sparked when I realized how duped I had been, taking out student loans when no job awaited me after my bachelors was completed. It was sparked when learned about the state of undocumented immigrants in detention. By 25 I was completely disenfranchised from the Republican Party.

Then, I was sexually assaulted. It wasn’t for the first time, but it was the first time I had a name for what had happened. I knew I had done nothing wrong, that I had actively declined his advances, and that I still ended up awake in his bed at three am on the day of my 26th birthday with only my underwear on.

It was a textbook case of violated consent. Rape culture had a new meaning to me. Creating a culture of consent meant more than ever.

Still, as election talk rolled around again and it became clear that Hillary would run again, I was underwhelmed. I did not like the Republican Party, but I felt just as betrayed by democrats for selling an education dream that lead me to prolonged debt, for failing to address wealth inequality.  Why wasn’t Elizabeth Warren running? That was the question. I heard it repeatedly. I asked it. She seemed perfect. But wait, there was Bernie. I spent a good portion of 2015 learning about Bernie, being sure I knew how to caucus in my state. I was puzzled when a former classmate of mine chose to interrupt one of his rallies. Didn’t she get that he was going to help our race problem too? He wanted to grow the middle class. That meant the black middle class.

And then I started dating someone. He was for Hillary. He had always been for Hillary, even in the 2008 primaries. I had come a long way from believing that she was the bitch my church-mate had made her out to be, but I was still unenthused. I was going to caucus for Bernie, come hell or high water. He was going to grow the middle class and address the student debt crisis. He had even hired Black Lives Matters activists to his campaign.

My new boyfriend sent me some articles to help explain his point of view. I softened toward Hillary. She’d be good. She wouldn’t be as good as Bernie, but she’s a person and a good politician. My boyfriend did not try to change my mind.

I moved into a house with a family. I saw how much emotional labor the wife in the family put in. I saw how her skills were downplayed. I saw how she took on more than she could bear and did it all anyway. I watched as her aloof husband made threats to his daughter’s imaginary future would-be suitors. And on the night before the Washington State caucus, I watched an episode of Naked and Afraid.

If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a show where a man and a woman who have never met before, take all their clothes off and walk into the wilderness where they have to survive for 21 days. They only get a couple tools, and they don’t get to have any clothes or food. At the beginning of every episode, each participant is given a survival score based on his or her experience.

In the episode I watched the day before the caucus, as was true in every episode, the woman was given a lower survival score. Then, even though she was instrumental in their survival, her score was not raised as much as the man’s. It happened the same way every single episode. And that night, as I watched, I noticed that the women were using skills to aid in their survival that the score did not account for. Survival was measured only in terms of ability to build a fire, catch food, and create a suitable shelter. What was consistently ignored was how women took care of the emotional needs of the men and persevered despite all kinds of physical encumbrances. Over and over, the men would start to break down, make a poor choice that compromised their health, and the woman would get them through it. Yet, their scores remained low.

On May 21st, I woke up knowing that I had to caucus for Hillary. Enough was enough. She had skills that no one had been accounting for, and we needed to give her a chance to show us for certain what they were. So I caucused for her. It was a joy and an honor.

From there, my fondness for her only grew. She does brilliantly in small groups in a way that she does not thrive on a large stage. I read up on her history in politics, her process, her accomplishments. She won my heart and my imagination, and I woke up yesterday morning believing that she was about to be elected the first woman president.

We live in two Americas.

For some of you, the first 18 years of my life resonate. The world, as it is, has a certain order that that should be protected and maintained. You see the people in your church communities and love them. You might even believe you love Muslims and the gays and women who get abortions. When you are so convinced that there is no place in heaven for such people, the best way to love them is to try to prevent them from being them. You are horrified by where my twenties have taken me. You may even offer to pray for me. Thank you for those prayers. I know they are kindly meant. Some of you will have worse thoughts of me. You will grimace at my fondness for a woman you believe belongs in prison. You will call me names that you have called a hundred other women.

Others of you find my first 18 years peculiar, or even offensive. You are excited to see my turn in attitude and may measure my experience as evidence that you have been right all along, that perhaps religion is to blame for the many of the ills of humanity. You feel a sense of affirmation when I say I am a 3rd wave, intersectional feminist. You won’t try to find a way to blame me for my own sexual assault. You won’t ask me what I was wearing or whether I was drunk.

These two Americas don’t talk to each other. We don’t read the same publications or watch the same TV. There is no present-day Walter Cronkite who is the arbiter of today’s news. None of us have the same facts. I forgot. I forgot the amount of anger a woman can incur just for being in charge. I forgot that the subtext for women, no matter how capable, kind, involved, or intelligent, is that we are seen as only partly people, sort of disadvantaged people, slightly handicapped for our uteruses. I forgot the America I came from, buoyed by the hope of equality, of justice, of mercy toward the least of these. I forgot how narrow the scope of Christian charity can be here.

Yesterday, unequivocally, the other America, the America I walked away from, voted for the most bigoted, racist, misogynist, hateful, unkind, deceptive candidate it has ever voted for to date. I could list the particulars, but you won’t hear me, or you have heard it and questioned the order of the universe. History will judge him harshly, and it will judge us all equally harshly. History will not see two Americas, but one, who thought such a despicable person should be executive and chief of such a country.

We get it now; you’re not going away so soon. We’ll consider your tenacity in our upcoming adventures. We’ll reframe our moral high ground. We’ll reframe our user acquisition tactics. We won’t move to Canada or become literary ex-pats. We’ll be right here, helping people who are getting hurt by your candidate and his policies. We’ll be safe havens for the LGBTQ community, for immigrants, for Muslims. We’ll stand in solidarity with BLM, and victims of sexual assault. We won’t stop creating safe spaces for the least of these. We’ll continue to learn about science and how we are affecting the environment. We will be here winning hearts and minds, the way mine was won: with patient conversation, with showing not telling. We will be kind. I will be kind.

Words

I guess I want to leave you with words,
words scrawled on index cards
and hidden in your fruit bowl,
words, pages deep, bound and hardbacked,
electric words that I can hurl across the world
to light up your screen.
And I won’t give you just any words;
I’ll choose them with care
and send words of your courageous embodiedness,
and the way you walk is making you a universe,
and the steps won’t mend you,
but mountaintop views, after all that climbing, will,
because beauty has healing hands.
And trees are what my prayers look like,
hope-leaves reaching for the sun,
bone-dry bark wondering if it’s being heard,
somewhere-deep roots that know it is.
Take these words with you
to open skies, deserts, and hills,
take them to the streams and the rain.
Don’t be shy either; teach them to the birds.

It Could be a Wonderful Life

Its-A-Wonderful-Life

You know that scene in It’s A Wonderful Life where Mr. Potter tries to take everything away from George Bailey?  And do you remember the next part where the entire town rallies around him and raises the money he’s missing, because they know that he will always, always be on their team? Over the past four days, I have been living just such a scenario. I am neither George Bailey. Nor (thankfully), am I Mr. Potter. I am Mr. Gower, Violet, Sam Wainwright.

Veronica Noriega is an irreplaceable part of our greater Seattle community. She has sacrificed a great deal to be here, and she has consistently done so with extraordinary generosity and strength. For the last 18 months, Veronica’s husband Ramon has been in immigrant detention in Tacoma (In case you didn’t know, Tacoma is home to one of the country’s largest detention centers, privately run by the GEO Group). During her husband’s detention, Veronica has organized and lead solidarity events outside of the center and worked three jobs, all while being a mother to three children.

None of these things matter to her bank or to her landlord. Today, Veronica and her children are on the verge of homelessness.

VERO+CON+FAMILIA

Veronica with her children: Jose, Veronica, and Ashley

I want you to understand why Veronica is so much like George Bailey. I want you to understand that, like George, Veronica loves her family. Like George, she loves her community, her neighbors. Like George, she has dreams and aspirations that have been put on hold over and over again, in service of those around her. Like George, she needs her community’s help.

This is not a story that will end with Veronica running through the streets of Seattle shouting “Merry Christmas, you old Building and Loan!” It won’t have a white, male protagonist, perfectly timed music, or an adorable angel named Clarence.  But none of that is what matters. What matters is that we choose to give Veronica the same kind of love that we give a fictional character from a fictional town.

Last week, I went on a date. As we sat talking about things far too cerebral for just about anyone’s taste but our own, my date leaned in and whispered, “You know that romanticized notion of the 1920s drug store, where the kids know the guy behind the counter?”

“Yes,” I said. “It’s a Wonderful Life; Mr. Gower!”

“I want that back,” he whispered.

I want that back too, but I don’t want it just for the few people who had it in the first place. I want it for everyone. I want it for Veronica Noriega. I want it for her husband Ramon and for her children. I want the lawyers and the landlord and bank who think she is unloved and alone to know, beyond all doubt, that she is loved and she belongs here.

So I am inviting you to participate in a story of high ideals realized, of love winning. I’m asking you to improve upon a Frank Capra classic where the color of your skin and the language you speak do not determine whether you can be the hero of the story.

Veronica needs $8000 by July 1st in order to own her home and pay her legal fees. What’s more, over the course of one year, she will pay that money back to the organization that is raising funds for her, so that the money can go into a revolving fund for people in similar situations. Any money raised in addition to what Veronica needs will go immediately into that fund.

More of Veronica’s story can be found here, along with a giving page.

Philo-Sophia

Saint Sophia

There were four words that were important to me, when I woke up much too early this morning. They are usually important, but sometimes, I ignore important because of pain or distraction or the uncomfortableness of my reality.

Their faces rest in my bedroom and oversee the ebb and flow of messy and tidy (although, lately, there has been an abundance of messy). Theirs is a tragic story that gives me everything they lost, years ago, before any of this could be considered comfortable. They lived real lives and suffered real death. They give meaning to my living.

Sophia is a Greek word that means wisdom. This word is special. I remember reading down a list of names, and this one, well, it spoke to me. The word philosophy is derived from sophia: philo-sophia. Love of wisdom. When I saw this name, something in me longed for it, connected to it, connected to her.

She was the mother of three: Faith, Hope, and Love. Wisdom named her daughters after the chief Christian virtues, a reminder that you can’t have one without the other.

Her daughters were tortured and killed because they refused to deny their Christian faith. I don’t know if my ancestors were early Christians. It’s possible. They converted at some point, but I don’t know when. But Wisdom and I are connected now, part of the same tribe. So they were my sisters who suffered and died for their faith, faith that, today, is never a threat to my life.

Wisdom buried her three daughters after their martyrdom. Then, Wisdom died of grief at their graves. Now, she is known as a martyr as well.

This is my ancestor. I am born into her family through a different kind of blood, a different kind of life. And now she is part of the cloud of witnesses. Now, we are called by the same name. It is not in vanity that I seek to be wise. I seek to be like my namesake, my intercessor, and—at times—my comforter. I seek wisdom in faith, hope, and love. You cannot have one without the others.

And when I pray, I know that I am participating in the unnamable truth of community and communion. It is more abstract and more beautiful than all things I have known. I see her face; I know she is beckoning me in, beckoning me to the one on whom her eyes are fixed, the one whose wisdom is perfect, whose love is perfect, the one in whom hope does not disappoint.

This is mystery.

The Difference Between Hands and Hearts

I suppose your hands make sense after midnight
when we are too weary to sleep
and our mouths roll on about everything
we stopped thinking about three hours ago.
Hours drift by until even the night
is tired of itself and gives up.

Then, our hands clasp when
you are still awake enough to pretend
not to notice
but too tired to let go.

Then, I think I’ve made a wish,
the kind where your hand is always in mine,
or maybe your heart.
I’ve had too much to drink
and forget if there is a difference
between hands and hearts.