Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Chaos Doesn't Give Up. Neither Does Hope

I had a great lunch today with an old college friend.  After she left I went out to my labyrinth field to begin laying out this year's new and improved labyrinth.  The day was gorgeous with clear blue skies and the air was still.  It wasn't too hot or too cool or too windy.  Actually, it was perfect. 

But when I got in the house I found out on Facebook that there had been tornadoes in New Orleans while we were enjoying our lunch.  And, worst of all, it had hit somewhere near and dear to my heart--my home for several months--the very building I had lived in while I served there during the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.  Facebook friends from my days at the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance posted a video of the Volunteer Village where I served as Village Manager in New Orleans in 2008.  One of the tornadoes that hit the town today pretty much destroyed the building.  An AmeriCorps team member sent out a video and it looks bad. The second floor is gone.


https://dmnsmycmdpaix.cloudfront.net/uploads/campaigns/main_image/1525/normal_far_away_shot.jpg

There's great sadness at its loss because Olive Tree was everyone's favorite.  It was the nicest of all the volunteer villages.  While the other villages were basically vinyl tents this camp was a compound of two brick buildings; the former church sanctuary that we used for a dining hall and offices and the education building with individual classrooms that we used for dorm rooms.  It was clean and easy to keep clean, warm and dry. As someone who battled mildew in Mississippi I can tell you this was a major deal.  There is also irony here because of all the villages it was the sturdiest.  No one ever worried about the wind blowing it away the way we did the other camps.

I haven't figured out how to post a Facebook video here on my blog and if you know how, please let me know.  I do have this one photo I can show you of the shower trailer that breaks my heart because I watched a Presbyterian church from Kilmarnock, Virginia put the finishing touches on installing it.  I remember it brand new.



I'm still kind of in shock at seeing this building torn to pieces because it brings back so many memories. 

My favorite memory is of the party Project Homecoming had in our dining hall on the night of the third anniversary of Katrina.  We had all heard that there was another hurricane on its way to NOLA.  It was predicted to be Katrina's twin.  It was named Gustav and we were under a mandatory evacuation order.  Everybody needed to get home to pack up and leave town.  But for this evening, for this 3-year celebration at least, we were going to party. We ate each other's home cooking like there was no tomorrow because for all we knew there wasn't.  We had a jazz band play the Second Line and we danced. We waved our napkins and shrugged around the room, daring anything to ruin our good mood.  We hugged and told each other we loved them.  Our guests went home to pack up their homes.  Then we packed up the camp--copiers, computers, refrigerators, freezers, files and phones.  I tied down the port-a-potties, locked the shower trailer and turned off the gas.  And drove north not knowing if I would ever see the building again.

We would return in three weeks to find the building untouched.

Today the building's luck ran out.  Judging from the video I saw it looks pretty much destroyed.  The second floor looks gone.  The picture window of the lounge where I watched TV for news of Hurricane Gustav is broken.  The courtyard with signs of everyone's hometown is littered with debris.  I couldn't see the shower trailer in the video but I don't have much hope for it judging from the debris I could see coming from the storage building.  I saw the camp gate mangled into a pretzel and remembered locking it every night. I still remember the combination.  I guess it doesn't matter now.  I looked at the lawn and remembered mowing it, knowing all the potholes to avoid in the turf. 

I knew that camp.  It had been my home.  And now it was ruined.

The building was still being used to house volunteers when the tornado hit today.  I stayed there last year when I went back for the tenth anniversary of Katrina.  I slept in the bunk beds they provided for the volunteers Project Homecoming hosts who continue to go into the community to rebuild New Orleans.

After Presbyterian Disaster Assistance transferred their work over to Project Homecoming they partnered with AmeriCorps and both agencies used the building to house volunteers who would come from all over the United States to work on houses. 

Yes, we are still rebuilding New Orleans from the damage Hurricane Katrina caused.  The storm was that bad.  The volunteers are that good.

The motto of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is "Out of Chaos, Hope."  I know that Hope never gives up.  And apparently, neither does Chaos. 

I also know the volunteers.  I was a volunteer before I was a village manager.  The volunteers will be there as soon as they get the approval to help clean up the camp.  They will stay in hotels when the camp isn't available.  And they will continue to come to New Orleans. They love the city.  The volunteers rebuilding New Orleans won't stop just because a disaster recovery camp is damaged. 

Especially now.  Because now there is even more work ahead.  Ours wasn't the only building damaged.

Chaos doesn't give up.  Neither does Hope.

Here's the link to volunteer.   PDA  You might need to give them a while to get organized before they are able to accommodate volunteers.  And if you can't go in person, please consider a financial gift.  This stuff ain't cheap.

In the meantime, here's a picture that Sue La Rue sent me last summer.  She loves her New Orleans flowers and I thought of her today.  A white flower of Hope.



Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Slinking Towards Sabbath

I have tried, God knows I have tried.  I've started this week's blog about three times on paper and in my head about ten times but it's just not a pretty sight.  I'm angry.  You are angry.  We are all angry.   My friend Traci has one dear friend from the opposite side that she insists can discuss politics with her and they remain civil.  But they were college roommates and have always disagreed and always will; that's kind of the bedrock of their relationship.  The rest of us are not so lucky and some of us have even had to abandon precious relationships at seeing the other with new eyes.  Nobody actually changed we just found out new information about the other, more than we knew before. "I didn't know you were a scum sucking liberal commie, I thought you just liked cats and rock music and stuff the way I do. Golly, get out of my sight." The best route is probably going to be just avoiding the conversation completely like any decent dysfunctional family would do.


So, I give up.  I'm not going to talk about politics today.  I'm too tired, mentally and spiritually.  I am re-reading my friend/mentor Clay Brantley's doctoral paper he wrote on the topic of "The Other" because it might help me understand our hesitance to acceptance immigrants.  If I glean words I think might help us I will share them here next week.  For now, I think we both need a break.


I have to get ready for the biggest month of the year:  Retreat Month.  February holds more retreats than any other month.  I guess somebody looked at the calendar and the weather and decided we couldn't do anything else so we might as well go off somewhere and think about stuff.  I'll be at a retreat every weekend this month and tomorrow I need to be ready to help fifty women make birdhouses.  I'm moving into room 4 at Camp Gilmont and you can find me there.


We're going to be talking about Sabbath this weekend.

I had lunch yesterday with my old friend Nancy Greenfield, who is an observant Jew.  I've known Nancy over 20 years now--I  knew her back when her kids were little and their Sabbaths were spent lounging around all day in their pajamas playing board games and just enjoying each other.  They didn't watch TV or play with their phones or electronics.  But they did play.  Play was a big part of Sabbath.  Relaxing and play are kind of what we are supposed to do on the Sabbath.  Reading books, too.  Nancy's emphasis that I've never heard anywhere else was that one of the big things on Sabbath was to refrain from creating anything.  This is where she gets the rules against cooking and working.  But it makes sense to me since that was what God was resting from on the 7th day. 

Now that her kids are grown-- one is in college out of state and one has graduated and lives in Israel--I asked her how Sabbath has changed.  She says some of the basics are the same:  they still begin Sabbath with blessing their children except they do this with phone calls now.  And lighting the candles--always the candles.  But now that the kids are grown and gone she says she and her husband "get out more" for dinner.  However, like most observant Jews, they still don't drive a car on the Sabbath.  They walk to neighbors' homes or to restaurants in the neighborhood. She doesn't cook that day because she has already prepared the food the day before. She plans ahead in order to make sure Sabbath will be a relaxing day.

I watched my friend order lunch like I have done many times before as she carefully navigates eating Kosher in a public restaurant.  It's mostly just making sure she doesn't mix dairy and meat but it does require some planning and an attentive restaurant staff. In this Greek restaurant she had to eliminate having a yogurt-based sauce served on the plate with her lamb.

Life can get complicated when you take your life and your relationship with God seriously.  This is why I like retreats.  This is why I like to take time to go off and unplug and change my pace.  The next four weekends will not be business as usual and I can't wait to see what God has in store for me.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Marching in Austin




It was bigger than anybody expected.  The march organizers told us they were expecting 33,000.  They ended up with twice that amount.  The final tally worldwide will be around 3.9 million people.  It was the largest protest in American history.  I’ve had several friends who are mystified and have sincerely asked me to explain.  So here goes.

I had one previous experience with a protest march.  People think I was a hippie/rebel in my younger days when I was actually pretty tame in college.  I wore a lot of pleated skirts and I didn’t smoke pot or sleep around or do anything wild. I did, however, go to Austin for Gov. Ann Richards’ funeral in 2006, mostly because I heard Willie Nelson was going to sing. I will do just about anything for free music.  As it turned out Willie got busted in Louisiana for smoking dope and couldn’t come and all we got was a speech from Hillary Clinton but it was a great road trip for Elizabeth and myself.  And she and I noticed something interesting: just being around the folks who attended the funeral was something special. Everyone was of one mind and had come for one reason: to honor a special woman. There was something else very special that day--an atmosphere of love and honor.

The minute I heard about this march I had a hunch it would be similar to what Elizabeth and I had experienced at Ann Richard’s funeral so I called her up and suggested that all the ETC women go.  That’s what we call ourselves:  The ElsThomasCarrell Family.  This included both of my daughters and granddaughters. 

We got there early and there was plenty of room to wander around on the grounds of the Capitol.  It was going to be a glorious day.  It reminded me of going to the State Fair except they didn’t have any food for sale or souvenirs.  The weather was perfect.  Our state capitol is roomy with lots of grassy areas to move around and trees to sit under when we got tired.  We picked out a meeting spot and felt like we could come and go in comfort and confidence that we would be able to find each other again.

The main walk to the front of the Capitol had tables set up with different organizations giving out information. You could sign a petition or get on a mailing list or just find out more about an organization. Most were the predictable:  ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Gay Rights, various local, state and national political organizations were all there.  This was one of the things I had been looking forward to, believe it or not, this was one of the places I wanted to get on mailing lists. Because that’s the kind of extrovert I am.


It was Extrovert Heaven; a Convention for Extroverts.  One of the most popular signs that was repeated in other cities because it was such a BASIC TRUTH was “This is so bad even the Introverts are here.”  Both of my introverted daughters appreciated that sign.  In fact, my supremely introverted granddaughter, Sarah, had remained behind at home because she knew she wouldn’t be able to take the crowd.  She had the self-awareness to know her personal limit and I was proud of her for that.




Once we had all our pamphlets and stickers and had made the rounds of what was where we still had over an hour before anything started.  I headed out for the porta-potties.  If I have learned anything in my long life it is that you want to use the porta-potties early in the day. 

Before we start let me salute one of the most important groups of people in the march and you probably won’t read much, if anything, about them in the newspapers:  the drum corps.  They can’t be overestimated for their contribution.  First of all, they gave a rhythmic undercurrent, a primal musical score to our movement.  There had been an appeal go out ahead of time on Facebook for drummers and there had been an organizational meeting and all the while I’m thinking, “huh?” but now I know. Now I know. The drum corps for our march was made of two or three different groups of men and women with big rawhide drums and an equal number of folks with smaller percussion instruments.  Their contribution was invaluable.  It gave a cadence and a life to our “being there” and I’m not talking about while we walked—it lifted us up while we sat on the curb waiting or in the grass afterwards resting in victory. They varied the cadences: some were the standard ones you heard at football games and some I had never heard before. Because it wasn’t the kind of drums you have in a high school marching band the sound was different—deeper, richer. These drummers also possess some of the finest sets of biceps on earth:  playing basically non-stop for about three hours.  The sound was a constant but non-intrusive backdrop to the day.




and here's a youtube of what they sounded like from the front of the march.  You could hear them from blocks away.
https://youtu.be/gqTsqEHuJU0

The posters were the stars of the show.  There was such a variety of posters it made you realize this march was about everything.  When people asked me what we were marching for it was hard to come up with an answer.  And it sounded strange to say “Everything,” but that was really kind of true. And I think that’s why this march was so widespread—there are so many things the incoming Trump administration has said they intend to do that have worried so many people—so MANY things that the word “everything” isn’t too much of an exaggeration. 

Let me use photos and pictures of posters to take us through the various issues and I’ll start with the most popular:  the pussy hats. And, of course, now that I want to show you a photo I can't find one. I can't believe I don't have a single photo in my camera of one because they were everywhere.  Not so much in Austin, I guess, as in the colder states where they needed the knit hats to keep their heads warm.  We were marching in 80 degrees, mind you. (But if my sisters who marched in D.C. or Tennesee, like Kat or Susan would send me a snap I can add it here. Or maybe Colleen?)

What was the deal with the pussy hats?  To start with, they were cute.  And they must have been easy for women to knit because they were all over the place.  And if you didn’t knit one, you could sew one out of fleece.  They weren’t much more than a pink square that could go over your head with two corners sewed off to make a tab into a kind of ear.  I’ve seen enough now to think that I could probably make one myself. 

The kitty cat/pussy hats were a reference to Donald Trump’s comment about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission.  By far, this was the biggest issue at the march.  And my own sign came under that category.  I got the phrase from Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes awards ceremony and I found another woman who thought the same thing: 



























I have had presidents I didn’t agree with before.  About half of them, I would say.  I didn’t like most of what George W. Bush said or did but I never, never questioned whether he respected women or minorities.  My argument with past leaders was an honest disagreement based on mutual respect.  With Trump, I do not feel any respect reciprocated towards me or anyone else.  And, like Meryl Streep says, “Disrespect Invites Disrespect.”

I honestly worry and wonder about women who can excuse his behavior.  How can they overlook this?  They say he did these things in the past but then in the debates he reverted to old behavior and called Hillary Clinton “a nasty woman,” mocked a disabled reporter and made fun of women for their appearance on the Apprentice show.  And this isn’t just rumors, he did this on national television, we saw it with our own eyes.   No other politician has ever done anything like this.  Or allowed his followers to chant “Lock her up!”  This goes beyond campaigning and speaks to the core of who a person is in their character. 
That is why my poster said “Disrespect Invites Disrespect.” 

I never much cared for George W. Bush’s policies but I never felt he disrespected me.  And, more than one person has told me lately that they miss the guy. Yes.  And we all agreed that we never thought the words would leave our lips, either.


Yet here we are:  I miss George W. Bush.  And The Introverts are Marching.


OK, now I want to say, we were not marching for the right to kill our babies.  Nobody in this crowd wanted to kill babies. It was the opposite. The Capitol grounds were full of women with children and babies in strollers, good mothers who were very attentive to their children.  Please, if you say you want to understand then understand this because it’s really no more complicated than this:  all we want is for each woman to have the right to make her own decision. Each pregnancy is unique.  And it’s nobody else’s business. 
Planned Parenthood gets no government funding for abortions and it performs so many important health services to the poor (like PAP smears and mammograms) that it would be a national health disgrace to lose them. 
On Monday morning one of Trump’s first acts in office was to reinstate the Global Gag Rule to cut off abortion funding abroad.  This made a lot of people happy and they voted for him for just this reason.  But I’m not sure they really understood the full extent of what this would mean because in one of life’s ironies we will end up with more, not less abortions out of the deal. In fact, according to a London based aid organization called Marie Stopes International, the estimate is that there will be an additional 2.2 million additional abortions worldwide because of this move.   Let me say that again in case it didn’t sink in:  this move is going to cause MORE abortions, not end them. MORE. Here’s how:  One of the many things cut in the executive order was plain old family planning like education and contraceptives.  And when you have better family planning you have less unplanned pregnancies.  Trump’s executive order to reinstate the Global Gag Rule cuts out family planning resources in other countries. The honest truth—let’s be real here, folks, -- is that without contraceptives and educations you will have pregnancies.  That is the way the world works.  God created us to have sex.  We are hard-wired to do this.  And when you have unplanned pregnancies you will have abortions; the best you can hope for is to have safe ones.  Also, now that we can expect to have unsafe abortions we will also have mothers who will die, also. The measure Trump signed on Monday also closes clinics around the world that has cut childbirth mortality by 2/3 in the last eight years. So, we can expect those deaths to go back up again. Shutting down these programs also shuts down HIV/AIDS clinics.  Also, it shuts down clinics treating the Zika virus.

If anyone thinks we are doing the morally correct thing with this move you might want to re-read that last paragraph and remind yourself that the developing countries and people affected by this move have nowhere else to turn.  Nowhere.

There were a lot of rainbow flags and logos in the crowd but not as many as you might have thought. Or maybe rainbows just don’t draw a lot of attention anymore.  It was almost an afterthought of rainbows.  Kind of like, “Oh, yeah, rainbows.”  A few women held hands but it seemed so natural that it didn’t stand out. 
There is a worry about what might become of Marriage Equality in a Republican Administration.  Trump has given no indication that he intends to change anything legally but there was a move in the Texas courts Tuesday morning to revisit the issue so the LGBT community is a bit nervous. I have had two young lesbian friends express deep concerns that they won’t be able to marry once they find their soulmate.  I have a transgender friend who can’t go to the bathroom in public because he is so afraid of being outed.  These are my friends.  They are worrying about things that I never had to worry about.  They are worried about things that nobody should have to worry about—normal things.  It’s not too much to ask to get to go to the bathroom or get married. 

By the way, trans people do not molest kids.  Child molesters do that and there are laws against it.  There always have been.  My trans friend just wants to pee.  Thank you.

A couple of people had huge inflatable world globes and signs about global warming.  This is one of the things that folks worry about Trump.  He had said that he thinks global warming is a hoax and refuses to acknowledge the scientific evidence on climate change.  When I was in the depths of despair and worrying about all the things Trump could do to screw up in the world I realized I would go nuts if I tried to worry about everything so I listed the top three things I worried about the most and tried to limit myself to only those three things.  Climate Change was on the top of my personal list.  I am reading Thomas Friedman’s new book “Thank You for Being Late.”  I’ve gotten past the first third of the book where he is citing all the scientific evidence for how everything is accelerating.  The science is there.  The facts don’t lie.  The earth is warming and it’s not stopping until we make some dramatic changes.  And things are about to enter a dangerous phase where we won’t be able to stop the process.  We’re not quite there, folks, but it’s getting scary.  We are on the verge of killing our planet, the one thing that feeds us.  I am dead serious.  This is the one area the President of the US could do to screw up things bad enough to destroy the future of humanity. Seriously. If Trump pulls the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement other countries will follow us and there is no predicting what will happen.  The world is on the brink right now and just a few things could change everything.

The immigrant community was there.  A lot of signs said build bridges, not walls.  One of the most widespread feelings in the whole group was that of friendliness.  Everybody was so friendly:  taking pictures of each other, holding each other’s babies, complimenting each other’s signs, asking where are you from, meeting and greeting, just having conversations with total strangers like they were your best friends.  Everyone was instant friends.  It was like a gigantic group dating site where we had all been pre-selected as a match. 

There were signs for Gun Control but I’m not sure I got pictures of them. This is Texas, after all, we gave up long ago. Back when we were allowed to have gun racks in our pickups it kind of cut down on road rage so we have our own perspective about those things around here.

All of these posters and the march hadn’t even started yet.


We picked a good spot on the curb near the front gate and waited for about an hour.  This gave us plenty of time for people watching and poster critiquing, some posters were quite elaborate.  People wanted their pictures taken with the more popular ones.  Gradually I realized the Capitol grounds had filled up and we still had thirty minutes to go yet women were still walking in.  Then the grounds became so full nobody could walk around anymore.  Then, at the stroke of noon, as promised, things started moving.  Women began holding their signs in the air and walking.  Just a little at first.  The first major challenge was getting out the gate and onto the street.  That took almost half an hour just to get there.  Once out onto the street we had to straighten out and get oriented into an actual direction.  It was a long time before somebody said, “Hey, we’re actually walking!”  After a while, we left the drum cadence behind us.  They may have stayed behind on the Capitol grounds.  We walked about a mile away from the Capitol taking up both sides of Congress Ave.  A couple of times we passed people on balconies cheering us on, then folks on the street gathered and cheered.  Some buildings had banners overhead with signs.  Then we turned onto another street and marched for a few blocks and turned again and I realized we were headed back to the Capitol. 

All in all we walked for an hour or two.  It wasn't hard.  It wasn't too hot.  When we got back to the Capitol we could hear the drummers once again and saw the flags that had been leading the march:  the US flag, the Texas flag and the Rainbow flag plus a standard with some feathers or something attached that looked like maybe they might have been American Indian.  That was emotional for me.  I hadn’t seen them before, I had no idea they had been leading us the whole way.  Everybody needs to be led by something they believe in and those were good things to lead me.

We found a spot of grass with a tree and collapsed under it for a while to rest.  Then we went over to listen to the drummer’s circle for a bit.  Finally, a couple of us were thirsty and wanted to go back to the hotel for water so we headed back in that direction.  It started getting really crowded at the south gate to the Capitol grounds and we realized there were still marchers who hadn’t even marched yet, they were still pouring out to begin their march. 

There were that many women.

The girls all took naps but I got restless back at the hotel and eventually went back to the Capitol just in time to hear the last of the speakers and the music wrapped it up.  The march organizer thanked everyone and then told us all to pick up our trash before we went home.  I looked around for litter to help pick up and didn’t find any.  We had been a pretty tidy bunch. 
One thing the women had done with their posters, though, was to line them up on the ground in front of the Capitol making a blanket. Nobody was quite ready to pick that up.  I’m not sure who picked it up but it had become sacred ground of sorts and I wasn’t going to touch it with a ten-foot pole. 



I saw some Facebook posts about how trashy the marchers were in other cities but I can say with authority that the Austin ladies were not.  I was content to leave the tidy array of posters there at the front door of my government.  I consider it a large letter to them to read without needing their bifocals. However, my girls and I took our posters home as a souvenir.
Seriously. The crowd resembled a bunch of Sunday School teachers.  There were no arrests at any of the marches that I know of   in any of the cities. The whole city of Austin was in Love Fest mode.  As we walked to dinner after the march there were still a few police monitoring some blocked off streets and I heard one woman go up to an officer and thank him for all his work that day.  He was smiling and relaxed and told her that she was welcome.  I went up to him and asked if everyone had been minding their manners.  “Yes ma’am! Everybody has been just great!” was his reply.  He sounded like he had had a good day.  We all had.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Respect


I wasn’t always a political person. Even now I don’t think of myself as a political person.  Politics is kind of something I keep in the closet for most of the time and only take out on occasion like holidays, the way one does for Halloween or July Fourth--times when a burst of emotion overcomes one like presidential elections,  inaugurations and the occasional impeachment or war. 

But something happened in 1996 when I attended a special worship service at SMU to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Perkins School of Theology’s first black graduate.  To be honest I really went because Rev Cecil Williams had become the pastor of the Glide Memorial Chapel and he had brought their famous gospel choir with him for the service and I really went to hear them.  I’m a sucker for free music.

At the end of the service the congregation stood and held hands high in the air and sang “We Shall Overcome” As I stood there singing and holding the hand of the black woman next to me all I could think was, “Why haven’t I done this before?  How can I have lived through the Civil Rights Movement, college and Viet Nam and never done this the whole time?”  I felt like the biggest phony in the entire Sanctuary. The folks in the room that day were singing the song as a victory anthem and I had done nothing to earn the right to sing that song. 
I vowed that day that I would do something to earn the right to sing the song.  And I have been looking for ways ever since to do that.
Now.  I have one small little drawback to becoming a person like that. 
I am not a big risk taker. Marching sounded a little risky.  I watched TV in the 60’s. I knew what they did to civil rights marchers.
But in my quiet, low risk-taking way, I have spent the rest of my time looking for ways to earn the right to sing that song.
I marched in a peace march of about a half a mile back in the spring of 2007 and carried a sign.  And nothing much happened.


And I wrote about on my blog. Here's the link to that post. You'll have to scroll down to the post titled "Marching"
 Later on I found the words of William Sloan Coffin that gave me a little more courage to step out.

May God give you grace never to sell yourself short.
Grace to risk something big for something good.
Grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for
anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.
May God take your minds, and think through them.
May God take your lips, and speak through them.
May God take your hearts, and set them on fire.

The more I thought about the phrase "the courage to risk something big for something good" I started to look for something big to risk.  On the morning of my 60th birthday I set out for the Gulf Coast to stay however long God wanted to use me to help clean up after Katrina.
I’m not sure I overcame too much there but I witnessed stuff.  I watched the natural effects of what Katrina did to race relations in the south.  And I made some great friends.   I got to be there on Martin Luther King Day.  And I wrote about it.
Here's the link to that one:   That post should be the first one that pops up.

And now I’m marching again.  This time I’m taking both of my daughters and one of my granddaughters. 

I'm more willing to risk now because I'm older and have less to risk.  And because I'm a little mad.
I am a baby boomer and you have to grant me allowances for that.  Making America great again means a return to the values my parents gave me--values my Daddy fought a war for and values both my parents held dear while surviving a depression and if that sounds corny so be it.
Making America great again means a return to decency and most of what Donald Trump has been tweeting on his cell phone and shouting from a microphone has not returned us to decency, it has, if anything, taken us farther and farther from it.
My newest favorite philosopher is Meryl Streep.  When my daughter wanted to know what I was going to put on my sign to carry in the March on Austin I had to take a few weeks to come up with what best expressed my views.  But Meryl said it best: “Disrespect Invites Disrespect.” 
Most of my deep sadness from the loss of the election comes from all the times Trump would insult not just Clinton but all women and marginalized people.  Her reaction would be to not take the bait, she would not respond in like fashion; her only response would to quote Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.” And then she would move on.
Molly Ivins’ classic quote gave us small consolation after the election: “Freedom fighters don’t always win but we’re always right.”
It’s called being Politically Correct because it’s the right way to act.  And there’s no shame in it.
So, I’m marching with a sign about respect.  I’m 69 years old going on 70.  I’ve had three different women tell me recently “I want to be just like you when I grow up.” If that’s really true, then stand back and watch.  I try to show respect to everyone I meet.  I hope you will, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hidden Figures in the Audience at Hidden Figures


A continuation of last week’s blog…..

After church was over I had a hot date with my youngest granddaughter to go see Hidden Figures.  It’s a brand new movie and I can’t say enough great things about it. Go see it.

This is the true story of the black women who calculated the trajectory of the rockets who took the early space explorers into space.  Their story has only recently been told.  To think that these women were performing such intricate calculations by hand before computers is mind-boggling and to think this job was held by not just women but black women back in the early 60’s during the civil rights movement makes my head spin. This story is too good to pass up and I wanted to be the one to make sure Elisabeth, a high school sophomore,  got to see it.  Of all the stories and experiences teenagers get bombarded with today I wanted her to see women excited about math and where that excitement can take you.

Sarah had her own hot date with her aunt to plan her graduation trip so she couldn’t join us.  Instead their mother came. 

The movie was a voyage back in time to the 1960’s with the vintage clothes and cars but I kept watching the calculators they used because they were the same ones I used when I worked in the Actuarial Department at Union Bankers Insurance Company in 1967.  They were big, burly things with ten buttons across and then up and down.  After pressing all the buttons you needed and hit enter there would be a few seconds where electrical and mechanical wonders would dance around then you would get an answer. Upstairs on the sixth floor at work we had an IBM computer like the one they showed in the movie.  It took up the whole floor and required its own air-conditioning system.

So this stuff really happened.  It was a long time ago.  And, yes, I guess I am old now.

Union Bankers Insurance Company was also considered very avant garde back then for a couple of reasons.  It was owned by a husband and wife but the wife was the brains of the operation. One of the early women leaders of Dallas, Margaret Brand Smith was the president of the company.  Our building (which still stands at the end of Deep Elum St in downtown Dallas) was painted pink.  Yes.  Pepto Bismol Pink.  Mrs. Smith always said that if she was the president of the company she got to pick what color they painted the building and she wanted it pink so it was pink. (Sadly, somebody has since bought out Union Bankers and the building is gray now.)

The company also employed a black woman in one of the departments and she held a position of authority and it was done with such grace that I remember very little about it.  In fact, I often forgot that she was black.

I digress.

When we got to the theatre most of the seats were filled and the theatre was already dark.  After we sat down four black women came and sat next to me.  I couldn’t see clearly but something in the dark told me the women were about my age.  It was one of those movies that elicited vocal expressions occasionally and almost immediately my seatmate and I began softly responding to the movie.  Beyond merely a laugh or chuckle here or there, we found ourselves harrumphing, clucking and clicking throughout the movie.  Once we stomped our feet.   There were a couple of indignant “No, you didn’t!” moments and once I couldn’t help myself and softly blurted out “Moses!” in one scene to which she whispered back “Leading her people….”  It was the closest thing to having a conversation with each other as you can get with a total stranger when you’re not supposed to be talking with in a movie.

When the movie was over (with applause) and everyone stood I turned to my neighbor and told her I had enjoyed sharing the movie with her.  The theatre was still dark but I thought I could detect gray hair.  “Do you mind if I ask how old you are?”  “62” She said.  I told her I’m 69.  “I remember when that happened, she said softly.” “So do I,” I replied .

That was all we were able to say.  My people were walking off in one direction and hers in the other.  We parted as new friends who would never see each other again.

The whole experience was so much more multi-faceted than I ever expected when I first planned taking my granddaughter to see a movie about girls and math.

I want to pause here for my younger friends who may not appreciate the moment in the way my movie buddy and I understood it. In 1961 when the movie took place, not so long ago in the grand scheme of things—she and I would not have even been allowed to sit next to each other in that theatre.  It would have been against the law.  Think on that one for a minute.

The other emotion that surprised me came in the car while I busied myself with my seat belt and worrying about how all the other cars in the parking lot were moving around. It sneaked up on me and brought me to tears and I had to stop was I was doing. 

The whole point of this endeavor—beyond the math, beyond the race factor, the office politics, the international and national politics—the one simple objective of all the analytical geometric calculations these people made with their clunky calculators and advanced mathematics was one simple goal--and that was for John Glenn to die in bed as an old man and not in the middle of the air in the prime of his life.  And that had happened only two weeks before.  John Glenn died on December 8 at the age of 95. 

He had that greatest luxury any of us will ever have.  He got to grow old. And the women of Hidden Figures gave him that luxury.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Going Home


I’ll have to admit I’ve been a real poopie-pants since the election.  And that’s putting it mildly. 

This election was supposedly “in the bag” so the outcome was a shock and to some of us it was a shock on the level of 9/11 except that only half of the nation was sad and the ones who were sad had to contend with the ones who were not.  Then, to make matters worse, the ones who were happy seemed to spike the ball in the end zone by being kind of mean about it and overbearing to the marginalized people and that made the rest of us even sadder and more worried about the future. 

I had to stop hanging around the people who had asked me if I intended to “vote for that baby killer” because I just couldn’t be around them in my sadness.  Then the holidays arrived and whole families faced having different philosophies and personalities forced into an always stressful occasion sometimes adding booze to the mix.  About the only thing I had to be Thankful for on Thanksgiving was that in my family, at least, we were all of one political mind.

I spiraled into a deep funk.  I couldn’t bear to watch television.  My old favorite news commentaries had turned into funeral dirges.  The only thing that kept me from going mad was binge watching all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls.

It got so bad I started to wonder if I needed professional help.  When I consulted the closest thing I have to a therapist at the moment—a spiritual director—she mostly told me to move over and went on to describe the meetings she had been to where people were in tears over the election.  But then spiritual people do tend to be more on the liberal side.

I tried a number of things I thought might help.  This ran the gamut from buying a bunch of books on meditation to making a list of the top three things I worried about under Donald Trump and trying to force myself to concentrate on just those three. Somebody cooked up a Womens March on Washington with a Texas version to march on Austin and I planned to go to that.  I did as many proactive things as I could think of and I still stayed in a real funk. The last two months have been a real bummer.

Then came New Years’ Day and for some reason that did the trick.  I turned the corner.  But it wasn’t just the calendar page that did it.  It was that age-old trick:  I went to church. But not just any church.  I went home.

Home is the only way to describe it. We only moved away about four years ago.  Until then we lived in Garland and raised our girls in the First Presbyterian Church for over 30 years.  When we went back for  Christmas Eve services I noticed how comfortable I felt.  I don’t mean just physically comfortable in the pew or social comfortable among old friends.  I mean spiritually comfortable.  Most of my spiritual growth happened there—inside the walls but more importantly inside the relationships with my fellow members and inside the pages of the bible I read and studied as a young mother.  I found myself sitting in the same spot I sat in for three decades as I chewed on some of the basic concepts of Christianity that are now second nature to me. You might even say this is where I really became who I am today.

I went back on New Years’ Day mostly because Raelee Gold was singing.  That’s the other thing:  I’ve been part of this church long enough now to watch an entire generation grow up.  I remember Raelee’s birth and baptism and I remember my promise to God and her parents.  I promised to love her and teach her about Jesus.  The loving part was always easy.  In order to teach her about Jesus I spent summers at youth events and once took her to the Gulf Coast to show her how to help clean up after a hurricane.  And now she is grown up and in grad school studying voice.  Even though she lives in Princeton, New Jersey now  she always sings for the congregation when she comes to town for the holidays.

Here's the youtube link if the video isn't working-- link  It should be noted here that the accompanist for Raelee in the video is  Hunter Williams who is also a child of the church and a high school senior, another one I have promised to love and teach. The man taking the video is Raelee's father, who  never took lessons in videography, whose baptism I never attended and therefore didn't promise a thing but love nonetheless.


But I forgot that I would get a bonus when I went to Garland because on the first Sunday of the month Garland throws all their special effects out and has a worship extravaganza of the most awesome sort. 

First, you need to know that over the last ten years or so the Garland church has had a growing group of folks from other countries in their membership.  When Mercy and Divine Kuja, from Cameroon, joined the church, it kind of sealed the deal.  The year their son was born he was our baby Jesus in the church nativity that Christmas and you can’t get any better theology than having your baby Jesus be the child of Divine and Mercy. The Cameroon contingent has now grown to include around thirty members plus their children.  Recently a few folks from Nigeria joined them so now we call them simply the Africans.

Then a group of Presbyterians from Pakistan approached the church and asked if they could use our building to meet in.  After a few years they ended up just joining the church.  So now there are about 20 Pakistani Presbyterians who are members. 

So, on the first Sunday of the month Garland pulls out all the stops and celebrates this quadra-cultural congregation with an Anglo, Pakistani, Cameroon, Nigerian Presbyterian Communion service, many wearing colorful ethnic robes, it is just the most magnificent thing you’ve ever seen.  It is, in fact, the best depiction of the Kingdom of God I’ve seen inside the state of Texas yet.  Rev Oliver Jamshaid and his gang sing something in Urdu and play the strangest musical instrument I’ve ever seen or heard that looks like a big bread box and sounds like an accordion.  He assists Rev. Paul Burns, a good Scot Presbyterian if there ever was one, in Communion and says parts of the service in Urdu. 

But it is the African Offering that steals the show.  We’ve been doing this for over four years now and not only are the staunch Anglos used to it we love it.  We don’t merely accommodate it, we embrace it with smiles from ear to ear, doing our best “frozen chosen” version of dancing up the aisles to bring our offering, following the African members beating the drums and singing:

Up on the mountaintop,

Down in the valley below

Go and spread the love of Jesus

Go and spread it everywhere.



If you want a taste of the rhythm, you can go to a video of Juliette Mofor teaching it to our Women’s Retreat back in 2015.  Here’s the link: 

So, we’ve been trained.  We’re experienced.  And we love this song. 

As I was dancing up the aisle, my oldest dearest friend Linda Peavy danced by and hugged me and asked if I had come to see Raelee.  The offering was a great social opportunity for hugging and smiling.  I’ve never seen a bunch of Presbyterians enjoy an offering so much in my life.

The service ended with the congregation singing ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ and I remembered that I came here originally to hear an angel sing but I got so much more than that in the bargain.  And right there at the end, after Liz Harris-Kay added the descant to the hymn turning it into a heavenly moment, Margaret Ball played the zimbalstern part on the organ.  One was tempted to look outside because you would bet you could see snow falling.  The sound of the zimbalstern does that to you. My soul was content.

I have been healed. 

It is a new year. As the Benediction, the pastor started the congregation on a series of studies of the Ten Commandments for the new year starting with “Thou shall have no other Gods before me.”  I realized  what a great sin of distrust I  had wallowed in to doubt the future when I knew all along the future is in God’s hands. Later that week It occurs to me we survived Nixon and that helped.

Next week:  I go to the movies.  Homework:  go see Hidden Figures.  Or read up on the movie.