Monthly Archives: November 2014

What is this Black Friday? What does it say about us?

Theories about its origins vary. The most popular these days stems from usage of the term in Philadelphia to describe the heavy, often disruptive traffic–both by car and on foot–occurring on the day after Thanksgiving. Others take a longer view, pointing to a moment in 1869 when speculation in gold was stopped by the action of President Grant (leading to a big disruption in the stock market called “Black Friday”).

The real meaning may rely on the view that for most of the year retailers operate in the red, but on this one day they sell so much that they are suddently “in the black.” This theory may be sustained by the numbers: In 2013, approximately 141 million U.S. consumers shopped during Black Friday, spending a total of $57.4 billion, with online sales reaching $1.2 billion. Others call this an urban myth.

Another myth seems to be that Black Friday is when slave markets had sales on the day after Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving only really came into existence as a national repeating day during, not before, the Civil War, and really only became regular with President Franklin Roosevelt).

Black Friday lineBUT in this time when being Black–living Black, dying Black, even driving and shopping while Black (extra surveillance by police and security personnel)–carries a lot of meaning, i.e., baggage and freight for many in our culture, is this the best name we can give this “non-holiday” holiday?

And does anyone remember the fiasco of a death by trampling and the use of pepper spray? Now we have “dying while shopping.” If you want to see an alarming list of Black Friday deaths and injuries, click here.

Yesterday, many of us overate, and today many will overspend. Tomorrow and Sunday, many of us will lie more or less comatose on sofas and contemplate how to pay the bills. And watch football or old movies, or both.

Is this what we are thankful for? The right to shop ’til we drop (and/or beat someone else out of a bargain?) and eat ’til we explode? Is this the American dream? Is this why millions of immigrants clamor to our shores?And is this the best name for this day of insanity?

Having no wish to appear Scrooge-y, I will stop there with only questions. You may guess at my answers. My hope is that you will have your own, and share them here, or in your home or community.

thankfulOn this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful to be alive, to share in much goodness that has come, and keeps coming, my way. My husband Jonathan and entire extended family–including our beautiful and beloved daughters and their families (especially Juna and Annie), my sister Nancy and her whole extended family, and the family of my late sister Marny, and our treasured Cocoa– and so many friends and colleagues and neighbors, all are a great blessing.

God is good. All the time!

And on this day I pray that more people in the world would share in these blessings. Help me to remember that so much that is good in my life–more food than I need, a warm home, living in a democracy where we can speak our minds and hearts, some measure of economic security, and more–is not available to others.

Help me also to realize that some of this that is blessing me comes at the expense of others–our global world is interdependent, but often some of us get more thturkeyan our share. So I pray for a better way to distribute food, so that no one goes hungry. And I pray our nation would rely less on force and more on peaceful measures to help others have less strife and more peace and blessing. And I pray that the violence in our own nation, especially the killing of people of color (including not only African American men, but also Trans women and poor women), will end and that we find a way as a nation to begin talking openly and honestly about our heritage of racism and internal colonialism.

Finally, I pray that not all turkeys are killed today, or even between now and Christmas, and that eventually we can learn to give thanks without killing what should be our national bird as part of the celebration.

For me, it is Thanksgiving Day, not Turkey Day. And if I have to include food in the name of the day, then let it be Tofu Day!

Black lives matter.

I joined hundreds of others in Richmond yesterday, repeating that chant. We were responding to what feels like the re-killing of Michael Brown in Missouri, and especially to the reality that his death has been disrespected by the legal system.

Black lives matter.

Israel and November in Richmond 033It should not need to be repeated. But we did, many times, as we stood on the steps of the John Marshall Courts Building and then marched down 9th Street onto Broad going east to the capitol and then west back to 9th and the courthouse.

I stood and marched with my friend and colleague, Rev. Jeanne Pupke of the First Unitarian Church, and several members of that congregation. One of them gave me this sign to carry. We chanted with conviction, because of course it is true, it is God’s truth even before we know it. But we also did it in desperation, wanting it to be so far more than it is. We know that for too many, black lives are expendable, or at the very least, of negligible value. For many, black lives do not matter much at all.

It pains me to say that Jeanne and I were the only clergy either of us recognized. I pray others were there that we do not know. No clergy spoke. I doubt any were asked–the organizers seemed to be young, and the young so often have little use for religion. This is understandable, given how so much religion has failed even basic tests for justice.

I also marched with the two women at whose marriage I officiated in the first moments after marriage for lesbian and gay couples became legal in Virginia–Nicole and Lindsey O-Pries. I was so glad to see them–it was a message from Lindsey that alerted me to the event–because their being there, along with the presence of Jeanne Pupke and Annette Marquis of the UUA Multicultural Department, united the justice work of LGBT and racial equality. We were back at the Marshall Courts Building for justice. And for love.

I saw no other identifiable LGBT leaders and that pains me, too. We are all too fractured. At a time when marriage equality is marching across the nation, the lives of too many African Americans are still at risk–from police who shoot of course, but also from joblessness and unbelievable incarceration rates and homelessness and hunger and inadequate, even bad, public schools.

Why was not the entire city there? Why are we, as a society, not in full mourning? And why is our focus so much on the destructive behavior of some who act out their anger (and do nothing to help the cause of justice) and so little on the injustice being perpetrated over and over against our fellow citizens who are dark-skinned, and especially the descendants of those our ancestors held in bondage?

The reaction of many–denial and a focus solely on lost property rather than on lost lives–springs from fear, fear that is fed by a scarcity model of social interaction rather than the deeper truth that it is love, caring, kindness, generosity, justice, hope, joy that will see all of us through our present troubles to a better life for all.

Black lives matter. We shouldn’t have to say it. But we do.

And we will–until everyone, or at least mostly everyone, believes it, too.

Violence and punishment are the order of the day in so many places. From Syria to Ferguson, and a lot of locations in between and beyond, governments and groups and individuals use murder, mayhem, intimidation, and unjust rules and structures to keep people in their place, meaning of course where others think they belong.

The response to all this is often more of the same. It is the old playground “game” of when you are pushed, you push back.

Of course, such response is usually couched in terms of defense. “We have to defend ourselves.” It seems reasonable enough, except that is what the other folks are saying, too.

If everyone exercises their right to defend themselves, who will ever make peace?

A community in Denmark is trying something different, responding to Islamic warriors who return to their home in that northern European nation not with prison and punishment, but with help to live different, and better, lives.

You can read about it here.

Will it work? Is it practical? Will the effects last? All good questions.

But we can be pretty certain that the usual way–responding to violence and acting out with punishment and prison, perhaps even worse–has not not worked yet. If that way had worked, there would be less violence, not more.

The tragedy that is Israel/Palestine strikes deep into our hearts. How can people with such rich and beautiful spiritual traditions be so harsh with each other? The idea that many of us still call this the Holy Land seems almost a mockery of God.

Or perhaps the violence, the animosity and hatred, the intransigence and unwillingness to recognize the humanity in each other, the unwillingness even to talk with each other is actually a reflection of much of the world’s relationship with God?

A book that seeks to humanize–and for me that means also to reflect the divinity of those involved–the conflicting and conflicted personna is The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan.

This book is nonfiction, but reads like a novel. At its center are two people, Bashir Khairi and Dalia Eshkenazi Landau. Bashir is a Palestinian and Dalia is an Israeli, aThe Lemon Treend their lives are intertwined not by romance but by the fact that when Dalia’s parents emigrated from their native Bulgaria (she was a small child) they occupied the home of Bashir’s family in Ramla which had been confiscated by the Israeli government after the war of 1948 (and the Palestinian residents had fled the town).

The entire book puts their friendship–maintained across severe boundaries–at the center while all around whirls the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Tolan, a journalist, does not fail us in recounting all the ugly details of wars and jails and bombs and suffering while reminding us again and again that the entire story is a human one.

Anyone who wishes to understand this tragedy at a deeper level than political and military strategy, or beyond the geopolitical power games of the various nations, or even the competing claims of two peoples deeply scarred by the loss of identity and by global disrespect and subjugation, should read this book.

It does not have a pretty ending, things are not tied up in a neat bow. Tolan is a journalist after all, not a romance novelist. But still there is hope in this story, and even glimmerings of love and salvation.

When you read it–and I think every thinking person in the United States, Europe and the Middle East should read it–then you may do as I am doing, namely pray. Pray for all you are worth, pray that somehow human beings–even those whose lemon tree dies and who have trouble growing a new one–can find a way to transcend the limitations of their leaders and make peace on the ground, among themselves, heart to heart, person to person, villlage to village, family to family, faith to faith.

Such peace is hard work, because it means staying connected not only to your own desires and truths, but also to the desires and truths of those whose very existence seems to threaten you most profoundly. This is work that belongs to all of us, because only by recognizing that our humanity is dependent on the humanity of others will we ever have peace, even, or  perhaps especially, in the Holy Land.

We can only be truly, fully human when we see our humanity reflected in others, and theirs in ours. It is a lesson taught by a lemon tree.

Election day always brings anxiety for me. And joy.

The anxiety comes from worrying about what it will be like if the candidates I think are pretty much wrong actually win. And the joy comes from knowing that whatever the outcome, we are blessed to have free elections, to live in a place where people get to choose their own leaders. And that probably we will “muddle through” (the phrase my freshman year poli sci professor at Michigan in 1965 used to describe the American political system).

However, today, awash in media ads–much of them untrue, or at best half-true, I wonder if we are choosing our leaders so much as they are choosing us. I know this is true in Congress and the General Assembly, due to redistricting. But I think money may be doing the same thing.

voting-paper-ballotsIf you spend enough money, can you buy the people?

Fortunately, there have been examples over the years of candidates who spent fortunes and still lost.

I have one other anxiety. It is about personality politics.

Much of the country seems to have decided they don’t like President Obama. He is too aloof, not a jolly fellow who can make us feel good. And then there are all those folks in the other party who just basically seem to despise him. In the sandbox we would have known that was because they didn’t think they he should have won, or more aptly, that they should have lost. Entitlement brings out ugly stuff.

I pray we can get back to issues, real issues, soon.

I am going to church today–not to preach as I often do at congregations across Virginia, but for myself, to worship. And I am going twice.

Actually, this is a pretty big worship weekend for me. Friday night, I joined Jonathan at Congregation Or Ami for shabbat. We sang, we prayed, we heard Rabbi Ahuba Zaches share a thoughtful message about fear (an appropriate topic on Halloween!).

This morning, I am going to MCC Richmond–Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond, where I used to serve as Pastor. Now, my dear friend and colleague, Rev. Carolyn Mobley, is serving as the Interim Pastor. I so look forward to hearing her and sharing in the All Saints’ Day remembrances.

This afternoon, Jonathan will join me as we drive to the Gayton Kirk, a Presbyterian Church in Richmond’s West End, for Jazz Vespers. There, another dear friend and colleague, Rev. Janet James, and good friends Jill and Andrew Isola, will lead us in worship–as we listen to the wonderful jazz trio of Ross Riddell, Tommy Witten and Joe Sarver.

ripening peachesI am spiritually among the most blessed of people. I am fed through each of these spiritual communities. MCC Richmond is my spiritual home, but I am also part of these other communities, Christian and Jewish. In fact, although I am not Jewish, I am a full member of Congregation Or Ami because of my marriage to Jonathan, who is Jewish and a member.

And I have a fourth community–it is more of an online community most of the time, but it is nonetheless important and vital for me. It is called Wakan, the word that means “sacred” in the Lakotah language and “heart of the sky” in Mayan. It is led by an amazing shaman, Dr. Tom Pinkson, a psychologist by trade but more importantly, a man who has been in training with the Huichol Indians of Mexico and other native peoples for more than 40 years.

He led the Vision Quest on which I journeyed in September in Yosemite National Park, as he has done every year for 42 years. It has changed my life. Now, I can stay in touch with friends I made there, as well as others who support Tom’s work, by being part of the Wakan online community.

I have learned, and am learning, so much about the wisdom of wilderness and native peoples through Wakan. My prayer life, and all of my life, is much richer today than before I went on the Vision Quest.

It is the interweaving of all these gifts that is making this time the ripest of my life. I feel like I imagine a luscious peach must feel in the warm sun of summer, every day increasing in beautiful color, juiciness, and sweetness.

Richard Rohr, the Franciscan monk whose writings are another source of wisdom and joy for me, speaks of the “slow ripening” that leads to maturity. I think I know what he means. I am not done yet, actually will never be, but I am increasingly aware of how all my life is the foundation for this time of ripening, and that it will only grow more full–provided I stay open and participate as fully as possible.

And I am realizing how this ripening is helping me see new ways to give back, to pay forward, all that I have received, and am receiving. That is part of the ripening process–like that peach being picked and feeding another being.

It is one of my primary intentions to continue to share more about this rewarding spiritual journey. I hope you will stay tuned.