we had a baby!  she is 4 days old.

also, today i posted this as a facebook comment:

“there are lots of things people of faith are not good at a lot of the time. my perspective is that dividing the world into atheists and people of faith is a useless dichotomy, because it generally just causes conflict and a lack of understanding. i think a lot of atheists and religious people say the same thing, they just use different language to express themselves. the dichotomy that i see and that is infinitely more frustrating to me is the dichotomy between atheists and people of faith who accept each other, and atheists and people of faith who think it’s better to use their time by being contentious. i’m kind of an optimist and tend to give people the benefit of the doubt in general, but i truly believe that people are generally doing the best they can with the resources they were given– and i include motivation, pain, ability to empathize, etc. in with those resources. i think there are very few people who are genuine jerks for no reason at all. most people are jerks because they are in some sort of pain. and i think of religion and atheism as other “resources”– or at least experiences. i think religion and atheism are pretty cultural, and that shit runs deep, you know… but i think the same person could be an atheist or a person of faith, depending on what culture they grew up in. they would be the exact same person, just have different ways to express what is important to them.”

it is probably the best i’ve every been able to articulate this, which is really important to me.  i guess the lack of sleep is good for my writing.

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Published in: on 15 December, 2012 at 10:49 am  Comments (2)  

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
–James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

this is one of those times that i’m posting when a number of posts and themes have been rumbling, boiling, roiling, and bumbling around in my head, and i’m trying to see if i can distill them all into something cohesive, together. 

recently, i finished reading the bible for the third time.  the first two times were in high school, one right after the other.  what the three reads have in common is that they were relatively textually easy editions that i read at night, before bed.  this reading was the message: remix, meant to be read in small chunks, over either 1, 2, or 4 years.  i took a little over 3 years, reading at a variety of paces throughout that time, sometimes missing a few days to a week at a time.  i found myself baffled and concerned by the frequent old testament battles and the bloody imagery throughout.  i felt disconnected from the frame of mind of early jews, trying to translate my own experience into this entirely different worldview.  the bible resonates the most with me when treated as metaphor, but there were so many stories and events, and long narratives, that i couldn’t find the use in, and that seemed to run counter to my own ideas of morality and god.

one piece of that that’s interesting is that in my quaker journey, i’ve found a lot of resonance in contemporary jewish writers, sometimes more so than in contemporary christian writers.  it’s actually through jewish writers that i learned to feel more comfortable looking at religious stories metaphorically.  and a reality about myself is that whenever i’m in new york, i get self-consciously giddy by all of the jewishness.  i am worried about my tendency to romanticization and exotification as i press my nose to the bus window going through hasidic neighborhoods, but my justification is that i am fascinated by that ability to live one’s faith out loud like that, jealous as a white kid who believes he has no culture.

shortly after finishing the bible, i was part of a conversation where someone was talking about his atheistic respect for this person who had actually read the bible and lived by it, despite how ugly it was.  this person and the person he was referring to were thinking about the bible of the eternally angry god.  i was saddened by this, but unable to counter it, both because of my natural timidity in conflict, the power dynamics involved, the level of alcohol consumed, and my awareness of the confusing ugliness i’d found in the bible.

one thing he said was that many christians don’t acknowledge how hard it is to actually live by the bible.  and even as i create the bible in my own image, unsure how to grapple with the pieces that make me deeply uncomfortable, i still find it difficult to live by the pieces that i absolutely believe in.  god is love.  there is no fear in love.  love your neighbor as yourself.  who is my neighbor?  the good samaritan.  these things can be distilled into fluff, i guess, but at their core, they are terribly terribly hard.  if we all succeeded in living by them, i believe the world would be a much better place, but they seem to be ignored by the people flocking to chik-fil-a, boycotting funerals, and engaging in warfare.  these people have their own piece of the bible, too.  how do i justify my piece of it, in the face of the other side of things?  is it fair to take the bible piece by piece?

i will probably continue to live my piece of the bible as much as possible.  my view is something like that comic strip that says something, “what if it’s all a hoax?  what if we fix up the ozone layer, replant trees, and make the world better, for no reason?”  that is the world that i want.

being quirky with cubbie.

yesterday, when i was at the wednesday evening meeting for worship (i’ve been to our meeting’s evening worship 2 or 3 times, probably all revolving around plans to talk with someone before or afterward), my mind kept getting filled with conversations in the comment sections of articles i’d been reading. i rarely read the comment sections because they are usually so full of vitriol that i find them emotionally exhausting and unhelpful overall. and when i do, the interactions stick with me for a long time. i have internal arguments with commenters over and over again, but continuously come to the conclusion that they will misunderstand what i’m saying and that i don’t have the fortitude or interest in the argument enough to fight it out. that may be a weakness of mine.

but my meeting for worship epiphany (and i’m a little freaked out about how as soon as it came to me i wanted to blog about it but not stand up and say it) is that those conversations are so often about “those people.” no matter who is arguing or what they are arguing about, the argument is always about “those people.” the visual that came to me was a long stream of comments with “those people THOSE PEOPLE THOSE PEOPLE THOSE PEOPLE!” getting bigger and bigger and… screechier and more frantic, if text can get screechier and more frantic.

and then the screeching stopped when it came to me that the hope of jesus and christianity for me is that jesus said we are all “those people.”

my facebook presence is full of a lot of reposting of pictures and links. they are sometimes goofy and fun and shallow (two days ago i was over the moon because i’d found a lisa frank version of the mona lisa immediately followed by sofia vergara’s impression of fran drescher within minutes of each other) and sometimes they are political. whenever i post a political post i try to see it through the eyes of my… um… two or three? politically conservative friends and decide if they would see it as a personal attack. i never ask them, and i’m mostly convinced that they don’t even look at most of my posts, which i’m okay with because i like our friendship. i also sometimes forget to think about this. but i really don’t want my facebook presence to be mean. i don’t want it to be unchallenging either (am i really philosophizing about how challenging my facebook presence is?), but seriously, i’m not seeing anything useful being brought about by mockery, shame, or calling the other side stupid. the people who disagree with me didn’t come to their disagreement through lack of thought, and if there is any lack of thought, i attribute it to the lack of thought that occurs in fight-or-flight mode. when you are being attacked, you don’t think straight. (when you are an exhausted teacher, you also don’t think straight or as much as you would like to, and when you are working horrible minimum wage jobs that the government and media have convinced you are what you are stuck with until you win the lottery, you also don’t have a lot of brain power left. not because you are stupid, but because our current cultural situations are sucking us dry.)

we are being sold a lot of crap. i believe that and i am guilty of buying into a lot of it. i also believe that we can’t change anyone’s mind by attacking them. my mind has never once been changed by an attack– attacks have only ever further convinced me that i am right. if we want to change anyone’s opinion, we have to see that they are doing the best they can with the life experiences they’ve had and we have to remind them that so are we. and then once we are both finally human, then we can transform each other.

i want to ‘lectrify my soul.

yesterday at meeting for worship there were a lot of tears. and when somebody spoke/sang about the belief that there will be laughter even after people go, my natural tendency toward making people laugh when times are sad, went into high gear.

i wanted to tell the “hilarious” story of my first quaker meeting. i was an american tourist in whitby, england, and i had a cold. i tried to get tissues before the meeting started but nowhere was open, and that hunt took so long that i got to the meetinghouse just as meeting was started so i couldn’t find the bathroom. so i dashed in and sat there, for my very first hour of silence. except thanks to me, it wasn’t silence. the silence was regularly punctuated by my sniffles, as i tried to sink into the worship in some way. as i remember, there were multiple doors into and out of the worship room, and so even if i had felt brave enough to get up to go to a restroom at such a mysterious and holy time, i didn’t know where any of the doors led. so i just sat there. and sniffled. and felt american.

at the end of the worship time, the elderly woman next to me, kindly turned and told me that she wanted to offer me a tissue, but they were all up her sleeve and she wasn’t sure if that would bother me or not, so she hadn’t offered me a tissue.

what i got from reliving that story in my mind yesterday, was actually less about the funniness of the story but of the tissues we all have up our sleeves that we are too self-conscious to share.

but i didn’t tell the story or the lesson i had learned from it. there’s this flowchart that’s somewhere in our meeting’s seeker’s packets that gets referred to sometimes, and it’s about how to test whether to share a message. the part that i remember the most is that you can ask yourself if the message is just for you or for the group.

here is my embarrassing and guilty quaker confession:

what keeps me from speaking at meeting for worship, more than anything, when i have these “enlightening” moments is that as i start asking myself if the message is for me or the group, another piece comes in, which is, “am i willing to live by this?” and sometimes i’m not sure. sometimes the idea of living by my own grand advice that seems like it’s from god to the group, with me sort of tangentially involved, is so terrifying or exhausting-seeming, that i keep it to myself.

also, yesterday, i finished reading a pendle hill pamphlet by ben pink dandelion, “confident quakerism.” when i went to return it to the library, the library committee member behind the desk asked what i’d thought. and it was hard to answer, because i’d started the pamphlet months ago, read half of it, and then read the other half today. as i recalled, the beginning had been somewhat irritating, but yesterday’s reading had been useful. as i recall, the beginning dealt with some theological mistakes the author had made, and something in how they were presented had irked me. but there was a sentence near the end about how conversations about our spiritual mistakes breaks open things between people. in my conversation, i hypothesised that maybe our mistakes our better talked about than written about (and now i am writing about that idea). maybe they crystallize a little out of context, when you see them in print.

but it was interesting to read that yesterday, because besides theological mistakes, another place where stuff breaks up in important ways, is when people talk about race and oppression. i’m looking at ph. d. programs right now and i just discovered this week that there are education programs that have whiteness studies as part of it, and that has gotten me really excited. so i got all excited about that as a theological exercise, too.

but of course i don’t want to mix up an academic field with worship.

but probably the core of my belief system is that god is there when you are open to the truth. and frequently that is messy and awkward.

(and at the same time something i am continually learning is the boundaries of one’s own messy-and-awkward and others’ messy-and-awkward. as a writer who has very little filter, i must be mindful that others have filters and boundaries, and they are there for a reason.)

after meeting for worship, my girlfriend and i trekked over to ocean beach to see gillian welch, old crow medicine show, and emmylou harris pay tribute to warren hellman, the man who had started the hardly strictly bluegrass festival, a free music festival in golden gate park. i can never be convinced to go to the festival anymore because it is too crowded and full of alcohol and pot, even if i think it’s a good idea. but i liked the slightly smaller (though still robust) crowd of this event, the considerably rarer instances of people lighting up anything near me (though i did have this funny interaction on the phone with my mom between sets. she said, “we’re lighting a fire in the pit out here,” JUST as pulled out a pipe and lit it right next to me, and so i said, “yeah, someone’s got a little one going over here, too.), the explicitly respectful vibe of the event, and the beautiful escape valve of the roaring ocean just behind me. i was actually able to enjoy the music.

life is sadder than sometimes i’d like to admit. and it’s hard. and growth is hard. but there is god in the music and the laughter and the time shared together and the solitude of the ocean and the mistakes we make and our ability to open up about those mistakes. and if there’s not, there’s something really close, pointing to what god really is.

god’s work isn’t done by god. it’s done by people.

oh, right. there was another part of christmas eve that i forgot to write about.

over vacations, i like to work at an independent bookstore in bernal heights. i used to work there regularly before teaching, but now i don’t have the time or energy– except during long breaks from school. since it’s my “fake job,” it doesn’t feel like work as much as just a fun thing to do. the only part that feels like work is waking up and getting there. once i’m there, i have a great time shelving books, talking to customers, making me to-read list even longer.

i’ve got another friend who works in retail around here, but it’s her real job and it’s a bigger store. not just a little neighborhood bookstore with loyal customers, but a department store downtown. as i was leaving my shift at 3 on christmas eve, i texted her something about being in the home stretch.

she didn’t respond until i was walking down 24th to the christmas pageant. i felt my phone buzz and looked to see she had sent me a text message that said, “dead god.”

it turns out that she meant dear god, but from a large retail perspective, christmas eve is about as “dead god” as you can get. not only is god dead, but you’re about there, too. i remember when i worked at jo-ann fabrics and crafts, etc. just how soul-sucking it all is.

and that’s the irony of the season that we all know. christmas corporate retail may be the biggest reason for atheism there is. “THIS is how we celebrate god’s birthday!? f*** that. if he was real, he wouldn’t let this happen for any reason, let alone for him.”

so, i laughed a lot out there on 24th, about getting “dead god” text message on my way to a christmas pageant. but then, that christmas pageant, with it’s men in angel wings and a real live baby for jesus, reminded me of the aliveness of god. in fact, there was a line that we in the congregation said, “christ has died, christ is risen, christ will come again,” which can metaphorically describe that paradoxical moment, the paradoxical moment we all live in every day. every day we are killing christ, and every day… we can be christ.

after i got home from the pageant, i discovered that the issue of “western friend” i was about to read had a big section on the occupy movement. and from someone who is either not called to actively participate in that movement or who is too lazy… i see that christ aliveness in the occupy movement.

we always say that if we had been there, we would have been right there with jesus, or we would have fought the nazis, and then there are those moments where we realize we might have just been cozily at home instead. would that have been a moral failing then, and is it a moral failing now? or is that the wrong question?

ignore-ance.

in one of my first zines, i waxed poetic about the way the word “ignore” is in “ignorance.” i’m not sure what all i said about it, and it’s very possible that this post is just a rehashing of some epiphany i had at 21 years old.

but one of the things that breaks my heart and frustrates me the most is the way that part of human nature seems to be a certain pride in ignorance. the way that when we don’t understand another person’s belief, culture, or ideas, they must me stupid. the way that so many liberal folk think the bible is nonsense, sort of based on the fact that they’ve never read it.

i had a conversation with someone this week in which i was trying to explain my frustration and sadness over the way that smart liberal folks have in many ways just handed religion over to “the fox news people” (… i never watch fox news, so i was doing it right then, right?). and somehow what that person heard was that i was frustrated and sad because smart liberal people are stupid enough to believe in god. it was the oddest thing, my complete inability to communicate that what i meant was that there really is something in religion for smart liberal people but so many of us refuse to access it.

i’m one of the few people in my group of friends who are my peers that was either raised with religion or who still have religion. and so i see this pride in ignorance a lot. i LOVE my friends and i’m reluctant to say this because it sounds pretty critical, especially since i’m too shy to say it when it happens, but there have been times when we’ll pass a church or something and what the church says on the outside looks so ludicrous to the person and they will make fun of it, but it’s something that makes sense to me. but i can’t express it. i can’t figure out what to say to make it make sense.

we passed a church once that said “church of god in christ” and my good friend just thought that was the funniest thing. “how can it be ‘of god’ and ‘in christ’ at the same time?” and i couldn’t figure out how to explain it…

this post is becoming more about my inability to express myself and be an advocate for my faith than i totally feel comfortable with.

what it was meant to be about, and what i’ve been thinking about the most, is what a part of human nature all of that is. how we choose what we are experts in. how i don’t watch the news, watch sports, stay current in music… but how i get frustrated when someone doesn’t know all the classic movie stars or bad ’80s tv or y.a. lit that i know. we know what we know and we like that we know it and we think everyone who doesn’t know what we know are deficient in some way. and people who know things different from how we know them is also deficient, because they are clearly paying attention to the wrong things.

are there ways to bridge that?

he’s both a fish and a mammal and i hope he’ll never change

one of the big questions i wrestle with lately is about the necessity of christianity for me. i think it will always be a question i wrestle with, because christianity has so many different facets and meanings. “clearly” i have no use for the angry fundamentalist christianity that seems to be what most people equate with all christianity, and i hope to never go back there again. but it has its ghosts in my psyche, raw nerves i’m still nervous about touching.

my girlfriend, who i’ve been with for four years and who i’m planning a life with, was raised, basically, areligious. and i live in urban areas and queer communities that can also be fairly areligious. and there is a pride there that makes sense in the face of the religion that makes it on the news, the religion that seems to wear ignorance as a badge of honor. the problem then, though, is that ignorance of religion becomes the opposite badge of honor. i am continuously upset by the angry war between the religious and the nonreligious, because i think they’re actually on the same side which is the side of anger and fear.

my areligious girlfriend and i try to be on the side of love. and if god is love, is religion necessary?

the answer, for me, is that it can be helpful. it can provide a framework and a discipline for transforming and growing love past something shallow and greeting card.

the challenge, though, is moving past my own shy fear of unpopular opinions and desire for happy family life, and trying to ethically and honestly live a life based somewhere in religion while living with, loving and honoring my girlfriend and her traditions.

you say “well hey, it’s about time” and i say “no, no it’s about love”

there’s a post i’ve been holding onto for months, maybe years. i’m actually sitting here trying to write it and have managed to get halfway through it twice before highlighting the whole thing and hitting delete. i think of it as the post that’s gotten in the way of writing here regularly anymore, but it just won’t come out either.

it’s about my confusion about accountability to myself, from others, and to my meeting. it’s about calling and that falling away or shifting and not knowing where it went and not knowing how to ask for support and feeling bitter that it wasn’t just offered and feeling guilty for wanting other people to follow all of my whims and fluctuations. it’s about my desire to be more aware of others’ whims and fluctuations. it’s about accidentally almost joining a cult. it’s about the death of a member of my clearness committee. it’s about diversity and social justice and the question of if quakerism really is for everyone. it’s about how still and all, the majority of my friends are white. it’s about struggling as a teacher. it’s about crying at the meeting retreat two years ago because i just desperately wanted to give all of my students the type of experience i was having right then. it’s about how i don’t understand the valuable experiences my students have. it’s about wanting to write more. it’s about wanting to be more of what i think a quaker should be. it’s about living far from my meeting. it’s about feeling far from my meeting. it’s about feeling close to my meeting. it’s about unexpected phone calls from members of my meeting when i am feeling low or am across the country. it’s about feeling distance and then suddenly feeling overly close. it’s about being a grown-up. it’s about trying to infuse my teaching with quakerism. it’s about leaving and coming back. it’s about bitterness and angst and self-recrimination. it’s about deciding. it’s about not deciding. it’s about confusion, sadness, and joy. it’s about days slipping by. it’s about living.

maybe now that that’s all out of the way, i can start focusing on god again.

it wasn’t about me but it hurt so much.

they never tell you how hard it is to call cps.

as a teacher, you are a mandated reporter. anytime you suspect abuse you are required by law to call cps. you are not the detective, you are told, they are. just call.

before i was a teacher, i went to numerous trainings about calling cps. one involved a graphic video, another role-playing, and over and over again, the mantra “if you suspect abuse, you have to call. don’t worry. just do it.” they won’t break up families, it won’t be an immigration issue, their job is to keep children and families safe, and together whenever possible.

someone i am close to had to call cps before i did for someone in their class. i told them over and over again they just had to do it, it was our job.

and it turned out it was even hard than we’d expected, in entirely different ways than we had thought.

and i’ve had to call three times now, and each time the experience is the same. you feel nauseous, scared and vulnerable, the connection is usually bad, and you are trying to speak these horrible truths clearly and loudly and you get a little numb because the connection is so bad you’ve had to say them over and over and over again. and then on the other end, “are you sure?” “did you ask this?” “have you talked to…?” “this is very serious.” by the time you get off the phone, you feel about 2 feet tall, clumsy, stupid. you doubt they are going to follow up, even though this is the second time you’ve seen bruises, and you feel angry and confused at those people who told you to call. because now it feels like if you weren’t there at the window witnessing these precious children getting beaten, you have no case, why are you even calling?

i’ve been wanting to write about that for awhile, and it’s not quaker-specific, but it is about trying to have integrity in a confusing world. and i haven’t written here much and i miss it.

i’m not sure if i prayed about it all, or even how to pray about it now.

it wasn’t about me but it hurt so much.

hmm… that sentence just about sums up last school year.

Published in: on 29 June, 2011 at 9:46 am  Comments (2)  

our lives had become unmanageable.

i went to quaker meeting today for the first time in, i think, over a month. it’s time for me to start making appearances, as registrar for the retreat, so i’m trying to push past all the cozy house things, busy craziness, and bitter-ish confusion that has kept me away of late.

and i’m really glad.

meeting today was very very vocal, and at first i was really resistant to the messages i was hearing. part of what has been making me reluctant to go to meeting lately has been my confusion about its relevance to my current life. when i first fell in love with the meeting, i was in a very different place in my life– i had time, and i had lofty, judgmental ideals. i still probably have the latter, but the realities of my life have dashed some of those. so, i’ve been having a hard time reconciling meeting as a relevant place for this person who is approaching the world so differently than i used to. is contemplation and “the inward light” only for those with free time and undemanding jobs?

and, of course, i know that, historically and right now, that is not the case, but… for me, is it? that’s been a big part of my questioning right now. because quakerism is both communal and solitary, and my busy-ness and the bitter disappointment of my job have really highlighted the way one can completely isolate themselves in this framework.

and then, in a brief moment of silence in meeting, after a few people had spoken, i had a good internal rage at god. a lot of these ramblings all came to a head and i was ANGRY about the girl who hates me and tells me i’m going to hell, i was ANGRY about the way that most of the students come from a culture where if someone hurts you, you believe you HAVE to hurt them back, i was ANGRY about the way my students punish me daily for trying help them, i was ANGRY about my helplessness.

but helplessness is where you meet god. in fact, helplessness is what we all have in common. they are as helpless as i am, and i am as helpless as they are. and helplessness was the theme that i found in today’s vocal ministry. and i needed to hear that. and even though even though even though i am still so upset that my students have these lives that are so hard and that even in my helplessness, i’m still supposed to help them, i also had this realization that god didn’t make their difficult situation, we did. not me and my students, but our culture, our greed, our lifestyles. my students are casualties of people forgetting that we are all helpless and we need to turn to something bigger and to each other. and that is something to be angry about.

but not really at god.

and then i was able, for the first time in a long time, to admit i was helpless and turn it all over.

i went home and talked to my girlfriend about it a little. a lot of the time, our different approaches to spirituality make me a little shy about talking to her about what happens to me at quaker meeting, but i was able to explain all of this. and we talked about that safety and security that we all want, that none of us have as much as we want to believe we have.

so, yes, i am powerless over the security, safety, and overall wellness, of myself, those i care about, and those i don’t know, and that is SO hard. and the only thing i can do is just turn it over to god. and that helps.