Why I Took My Kids to a Travel Ban Protest

2/23/17


This morning I dropped my first grader off in front of our neighborhood elementary school at 8:15 am. I came back to pick him up at noon, right after lunch and loaded him into the car with his 3-year-old and 8-month-old brothers, wedged into our SUV beside the toddler I babysit on Thursdays. I had emailed his teacher the night before to give her the heads up that his education would be taking him outside the classroom walls today; he would be seeing democracy in action.

The ride to the free speech space on Iowa State University campus was as loud and animated as one might imagine, and unfolding all of these tiny humans into strollers and baby carriers in the freezing parking lot was not the smoothest ten minutes of my life. But with individually portioned snack baggies all things art possible.

Behind his glasses, my seven-year old’s eyes shone with bewilderment, despite the careful explanation I had given him last night while we made our signs together. It’s not every day that folks in our sleepy little Midwestern town gather to exercise our democratic rights, and I knew he remained befuddled about the whole thing. Portland or Austin, this is not. Central Iowa is about 90% white, a pocket of the country that prides itself on safety and homespun virtue. It’s all too easy to feel removed from injustice here, and even easier to fail to act against it.

But today that wasn’t the story; today we were rising up. And I needed my children to witness it.

... Read the rest at Upwrite Magazine!

Discovering Racism Under My Skin (as the white mother of a black son)

2/10/17


Six years ago I became a mother. Before trying to have biological children, my husband and I had decided to adopt a child already in need of a family. Our desire to practice an incarnational Christianity led us to a tiny orphanage in Uganda, where we met and fell in love with our first son. A judge, not an OB/GYN, was the first to declare us parents.

Six years ago I had done my research. I knew that the long task before me included not just diapers and fevers, emotional refuge and moral guidance; my unique motherhood required of me a commitment to learn about and engage in a culture different than my own. And not necessarily my son’s Ugandan culture, for although critically important to his identity, he would likely never again live in his home country. I knew little of much at all six years ago, at 27 years old, but I knew my son would grow up African American. And I knew I had to help him do it.

Six years ago social media had not yet hit it’s boom. Cameras on phones were novel, ignorance was unfortunate bliss, and Black Lives Matter was still an unnamed dream in the hearts of hopeful black Americans. The United States had managed to push racism under the surface, where white women like me had the privilege of assuming it rare. Six years ago my biggest concern for our transracial family was having Black friends for my son to identify with.

We all know how the story twists.

Smart phones began catching disturbing videos, Twitter created overnight hashtag phenomena, Facebook Live broadcasted police brutality, and slowly what was once dormant found resuscitation.


... Continue reading at Dominican Sisters of Hope!

Solidarity, Privilege, and Spanish Mass

2/7/17


I went to Spanish mass on Sunday, my awkward tongue struggling to form the unfamiliar words even as my body relaxed into the familiarity of a liturgy it has come to know in it's joints and sinews. Sit, stand, sign of the cross, sit, kneel, rise again. With a hundred human beings more brown and more weathered than I, I drew tiny crosses with my thumb on my forehead, lips, and chest.

May the word of God ever be in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.

Never having had a Spanish lesson in my life, I found my thoughts wandering. My nose involuntarily wrinkled at the powdery, effeminate, almost life-sized Jesus hanging at the front of the church. I tried to wrap my brain around a circumstance in which I would ever look at its likeness, point my finger at it, and happily affirm, oh yes that one!, but someone did. It's an awful depiction of Christ if you ask me, but no one did.

In stark contrast is the ebony Jesus, nailed to a cross, that lead the processional at the beginning. I've been there several times yet I always forget the ebony Christ is coming, and it takes my breath away every time. I've never been to an English mass at this parish and I wondered if the jet black Savior ushers those in as well. I'd like to hope so.

My baby fussed and nursed and ripped up almsgiving envelopes while I futilely tried to keep them out of his hands. Behind us, a little girl and two women cooed at him with words I didn't know and yet understood fluently.

Fingering the English translation of the homily, as the priest addressed us in words I wished I knew, I tried to meditate in my own mind on Jesus' intentions that we be salt and light. Glancing at the man on my right and his permanently troubled face, and across the church at the family with the teenage girl in a wheelchair, I wondered how on earth the people around me internalized the responsibility of being salt in a society that is determining whether or not they are worthy to be here.

//

The Sunday before, the day after the executive order concerning refugees and immigrants was signed, the mass Gospel reading just happened to be the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Those who mourn.
The meek.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
The merciful.
The pure in heart.
The peacemakers.
The persecuted.

That Sunday my husband and I had taught the RCIA class on Catholic social justice. We talked about mercy, and about solidarity, and about what happens when we have one without the other. As Christians we are comfortable with the concept of mercy: it's relatively easy to verbally adhere to and the fact that our religion emphasizes it is something we take pride in. Solidarity, on the other hand, tends to be avoided like the plague. Solidarity is a lifestyle of resolved commitment to unity, beyond group boundaries of culture, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, or ideology. Solidarity is the way of Christ, for it's exactly what He modeled for us: an embodied, incarnational way of experiencing the other. We align ourselves to become one with those who are different, because He became one with us.

Mercy without solidarity will always, always fall short of God's desire for us.

//

After mass ended, the little girl behind us came to our pew to visit Taavi. Her mother and I winked and laughed as her chubby hands squeezed his cheeks in delight. Without looking to me for permission, her dark lips puckered determinedly and my instinct was to tell her no. He was sick only days ago, what if she caught the virus? But in my split second hesitation she had already lunged in, already decided that this baby was as good as hers. I laughed, said a silent prayer for her health, and encouraged her. "Beso, mama."

Her mother and I made small talk and I don't know why I didn't linger on. It was why I was there, wasn't it? But I'm shy, shyer than I wish I was, and my sick husband was home with the other boys. We parted ways and I'm left thinking about her. Is she documented? Are her family members? Are they safe? Are they scared? Do they feel misunderstood and maligned in this political climate?

I went to the Spanish mass looking for every little way to express solidarity with those who are being 'othered', and I'll keep going back, more frequently than in the past. But solidarity is not exclusively for the benefit of the vulnerable, far from it. Solidarity is just as much for the privileged, for the powerful. It's for me to reap the wisdom and virtue of ones who have walked a different path than I. What great loss we suffer when we fail to enter in to the experience of the other. 

If Jesus was serious about the Beatitudes- and it's safe to say He was- then it's time for me to sit at the feet of the Spanish speaking community. Their experience of mourning, of persecution, of poverty in spirit, is so much more akin to the roots of the Christian faith than anything I have lived through as a white, middle-class, American born woman. If the early church fathers and mothers are watching us from heaven, I wonder if they even recognize the manifested faith of mainstream Christianity? They surely have much more in common with the plight of Jose y Maria.

//

Maybe a little humility can go a long way.

We need solidarity, not to save our Mexican or Muslim sisters and brothers, but to save us.







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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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