Love your neighbor as yourself

Four days ago in London a man climbed onto a bridge to end his life, and passersby gathered around him and held onto him for two hours to keep him safe until help arrived. (Thanks to James Rhodes for sharing this on Twitter.)

Meanwhile, I spent several hours last week reading endless Twitter arguments about whether women bloggers ought to be under ecclesiastical (church) authority. Listen: Those discussions are necessary. Amidst the frustration and vehement disagreement, wise, loving people shared their perspective vulnerably and listened well to each other. But I am afraid that we have mistaken the calling of the church. It’s good to have theological discussions. But they should not be where most of our energy and resources go.

This picture, those arms stretched out through the bars of the railing — this is what church should look like. Study it for a minute. Actually, study it for several minutes. Look at the bodies in the picture. Look at the tension in the muscles, the pain and struggle in the faces, the wrinkles in the clothing. Look at the person whose arms are wrapped around the man’s neck, whose face is so intimately close to his own. Look at the person who squats near the man’s feet, whose arms clutch his legs, whose face we cannot see because he has chosen a position of discomfort and service over one of glory. Who do you identify with in the photo? The man whose desperation led him to climb over the railing of the bridge? See how he is held, how much even these strangers value his life. Do you identify with the helpers? Can you feel the man’s calves under your arms, shaking with the fear of death and the fear of hope?

Now read this passage from Matthew 22:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Who are the people in this passage? Who are the people we are told to love? I have to run off to work now, but I’ll write more about this later this week. (And I do have some things to say about women bloggers and authority, too.) In the meantime, please consider: What does it mean to love God with all your heart and soul and mind? What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? What does it mean to love yourself?

Love,
Jessica

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P.S. I just realized what the photograph reminded me of: Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son.


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On eating and rewiring your brain

They say you are what you eat 🙂

Hello, friends! I’ve missed writing here. Life has gotten unexpectedly stressful lately, and all my energy has gone into getting through each day, coping with things as they come up and trying to make plans for changes that will make life less stressful. In related news, if anyone knows of an affordable two-bedroom apartment in or near Boston, let me know.

Today I thought I’d write a bit about eating — eating disorders, or disordered eating — and healing from them. I’ve never been diagnosed, but I’ve definitely had times in my life when I was anorexic-ish, starving myself and exercising obsessively to lose weight, and other times when I have been unable to stop over-eating. My weight has swung up and down 100 lbs since college. I’ve written about how I learned to break the cycle of over-eating–> feeling shame–> starving myself at the shame part of the cycle here. Basically I decided to stop dieting and stop punishing myself when I overate; to do my best to eat healthy foods when I was hungry, stop eating when I was full, and to forgive myself when I did eat too much. The forgiveness, for me, was the key. When I recklessly and completely refused to feel shame for overeating, I found myself feeding myself more lovingly, and stopping when I was full more naturally.

Another thing I’ve done is to try to replace overeating with other, healthier coping mechanisms. Meditation and centering prayer (a particular type of prayer in which you sit in God’s presence without speaking) helped me to learn to be still, to quiet my mind and my hands so that I did not need the activity of eating to soothe myself. Candles, incense, and scented oils (my favorites are peppermint, rosemary, and lavender) helped to satisfy the cravings for comfort and stimulation that I often mistook for hunger. And yoga has been a wonderful way to reconnect with my body, calm myself, and exercise without the obsessive calorie-counting I used to do on the gym treadmill. I’m now at about the halfway mark in that 100lb weight swing, and have stayed there for six years. I could lose more weight by dieting, but then I’d be right back in the cycle, losing and gaining, feeling constant shame and frustration, thinking about food all the time. I’m much happier where I am, eating healthy, exercising naturally, and trusting my body to know where it wants to be.

My friend Arwen Faulkner wrote a few years ago about something called neuroplasticity. It’s the idea that our brains are rewriteable, that even programs of reaction and response learned in childhood can be changed. Arwen writes poignantly about what that has meant in her life as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. She says that

Neuroplasticity involves the spontaneous rewiring of neurons, the reassignment of neural pathways. Neurons are able to strengthen well-worn connections while weakening or eliminating others. Imagine, the road less travelled, essentially disappears. A healing process, this gives us the power to literally change our minds.

You can read the rest of her essay here. I’ve been thinking about that lately, and how I’ve done just that: rewired my brain, created new well-worn paths to replace the old ones. I don’t really believe in will power in the context of eating — I think white-knuckling it can work for a time but there will always be payback. My times of extreme self control, eating 500 calories a day and burning them off plus more on the treadmill, ultimately resulted in obsessive eating and a ruined metabolism. The body is hardwired for survival. But I do believe that we can replace unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy ones. My brain responds differently to food than it used to. I don’t get the same intense rush from binge eating sweet or salty foods. I don’t get the same emotion-numbing effect from piling on the calories long after my hunger is sated.

You know what’s funny, though? I kind of miss it. I’ve never used drugs (illegal, I mean – I’ve used plenty of prescribed drugs for the migraines, and I live in fear of someone discovering that coffee is bad for you) and never drank very much, but I imagine being in recovery from abusing food is kind of like being sober. It’s so much better, here, on the healthy side. But, as I mentioned, the last few weeks have been very stressful. Meditation helps, yoga helps, scented things help (I am currently running a humidifier with rosemary and peppermint oil as I write). Getting outside helps, as does focusing on the moment, on what’s in front of me. Breathing exercises help, talking to friends, reading a good book, writing. I have so many healthy coping mechanisms. But they don’t give me quite the same buzz as overeating used to. They walk me through my problems, bring me to a place of peace that is deeper than the circumstances around me. And they don’t hurt my body and make me hate myself. It’s a much better way, really. But still, as I walked through CVS yesterday, looking at the giant bags of popcorn and candy, I thought of how it would feel to climb back into those bags of salt and sugar, the way an alcoholic climbs back into the bottle. To lose myself again, after all this work finding myself. And I felt a moment of regret that that escape was no longer available to me.

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I don’t really want to write about what’s going on right now, because it seems unfair to vent about my housemate when I have a blog and she (as far as I know) doesn’t. But I do want to say a few things about it:

  1. Thank God for Mark. Really. He is away right now because his mom broke her arm and he is taking care of her, and that makes the current situation even harder, but I am just so grateful to have such a kind, thoughtful, intelligent, and wise friend and housemate.
  2. I’ve had to learn this lesson over and over again, but I think I’m finally getting it: Not everything is my fault, and not everything is fixable if only I can find the perfect thing to say or do, or the perfect way of being. Some things are other people’s faults, God help ’em, and other people’s problems to fix, and all I can do is take care of myself the best I can and leave space open for other people to do their part if and when they’re ready.
  3. This is super hard when the person you’re having a hard time with is living in your house.
  4. Seriously, does anyone know of an affordable two-bedroom apartment?

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How are you all doing? I’ve missed you. What have you been up to lately? What are some of your coping mechanisms, healthy or unhealthy? Tell me here, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

You are not alone, I promise.

Love,
Jessica

 

 

Prayers for lost things

I rescued two lost things last week. One was my responsibility, and one was not. One I’d lost myself (though it would’ve been easy to blame the five year old), and one someone else had lost. One was a coat, a green child’s coat, possibly a hand-me down, but it would have been expensive to replace. One was a dog. One was lost on a beautiful, warmish, sunny afternoon, and the other was lost the following day which was sunny but bitterly cold and windy.

The coat was the most upsetting, because it was my fault (though it would have been easy to blame the five year old). When I drove Louise to kindergarten that morning it had been cold and rainy, so she and her toddler brother, Manny, wore raincoats over their winter coats. Afterwards Manny and I went to the library and it wasn’t raining anymore so I took off his raincoat and left it in the car. Later, while Manny was napping and I was reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, the sun broke forth from the clouds and the temperatures soared into the fifties, and I gratefully made plans to take the kids to the playground after school. That last hour and a half, after I pick up Louise from school, can be hard. She is tired from following the rules and doing what she was told all day at school, and resents any more instructions from me. She wants to talk and play, and needs me to be very interactive and follow the rules of the games she makes up, and she gets frustrated if I don’t pay complete attention. Manny is getting tired despite his nap, and though he has spent most of the day ignoring me and pretending to cook elaborate meals with his toy pots and pans, his sister’s presence makes him suddenly need my constant attention and to be constantly in my arms. It can be fun, if I can rally my energy. But it’s infinitely better if we can spend that time outside. Both kids like people-watching, the fresh air and sunshine put their nanny in a much better mood, and there are other kids to play with so I am not needed as intensely as when the three of us are home alone.

It was warm, so I let Louise take off her outer raincoat, but it was not warm enough for her to take off her other coat, so the several times she asked to I said no. The kids had a great time, and I absorbed the fresh air and sunshine as I chased after them, and waited till the last possible minute to say that it was time to head home. As we walked back to the car I looked back and saw that Louise had taken off her coat. She saw me notice her, grinned, and said, “Is it okay?”

“All right,” I said. “Put it in the stroller,” thus teaching her the truth of the expression that it’s easier to get forgiven than permission. When we got to the car I strapped them into their seats, folded up the stroller, and put it into the trunk. A few minutes later we pulled into their garage and I said to Louise sternly,

“You need to either wear your coat or carry it, Louise. I have to get all the other coats, the diaper bag, and Manny.”

“Okay,” she said. “Where is it?”

“It’s back there with you.”

“No it isn’t.”

With a sinking heart I realized I’d never taken it out of the stroller. I opened the trunk and unfolded the stroller but it wasn’t there.

“It must be back at the playground,” I said. She started crying.

“It’s okay!” I said. “Let’s go inside and drop you and Manny off with your mom, and I’ll drive back in my own car and get the coat. It must’ve fallen out when I put the stroller in the trunk, so it should be right there waiting for me.”

“But what if someone took it?” she wailed.

“No one would take it,” I said, hoping this was true. “People are generally good and want to help each other.”

I dropped them off and hopped into my car, driving back towards the playground and praying the following strange prayer:

“Lord, please let the coat still be there. I don’t want to be responsible for losing it. Also, take care of the refugees. And if you can only answer one prayer, then take care of the refugees.”

God only knows what God thinks of prayers like that. Covering our bases, hedging our bets. Hoping for God’s favor and help to save face for ourselves and a few dollars for our employer, while knowing that others are shivering on the cold ground, hungry, homeless, wondering where God is and where the generally good people wanting to help each other are. Did God laugh at my second, guilty prayer? Did God listen carefully and file the prayers in order of importance? Did God guide the hand of the person who walked by Louise’s coat in the street and hung it carefully up on the fence for me to find, gratefully, moments later? Is God guiding the hearts of those who have it in their power to help the refugees?

The next day the temperature dropped sharply and the wind blew fiercely. The kids’ dad needed the car, so he drove Louise to school but I had to take Manny in the stroller to pick her up. The walk to school and back was cold and hard, with the wind seeming to always blow against us. I struggled on the way there, but the way back with Louise was harder — uphill and I had the additional job of keeping Louise’s spirits up while we fought against the wind. She was struggling, and trying not to cry.

“Remember what Dory says in Finding Nemo?” I asked. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. And then, just when they are too tired to go any further, a miracle happens and they find the warm gulf stream current which carries them safely to Nemo.” I’m pretty sure I had some of those details wrong, but Louise thought about it for a minute and then started repeating: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” We chanted it together, pausing each time the wind caught the cloth of the stroller like a sail (always in the other direction) and made walking momentarily impossible.

Suddenly a very small dog came towards us from a driveway, barking loudly. Louise screamed and I told her to move to the other side of me while I spoke gently to the dog.

“What’s wrong puppy? It’s okay, we’re friendly. What are you doing out here in the cold?”

The dog was shivering, and I realized that its barks weren’t coming from anger but from fear. I felt the calmness that comes over me when anxiety is replaced with knowing exactly what action to take. I don’t know how I knew. Was someone somewhere saying a prayer for lost things? Was someone praying for creatures who were cold and scared? Either way I knew for sure that the dog was stuck outside and needed help getting home. There were several houses there, but I turned toward the nearest one as the dog ran away back down the driveway. There was a set of steps going up to the front door, so I carefully parked the stroller at the bottom.

“No!” cried Louise. “I don’t want to go there! I want to go home!”

“When you see a creature that’s cold and scared, you have to help it. That’s the rule,” I answered, and, convinced either by compassion or canon, she followed me up the concrete stairs.

I rang the doorbell and we stood there shivering. I saw the blinds opened slightly and I waved and tried not to look like a salesman or an evangelist. A woman opened the door and asked us suspiciously,

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“There’s a small dog out here,” I said. “He seems scared.”

“Oh my God! Chico?” she asked, looking inside and realizing he wasn’t there with her. “How did he get out? Where did you see him?”

“He just ran back down there,” I said, pointing to the driveway.

She came out onto the porch, standing in the wind in bare feet, and called,

“Chico! Chico!”

The dog ran up to her instantly, and they hurried back into the warm house together, the woman saying a quick and still surprised, “Thank you!”

Louise, Manny, and I continued up the hill, against the wind. A few weeks ago we had made the same trip after a snowstorm, and as we’d walked I’d told Louise the story of Good King Wenceslas, and how he and his servant had gone out in the bitter cold to bring food and firewood to a poor man they saw from the castle window.

“It was so cold and windy,” I’d told her, “And the servant grew so tired he couldn’t go on. But King Wenceslas told him to walk in his footprints, and when the servant stepped right where the King had stepped, he found the footprints were warm! So then he was warm enough and encouraged enough to go on.” I’d sung the last verse of the song to her, trying unsuccessfully, as always, not to cry:

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.”

“We saved that dog!” I said, feeling as warm as if I were stepping in the Saint’s footprints. “And we’re almost home.”

“We’re almost home!” said Louise. “Just keep swimming.”

“Just keep swimming,” I said.

***

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Remember your training

rememberyourtrainingI had a small anxiety attack last night. I’ve been sick for three weeks and couldn’t sleep ’cause I was coughing so badly, and worried about my parents, and worried about our world, and my heart started beating too hard and I started thinking things that aren’t true, like:

Nobody likes me. Everyone is mad at me and probably talking behind my back about being mad at me. I’m a mess, and this panic attack is proof of it.

I didn’t believe those things, but my body was reacting as if they were true, panicking, trying to fight or to flee. But I remembered the things I’ve learned about anxiety and put them into practice. I took deep breaths — through my mouth, since my nose was hopelessly stuffy. I breathed Psalm 23 in and out: “The Lord is my shepherd” (in) “I shall not want” (out). I got through the psalm and I felt a little better so I did it again. Then I used my phone-a-friend lifeline and texted Gina. Good job, she said. Psalm 23 is what you pray when you can’t pray anything else. Then she prayed for me. I still felt unsettled, but my heart rate had slowed, and I knew that things would look better in the morning. Or at least that I would be able to think things through more clearly in the morning, and figure out if there was any reality behind the thoughts.

And sure enough, when I woke up, once two cups of coffee had staved off the cough medicine hangover, I asked myself: Do you really think your friends are mad at you? Do you really think they’re talking about you behind your back? And, no, I said, they’re not. And do you think a panic attack means you’re hopelessly messed up? No, I said. Everyone has bad moments, and we all have to get through them the best we can.

I love what Jen Hatmaker wrote on her Facebook page today:

Our family went to a Texas basketball game last week, and as always, it is hilarious to sit by Remy. She doesn’t understand sports and never picked up on proper cheering, so she has her own special brand of yelling. One of my favorites from last week was this (always said with full sincerity):

“Keep trying! Make it into the basket! Remember your training!”

LOL. Wondering if any of you need to “remember your training” today? Nine times out of ten when I face a dilemma, I already know what to do. I know what to choose. I know what to apologize for. I know what to hand over to God because He knows how to run his own world. I know who to call. I know to get my nose in the Bible. I know who to forgive. I know what to stop doing. I know who to speak up for. I know its time to get over myself. I know how to act like Jesus.

It’s all right there in the training.

Keep trying, sisters! Remember your training. Most of us know what to do; it’s just the doing of it that is hard. And truthfully, it isn’t even the doing of it that is so hard as much as the DECIDING to do it part. The worst of the battle is usually borne out in our minds; once we put our hands to it, we discover relief, healing, joy, peace.

I’ll go first. I have gotten sideways with someone and I am going to call her today. I could not, because women especially know how to fake it and sidestep and let unresolved conflict weaken a relationship until it is a ghost of its former self, but I’m going to press in. (WHEN DOES LIFE GET EASY??)

Remember your training. Do the thing that needs to be done.

When the depression and anxiety got really bad ten years ago my mom and various therapists tried to introduce me to breathing exercises, cognitive behavioral exercises, and various prayers like the welcoming prayer. I tried them, but at first they didn’t work. They seemed like such weak tools in the face of such strong emotions. It wasn’t until I’d practiced them for a while that they started working. When I read Remi’s exhortation to “remember your training” I thought of last night. It was because I’d practiced so much and sharpened my skills — by praying, meditating, doing yoga, and walking myself through the bad times — that I was able to perform the play I did last night. Even sick as a dog, coughing and going through tissues at an alarming rate, my training kicked in. To be honest, I didn’t really think it would work when I started breathing deeply and reciting the psalm. The anxiety felt too physical, too irrational. But just as the muscle-memory from years of training kicks in when an athlete feels the ball in her hand, my body remembered what to do. Deep breaths slowed my heart rate, the words of the psalm calmed my thoughts. Contact with Gina made me feel loved and important. And trust in the morning to smooth the rough, shaky angles of the night got me through.

Puffy eyes warm heart. :)

Puffy eyes warm heart. 🙂

How are you all doing? Is there something in your life you know how to do right now, but you just have to remember your training? Or do you need some more practice before it becomes second nature? Do you have all your life-lines in place? Should we have a team meeting before the big game? Alright, my metaphors are becoming jumbled, and it’s time for me to take some more cough medicine and go to bed. Hang in there, friends. Its winter, but spring’s a-coming.

Love,
Jessica

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Oh, and here’s the full Psalm 23 if you need it.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

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Activism needs introverts

img_2397The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
~1 Corinthians 12:21-26

Hi friends, how have you been? There’s so much going on in the world right now, and I’ve been wanting to — needing to — write, but my health hasn’t been great. Migraines, then a shoulder injury, then a cold, plus probably some depression, though the symptoms could be migraine symptoms, too.

My body’s limitations have been a frustration to me for most of my life, in how they limit my own well being and how they limit the volunteering and activism I so much want to be a part of. I am only working 30hrs a week right now, but that is enough to sap my resources and make it hard to do much else. I made it to a book discussion about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, but the other things I wanted to do in January — go to a SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) meeting, go to the Boston Women’s March, go to Logan airport to protest the Muslim ban, go to the protest of the Muslim Ban at Copley Square on Sunday, get back to volunteering at Horizons for Homeless Children, volunteer as a baby cuddler at MGH — were beyond my grasp. Even making donations isn’t feasible for me as I struggle to not only pay the monthly bills but to pay off debt from when I was really sick eight years ago, though I did manage (very) small gifts to TogetherRising for refugee aid, and Black Girl in Maine (paying WOC writers for their work is important) and to contribute to having a sandwich named after a friend of mine who died from suicide ten years ago.

I spend a lot of time and energy wishing I had more energy, that my personality was stronger, that leaving the house didn’t make me nervous, that talking to people didn’t exhaust me. But I am trying to do less of that, and focus more on what I *can* do. I can think deeply about things, and I can write (albeit slowly) about them. I can listen well, and hold contrasting ideas in my head without trying to find a facile resolution. I can write (again, slowly) poetry and stories. I can support and cheer for others whose have more energy and extroverted personalities. I can babysit for friends while they go to protests.

I watched a wonderful TED talk the other day by Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective entitled Activism Needs Introverts. She had me hooked when she started out the talk by confessing that she used to hide in toilets (British for bathrooms). Here was someone who had dedicated her life to activism, to making the world a better place, and she was an introvert like me! I have hidden in toilets, on stairwells, on sidewalks, and many other nooks and crannies — and that’s when I could bring myself to leave the house. Sarah said that introverts are important to activism because they are good at slow activism, intimate activism, and intriguing activism. Do give it a listen — she speaks to extroverts, too, and she has the most adorable accent.

I know not everyone who reads my blog is an introvert, but many of you may have also been wondering what your part is in this strange new world we find ourselves in. In the bible passage I quoted up top, Paul is addressing a controversy in the early church about spiritual gifts. Some of the early Christians were doing extroverted, strong personality kind of things like preaching, prophesying and speaking in tongues, and looking down on other who didn’t have those powerful, charismatic gifts. But, Paul said, there are other kinds of gifts — wisdom, discernment, healing — that are not a flashy but just as important. Paul compares the church to a body, and says that even though different parts of the body have vastly different functions, they all depend on each other for survival. The arms, legs, and head may seem to be the most active and important, but without the quiet beating of the heart, the rhythmic breathing of the lungs, and the kidney and liver working to process toxins, the arms, legs, and head would be lost. We all have a part to play, and no one’s part is less or more important.

Frederick Buechner said that, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” What is  that place for you? What are you good at? Are you our lungs, breathing oxygen and peace in and the bad air out? Are you our liver and kidneys, processing the toxins of the world to keep us healthy? Are you our brain’s left lobe, thinking clearly and logically, solving problems and cutting through misinformation and sloppy thinking? Or our brain’s right lobe, seeing colors and patterns missed by others, creating metaphors, art, music, and fantasy that speak deeply to reality? Are you our legs, pulling on your boots and getting out there leading us into battle? Or our mouth, speaking truth to power, speaking with courage and kindness? Whatever you are, we need you. We can’t do it without you.

I love this Twitter thread by thirst trap thexology, who calls herself a “scholartivist”:

We’re gonna need folks to do a /whole bunch/ of different things in the coming years, so now is a good time to take stock of your skills

Do you have money? Support folks who don’t. Give to individuals doing work you can’t, give to bail funds, give to marginalized folks

The streets aren’t for you but you’re good at child care, cooking? Set up a daycare for activists during protests, make food etc

Lawyer? Defend protesters. Policy wonk? Find and exploit flaws in proposed and existing legislation, maybe come up with alt proposals

Artist? Writer? Creative? Dreamer? Give us space to escape to, help us imagine more beautiful futures. You’re so important right now.

Whatever you are good at, it can be of use. Put your skills towards a more beautiful future.

Every single one of you has a skill set that we will need. Every single one of you. Find your lane and work it. We need all of us.

I need you, You need me, We’re all a part of God’s body. You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I’m sitting on my couch writing this, shivering and coughing, covered up in several sweaters and a blanket. I wish I was sitting with the lawyers at the airport. (Those lawyers, man — they are giving me hope.) But I do not have that skill, or that ability. What I do have is my computer. I have my network of friends. I have my blog. And I have prayer, which I still believe in, even now, even more now, even more. Pray for me, and I’ll pray for you. March for me, and I’ll write for you. And one of these days, daggummit, I’ll make it to a protest, too. Maybe a sit in, because standing is tiring. But for now, I write.

Love you all. Thank you so much for reading.
Jessica

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A negative peace: False succor on MLK day

“They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace.”
~Jeremiah 6:14

On this Martin Luther King’s day, I would like to turn my blog over to the words of Martin Luther King, James Baldwin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. To my white friends reading this — some of it is going to be hard. I ask that you read it with an open heart, and allow the feelings that come, whether sorrow, or anger, or defensiveness. Observe your feelings without judging them or trying to push them away. We have a job to do, and we can’t do it without looking honestly at our own country and our own history. And we cannot do that without looking honestly at our own hearts. It is tempting to retreat to that absence of tension that King calls a negative peace. But let’s press forward into a positive peace, acknowledging the tension, acknowledging our own discomfort, and letting that lead us forward to justice. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
~Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From a Birmingham Jail

Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words “acceptance” and “integration.” There is no reason for you to try to become like white men and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them, and I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.

Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.
~James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

At this moment the phrase, “police reform” has come into vogue, and the actions of our publicly appointed guardians have attracted attention presidential and pedestrian. You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is a real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies — the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects — are the product of democratic will. And so to challenge the police is to challenge the American people who send them into the ghettos armed with the same self-generated fears that compelled the people who think they are white to flee the cities and into the Dream…I knew some of this even then, sitting in Rankin Chapel, even if I could not yet express it. So forgiving the killer of Prince Jones would have seemed irrelevant to me. The killer was the direct expression of all his country’s beliefs.
~Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World and Me

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