Other Cheek Turning

She called to apologize to me after a relative of mine threw an ugly and abusive temper-tantrum in her office. My first reaction was to say that I’m used to that kind of nasty, childish behavior from this person and that it’s the other way, that I owe her an apology.

And now, days later, I sit here and cry. I cry because she knows where I come from, because she knows. Most of the time I manage to handle this side of my history with humor. There’s not much else to do. I refuse to be defined by the hate and bigotry and fear of having been (half) raised in a fundamentalist household. That’s not me. That’s not my God. And when I thought that xenophobia, homophobia, rage, and hate were requirements for religion I wanted nothing to do with religion.

So I intentionally exerted significant effort to find a church where a woman preaches, where interfaith families and single mothers are wanted and welcomed, where every year the congregation turns out to support the Pride Parade with free water, where the building is always in use providing shelter for homeless families and ESL classes for refugees and space for addicts and alcoholics to meet. I spent months researching and visiting churches when I moved here. And I found one I liked.

And this relative saw the Pride Parade poster and caused a scene. Thank God I didn’t witness it myself! But this is a small community. It didn’t take long for me to be warned to be prepared to hear all about how much he hates it and wants us to leave, that he swore to “talk” to me about it and insist that I cannot raise my children in a church like that, that I need to get out and find a new church ASAP.

And finally I’m crying, finally I realize that it’d be OK to accept an apology from someone. Healthy, sane, grown-up people don’t do shit like that, don’t scream and yell, call names and try to control the religious lives of other grown up people. It’s pretty screwed up that I have to deal with this. There’s a word for that kind of behavior. Abuse. And he’s never going to understand or care or change or offer an apology or make amends. I’m old enough to know this. It would take a miracle.

And for two days my brain swirls and cycles. Let’s omit the inner obsessive monologue.

And I’m so angry and hurt and afraid.

So I take my space. I do nothing. I say nothing. I wait. I pray. I ask God for help.

And there’s this other place in me, a me that refuses to be sucked into it, to stoop to the level of name-calling and nasty. A me that knows that Jesus gave directions and warnings that apply here. Following Jesus can be really offensive to people who want to reduce it to an equation of mere belief.  I have a commitment to find a way to turn the other cheek, to love even my enemies. (That doesn’t mean not having healthy and firm boundaries to protect myself and my children from abuse and bullying!)

I think about the blessings in my life. Most Sundays I share a pew with a wonderful lesbian Buddhist woman who seems to be one of God’s screw drivers for tightening loose souls. I remember this story a Muslim friend shared once about Mohammad having a difficult neighbor who threw trash at his door everyday. When I try to list all the great people God has sent me I can’t even begin to count. Many of them have been LGBTQIA. Most of them haven’t been Christian. And I begin to feel sorry for this tantrum-thrower, his hate and fear mean that he will never experience the blessings of having friends like mine.

That’s a start. I can pray for his benefit that God work in him so he can share in the joy and growth I’ve been blessed with.

(I debate baking two rainbow pride cakes, one for him and one for church. But that seems a bit passive-aggressive as I think about it.)

Effective other-cheek-turning is an art form. It converts violence and hate to kindness and love. But it’s not for the unimaginative or faint of heart. A few times I’ve managed to get really good results. But most of the time it’s resulted only in insuring that someone decides they don’t want to ever mess with me again. Good enough. Jesus didn’t speak those words to people in power but humans struggling to under a cruel imperial occupation. It was absolutely about nonviolent methods of self-defense and protest. When someone tries to commandeer your cloak giving him your shirt along with it is really pretty ludicrous. That’s the point. It makes a public point of the abusive nature of trying to demand the coat in the first place. And so, somehow, I need to find the equivalent response for this situation. There always is one, if we are willing to work for it.

Other-cheek-turning, shirt-with-the-coat-giving, is an art form. An art form specifically designed to deal with nasty, abusive, bullying, tyrannical people. It makes space for the victim to take power, to shine a spotlight of shame on the perpetrator. It’s most certainly not some soft, mushy, fuzzy way of being a pushover. Jesus was anything but a pushover.

I haven’t found any great ideas here yet. I consider a few and dismiss them. Reconsider and play with them.

I could convert to Islam. There aren’t any Pride Parade posters at the mosque. (Yet. I know some really progressive, inclusive Muslims.) If there were I’d probably go to visit more often. I’m not sure which this person fears more, gays or Muslims. Probably depends on which hateful talk radio host he’s heard most recently. (Maybe this topic in relation to my own relationship with God ought to have its own post some day. Suddenly this doesn’t seem like the right context to go into it.)

I could make sure that every single birthday and Christmas card I send until he dies has a nice rainbow on it. And maybe purple glitter dumped in the envelope just for fun.

I could (whenever I have money again) make regular donations to the LGBTQ resource center in his town. They could use the help. Good people over there. I know some of them. But I’m still kinda poor (nice way of saying it’s a miracle that somehow there’s always exactly enough to make ends meet at the end of the month and I don’t know how it seems to always be almost to the penny). Maybe I could volunteer and donate time instead? Are there bonus points if I make sure and take time out of family holiday visits for the project?

I could write him a very public letter of apology for his discomfort. That’s an idea with promise. I know I won’t be getting an apology. But that’s OK. I’m not expecting one. Bigots really are something to feel sorry for.

Or maybe a thank you letter? That might be better. I could offer my sincerest appreciation for his having done such a wonderful job of making so clear why I love this church and committed to it. It really was very nice of him to make sure that I remember why I love this community.

I don’t have to decide tonight. And I won’t. I’m going to sleep on it, to trust that God will offer guidance (or my readers will give me suggestions! Please!), to keep praying about the situation and for him.


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March Reading BLog

I’m a slacker, I know. Here we are nearly a week into April and I still haven’t written a thing. Spring is here and with it come allergies and a fierce desire to be outside, playing in the dirt. This isn’t a great combination. I seem to most love the activities that make me most miserable. I have found a great volunteer opportunity playing in dirt as community service. I love this. This is what I miss most of all about my little house in the country, the garden. And I like this city life, too, but here my yard is gravel and brick and tending a few potted plants just doesn’t have the same feel as sinking my toes into fresh spring dirt. So I’ve been keeping busy and trying to increase my community involvement and forgetting to blog and reading more slowly. But I still finished a few great books I can’t wait to share.

27. 3/4/18 Sex & Secularism, Joan Wallach Scott. Highly recommend this book. Well worth reading.

28. 3/8/18 Grace(Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott. I know she’s a bit problematic but sometimes her books hit the spot for me. What can I say? Reading this did get me thinking about how being the Hot Mess™ is related to white privilege.

29. 3/10/18 Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country, Rosalind Miles. Meh. It’s OK but the older I get the more I find fiction like this problematic. It’s yet another retelling of Arthurian myth which tells us more about contemporary American Fundamentalist Christianity and the author’s White Feminism than about any historical reality.

30. 3/13/18 Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh. This was another reading with Kid 2 project. I think it’s still an excellent classic and worth reading and discussing with kids. We shed tears and had great conversations.

31. 3/17/18 Race and Secularism in America, Eds. Jonathan Kahn and Vincent Lloyd. This is a collection of essays and leans toward the academic side. It’s got some great work and important themes but maybe isn’t everyday reading.

32. 3/26/18 Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics, Josef Sorett. This is kind-of a confusing book.

So what have you been reading? And do your reading patterns shift with the seasons and weather?

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And the Winner of the Worst Ally Ever Award Is…

Me. I’m the worst ally ever. Us white people like to talk a lot about being allies. Especially us progressive protestant academic types. We love this language. It lets us of the hook of our own complicity.

“I’m an ally! Look! Loot at me!” Bullshit. Mostly I’m just trying to survive. And sometimes I’m shy and down-right cowardly.

I’ve been thinking about this the last week, thinking about what it means to sit there shocked and stupid when stuff like this happens. Clearly I’m beyond useless as an ally. I had a chance, in one of those spaces where the people who needed sticking up for have no access to stick up for themselves, to have their own voices, to say something. And I said nothing. And if I say nothing I am doing nothing to make room for those voices to come to the table.

I thought a lot about this this week, about what’s wrong with being an ally. Everything. Everything’s wrong with it. Being an ally is remaining complicit in the systems that make so much injustice possible. It’s being conscripted into being one of the “good” slave owners, good nazis, good patriarchs, good capitalists, good homophobes, etc. etc. that other privileged people can hide behind as part of the false “progress narrative” of tolerance. And I want no part of that.

Tolerance is part of the problem.

I went and talked to the man who said that BUT statement I was so irate about. I did. I scraped myself together and sat down and told him that it was wrong to say and that I have a problem with it. And he took partial responsibility for it. But only partial. It was a duck-and-dodge conversation, deflected to be about him and about the good interfaith charity programs our denomination and congregation participate in. Tolerance again.

Tolerance is what I do when the spring winds pick up and suddenly the air is filled with pollen and I’m sick as a dog. (I’m proof that you can grow up in the dirt, with all sorts of animals and plants, eating peanut butter everyday and still have an immune system that over-reacts to plant sperm like it’s some new kind of biological warfare weapon.) Tolerance is taking an antihistamine pill every morning and trying not to complain to everyone I meet about how miserable and dysfunctional I am surrounded by something I hate but have no choice about. I tolerate it.

And tolerance is not what people on the receiving end of bigotry and oppression deserve. I don’t want to be an ally of injustice systems and privileged white men who talk a lot about tolerance and diversity. And when we call ourselves allies that, too often, is what we become. We end up being the privileged allies of privilege. We’re nicely able to play both sides and because we think we’re woke we think it’s cool.

I don’t have all that much privilege. I’m a single mother. I’ve dealt every day with gender discrimination, with economic inequality, with the stigma of being a poor woman who lives outside of the hetero-patriarchal family norm. I know how much this shit sucks in my own life. But I’m also white, Christian, have USA birth certificate, and a college education. And I can’t imagine how much harder life would be if I didn’t have those advantages. Hard. I’m sure of that. I can still blend in, I can wear a fake wedding ring if I want to, I can let people think that I’m middle-class, I can access those all-white spaces. No one is trying to fire-bomb my house of worship or build a wall to keep my family out.

I don’t want me and my family to be merely tolerated. We know how shitty that feels, to be the black-sheep family of the community, the family that doesn’t fit in, that’s missing the piece with the penis that makes us OK in the eyes of the people with the power. It sucks. It’s isolating and lonely and alienating. I’m always so happy when my kids make friends with other kids who also come from “broken” homes. People like us, people who want us.

People who want us. Isn’t that what we all need, what community is really about? And sometimes the “people like us” maybe aren’t like us at all. Our people like us, people who like us, are over and over, people who don’t look like us, don’t talk like us, don’t pray like us. And that is what inclusion and pluralism and diversity are really about. People like us who aren’t at all like us and still like us. And I think that this is true for all those “other” people out there.

And it is more than that. Inclusion isn’t just inviting someone to the church book study but understanding that maybe they can’t afford the book or the gas to drive to the nice part of town. It’s addressing all those barriers that keep people out. Things like generations of systemic racism. Or centuries of genocide. Or colonialism and resource theft. And being a mere ally doesn’t cut it for these issues. Opening the doors isn’t enough when people have shackles on their ankles.

Yeah, I slightly redeemed myself as an ally. I went and had that hard discussion about antisemitism and not saying BUT and not sweeping it aside. I stuck a microscopic jamb in the door. But that isn’t at all what’s really needed. It won’t to a damn thing to stop synagogues from being targeted, to alleviate the suffering caused by 2,000 years of twisting the Gospel of John. (Which is what brought up the topic in the first place.) No, being an ally not only doesn’t help, it’s also a thin shield to protect my own ego and avoid my own complicity.

I’m a pathetic excuse for being of service to the people who most need it. And there’s a lot of freedom in facing that. It’s the freedom to not be an ally any more, to not tolerate mere tolerance. Maybe someday I will be able to afford allergy treatment, to try those shots that are supposed to reprogram the immune system. Maybe then I’ll be able to include lilacs and tulips and junipers and alfalfa and all the other plants I now merely tolerate in my life. And that’s what we need, collective immune-therapy to become includers rather than toleraters.



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