Saturday, December 27, 2008


A family friend wrote this morning, noting the cryptic nature and confusing 1st and 3rd person presentation of my latest blog posts. Where is Emily the person vs Emily the poet, he asked? Good questions; they make sense. I'm stepping out of poetry for a moment, reluctantly, because poetry has kept me alive the past 6 days. When the "blood and bread" of my life came crumbling, I had description and memory only. My desiring will produced nothing. Couldn't write about my mother: her rapid decline, the emergency procedures, the fear in her face on Christmas Eve, or the tears in her eyes on Christmas Day. Couldn't write about James' love sustaining me through it all. Revelation needs mediation. So I wrote poems about everything else, because there were/are no mediating words to accurately depict what's been revealed. It's apophatic. I scribbled notes in the back of my continental philosophy text while watching her sleep. Perhaps I'll write a poem about it 2 years from now. Maybe 3. All I know is powerlessness. There is nothing on Earth to remind of life's fragility and one's own lack of control like the witnessing of the Other's pain. There was nothing I could do but leave work & drive (fast). Nothing I could do but sing and pray. Nothing I could do but text my friends and ask for help. Nothing I could do but touch her hand and whisper encouragement. Nothing I could do in her empty house but get lost in the poetic enterprise. Please forgive me the abstraction. I needed to get lost in order to show up. It's all I could do.

P.S. Things are, momentarily, looking up. She might just make it. Thank you, all of you, soul-children, faithful friends, for the generosity and kindness you've shared. G-d is what you've given. Please leave comments; I need to read/see/hear you all the more at this time, "for thou art with me."


Friday, December 26, 2008

Home of the Free

"People say things happen for a reason, but I say there's a reason things happen. And it wasn't all good way back in the day. Struggle then, struggle now. Still standing." (Blue Scholars)

He wore brass knuckles in 7th grade,
let red hair flame wild from his head.
In High School he fucked the prettiest girls
and never talked about it--they did.
Once we had a class together.
I listened to the stories of his horrific home life
where mom had her head held under water by dad just
for coming home wearing a new perfume.
He thought I was funny and athletically gifted for a girl.
My crush ran deep.

He talked about loving his momma and
being willing to throw down for his friends.
I admired his grit and the way his body
moved without restriction, illustrating his points,
proving his hardness, highlighting his strength.

Probably an Aries.

With a low-pitched voice he'd say "what up girl?"
in the hallway and flick his head back all rugged and masculine.
I watched him like a hawk, learning and sometimes
mimicking intonation, chest-puffing and effrontery
gestures rising up from the guts. Like any young queer,
my gender confusion turned admiration into desire:
I didn't want him; I wanted to be like him.

Eventually he joined a white supremacist gang
like so many of the disillusioned white boys from
poverty stricken neighborhoods ten miles from my
middle class house between Foothill and Baseline.
He no longer gave me head nods and I no longer
wanted to be like him.

Last I heard he'd left gang life,
but alcoholically dismissed himself from giving a fuck
about anything. This Christmas, on an unexpected
trip down South, I drove the city streets of my home town
to find his name flying high on an outstretched banner:
"Claremont salutes its heroes: Thank you _________
for defending our freedom." Army, stationed in Basra.
I could have guessed that when some fool declared war,
he'd go running.

It is, after all, a "voluntary" military now, right?
I'm sure his dad is proud.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Julian Diaz Brown

It'd been a long time,
long enough for her to deem it ironic
when the numbers of his home telephone
came popping up in her head while she drove east
to visit her sick mother.

It'd been a long time,
long enough for both of them to move away:
move to places like Berkeley and Los Angeles,
move to places like North Carolina and Chicago,
move to places that kept them distant--places
like resentment and misunderstanding.

He frequents the scenes of Hollywood, polishing production
and brushing shoulders with large egos and egos trying to grow.
She frequents the halls of hospitals and parishes, touching pain
and pushing prayer while questioning the validity of it all.

It'd been a long time, long enough for them
to lose contact, lose interest, even to lose memory.
So when his phone number popped back into her mind,
along with an idea to return where they'd always gone on Christmas Eve,
she figured in a time when uncertainty reigns and fear abounds,
why not return to rituals of old?

She could see it: driving to 375 E. Julliard Dr to pick him up,
where his family would be winding down from seasonally appropriate
festivities. He'd be wearing a sweater and jeans, moving quickly
with a rapid hug that seemed desperate and rushed. She'd drive
them downtown where C&E Christians, mostly white upper class
locals with returned college students in-tow, would be posted
outside the historic Church listening to the Claremont Brass Band
play "Noel" and "Hark the Herald." Too cold to linger, they'd move
inside to behold the poinsettias and liturgical banners suggesting
subtle worship in winter. Hushed solitude would fill the air.
The service would begin and unfold while he doodled comic strips
on the bulletin and made irreverent, yet honest, remarks about the service.
She would sing and read from the Bible, taking particular note
when all congregants raised their candles in the air
to mark the apex of advent: yes, we will wait one more night
for this miracle to be born. When the gay baritone,
a companion of her late father, hit the crescendo of "O Holy Night,"
year after year a friendship christened when he reached across the pew,
touching her hand, making spirit-in-flesh move beyond myth.

It'd been a long time.
Too long. No answer of the phone.
No cellular number to supplement.
He stopped calling on the anniversary of her father's
death. She quit trying to break through his silence,
quit trying to reach into the comfort places he once provided.
It'd been a long time, long enough for them to move away.

When her mother returned from the
4th surgery in 14 days, pale and pain-stricken at
10:00 p.m. in a ghost town hospital, the girl looked at the
clock, knowing the Midnight Candlelight Service began shortly,
thought of him briefly, thought of him lovingly,
and even though it'd been long enough for them to move away,
the girl called on his compassion, buried her head in her mother's cheek
and hummed "O Holy Night" attempting to move spirit-in-flesh beyond myth.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Upon waking,
Christmas party make-up collateral
gathers in the corner of my eye,
while rain pours softly on sidewalks two stories down.


Sunday Morning.

They come,
so many come
from far reaching places.
Some drive.
Others get driven by worn out family just trying--
though they feel nothing to speak of--
to carry out grandma's wishes while she's still alive.
Others get picked up by the associate pastor's van.
Young ones wonder why they must miss football games
and sleeping in just to be bored and pinched on the cheek
by womyn wearing huge purple, red, black and blue
hats with fishnet webs
and lavish jewels on top.

They come, still,
hands held by, or perhaps held together by,
a commitment to something unspeakable, ever speaking,
something unnameable whose name invokes the
holiest of posture and pleasure.

This morning,
they get wet journeying from car to pew.
They risk soaking through and being cold,
just to stand together, just to clasp hands in reverent signification,
just to sing, say amen, hug one another, just to gossip about the sermon
when it's over.
Last night,
some of those well-dressed, verbally pious men
were fucking womyn who weren't, and won't ever be, their wives.
Last night, that pastor drank too much vodka
at the Rotary Club Christmas celebration.
Last night, those kids punched each other playfully for
making jokes about each other's mothers.
Last night, the older ones prayed hard
and heard nothing in return.

Rain falls on their heads, especially those without hats.
For this kind of devotion, You better be paying attention.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Flames of Transference

"I have only what I remember."
--W.S. Merwin

He is just like you,
re-minds of you.
You: deep voice, dark skin, white tee, blue sweats.
You: love I cannot lose.
He sits and builds model air crafts,
in the day room where television monitors
cover the crass silence accompanying surrender.
You coach football in a home town
where everyone knows everyone--and everyone
prefers it that way.
He went to Afghanistan.
You stayed in North Carolina.
He hears voices.
You bbq with friends.

If he were you,
if you had gone somewhere far away
to provide medical care to countless severed limbs
and racist white men who slurred hate in between
cotton swabs while wearing the American flag,
if you came back on a bus one day,
receiving "dishonorable discharge" status,
leaving your entire unit behind
because schizo affective disorder and PTSD
impaired your once-clear now-clouded mind,
if you looked at me, your chaplain,
in the psych ward, with those eyes,
with his eyes, and I knew it was you underneath--

Babylon would burn.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


What I learned while rotating in the Dialysis Clinic

Even blood
comes in different shades
of red.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Never The Twain Shall Meet??

Remember when John Kerry quoted James 2:20 in his debate with George W. Bush back in October of 2004? I'll never forget what it was like to hear a politician quote the Bible in a presidential debate. Excitement, nervousness, hope--all together. When asked about womyn's right to choice, Senator Kerry talked about the importance of connecting thoughts to actions, belief to choices, etc. He said:
"My faith affects everything that I do, in truth. There's a great passage of the Bible that says, 'What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead.' And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people."

When we act in the name of faith, like say writing a blog post about the exhaustion of false dichotomies in society, our time set apart for reflection must increase, not decrease. Faith without works is dead. Yes. Faith without brain is deadly. So let's engage in a little mental gymnastics, shall we?

People in politics, anyone in civil democratic service, must pay verbal heed to the fine-line between faith works and proselytizing. John Kerry, in proper debate fashion, called out that fine line by intentionally ending his sentence: "without transferring it in any official way to other people." Transferring.

Trans, in Latin, means: across, beyond, through, changing thoroughly.
Ferre, in Latin, means: to bear, to carry.
Transfer: to bear across? to carry beyond? to carry and bear through? to change, thoroughly, in the act of carrying and/or bearing?
Religious transference: to carry across in G-d's name? to hold up, spiritually, during times of thorough change?

Is the distinction, between proselytizing and the impact of faith works, so different? Conversion is conversion, whether it comes from the impact of words or an internal shift in response to someone's kindness and care. John Kerry asks us to think about the "official" distinctions between religious and political acts, and surely what's done in the name of G-d and what's done in the name of country/state/city must be safely measured, guarded, set apart and re-examined again and again. However, acts of faith, official or unofficial, have enormous impact that cannot be controlled, foreseen or safeguarded against. Further, when you break down the essentials of religious acts and political acts there's very little structural difference; they co-create one another through the mediating hermeneutical culture(s) that run through, impact and construct them. The persons, symbols, texts and languages of politics and religion may contain differences of note, but the similarities warn us against falsely dichotomizing them and pitting one against the other. They both have their place. For those of us in religious service, and those in political service, there's a need for acknowledgment of how our enterprises bleed into one another instead of hour long debates denying the relationship. Good job Senator Kerry. I often hear partisan banter and religious sound-byte rhetoric shutting down complex discussions about how religion and politics mingle. Who, what movements, what communities, in the public square, besides mocked and dissmissed John Kerry and evangelical Jim Wallis, will give voice to this contentious marriage in our society? Will you?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This Is The Way G-d Works...

My mom is scheduled to have surgery this morning. When she first told me about the upcoming procedure I had to negotiate whether I'd be with her before and during her surgery or afterward for a few days. Federal employees get accumulated annual leave and since I've only been doing Chaplaincy at the VA for three months, I don't have enough paid-time-off saved up to leave for entire week. She said she'd rather have me there afterward, so I agreed to spend Thursday, Friday and the weekend in Southern California. Last night I prayed for her over the phone and it was the most powerful prayer experience I've had in my life, bar none. This morning I woke up with a sinking feeling in my stomach knowing she'd be rolled into the operating room without a kiss from me. I prayed and prayed, but something didn't quite feel right. Alas, "your beloved patients need their Chaplain" I told myself; I resolved to drink coffee, get dressed, and headed on to the hospital where I am employed. After a quick round in the Spinal Chord Injury Unit and the Traumatic Brain Injury Unit (where I rotate on Wednesday mornings) I took refuge in the VA Chapel. Silence for 10 minutes. All of sudden it dawned on me: Call the Chaplain Services at the hospital where you're mom is staying. Duh. I grabbed my coat and ran to my office, certain that the 'still small voice' would guide with compassion and mercy. I looked up the hospital website, got on the phone with Chaplain Services and asked "Rev. Amy" to see my mom in post-op. Rev. Amy and I talked a little bit; like any good Chaplain, Rev. Amy asked about my mom's spiritual life and history. And like any good family member, I asked about Rev. Amy's spiritual life and history. Here's the kicker: My mom and Rev. Amy are both members of Claremont United Church of Christ. Rev. Amy is a UCC ordained minister in the Southern California Nevada Conference (where I am currently in-care), she grew up in the Bay Area, is a CPE Supervisor and knows well my CPE Supervisor Sue Turley. I know my mom is in good hands.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Threat(s) of Narrative

About six months ago PSR's Seminarians to End War group co-hosted with The Beatitudes Society a panel discussion on Sports, Religion & Social Justice. My friend Audrey DeCoursey organized the event which included recruiting speakers. She asked students within the GTU to represent: James Ryan Parker talked "sports & hermeneutics"; Mike Beckman spoke on "Green Bay Religion"; my friend Tai Amri spent his time discussing "sports and identity construction"; I concluded the panel by reflecting on "Women & Sports" (though it was less systematic than that). The speakers brought different styles of presentation and vastly different content. Tai Amri and I reflected from personal his/herstories, making connections between personal experience and systemic issues. James brought critical theory to his presentation and put forth a brilliant constructive proposal for reading sports through religion and reading religion through sports. Mike talked about local economic strategies in Green Bay that result in shared ownership of the Packers. Each presentation brought fascinating ideas and issues to the forefront. I will admit my presentation was the weakest by far; I came in ill-prepared and somewhat disinterested in the overall theme. I agreed to present because Audrey wanted a female voice on the panel and couldn't find anybody else. The evening proved worth my time though; I sure did learn a lot! what? ask.

After the panel, I sat outside my apartment on Le Conte as one of my fellow panelists walked by with his girlfriend. I had changed clothes and put the hood of my sweatshirt over my head so he didn't recognize me. As he came walking down the hill he was mocking the use of narrative in the night's event. He said "maybe I should have just told stories about my experience playing T-ball when I was six." His girlfriend recognized me at the last minute and could tell I heard his belittling remarks. She leaned into his shoulder and whispered "wasn't that the girl from PSR that presented?" It was all so 7th grade but for some reason the experience stayed with me.

When people tell their stories, the safety-guards and niceties of "theory" fall away. Stories break-through bullshit abstractions. Stories reveal the potential for wickedness and grace lingering in each human heart. Stories challenge generalizations and foster ambivalence. Stories make plain the nuance and complex messiness of relationships and development. Stories challenge stereotypes. Stories illuminate, uniquely, the diversity of life, the differences between peoples, communities, continents, religions, etc. They also illuminate similarity and continuity. Stories keep it real. Stories shouldn't be the only way information gets exchanged. I too have, at times, gotten nauseated when narrative didn't come balanced with a healthy dose of book learning. And let me be clear: critical theory is of/from G-d. I do though find the resistance to personal narrative, especially by persons well-versed in academic theory, revealing when it comes to the role of education privilege in emotional distancing and silencing. Is it surprising that this white heterosexual male found the stories of an African American male and queer female below performance standards??

Many of you know I work in a hospital with Vets. I listen to stories all day, 5 days a week; stories about war, fear, death, injury, victory, camaraderie, patriotism. Some of these men open up and what comes out challenges every idea I've had about masculinity, mental-health, religion, combat, militarism, colonialism, faithfulness in marriage, strength, courage, ad infinitum. Their story telling invites me into a deeper awareness of reality. It challenges me to get beyond narrow understandings of war and peace, male and female, healing and wholeness, etc. Sometimes I think this country would drown in tears if our soldiers (current and past) told the truth about their lives. But we don't let them. We ask them to "man up," to "shape up or ship out". And it's not just vets who get silenced in this way. I think my GTU colleague's response that night exemplifies a general unease underlying the current power structure that if people outside the power center started talking, all things vulnerable might appear. He's right. We shame the revelation of truth through narrative. It's not tidy enough, not systematic enough, not controlled enough. It doesn't confirm the "naturalness" of white supremacy, the tyranny of masculinities; narrative aggravates logocentrism, deconstructs modernist "Truth", gives way to alternative world views and epistomologies. It's all so...liberating.

I come back to my GTU colleague in mind and heart quite often. I wonder what stories he listens to, what voices ring in his head: something tells me they rigorously echo the maxims of control so deeply rooted in white, masculinist, academic culture(s). If he has little space for the spoken struggles of others, it tells me he has little room for his own struggles. How sad. My prayer is that one day he makes room for stories about 6 year-old T-ball as enthusiastically as he theorizes strategies for cooperative economics.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Diane Thomas

I give thanks to The Beloved for the life of my dear mentor and friend Diane Thomas who lured me into bold places. She was an activist and a pastor, modeling possibilities for the marriage of justice and religious faith. She was a white anti-racist activist, challenging those of us with white skin to admit and recover from our addiction to privilege. She laughed at herself and never blinked an eye before calling authority into account. She talked the language of spiritual surrender and showed up in friendship (a type of subtle surrender itself). May those of us who were lucky enough to know her cherish her in the ways that make us more human. Infuse our ritual remembrance of her with lessons of humility and hard-work. The world could use more just like her, but we know there will never be another. G-d I just loved this womyn. Thank you for her life.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Musings...

Experiencing "my" Christian identity is like admitting I have a dysfunctional family. I've spent a long time trying to figure out ways to hide that I'm Christian. I've spent a long time trying to deny that I feel moved by (read: love) my tradition in ways that defy language. I've even spent a long time focusing on other people's Christianities in order to escape my embarrassment of what we have in common. It's true: I belong to the same religion as Fred Phelps, Jim Jones, and those who operate Trinity Broadcasting Network. I also belong to the same religion as Anne Lammot and Jeremiah Wright--people who tell the truth with unparalleled wisdom and compassion. At some point I've got to accept the fact that what I have in common with other Christians doesn't really matter. Maya Angelou once said "becoming a Christian is a life-long endeavor." Touche. Life-long perhaps because it's so easy to think it's this versus that, or us versus them. High Christology. Low Christology. Textual literalism or liberalism. Life-long perhaps because love is so much softer, in its whisper, than these screaming lines drawn in the sand.

This morning while sitting in church I began to think about the fact that people were killed in Walmart this week b/c of the materialism frenzy that spreads like wild-fire (in America) during Christmas time. It's a damn shame, for real. But then we have these high and mighty types who pull out their "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" signs and shame all things non-Christian in response. I agree that Jesus would vomit if he saw how his memorialization process got manipulated into retail therapy for our (economically) depressed souls, but I also think he would detest his name being used as the "reason" too. Jesus was almost always pointing to something greater than himself, to the "kingdom of G-d." Why are folks so quick to throw Jesus' name out but so slow to look at the life he lead, the values he professed, the way his disciples ministered to their communities in honor of him after Calvary? Sometimes I think people pull on Christ just to judge their neighbors instead of getting curious about their neighbors or touching their neighbors' pain. He has become a war cry, a rallying "name" for the barricades of our faith. How sad. Well, not today. Not in G-d's name. As I endeavor to "become a Christian" today I will seek the whispering Word, the kind that comes to connect and heal, the kind that stirs in the belly of a womyn promising to infuse life with wonder and delicacy...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


In a white truck, weeks before Christmas,
rain pouring down on all sides,
setting the windshield wipers ablaze,
"Song for a Winter's Night" by Sara McLachlan
played over and over
as we chatted about our love lives,
still unborn in many ways,
and seasonally appropriate perhaps:
we were preparing "him" room
by playing into and eventually clearing away
false fantasies for family hooked on notions of grandeur,
played out in painstaking neglect.

Our hearts were motivated for something in the song;
neither one of us could help hitting the repeat button
again and again as we ventured toward
Cactus on College where mango salsa watered our mouths
and sexy dyke couples dazzled our eyes.

We would come to, over the years, at different times,
the same hospital hallways and didactic sessions,
same seminary professors and theology texts,
looking for and perhaps answering back to
the mid-western religions of our youth, so compounded by
fear and mistrust, so jam-packed with familiarity and comfort.
We would come to, over the years, at different times
each other, broken-open and other times broken-hearted,
looking for and perhaps providing something with longevity
that could sustain the highs and lows of living honestly.

So today you are walking with Pastor Wilkes my former
mentor and boss and I am sitting where you used to sit,
tending the men you used to tend, while listening to
Sarah McLachlan once more. This time as she sings
"I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
on this Winter's Night with you," I'm thinking of the family prayer
we will say together tomorrow night, finger-locked with the families
we've courageously built from the rubble
of our origins--and the title "Thanksgiving"
takes on new meaning.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hope: Beyond the Rhetoric

I'd like this post to be a conversation starter because I've been thinking, long and hard, about something particular and would appreciate your insights.

Hope is up. It's in the marketplace, the pulpit, the town hall meeting and the public square. Hope is on t-shirts and children's faces. It's being written and spoken with fervor and undeniable frequency. Hope is up. Those of us brave enough to call ourselves theologians take special interest when religiously coded words become common place rhetoric in the culture. I consider it my task, not because I'm a theologian, but because I am a theologically oriented ethicist, to bring this common place rhetoric into more detailed focus. So let us get into the nuts and bolts of what hope means...

A couple months ago I heard a person doing on-the-ground justice work in Darfur say "Hope is not a muscle you can pay someone else to exercise for you." He went on to say something like this: Hope is not something you feel, it's something you build--not an emotion, but something born of and through action.

Some of us are feeling hopeful these days, not just because America elected Obama, but because America seemed to care about something for the first time in a long time. America cared about something productive, something to be created, as opposed to the care we saw during and after 9/11 which was tragic attention turned into revenge-seeking violence. There's an aliveness today in America and it's grounded in hope for a different future. I am weary, however, when i think about the possibilities for hope. I know I've been guilty of feeling hope and sitting on it, considering it an affect, a result, not a initiator or sounding bell. Sometimes I'm so used to feeling bad, that when I feel something good, I want to cling to it and dwell in it as long as I possibly can. Perhaps others can relate to this. There is a possibility that we will watch Obama and think "he's going to take care of it all" while we sit back and relish in the fact that we, the people, elected him--as if our work is done. This kind of relishing won't be helpful if we, as a nation, are to ascend from the depths of hell we've created in the international psyche and domestic front. Our rigorous hope for a new kind of leadership elected Obama, but a detached American hope will not sustain him as a leader or sustain our efforts for justice that pre-date him and will outlive him (G-d willing). I am so grateful our president elect used the language of patriotic participation and personal sacrifice in his acceptance speech. I am wondering how we intend to respond to this call. I am wondering what hope requires of us as individuals, as communities, as a nation, as global citizens in these days ahead?

Are we to act? to preserve? to share? to keep the possibilities of/for despair in mind so as to avoid delusional happiness?
Are we to speak of it or should we let it speak to us?

What responsibility do we have to one another in the light and reality of hope? What kind of calling does hope make upon your life??

Thursday, November 13, 2008

After All: Vulnerability On The Flesh

For a creature
so battered
so backed into a corner
so skeptical of all occasions
to drop his shield
to remove his armor and disrobe completely
allowing his sores and soreness to be seen
by a one-time cage-closing visitor from the past
is nothing short of radical.

You always knew there was nothing that could keep me
and nothing that could ever keep me away.

Oh that I were a miracle worker,
one anointed with a healing touch,
or elixir breath,
powerful enough
to make them disappear.

But I am not
so I simply thank you for showing yourself
after all this time
in all your shame
after all the hurt between us.

I simply thank you for showing yourself
regardless of the impossibility of cure
by this love that once tried
over and again
to fix every untouchable wound

but couldn't, after all.

Supporting Our Troops: Gender Deconstruction & Mental Health Recovery

For years, the topic of masculinity triggered my academic and cultural curiosity. I wanted to understand the power, destructiveness and fascination surrounding and constructing male identity. More than anything though, I wanted to control the violence. I figured if I understood the issues, I had a better chance of solving them. Ha!

I saw men as the "problem." Well, not "men" per se, but males (or male identified people) seemed to be the ones shooting people in mass, raping people in mass, scaring people in mass. There had to be a link between maleness and violence, right? Of course there was evidence that womyn created these atrocities too, but in the case of female violence it seemed to be a "few bad apples" scenario whereas with men the numbers spoke for themselves. (I'm talking about the enterprise of violence, not genders in and of themselves--as if those things exist objectively anyway.) This interest in masculinity, which unfortunately co-constructed my feminism (think Edward Said's theory of constructing Otherness in order to construct oneself here), drove me to study the bodies, brains, cultural tides and organizing principles of "manhood." As a result I heard more and more about womyn as victims, womyn as consequential side-kicks in male dominated circles, womyn as agents of suffering etc. It's hard not to get angry when looking at the gender divide from this angle. It's easy to become jaded and bitter towards men with this single-focused lens.

Working in my current job has given me a completely different take on "masculinity". I'm not exactly sure why and how this context has shifted my thinking, but it has in a profound way. I am seeing "masculinity's" victimization of men here like never before. I cannot count how many times I've heard these brave vets talk about the "suck it up and be a man" ethos underlying their resistance to getting mental health help. They are suffering because of stupid ideas about femininity and masculinity too in ways many feminists are too busy fuming to actually hear about. (I have certainly been guilty of this.)

It is absolutely imperative that we stop stigmatizing therapy and self-help groups in this culture. We must stop "feminizing" psychological and emotional support. Getting help, reaching out, refusing to become a victim of one's own (terrorized) mind is not weak. To characterize it as such sets people up to deal with their struggles alone for fear of being emasculated. And no one, NO ONE, heals from trauma in isolation. If we do not put a stop to this stigma, we are going to see the suicide, homicide, domestic and social violence rates continue to climb. Trust me: the kind of PTSD coming back from The War on Terror is nothing to ignore.

So, if we really want to "Support The Troops" like some bumper stickers claim, then let's stand up against the stigmatization of mental health recovery. Whenever people associate getting help with gender, break through the bullshit. The fact that body parts get associated with character traits is, in itself, a problem in this culture but that's for another blog. Today: let's just try to get a nurturing environment together before our society implodes from another generation of soldiers coming home from one kind of torture to another.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Attempt

I walked down Hubbart Street the other day, not because that's the correct spelling of your name, and not because I knew where it would lead, but because I had to do something, anything, to feel you near. It was a sorry ass attempt and the best I could do. The trees were beautiful. I should have guessed.

Empty (Cyber) Spaces

There: No flopping against the wall like fish,
no thrashing about the borders and boundaries,
no nose against the concrete slab,
no "no" in this space.

There: Hours and hours,
zoning and zooming,
fuming and fazing,
ignoring and spacing,
anything: just take me out of here.

Here: the place where all the no's congregate:
no money
no more school
no g-d (to speak of)
no cure
no making it hurt less
no fancy furniture
no getting high
no salving his sores
no children in the tummy
no easy space

Here: the place where every limit never set before, bombs.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

An Open Letter Post Prop 8

(Still in draft form...workin on it....comments please!)

Dear children of GLBT parents at FCCR:

You were the first faces to cross my mind on Wednesday morning when I heard about the passing of Proposition 8. I thought about what it must have been like for you to go to school, to face what your peers were saying about your moms and dads, to face the consequences of what the California voting populace had to say about your moms and dads. I assume lots of people are talking about the things that affect you, but very few people are actually talking to you. So I pray, that just this once, you will allow me to reoccupy the position of "pastor" in your hearts because I think you are the first ones that need to hear from your church.

While being your youth minister 4 years ago I watched you struggle with loyalties to family and the need to have friends. You are, after all, living in a place where Calvary Chapels and LDS churches seem to make the loudest squawk about what's Christian and what's not. Your friends told you that your two mommies were going to hell. Adopted children of gay couples were teased and tormented for being part of non-"biblically" structured families. Back then, some of you even started to question whether or not your Christian friends were right. You admitted feeling confused about what you were hearing at school and what you were experiencing at home. I imagine after the passing of Prop 8, these questions are even more confusing, even more unsettling. How could you not feel confused? The truth is, my dear ones, the world is confused about this stuff. I want to offer you an apology today. Some of us adults have been too slow to defend you and your families. Some of our churches have kept silent while mean-spirited people attacked your moms and dads. I am so sorry. You deserve better from us. By G-d's grace, I pray we do better by you from here on out.

I am currently watching an HBO series entitled Carnival. It's about a group of traveling outcasts that creatively attempt to "survive in the tough economic times of the 1930s." The show pales in comparison to the Sopranos and my personal favorite, The Wire, but I was struck by something this morning while watching season 2 of Carnival. The show features a dominant theme of good versus evil. Ironically, the most evil character in the show is a pastor of a Christian church. He speaks deceit and lies, all in the name of "God." And he gets away with it, even prospers because of people's desperation during the Depression. One thing religion has been unfortunately good at doing is selling people false certainties during uncertain times. The evil pastor in Carnival teaches people to cling to their dogmas, to grasp their previously held beliefs about human sinfulness with new found energy. He thinks this clinging and grasping will deliver them from aimlessness and despair. Instead, it results in more misery, more misled groups of people, less love, less deliverance. Unfortunately this is exactly the same dynamic in many of today's Christian churches.

People are losing their homes in this country. Major banks have closed because of greed and bad ideas about money. More and more boys and girls just a few years older than you keep being shipped off to war. Less and less of them are coming home and very few of us see end of that in sight. Political campaigns seem to get more hateful and ugly over the years. Joblessness is at a record high, which causes families lots of hardship at home. These are uncertain times. We've hit our maximum capacity for aimlessness and despair. As a result people are selling and clinging to out-dated ideas about what makes a man, what makes a woman, what makes a marriage and how G-d feels about all of that. It's hard to see this repetition of history and not give-up in despair.

When Barack Obama got elected some of us experienced a lift in this despair. (I am not trying to disclose who I voted for in this letter because my politics aren't the point. I am simply lifting up the fact that the face of leadership actually changed in this country.) People who had been marginalized, brutalized and systematically oppressed for hundreds of years got to see one of their own take the presidential office of the United States of America. What a day for all of us to witness, but particularly the African American community. For a moment, hope entered in and a new-found optimism returned to hearts gone cold. People danced in the streets. Churches all over the country boomed with excitement. Cars honked their horns block after block. Change had finally come!

The next morning they were still counting Prop 8 ballots in CA. Some of us, still spinning from the night before, still believing in miracles, convinced ourselves that a story with an entirely happy ending was possible. We were wrong. I'm sure some of the adults around you have tried to explain, in rational terms, why this happened. I would love to give you a rational explanation, but I don't have one. That's right: this pastor doesn't have any certainty to sell. In fact, I will tell you what I really think: life is unfair. Same-gender loving couples were denied their rights by California voters in an unfair manner. Democracy failed for the GLBT community on November 5 2008. Some of you already know life is unfair because of the way you are teased, because you know there are little ones just like you in other countries who don't have food to eat or clean water to drink. Some of you already know life is unfair because you've watched some of the coolest and most caring members of our church community die way too young, like Claudia Byrd and Mari Ruiz Torres. So I am not telling you something you don't already know.

I'm writing today, not to take away your pain (because pastors of any integrity will admit they cannot do that), but to witness it. What has happened to you and to your families is nothing short of systemic violence. Your hurt and sadness belong to all of us. You are right to cry, to scream, to feel trapped and torn. You are right to feel confused and conflicted. You are right to question the fairness of life and even to question the whereabouts of G-d. The love between your parents is not wrong. Same-gender loving is right and good. It is a gift from and of G-d. Being raised by gay parents does not make you less of a human being, in fact, it might even make you stronger than the average kid because you've had to develop coping skills and alternative ways of looking at the world. That's a great thing! Family is not created by a man and a woman. Family is created by love, period. You have every right to see the stupidity of Prop 8 and to feel outraged.

You also have the right to take care of yourselves while your families are being targeted. In fact, as your pastor, I whole-heartedly encourage you to do just that.

I pray that you will talk about how you are feeling instead of bottling it up inside. I pray that you will explore, with your family and church, what it means to be a target at school, particularly how to defend yourself and how to defend your family when people say mean things. Perhaps my most intense prayer is that you will not become hardened, that in the pain caused by this current affair you will not reject your parents love or try to prove your own gender and sexuality in violent ways. In other words: I hope you do not take the tools of homophobia and use them to oppress yourself and others.

The Bible wasn't Jesus' weapon of hate. In fact Jesus wasn't married and he didn't read the New Testament! There are many ways to interpret that book, and the older you get the more serious I hope you become in studying the scriptures for yourself. Further, there is no one "Christian" opinion out there. Even though certain Christians claim to have the "Truth" with a capital T, we are all people of "faith" and faith is the exercise of risk. We risk believing something we don't have ultimate proof to confirm. So, you might ask, how do we know we have faith in the right things? I don't think we ever really know, but William Sloane Coffin said a brilliant thing once: "It's always a good decision to change your mind when to do so will widen your heart."

What if wide open heartedness became the litmus test for Christians? What a different world we'd be living in...

It's hard to keep a wide open heart when intolerance and discrimination appear to keep winning. So maybe in these days, if you can't keep it wide open, just keep it open a crack by loving each other, by sharing your experience with one another and bearing one an other's burdens. Historically, the kids of FCCR have been incredibly good at getting each other through challenging times. I hope you continue that trend right now.

Finally: what makes me so mad about Prop 8 is that the state of CA has legally shut down what G-d has beckoned us to do: to love one another. So be renegade Christians. Do what the Early Christian Church did: love in the face of hate, love in the face of corrupt government. Love one another until the rest of us start waking up and paying attention. When our societies finally catch on, they will thank you. It might take a while, as we've seen with President Obama, but something tells me there's more dancing in the streets to be done. On that day, believe me, this church will be the "cloud of witnesses" surrounding your joy.

Until then, may G-d keep you inspired and protected in the Spirit of our liberating Christ.

Emily Joye McGaughy, M.Div
Chaplain, Oakland CA
Former Director of Youth Ministries, Riverside CA

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Prophecy & Prayer

Last night while jumping, singing, dancing and crying on the corner of Broadway & Grand, James said "Every time I've been in the streets like this, it's been because I was against something. I've never joined in mass gatherings like this for something."

I give thanks for the election of Barack Obama by the American People. I give thanks for the opportunity to celebrate that victory surrounded by my friends and loved ones. I give thanks for the Oakland Police who blocked off the streets so we could celebrate. I give thanks for John McCain's speech because he was (mostly) respectful. I give thanks for a future where fewer children might come home with limbs blown off and brains forever altered. I give thanks for my citizenship in the United States of America. I give thanks for all the service men and women (past and present) who have dedicated their lives to making sure our ballots count. I give thanks to my Beloved showing face and fiery passion in the Ark that's bending toward justice. May it continue to lean towards those whose love gets mocked and denied. May their weariness and tears be used in the final resolution(s) of unnecessary pains. May the Ark continue to lean towards those who need their hate transformed. May it continue to correct our images of grandeur and omnipotence. May we fully live into the carved space of this moment that affirms us and yet lures us further. Amen.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Center

"How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say...and the words
get it all wrong...
...I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can..."

--Jack Gilbert "The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart"

Saturday, November 1, 2008

One Year Later: Different Time & Place but Still Interpreting Bodies

Just got off the phone with a friend named Anna who has moved back to the mid-west to pastor a small church after 3 years of seminary in Berkeley. We took "Hermeneutics: Interpreting Bodies" together, a class taught by Dr. Marion Grau. So it's no surprise that this blog posting would find its spark in Anna's comment that "this work requires reading people." Since leaving seminary, Anna has made a pretty big cultural swap and so have I. These cultural swaps, going from one specific environment to another, require intense reflection and integration. As both of us try to learn what's necessary in order to survive and serve in these newly assigned communities, I am taken back to our lessons in Hermeneutics. (Guess I should acknowledge that the $50,000 of debt I accumulated in student loans is worth something.)

You see hermeneutics is a fancy word, but at bottom, it's basically the art of interpretation. Hermeneutics involves seeing, hearing, reading, understanding, translation, application, discerning who, what, when, where and why as they apply to authors, readers, and the spaces and times between the two. Hermeneutics also pertains to the way we interpret people because, as the pastoral care field has been quick to point out, persons are just living human documents. Anna and I spent hours and hours reading chapters of books and articles in our class reader about hermeneutics and then we spent hours and hours discussing the relevance of those readings to the spins and science of living. We wrestled with the questions: why do we see what we see? how do we know the accuracy of our interpretations and conclusions about the content and context of texts, environments, people and communities? what is the point in even asking these questions if it's all mere speculation as post-modern and post-structural theories hypothesize? After speaking with Anna this afternoon about her new job and reflecting on my own experience at the VA these last 2 months, I'm struck that we are asking the same questions just in different times and different places.

I often ask myself questions like this one: "Would this 65 year old Vietnam veteran be as excited to see me as his Chaplain if I weren't a twenty seven year old blonde female?" Let's take this question as the starting place for a hermeneutical exercise. By looking at this curiosity from several angels, we might discern the hidden assumptions I am holding. First I assume a sexualized "reading" of the Chaplain. Second I assume that sexualized read pertains to solidified gender roles that play into heterosexual normativity--I assume the vet interprets me as and sexually prefers women, I assume the vet "is in fact" and considers himself to be male, I assume the Chaplain's blondness and age have something to do with the sexualizing of the encounter. Third I assume such "reading" actually impacts (if not dominates) the vet's affirmative response to the Chaplain's offer to provide pastoral care. So you see, the question itself is loaded with interpretations of its own. Another level of hermeneutical exploration might uncover why in fact my question gets asked in the first place. Perhaps the Chaplain's previous experience, stereotypes about 65 year old Vietnam vets, and/or CPE curriculum focused on 'asking questions about difference' are giving birth to this question in this moment. If we were to go even further down this hermeneutical spiral, we might ask "what different question might be asked if a different Chaplain and a different Vietnam vet were to meet in this space and time, or a different space and time? How might the conclusions be different? Why?"

This form of investigation can get nauseatingly detailed and seemingly never-ending. But I think the questions are important ones, especially for folks involved in the helping professions. And here's why...

Judgment is a big part of our trade. (I have a CPE colleague who has asked poignant questions about the role of judgment in spiritual care so I am especially in tune to the judgment aspects of diagnosis and treatment paradigms in Chaplaincy these days.) Whether or not it's "right", persons who provide care--of any kind--are required to make decisions. That's right: benevolent types make judgments, judgments about who/what needs care, how that care should be sought, applied and evaluated, and what kinds of ethical/moral frameworks should be in place as we reflect on the care process in its entirety. For instance, as a chaplain, I am constantly called upon to "spiritually assess" my patients. I am asked to interpret a patients language, hir history, current condition, behavior, hir attitude, and hir relations. From those interpretations which I make in dialogue with interdisciplinary teams, various resources, my faith tradition, etc, I must decide what treatment plan is best. Then I'm asked to reflect on that process and decide whether or not it was "effective" (a term worth deconstructing sometimes). I am--all the time--reading, discerning, concluding and responding. But here's the kicker: I'm never quite sure about any of it.

When talking about her current attempts to interpret the cultural codes in/around her new work environment, Anna wisely said (and I'm not quoting verbatim) "I must make these conclusions about who they are in order to do my job, but when it comes down to it, I'm not always clear on who I am so how can I be sure my conclusions about them are on-target?" Exactly. And it takes a pastor of immense humility to admit such a thing. (I don't know when or how religion started selling people easy answers because in all my days of ministering, studying theology and providing spiritual health care, I have never arrived at one.) When I'm honest with myself, I'm aware that every conclusion I arrive at and each move I make based on interpretations of who, what, when, where and why contain levels of bias, speculation, subjectivity, relativity, and risk. If I am being really really honest with myself then I'm aware it's hard to admit these vulnerabilities when institutions and the people I serve in those institutions grant me authority. But if I want to live with and work from integrity, I must admit them.

As a Chaplain with tattoos I'm constantly confronted with people's "reads" of me. Sometimes my body art inspires resistance, other times curiosity. Some folks don't give a shit. I get to see the expectations people have of a) chaplains' bodies & b) tattooed peoples' professions. I am always grateful when these patients and families allow their initial interpretations to be challenged, to hold out on judging me once and for all. The least I can do is reciprocate. Yes, I make initial judgments. We all do; we have to in order to get out of bed in the morning. But as a person trying to live with integrity I must allow those judgments to be challenged or proven wrong when new information comes along. Further, I need friends and communities of accountability to call me on those judgments. As with so many exercises in faith, this one of judging and reforming judgment should be done with a decent dose of humility (which means I've got a loooong way to go) and 'shant be done alone.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

After The Battlefield

An IED went off close
too close
close enough

to render his speech gone
hand coordination spotty
neck rotation capacity decreased
potential paralysis

24 years old
white, christian, male,
not married
no kids
not goin home today
or any time next week

Rehab: the rest of his life

He can thumb up for "yes"
and thumb down for "no"
and teeter-totter them for "sorta"

No entrance to his room without a gown

A 4'9, male, Taiwanese, non-English speaking nurse sees
the Bible and helps me robe up. Not for a pulpit--
for contact precautions, though this nurse adorns me
with garb as though i'm about to inherit the throne.

From somewhere down the hall, in another room there comes
a groaning and then "Bitch. You bitch."

Over and over.
"Bitch. You bitch."

I can't help it: I look.

Another Asian nurse bends over
this other white, christian, male,
traumatic brain injured patient, swabbing
his wounds, lifting his legs to reach the sore
places, the infected places, the places that
ache him into hate speech.

Later an African American colleague would say "it reminds me
of the way slaves used to take care of their sick masters."

Gowned now. Heading back to the original purpose of my visit.
His head lifts off the bed. He smiles. We exchange symbol systems,
I touch him and end in prayer.

His wide-open, searching, pleading eyes haunt me, the hate speech haunts me.

What gender dies for this country?
Who cleans up the continued and perpetual casualties of war?
Who "pays" the cost of combat?
Once the hating is done over there,
what color does the hate wear here, Mr. President?

Monday, October 27, 2008


I am screaming inside tonight.
I am screaming because I have...

I have never, in all my life, cared about an election, cared about political persuasion, cared about the outcome on a single day like I do in this time. It feels like the dawn. Like a time-bomb. I see faces and hear stories and find myself refusing to give into the part of me that rebukes hope and optimism. My friend's futures, our generation's ability to sustain itself, our grandchildren's Earth, our potential to reconcile with lost-allies--all of it comes to a head in this time.

Vote for Obama. Do it. It's right, right now.

Vote No on Prop 8. Let people build families on the principle of love, not the tight-rope walking game prescribed by traditional gender roles.

We are screaming for a new momentum.

We are pleading with our music, our t-shirts, our blogs, our organizing and campaigning: do not send our peers out to die any longer; do not destroy our planet; do not build bombs while neglecting the infrastructure of our neighborhoods. Give us a reason to go to college. Give us security in economic reform. Give us a reason to travel abroad without fear. Give us a sense of national pride that can co-exist with dissent and resistance.

We are screaming for a new momentum.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Surprise surprise. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to talk about G-d. Not because I don't believe in something. I do. But I just can't talk about it, can't name it. Chaplains--whether they like to or not--represent religious tradition. When we walk in the room, people have assumptions about who we are, what we believe and what we are there to do. Often times this works to an advantage. But every once in a while, I am struck by how little I actually reflect those assumptions. No classical doctrine of G-d works for me. Not one. If anything, I think G-d is something that happens. But even that's far fetched. While watching a video on youtube today, I stumbled across a quote by Toni Morrison: "We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives." How I do language, in this job, in this life--it matters. I will not sell my patients, people with guts and resounding vulnerability, a false comfort I don't believe in just to ease momentary suffering.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Another Chaplaincy First

My favorite patient left today,

taking with him
all that PTSD, all that sorrow,
all that "what if" stuff that can so quickly
deaden his ability to recognize good things

like how quickly he opened up to me,
how easy it was for me to pastor to him,
how the other guys followed his example
and spoke about their experience
instead of white knuckling it inside.

My favorite patient left today,

taking with him
all that courage, all that soul-searching honesty,
all the "casualties of war" that can so quickly
trigger him into believing it's all violence and terror.

My favorite patient left today,

but I'm still here,
still showing up on the unit where guys just like him
make decisions to surrender or keep the wheel turning,
still here hoping another one like him sits on the chair to my left,
still here missing him already,
thanking G-d for the beauty he brought,
thanking G-d for the little crack he chiseled in my heart,
thanking G-d that he was one of my "firsts"
and hoping wherever he goes,
whatever he does,
he never forgets what it felt like to be heard,
because I will never forget what it felt like to listen to him.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Facebook Reunions

Finding high school friends on Facebook
can inspire dread or excitement--depending.
Finding high school friends on Facebook
can make you remember hilarious things
or hideous things--depending.

She was my best friend. We looked alike: blonde, muscular build,
light eyes. We played soccer together, sang in the choir together
and we cleaned up each other's drunken puke or kept each other's
secrets depending on what kind of week it'd been at home,
school, on the field, or in our bodies. We stayed down for one
another until there was nothing more to be down about. Separate.
Miles apart. No malice. Just gone.

She recently posted 2 pictures as part of her "site."
A side belly profile and an ultrasound.
8 weeks of life
discernible without effort,
curled up inside,
beginning to protrude after 17 weeks on the outside.
She will be an incredible mother. I thought so back in the day.
I think so right now after not having seen her for 10 years.

There are memories you keep but don't remember until they're tapped.
And there are memories that function like gas stoves--
something always under the surface,
creating a subtle yet distinct smell and vulnerability,
just waiting for the ignition of fire to
erupt its ever-dwelling force.

Mine was cut out somewhere in between 8 and 17 weeks.
It's not for your debate senator.
It's not for your proposition lobbyist.
It's not for your theory you PC 3rd wave bitch.
This memory is my flame.

Finding high school friends on Facebook
can reconnect you
with all that's been

Sunday, October 12, 2008

CPE, Anger & Staying Engaged

For those of you who don't know, I just started a year-long chaplaincy residency at the VA in Palo Alto. This paid internship is part of a training program called Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Each unit of CPE is different. My units follow the seasons: Fall, Winter, Spring & Summer; by the time the year is over I will have accumulated 4 units of CPE which will lend themselves (should I choose to go forward with it) over to a chaplaincy certification process. These units are also part of my requirements for ordination in the UCC. I chose to work in a VA setting instead of a hospital b/c I'm concerned about the lives being affected by U.S. driven wars both at home and abroad. I wanted to gain skills working with the PTSD population in particular and men in general. This decision landed me in military culture. I am an employee of the U.S. Government. Needless to say, I am constantly surrounded by "difference." This is the hardest work I have ever done in my life.

Each unit begins with a declaration of learning goals. We must identify and flesh out 2 professional goals and 2 personal goals--4 in total. Students are encouraged to search themselves and come up with what THEY need to work on given the context, population and supervisory systems in place. Supervisors help students identify what processes and procedures can be engaged once the goals have been stated, but it's up to the student to name her growing edges. What an amazing exercise! Persons who don't know their own issues have a hard time with this process, but I'm finding it powerfully provocative. I want to bring up one of my learning goals as a discussion topic here on my blog because it intersects with what Wade & Eli have currently brought up in their own writing: arrogance, judgment and loyalty. So let us discuss...

Gayatri Spivak writes that we become human only in response to the call the "other" makes on our life. What responsibility do I have to an/other who not only thinks differently than me, but in that thinking minimizes my humanity, wishes that I would change at my core, and (taken to an extreme) wants persons like me dead? What responsibility do I have to Palin who mocks every advance in human rights with her sound-byte rhetoric devoid of substance and stupid syllabic jabs of juvenille humor? Do I need to hear her out? When should I stop listening? Where do I find her humanity? She is so easy to despise. All the lofty Christian claims to love enemies, to do kindness--they lose their applicability when she opens her mouth.

I use Palin as an example because she is current, but this is a long standing trend in my life. I cannot stand injustice(s). Yes, I'm perpetuating injustice by living in this country, by consuming in ways that hurt the earth. Yes, I consciously and unconsciously do hurtful things sometimes. I'm not above it, but that doesn't mean I can look on systemic racism, homophobia, colonization or any other human-driven murderous action without judgment. I simply cannot. I'm pissed a lot. Pissed at poverty, pro-life parties that love big weapons, littering, animal cruelty, human torture, I could go on and on and on. And that's the problem. There is so much to go on and on about. There's so much wrong. (And yes, there's so much right too, but that's not what I'm talking about today) The sheer amount of suffering and evil--especially visible in a place like the VA--is enough to make a person shrivel up on the inside. Or there's always the option of looking the other way, not taking any of the shit into account. But that's the ultimate evil and not an option in my case.

Yesterday I sat with Marjorie (my pastor) and lamented this part of my personhood, told her how tired I was of being angry, tired of scaring other people with my anger, tired of always being at odds with someone. She isn't the first person I've sought out for help with this. I get similar answers: don't drop the prophetic parts of your personality, but try to find ways of manifesting deep peace and contentment or else you will be consumed by the anger. I don't want to be consumed. I want to be a peace-maker. I don't want to look away. I want to help heal the wounds. So back to the professed learning goal. Clearly, I'm in an (hierarchical, military, patriarchal) environment that challenges my values and world-view everyday. I want to learn how to stay engaged in the work of justice-seeking without turning into a bitter zombie, without falling into the isolated abyss of overly-self-righteous indignation (like Bill Maher, for instance). How do I go about it??

Monday, October 6, 2008

Bill Maher's Religulous

Yes. I saw it. More like: I survived it. Don't get me wrong, Bill Maher is often right on target. In fact, I agree with 80% of what he went after in his documentary. And some of his stuff is hilarious. But why does he have to be so arrogant, so culturally insensitive (read: racist as hell), so narrow-minded while supposedly deconstructing religious certainty? He has some certainty issues of his own that need deconstructing. His way of "interviewing" people absolutely replicates colonial patterns of domination and exploitation. James was quick to point out that the one time an interviewee demanded to be heard (instead of repeatedly talked over) Maher stood up and said "I'm out." Guess he can't stand a dose of his own medicine. And that's just my point. It seems like every time I hear the content of a good agnostic/atheist argument it's coming in the form of belligerent condescension--the very "form" that agnostics and atheists hate in religious people!!!

He wants to talk about all the "violence" done in the name of religion throughout the years. But I wonder, what exactly does a "first world" heterosexual male of affluence over-powering and denying voice to a Muslim woman look like? He may not like religion (and I don't either most the time), but his closing scene had plot, setting and music that would fit right into any crusade.

So that's my critique from the head. My heart is curious about Bill Maher.

Whenever anyone is that opposed to any one thing, without taking context of that "thing" into consideration AT ALL, I often find there's a love/hate relationship beneath it all. (Think about all those out-spoken homophobes out there who have been caught behind closed doors with same gender lovers.) My point: it's really easy to see the terrible atrocities carried out in the name of religion, but you'd have to be selectively blind not to see the ways religion also helps, heals, and strengthens. I wonder why Maher--with all of his insight, intelligence and humorous wisdom--cannot see the good along with the bad. I wonder where his one-sidedness on this issue originates from. At one point in the film he admitted to the privilege of entertaining doubt. He admitted that people caught between a rock and a hard place often need faith in order to survive. I wish he would have explored this particular phenomenon more deeply because it was the only time, though out the entire documentary, that I felt his humanness, his vulnerability pierce through the self-righteous, chip-on-the-shoulder facade.

I'd love to hear the thoughts of my other clergy, athiest and agnostic friends on this one.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Single Working Moms

When I was a little girl
my mom would often announce
her arrival home after a long day by taking off her "work clothes"
and pouring a gin and tonic (which I mistakenly took for water once...yuck!).
A ritual rite of passage,
transitioning from one role to another,
from working woman to wife/mother,
transitioning from one reality to another,
from executive's chair to lavender leather couch.
The desparation and speed with which she unhooked,
unbuttoned, pulled down and twisted off the cap
signified a desire I couldn't begin to comprehend
as a child. But today, as I take my earrings off
one by one, slip off the socks just heavy enough
to avoid blisters in these god-awful "suitable" shoes,
and rest bed-side comfortable in my body for the first time all day,
I'm taken aback by her straddling two worlds of seemingly divergent
details. I'd like to think my toes inhabit worlds
less alien from one another, and if it is so, G*d bless her
for making such integration a possibility.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Today's Lesson on Time & Attention

Upon entering:
"The sun rises at 7:05am
and sets at 6:51pm which means
day light lasts for seven hundred and six minutes, chaplain."

This daylight shines through semi-pulled curtains
on the north side where tough guys
convene to chat over the constantly streaming
noise of the television positioned on the west side.

Between Animal Planet, CNN and/or Judge Judy
they pass sorrows, sex jokes and subtle surrenders
over to one another as if in a summer league
football scrimmage where sophomore JV quarterbacks
get to launch their finest with coaches
but no crowd in attendance.

Sometimes they don't wait for the corporate sponsor
to initiate their pouring forth. Other days an entire
show will pass by without war stories or shit-talking
sessions about the highest scores
in last weekend's Yahtzee tournament.
Regardless, the high paced static stakes a constant claim
on any lingering silence that might further suffuse a
grief too swollen and ready to rupture.

Would they talk without the TV? Or is the diversion,
the possible escape of attention the enabler of
potent, tender and visible intimacy?

Today there are 734 minutes left without daylight.
Thank you and goodnight men.
Thank you and goodnight world.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bringing Whitehead to the Feds

"...the 'production of novel togetherness' is the ultimate notion embodied in the term 'concresence.'" (A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 21)

Queers in organic communes, heirloom tomatoes and basil on Sundays.
Jazz and justice, far reaching prayer, annointing oil and Bea dancing on Sundays.
James' body softly searching and sanctifying on Sundays.
Silence on Sundays.
Space on Sundays.
Tour of duty begins 8:00am on Mondays.
Full length garb, no jeans, name tag, pager and sign-in on Mondays.
Immune Clinic, arrogant M.D.s, so-close-to-suicide souls on Mondays.
Freedom in the routine that begins on Mondays.
Structure and sacred service on Mondays.
Two worlds: Sundays and Mondays.

Fancy a dark roast brew of coffe,
black like the regur soils of India,
filling gaps between ice cubes large and evenly dispersed
in a glass mug where all-things-alchemy come visible and plain.
Consider the first five seconds before homogeneity,
when the recently poured half-n-half bravely and distinctly
searches, swirls and summersaults into pre-existing tehom.
Consider the first five seconds before homogeneity.
Concresence is like that.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Clergy for Obama

Yo my peeps. I wrote this for the "Clergy for Obama" site. It's a tad bit over-the-top Christian for my personal liking, but hey: desperate times call for desperate measures. Tell me your thoughts!!!

It's hard these days not to talk about Barack Obama as a messianic figure. It's hard not to cast this election season as an apocalypse of sorts. It's hard not to paint political parties as righteous and evil. It's hard to keep politics and religion in their respective corners. The last 8 years have brought mass deception, war, flooded cities, a devastated economy, renewed racism, alienation from once-upon-a-time allies, etc etc etc. The list is too long to recount. Our Bible, the hebrew scriptures and second testament, document times just like these. One looks into the prophecies of old, Isaiah and Ezekiel in particular, finding contemporary parallels to the "valley of dry bones" and the promised "new thing."

We want the death and destruction to end. We want true repentance in this land: a turning around from policies of narrow-mindedness and greed to acts of restoration and promise. We want to believe in the goodness of our leaders, our communities, our nation. So we survey the options, and for some of us, it's abundantly clear which presidential candidate evokes dry bones imagery and which one represents the remnant of life breaking through deadwood. We have seen hard times. It's easy to think Barack Obama is the answer.

But Barack Obama is not G*d. He does not have the power of G*d, the goodness of G*d, the foresight and insight of G*d or the ever-living, ever-loving heart of G*d. As a clergy person, it is always my responsibility to keep Ultimate Reality in mind. I must admit: Barack Obama isn't it. He is not our savior. If he gets elected and does the best of work yet to be done in the US Oval Office, he will remain just a man and he will return to dust. The hopes and struggles of this universe did not begin with Barack Obama, they do not exist for Barack Obama, and they will surely outlive his precious, yet numbered days. It's hard to keep Barack Obama's humanness in mind when he is speaking. With a preacher's presence, a lawyer's grit, a community organizer's enthusiasm--he sounds like angels singing compared to the cacophonous cords of Bush's Washington. But let us not be fooled: the gifts of G*d for the people of G*d always come from more than one direction, usually spring up in places where no one is looking, and generally come from ordinary commoners, not Harvard graduates with political charisma.

And that is exactly why I am voting for Barack Obama. Because he gets that. He gets that it's not about him. When asked by Oprah Winfrey "Are you the one we've been waiting for?" Barack responded by saying "I'm one of the ones we've been waiting for." He gets that if change happens it's because everyone gets on board. His campaigning style embodies inclusivity: he wants each one to give as much as they can. Green people sign up. Constitutional loyalists get on board. Artists are involved. Musicians are involved. Activists are involved. Young people abound. Techno types blog and share articles on Facebook. Black, brown, white, poor, rich, queer, Muslim, Catholic, atheist--they get together to make phone calls, to sign up voters, to host campaign parties. People care about what's happening. It is an exciting movement to behold!

A good society is an involved society. A good society is a motivated society. A good society sweats, mourns and celebrates together. Obama's leadership encourages such involvement, motivation and togetherness. That is why this clergy woman will vote Obama & Biden in November. Not because Obama will save us, but because he knows The People can.

In the Air

Come Fall.
Come now.
Shed your leaves, lengthen our nights.
Bring us wonder-filled winds, red votives,
novels of nostalgia and harvest wreaths.

Make us remember the beauty of death,
how the chorus of colors illuminating change
promise deep breaths, tomorrows renewal,
a holy shedding of cosmic skin.

Tell us your secrets Fall
and tell them loud,
with inaugurating rain drops that saturate
dry ground, puffy clouds on pink sky-lines
that rest gently on ocean's blue lap.
Let our listening be long, our prayers
smoky and silent.

Help us get it.
Spinning leaves, browns, yellows, greens and orange,
dance in dim lights, effortlessly, entirely,
whispering only when they touch down,
generously surrendering one after the other, creating a
patchwork quilt-like pavement--different on each lawn,
each block, each neighborhood, each town.

Help us get it:
there are processes of letting go, so beautiful, so rhythmic,
so right that no picture or text message can capture them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

10 on Day 2

So I started CPE yesterday. And tonight I say good-bye to SafeHouse. I'm excited, anxious, sad, nostalgic and grateful--all at the same time.

Several updates...

1) I totally love working in a hospital setting. Talk about The Swarm...
2) Though I've facilitated group for the last 3 years, I'm surprisingly nervous about the InterPersonal Relations group process in CPE. Seems like a lot of narcissistic shit. Wasn't there enough of that in seminary? There's my assumption and resistance. I'm sure i'll get nailed on it. We'll see..
3) Having Wade to check-in with helps a lot. (He did CPE at the VA in Palo Alto last year) Glory to G*d for friendship and the way it "goes before you."
4) Apophatic theology appeals more and more each day.
5) Rigorous objectives and expectations make Emily Joye a happy camper.
6) I'm pretty sure trauma will be the most pressing "issue/reality" facing ministry in the 21st century. Best to get prepared, ey?
7) Berkeley is a bubble. Palo Alto is a grid.
8) Transitioning "out" is harder than starting fresh--for me anyway. I've been trying to put words and ritual to my grief around leaving SafeHouse, but I just end up staring at the wall.
9) I don't have a coffee-maker yet. Dying in the mornings. Seriously.
10) Faces, words and the presence of people far and near stay with me throughout the day, shaping the way I perceive, respond to and integrate what's happening. here i begin to understand The Body that sprouts and spirals in, outside, and across space and time, while enhancing the materiality of living. What a beautiful Body it is! I love you all.

Thursday, September 4, 2008 the end and in the beginning and in the moment it is about love. --9/2/08

I looked
into old wise eyes today
wanting to say
"you've been like a father to me"
but didn't because some things
are too meaningful to say out loud,
especially when you know

they know

without words.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Seven times today
an infamous alert: the cell phone
in your pocket
(hopefully not demagnetizing
your BART card) needs charging.

In "It is the Rising I Love" poet
Linda Gregg documents quaintly how
"rising" and "falling" in struggle
"desire" and "suffering" in life
make what?
Her book is called "All of it Singing."
Not everyone sings.

Sarah Palin looks like Maureen Dowd
who hates Sarah Palin. A pink cheek
veteran standing next to his wide-eyed wife
takes delight in telling MSNBC "she gave the most
macho speech of this entire convention."
In deed.

Pampered white chicks go
to "third world countries"
on Music TeleVision
(it's a show called "Exile")
where they learn to
appreciate how they live at home.
Agh: the price of educating society
and making daddy proud.
Some/bodies gotta do it.

A lanky nerd walks by, swaggering
almost as if to proclaim: I made it through
high school alive. Believable if he
hadn't been wearing a shirt that said:
"Shakespeare hates your emo poems." Berkeley.

High winds and terrible tides revisit
the place they demolished three years ago.
And like Nargis in Burma, the timing of it
beckons you to abandon theism. As well you
should. Even in New Orleans: not everyone

The cell phone
in your pocket
has not only demagnetized your BART card.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What Is It...

...about this picture that makes me feel/think/wonder a thousand things. Seriously, I'm asking. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

All in One Day

Muni Line 19 departing Polk & Pine: The saddest blue eyes I've ever seen
on a girl wearing a dirtied black jacket with
the hood propped over her unintentionally
dreadlocked hair. Complete abject senselessness. A deadness.
Right there, in her eyes, not even looking at me, just
existing because eyes do that: they exist. Exist like the scars
on her arms. Exist like the dollars being passed from her
to the junkie behind the man behind the man behind the woman
sitting next to me. She sees that I see her misery. No blink.
I ask myself: "Where did her life go?"

Oakland on High St: My full-time lover spends $315 in order
to reclaim his stolen 1986 Honda Camry located at the Junk Yard 20 miles away
where the police had it towed. The dashboard is open,
all the papers are tossed about, there's a random glove on
the passenger side and the steering wheel is bent to shit. After driving it off
the tow yard, the car won't start again, so he might be late to
work where the other tired shift-workers making $11/hour to take care
of behaviorally disturbed youth are waiting for him. $315 dollars.
I ask my full-time lover: "Why did you have to pay?"

Oakland, corner of 41st & Telegraph: One of the regular
homeless men who hangs around the block is stroking his cock
on the tree outside our apartment building. He looks me
dead in the eye as he masterbates: no smile, no fascination,
no guilt. He doesn't move to cover up as I get closer. I shut
the front door behind me and ask myself:"Did that really just happen?"

Couch: My doctor emails from No cancer; just cysts. Thank G*d.
Couch: I turn in my 2 week notice to SafeHouse. A chapter closes.
Marina: Mae and Chris with the water.
Newburry: Pick up Joy Lynn. Go to the gym.

Berkeley, corner of Virginia & Arch: "Em, they just announced their
unanimous support of Barack Obama at the DNC...I never my lifetime.
These are tears of joy, Em. It's a moment we will never forget.
Call me when you get a chance. I love you." She's crying hard. My mom.
I ask myself: "Really, all in one day?"

Monday, August 25, 2008

Black Cat Blessing

I've always secretly known that animals have the capacity to be great spiritual teachers, but the newest addition to my animal companion list (Huey P. Newton the Black Panther from Oakland) drives this hunch home.

My mom's dog Zoey taught me the art of rolling around on the grass--aimlessly--worshiping the heat of the sun. Talk about a mystical experience! My first cocker spaniel, Mazie, taught me how to let go and let g*d. She was the first thing that ever died in my life. I realized as I watched her slip away that there was nothing I could do, nothing love could do, to stop the tumor from growing. Surrender? As I sit here watching Huey (my new cat) giving himself a bath, I cannot help but think this feline has a much better purification ritual than I do. Actually I don't even have a purification ritual. Do you?

Oh yeah: there's also that lesson filled moment when they can sense, perhaps better than humans (because they don't have the same sensory-distractions as humans) when you're in pain. They come, snuggle up next to you, maybe even nudge your hands a little bit, and retire right there on your lap. Presence, assurance of love, companionship no matter what. Pastoral care?

No wonder g*d was born in a barn full of animals.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Yuck Yuck Yuck

I have often asked myself the question "Where are people my age?" I found out last night: they are at the bar.

Good to know.

I have often asked myself the question "Why don't I hang out with people my age more often?" I found out last night: because they are at the bar.

Having a blog allows you to go on the record, right? Well here it goes...

I'm tired of the lack of substance that seems to pervade the relational matrix of 20/30 somethings. Why does drinking or getting high have to be the catalyst for connection? Why do most conversations consist of mindless rambling about shit that nobody cares about? Why is getting laid, or appearing like you're getting laid, the ultimate goal?

Fuck: it's beyond me, really. Am I totally alone on this?

Further: I'm tired of hearing people say "i miss you," or "we should hang out more often" or "let's be friends" or "i've always wanted to hang with you" one minute and then when I reach out to make that happen, it's flake flake flake. Fuck that. We can keep it casual; miss me with the butterfly flattery.

I guess underneath all this ranting and raving is a hurt. It's difficult to reach out, to invite, to admit that you crave someones company. When that vulnerability gets dismissed, it feels like shit. And honestly, it makes you want to stop doing it. It's like job hunting. After you get turned down after a couple interviews, even filling out an application feels like a set-up for rejection.

I'm worried that facebook, myspace, texting, blogging--all this techno madness that I'm so clearly swimming in--is making us relationally impotent. It's easy to sound off some friendly remarks on a website, but where's the intimacy in that? Where's the facial expression, the voice, where's touch? Screens and sound bytes--that's what we've got. Where the fuck is reality??

Sorry to sound so judgmental and critical, but it's where I'm at this morning.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Phantoms of Transition

Strange how you can be one place one moment
or that one place for many many moments,
and then all of a sudden a different place on the horizon
inches closer until the old place falls away
from familiarity.

Strange how you can touch one body one moment
or that one body for many many years and phases of life
and then all of a sudden that body whithers away
without asking permission or taking responsibility
for the whithering away that happens to you too.

Landscapes and faces,
tonal qualities and sunset stoops,
inside jokes and routes to work,
eye color and alarm-set-schedules,
kissing/hugging patterns and user passwords--
they come and go,
with or without you,
but memory persists,
shifting the shape, size and texture
of what you considered real one minute
and gone the next.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Zirin Interviewing Washington

This is just damn good journalism. And G*d Bless Kermit Washington...

Kermit Washington's Remarkable Redemption
by Dave Zirin

Former National Basketball Association player Kermit Washington has never asked for redemption. He’s lived it. It’s a tragedy of history that Washington is best known for what will forever be known as “the punch.” On December 9 1977, the LA Lakers played the Houston Rockets. Washington, engaged in an on-court fracas, heard footsteps, turned, and threw a roundhouse fist.

It connected with Rudy Tomjanovich, fracturing his face about 1/3 of an inch away from his skull and leaving the Rocket All-Star passed out in a pool of blood by half court. A doctor later determined that Tomjanovich almost died. That moment has hung over Washington for years and will undoubtedly be in the opening paragraph of his obituary. For many observers, the violence and ensuing controversy was symbolic of covert racial animus both in the NBA executive suites and among fans. Best selling author John Feinstein even wrote a book titled “The Punch” that aimed to look at every angle of this one singular moment. While the punch may define an era, it is a cruel irony that it has so defined Kermit Washington. This was an academic all-American from American University. This was a hard worker and quality teammate. This was nobody’s thug.

Washington would have been forgiven if he had spent the remainder of his life out of the public eye. All anyone would want to ask about is the punch. Instead, he has devoted himself to combating hunger and HIV in Africa. It’s a remarkable story of how one person can both make change the world and resist being defined by others.

DZ: You went to Africa for the first time in 1994, to help after the genocide in Rwanda. What was the experience like?

KW: I flew from Portland, Oregon to Ngoma, Zaire. And then we were there in a [refugee] camp; probably 300,000 people, no food, no water, no bathrooms, no nothing. Death and dying, it was 95 degrees and humid. And I just said "this is ridiculous." I only stayed five days. I had never been around hundreds and hundreds of dead people in my life, and it affected me. So I came back and got some friends of mine who were doctors and nurses and about six months later we went back over. And then we formed an organization and have been going back ever since. And that was fourteen years ago. Now we've got a clinic, we've got a school, we've got food distribution, we've got a community center. We feed about a thousand people a day every day.

DZ: What's the organization called?

KW: It's called Project Contact Africa ( This year we would like to feed two million people. Now we don't feed and cook; we give them dry rice and beans and cornmeal and we give them enough for probably a month. They have to be HIV positive, with kids, or widowed with kids or elderly.

DZ: So what was it about HIV in Rwanda that made you say this is the central crisis facing Africa?

KW: I wish it were that easy. It wasn't. Where I first went; Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and all these other places, it was too dangerous to take other people. Now, if you were a Green Beret or some kind of survivalist you could go. But I was going to take nurses to doctors over there. Nairobi is where a lot of the refugees go because it's safe. Politically it's a mess--but it's safer, so we said we'll have our base here. They have a slum in Kenya which is the biggest in the continent of Africa called Kibher, which is over a million people, no running water, no nothing. We started there, feeding people and having doctors come over and turn a school or a church into a medical center. We would probably see a thousand people a day until we ran out of medicine, which is usually about ten days….Here's what people need to realize: people in Africa, or South America or wherever there's such intense poverty are just unlucky to be born there. They're just like we are. We were lucky to be born in America, and they are unlucky to be born where they are; they don't have opportunities there. They're good people. They suffer, and they want hope but don't have any hope there.

DZ: [NBA player who was suspended for the infamous brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons fans] Ron Artest went on one of your trips and had an absolutely transformative experience. How did that come about?

KW: When we opened the clinic four years ago, the National Basketball Players' Association came over with 50,000 dollars worth of medicine. So it really helped kick-start our clinic. And Ron was one of the guys, along with Maurice Evans, Theo Ratliff and Etan Thomas. Ron Artest was probably one of the most wonderful people we have brought over. All of them are wonderful, but Ron just went out of his way. Not only did he pay for a lab in our clinic, he paid for a doctor to go over this summer. He paid for two weeks, paid for food, paid for a place to stay. Ron Artest--wonderful guy. You see him in the context of basketball; he's a warrior when it comes to basketball. Now, I have to admit, his attention span is not that long and he's not interested in some things, so you have to understand and learn how to work with him. But he's a very, very giving person. All of us who worked with him--if he likes you and he respects you, you can't get a better friend than Ron Artest. And all of those guys have gone out of their way to do a lot for us.

DZ: What do you think is the root cause of poverty in Africa?

KW: It's corruption in the government. I have to be careful when I say that. It's corruption. The people at the top just take. You have unemployment at fifty percent. The people work very hard in school, but when they get out, there's no business. No jobs. Tourism is really all they have over there. So when you see the people from Africa and Asia and how they come over here and get such great grades, it's because they know what they could go back to. We cry when we have to go to school. In Africa they cry because they can't go to school.

DZ: Do you think the West could do more to help Africa in terms of dropping the debt or assisting NGO's?

KW: I think the individual human being can do more. When you have you can help. If you're struggling, we don't expect you to help. But we just want people to remember for a dollar a day you can help feed ten people that would starve to death. There are no soup kitchens and stuff like that. There's no clean water where they can turn on the tap. But they're still human beings. And they're just unfortunate. In this country you have to think about karma. If you do good, good things will happen to you. If you do bad, bad things will happen to you, regardless of whether we catch you or not. And I'm not a religious person, I just recognize that what goes around comes around. So if I was in that situation I would hope that somebody would help my family. [But] he way things are going in this country, we might need help ourselves pretty soon

DZ: Is there any ideal or political ideology that inspires you?

KW: I just don't like people taking advantage of others. When I was a kid I loved Robin Hood, I loved Zorro, I loved everybody that tried to fight and to help the poor, people who weren't privileged. We don't have enough of those in politics now. I don't know of anyone who really knows how the common man is doing. Any of our politicians, they act like they do, but most of the common men in this country are struggling. They cater to the rich because the rich will give them donations but the common man is the one who needs them. They're struggling for gas. People don't even have enough money to get to work with gas, by the time they get to work, they don't have enough gas money to get home! We have to start thinking about the common man. Even though we say this is a country, this world is really one world. And we're the ones who put up boundaries and different governments but there's nothing really separate, we're all the same, we all want the same and we all want hope. And I think that if groups can see what little rag-tag groups like mine do, if we can feed two million people, and we don't have any big backers anywhere If you can get another thousand people that can feed two million people. Well, now you're talking about a world that's not going to be starving as much. We could feed the world easily. We could have fresh water for everyone in the world easily. If we didn't spend money in Iraq killing people, in one week you have a billion dollars. And a billion dollars--as I told you--one dollar feeds ten, one billion dollars could feed ten billion people. Well, we only have six billion on the planet. So it could easily be done. The question is, “Do we care?” Do we care enough as human beings to try to make a difference?

[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “A People’s History of Sports in the United States” (The New Press.. Receive his column every week by emailing Contact him at]

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Don't Buy It" Part II: Racism & Simplicity Sold on/by Fox

So apparently back in February Bill O'Reilly made a flip comment on the air about "not wanting to throw a lynching party" for Michelle Obama. Some woman called his show talking about Michelle being "an angry woman" (and also used the word "militant," though I didn't hear that part) and O'Reilly responded by saying it was unfair to accuse Michelle Obama of these things unless they were put in context. He was trying to make himself sound sympathetic to Michelle--and Bill Clinton by extension which is an obviously targeted parallel--when the lynching comment came out of his mouth. This type of speech act is a classic rhetorical move whereby what's actually said gets couched in and thereby dismissed because of intended "opposite" content. It's kinda like Freudian slippage, though in this case there's little unconsciousness to speak of. You should google search this encounter if you haven't heard it because I'd like to spend less time on the actual interaction between them and more on what this kind of media moment means for citizens of this country particularly white people. But before I get into that, let me declare: Bill O'Reilly is a white supremacist who openly utters hate speech against African American people on national television. His comment in regards to Michelle Obama is beyond insensitive. It was disgraceful and sickening. Absolutely fucking disgusting. He should be banned from ever speaking to the American public and fired from his position at Fox. Period. Now...

I posted a video on my site about a month ago regarding the sexist coverage of Hillary Clinton's campaign. And while all that was hideous, I'm afraid the ugly is going to get uglier. This is not to play into fearful politics, but let's be honest, racist imagery, language and marketing have already factored into the way Obama has been followed and now that Hillary is gone, they only have one fish to fry. It is particularly seductive during times like these--times when wars are raging, houses are foreclosing and change appears quite brightly on the horizon--to fall back into black-and-white thinking. And yes, I chose that phrase on purpose. Don't get me wrong, there are black realities and white realities, and they matter in this country and in this election. But they are not the only realities. Before moving forward though, let me speak on what black-and-white realities actually do exist...

White people across political parties should realize the unique opportunity before them: with the heightened attention to race that (inevitably) follows this election, we have an historically unparalleled chance to speak out against white-supremacy. US media is full of folks who will jump in head first when given the opportunity to spread division or make profit off of stereo-types and prejudicial remarks masked as "reporting." White people (even those who will vote for McCain but have moral sense enough to know that racist propaganda should have no place in society) should use their consumer power to a) turn off stations that perpetuate the hate and/or b) use those platforms as an avenue for dissent by calling in to challenge white-supremacist statements/ideologies. Most of us unfortunately know that unless white people do some of the challenging, the oppressive powers will just dismiss dissenting communities of color as being "too sensitive" or "biased." I haven't always been the best white ally in the world, but I plan to do what I can at this political moment because a) i've learned the hard way about not sticking up for my friends at the right time & b) it's just the right thing to do. This is a white reality.

There's a black reality too, though I do not think for a minute that I can begin to know or articulate what Barack Obama's campaign (or the swell in racism and white supremacy accompanying his campaign) means for the black community. Besides, it's not like there's a monolith black community that feels one way about Obama, just like there's no monolith white community that feels one way about McCain. Obama is, however, the first person of African descent to likely become the president of the United States. That means something about the leadership, accessibility of power and shape of the future in this country for persons who also have African descent and non-white skin. It may not mean the same thing for all African Americans and people of color, but it means something profound.

So yes, there are color realities. But there is also something tricky about these color realities because whenever you break them down--you know, like try to get really specific on what mixed is, and/or black is and/or what white is and/or what brown, yellow, and red are--there's an exception to every rule and nuance upon nuance of the experiences that might be classified under these labels. So just when you want to get serious about the racial implications of this election, one pauses for a second because history has shown us the arbitrary nature of the way race has been "traced" especially during times when certain groups have a lot to gain/lose. FOX News stands to benefit from making us forget that nuance exists. They want us to think experience/rookie, white/black, republican/democrat are the benchmarks upon which a political candidate can be judged. They stand to benefit from that thinking because THEY SELL THAT THINKING. If you we don't "buy it" literally, then they are out of a job.

Obama is not just a black man. To limit his leadership into a racial category is to denigrate the complexity of his origins, the hard work he has done in contexts of various colors, political persuasions and socio-economic classes. He is part of a movement, not just a racial group(s). Continually associating Barack to "blackness" by making racialized comments--like the one O'Reilly made about Michelle--is to set up associations in peoples minds that do not allow them to think in a complex way about a complex man who will probably be doing a complex job. It is a set up. It makes Barack beyond critique in some ways and the only object of critique in others. The latter shows itself when outright racism rears its head and the former happens when every inquiry about his past/present gets seen as racially motivated so persons with genuine question about his ability to lead this country have much to lose by stating those questions in public. By the way: McCain isn't dealing with anywhere near this kind of pressure.

So I wrote this blog today to remind myself, after hearing that dumb-ass-shit by O'Reilly, and to remind you during this time of unending racial discourse, to keep the thinking cap on, to trust that things are never as simple as they seem (especially behind screens) and to go out and buy everything ever put out by NAS (who is one of the dopest hip-hop artists of all time and one of the public voices taking a stand against FOX News' deception of the people). Emotions can get heated because issues of great personal and political importance are being tapped--and heated emotions are a GOOD thing if they accomplish the right ends--in this election. We stand to benefit if those emotions get paired with wisdom and discretion. Quite frankly, I think Obama--not all the time, but most of the time--is a candidate who embodies a combination of these things. And that is why he will get my vote.

And on a final final note: I know it's easy for white people to make race an "issue out there" for critique while keeping their blinders up to their own racism. So please know that this essay comes out of many vulnerable one-on-one conversations I've had with other anti-racism activists and experiences of seeing my own racism for what it is: deeply entrenched, often disguised and desperately in need of transformation. I just know that if folks don't talk about it, admit to it, write about it, pray about it, and struggle against it, racism grips our culture even tighter. I may not be innocent or free of white supremacy, but I surely can--especially during this period of heightened tension and possibility--use every vehicle I've got to drive home the message of justice.