White People Need Chris Turk

I know I’m a few weeks behind the news cycle, but I’ve been thinking about that whole Rachel Dolezal thing.

As a white person, if you don’t have someone in your life who can say to you, “Oh, sweetie….NO…” when you go to get a perm and start darkening your skin, it’s possible you are not the ally you claim to be. Come to think of it, I’m not sure “ally” is a title that ought to be claimed. Aspired to, but not claimed. Bestowed, but not taken. But I digress.

The thing that I love most about Turk and J.D.’s friendship in Scrubs is that J.D. is so thoroughly ignorant sometimes. He is so clueless, and yet is able to care deeply about Turk because of the strength of their friendship. You can tell that these men have a full-on bromance (and off-screen, they do as well). Their friendship works because even though J.D. and Turk both have their own failings as people and are not afraid to call each other out sometimes, it’s always within the context of the fact that they clearly care about each other. Whatever happens, however they have to deal with one another to be heard (an important piece here is that it’s obvious they will be heard at some point), they show up for each other. Being an ally is not about never saying the wrong thing; it is about being willing to earnestly listen up when you do. It’s about being willing to keep trying.

One possible step forward in the current racial climate is for more white people to be willing to really accept criticism and correction, especially when it’s coming from black people (without getting defensive or saying things like, “I’m not a racist!” We get it. You didn’t own slaves. It’s not about that), and for more black people to be willing to use their energy and courage to confront us on our stuff (I get that this is hard because the conversation has gone so badly for so long). If Ms. Dolezal had someone in her life who could lovingly and gently sit on her until she promised not to “identify as black” any more, she might be in a very different situation now. After hearing about that whole mess, I reached out to a couple of trusted friends and asked, “If I ever talk about getting a perm, you’ll stage an intervention…right?”

If white people would seek to be true allies to people of color, it is essential that we are intentional about creating spaces with equal footing in our relationships. This doesn’t happen through posting articles to Facebook about (or even by) black people. This happens when we are face to face with a person, notice that they are uncomfortable, and listen instead of trying to gloss over their discomfort. The “I, Racist” article was spot on…far too much of the current conversation on race is spent in protecting white feelings. Jessica Williams was spot on when she pointed out that black people “need a white person to get their message out.” This is both frustrating and currently true.

Well, “if I may, I’m white…” And many white people could benefit from learning to listen well to the person of color right in front of them. It won’t fix everything, but it’s a start.

3x11_Turk_sits_on_JDSpecial thanks to DeVonna White and Jannelle Nevels for their helpful and valuable feedback on this piece, and especially for being willing to sit on me if I totally go off the rails.

To the Girl Who Came Out to My High School Youth Group

People murmured uncomfortably to each other, “What’s she doing here?”

“I don’t know!”

“I mean, she came out. As a Lesbian. She likes girls!”

Churchgoers between worship services continued to whisper behind their hands and awkwardly avoid eye contact.

You stood there in the middle of the crowded lobby, not moving. Looking at people’s faces one by one. We made eye contact for a brief moment, and then you looked away to the next person as I uncomfortably averted my gaze. I had nothing to offer you. We knew each other but hadn’t been close, and I did not have a grid for how to accept or even understand your presence there because I had been taught that what you were claiming as your identity was an immoral action and so I should pass judgment on it. I was to love you by hating your sin. I was young and impressionable and didn’t yet know that loving someone should not involve voting “yes” or “no” on them before being their friend. So when someone I’d attended youth events with and known moderately well “admitted” to being gay and then came and stared at us on a Sunday morning, I didn’t know that maybe what you needed was for us to look at you like you were still a person; maybe you wanted to know you were still worthy of being looked in the eye and cared about. Better yet, for someone to say, “I don’t know how this works yet because there’s a lot of cultural baggage around this, but I care about you enough to try to figure it out.”

God forgive me.

~~~~~

A few years later, I was home visiting from college when I saw in the church bulletin that the teaching in a couple of weeks was to be on homosexuality. A few years in the school of music and a few key friendships in which I cared about actual gay people having informed my thinking, I emailed the pastor and asked him to please keep three things in mind:

1. That while many Christians think of being gay as a choice or action, most gay people think of being gay as an issue of identity.

2. That when you say that being gay is wrong, you are telling someone that the way they understand their identity is wrong.

3. That even if being gay is a sin, like gluttony or pride, we don’t make people stop doing those other things as a prerequisite for deserving our respect.

I wasn’t home the weekend he gave the teaching, so I don’t know whether my words had any impact. But I want you to know that by that point I had begun to see that our church had mishandled something important by not looking you in the eye that day.

~~~~~

If I go back and think about the day you stood there, I hope that someone in that whole crowd of professed Jesus followers was willing to stop and really look at you. I hope someone, anyone, was able to see your coming and standing there for what it really was: an act of bravery. You came and you said, “this is who I am. This is who I understand myself to be. Do you still love me?” I feel deep shame as I write that knowing it wasn’t me. But wallowing doesn’t help either of us. Guilt is only useful if it propels us to do better because we know better. So I promise to continue learning how to really look at people. I will put away from me, as a doctrine of the Pharisees, the practice of passing judgment on people as though they are nothing but a collection of choices for me to weigh in on.

Congratulations, M. I hope that, wherever you are, the recent ruling from the Supreme Court regarding gay marriage affords you some measure of peace and validation. And I hope and pray you’ve found people who can love you well and see you for the precious child of God that you are.

 

This is The Work.

A number of years ago, a friend of mine was going through a bad breakup (turns out most breakups are bad in some way; people don’t usually break up if things are going well…but I digress). At the time, I was working for her out of her house. I showed up assuming we would work on some administrative tasks we had planned, but neither of us could really focus. So we watched Zoolander instead.

At one point in the movie, she turned to me and said, “You know, I get caught up in thinking I have to be doing work with people, or we are just wasting time.”

“I know that about you,” I replied. “That’s why I started working for you. I wanted to be friends.” See what I did there? I was as subtle back then as I am now.

“But R keeps trying to tell me that really being with people, right in their stuff, is the work. That it’s the important part.”

“He is right about that.”

“I needed to be watching Zoolander. This is The Work.”

~~~~~

Several ladies at the Jewish preschool daycare center where I worked shortly after moving to Cleveland used to tell me I was a “balaboosta.” I liked it then; I like it even more now. I’m growing into it as a major part of my identity. For those of you like me who don’t speak yiddish, a balaboosta is a woman who makes her home and her life a safe and welcoming space for those around her. In prefeminist terms, it meant a sort of super-housewife, who can pull off dinner for 20 at the drop of a hat without mussing her pearls or starched apron. Believe me when I tell you this is not me (well, maybe the dinner part). But underneath the pearls and the endless laundry and vacuuming is the idea that really being with people and creating space for them to really be with each other is The Work.

One of my favorite things about being married to J is that he really, really gets this about me. He understands that my plan to bring dinner to a friend in the hospital is not ancillary to my day; it is a small outpouring of me doing what I feel in my bones that I’m on the planet to do.

I doubt I’ll make much of a career out of it. I have yet to find a university that offers a master’s degree in having a friend over for coffee, or in watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer because that is the best way to be present with someone in a particular moment (doing The Work is not always about talking). Sometimes I think it sounds silly to describe such simple gestures as my calling in life. But I think when it sounds silly to me, it’s really because I am underestimating the usefulness and value of meaningful emotional connection.

TPM’s

New measure of thought quality: Thoughts Per Minute (TPM’S). Thinking a lot isn’t always bad. I like the way my brain works most of the time. But as my brain revs up when I get stressed, I think about something until I get stuck and can’t figure it out, then jump tracks and think about something else. The more the stress, the quicker my brain switches from item to item, without really ever finishing a thought. Too many TPM’S.

There are a variety of ways to address this, I think. Part of the solution is to do the work of thinking about hard things past the point that feels comfortable. I should probably come up with a list of the more productive…what’s that? Sure, I’ll get you a glass of water. Drinking a whole glass of water is good for refocusing, theoretically. Yes, and a snack. Yes, we can play Chutes and Ladders. Goodness the living room’s a mess. Are those bobby pins on the floor? My hair itches. I’m hungry. What are we having for dinner? Hey, groups of people cook dinner at the Ronald MacDonald House. That’s so cool. Wait, what was I doing…?

p.s.- I’ve been told by someone whose opinion I trust that this doesn’t even cover the half of it. “More isn’t always better Linus. Sometimes it’s just more.”

S at age 4

After spending time with us, people sometimes say things like, “You’re writing these things down somewhere, right? He’s HILARIOUS.” (Lest you think I would portray my children as perfect, I also feel compelled to share that after spending time with us, other people sometimes say things like, “We’re waiting a LONG TIME to have kids.” Nobody is just one thing.)

S is lots of things. He’s funny. He’s crazy. He’s serious and thoughtful. He’s wild and doesn’t think things through. He doesn’t like large groups (until he really, really does).  He still doesn’t really like to wear pants. He’s strong and shy and little and big and I love him. Here are a few examples of why.

 

8:30 p.m.

K: You just stay here and calm your body. I’m going to go check on something and I’ll be right back.

S: You’ll be right back?

K: Yes, I’ll be right back. You stay in bed.

S: What are you going to do?

K: I’m just going to check on some boring mama things.

****

5:30 a.m.

K: zzzzzzzzzz

S: MAMA?

K: Ahh…huh?

S: You stay right here.

K: Ahh…huh?

S: I’m going to go check on some boring kiddo things.

****

Dinner time

K: Thank you for this food. Please use it to nourish our bodies so we can do your words. Amen.

****

Dinner time, a few moments later

S: Thank you for this food. Thank you for this day. Thank you for Mama’s body, so we can do Jesus’ amen.

****

S: When we die we see God. Do we go to heaven? Where is it? Like the one in ‘…and heaven and nature sing?’ That one?

****

S: When I’m in the bathroom, and someone knocks on the door, I say “octopi!” Because they will think that I said “occupied!” Isn’t that funny?

****

S: Can you make me a hot cocoa, but make it with coconut oil? Because I can’t have dairy.

****

S: Look at all the beautiful butterflies! They are so, so beautiful!

K: Yes, they sure are! I see them.

S: Let’s see more! Over this big dam river!

K: What river?

S: This one! This big dam river! Let’s cross the big dam river and we can see all the butterflies over there!

****

wpid-20150504_123018.jpg

wpid-20150526_075454.jpg

wpid-20150526_080544

 

Homemade Mondays: Dandelion Blossom Cookies

I should really rename this series. It’s been weeks since I posted a recipe and I feel like “Homemade Mondays” implies that I’ll write something up each week and share it with you. I make things from scratch most Mondays (even some other days which are not Mondays!), but I don’t seem to be finding the space to blog about it.
Oh, well. Here I am, today at least.

My kids showed up in the house with a pailful of dandelion flowers the other day and said, “Mom! Let’s make something!”

Since I have great friends who give me thoughtful and fun presents like cookbooks full of nothing but dandelion recipes (The Dandelion Celebration by Peter Gail, in case you’re wondering), I had a ready resource to find some ideas for how to make…something.

We looked through the book for awhile and landed on a cookie recipe we had all the ingredients for and a simple syrup to add to sodas and things. Warning! if you are helping a kiddo with potty learning, maybe avoid concentrated dandelions in things like teas or syrups. They are a strong diuretic. Learned this the hard way a few years ago. I found a recipe for dandelion flower cookies, but I changed enough ingredients to suit my kitchen that the recipe is mostly my own at this point.

Dandelion Blossom Cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup cooking fat of your choice (coconut oil was mine)

1/2 cup honey

2 eggs or egg equivalents (1 tbsp ground chia or flax plus 3 tbsp water per egg)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups whole grain spelt flour (1 cup or so of regular wheat flour would be fine too)

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup dandelion blossoms, peeled

 

Method:

“Peel” the dandelions by removing the green part. Hold the base of the flower firmly between a finger and thumb, then grab as many of the petals as possible and pull them out gently but firmly. This is the most time consuming part of dandelion cooking.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Mix oil, honey, and vanilla. Beat in 2 eggs until well combined. Stir in the flour, oatmeal, and blossoms.
Drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cookies begin to look a little bit golden brown (honey doesn’t brown as much as sugar, so they won’t be quite as golden-brown, but if you cook them a little too long, you can always put them in an airtight container with some fresh bread and they’ll soften up).

Allow to cool, and eat or store as you see fit.

 

If you have kids around you, they might dance around saying repeatedly, “Are they cool yet? Are they cool yet?” Eventually you might cave and say, “They’re still hot, but you can try one if you’re so excited you really feel you can’t wait any more.” If they burn their mouths a little bit, it’s not your fault. Just saying. Ahem.

Also, if the friend who gave you the cookbook with the original cookie recipe will be coming over in a couple of days, you should really try to save her one. It’s the polite thing to do.

11154756_10153280767747940_8729294996158452628_o

Míliath: on Kindness and the People Nearest to Us

I’m tired of reading children’s books that endorse that idea that brothers and sisters being awful to each other all the time is just a fact of life.

I’m realistic enough to be clear that they need to learn to work things out with one another, and that the friction between siblings is a useful and important part of the process. But within that reality, I think I can help my children to learn to disagree (discuss, argue, and yes, fight…) well. It’s tricky, but I think it’s possible. In fact, I think the skill of working out differences graciously is one of the most important relational tools I can give them.

Family relationships ought to be a safe space for children and grown-ups to be other than their best, to have their big feelings, and to feel accepted for who they are. However, I think this is often conflated with a somewhat lazy approach to relationships “I can be a jerk to them, they have to love me anway.” There is some basis for this belief. That doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do things. I also don’t like the implied, “so I don’t even have to try to be kind,” that too naturally follows on that train of thinking.

What if our daily family life together can be the very setting for us to practice all the virtues we read about or hear about? Peace, love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control….keeping these abstracted away as ideas reserved for “out in the world” makes them much more likely to be practiced only occasionally. But what if our close relationships are the exact places we should be using as a safe space to practice being good to other people? What if my children are, in fact, capable of receiving and growing kindness within them, if I can just sow it carefully?

We are not perfect people. Weeds like selfishness, angry shouting, and other unkindnesses are a fact of life. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored. That’s how you end up with a garden choked with weeds.

With that in view, we are studying kindness this week. We’re making trips to the library to learn about it. We’re studying what wise people have said about it. We’re defining what it means to us personally, and how we can recognize and practice it in our lives. As an attempt to highlight kind actions when we recognize them, we are exclaiming “míliath!” whenever we witness a kind action. Míliath means “kindnesses” (in Sindarin, because why not?).

What has worked to help you to promote kindness within your home or important relationships?

GM courtesy brown