Colin Kaepernick takes his place in a long line of oppressed American patriots

Okay, class! I think it’s time for a history lesson. With our country having emerged upon a very important and timely intersection of blackness, Americanness, and football, I think that it’s high time for us to uncover some of the truths and unfortunate historical contexts that have brought us to this very poignant moment. I’m taking my cue from the 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who has been silently kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem at his games in protest for the unjust treatment and oppression of black people at the hands of police officers. He has recently inspired many athletes across our country, professional and amateur, all the way to elementary students during the morning pledge of allegiance, to kneel in silent protest. A noble cause.

What we cannot ignore but rather must confront is our country’s history of racism, misogyny, and oppression. It has infected every area of our nation, from the first boots of colonialism that stepped onto marshy banks to knees that are bent on football fields. To ignore and to insist that this history has either been left behind or that this history is over exaggerated is to see history from a blind and ignorant lens of privilege. But the reality is that you don’t have to look far to find it.

Let’s go to 1781 when Thomas Jefferson, one of our country’s most honored founding fathers, wrote Notes on the State of Virginia only five years after he wrote the declaration of independence. In this text, Jefferson gives breath taking overtures on the separation of church and state, individual liberty, the richness of America’s natural resources, and the inferiority of “the blacks.” After describing black people as having no mind to write or learn, having a foul smell, being designed as an animal for hard labor and little sleep, being incapable of loving their women and only desiring their bodies, he concludes “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” It should be no surprise then that when we look at the the creation of the constitution in 1787, our other founding fathers decided that black slaves were considered to be only 3/5ths of a whole person. Property to be haggled over for taxes and representation, more seats in congress.

Though we are two centuries away from these inaugural decisions at the birth of our nation and many if not most of the institutionalized systems of racism have been dismantled, the remnants of these systems ring in our ears and in the lives of black people if you choose listen and look around. From the war on drugs, to the repeal of the voting rights act, the mass incarceration of black youth, the labeling of “super predators,” the new Jim Crow, antagonism against the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and on and on, this system of racism was bred and incubated in our country’s revered historical documents and founding fathers. This festering racism that is found in most of our founding documents has interwoven into the American consciousness. And how couldn’t it? The same documents and historical figures who we revere as the ancestors of our freedoms and patriotism are the very inscribers of racism and misogyny into our systems of governance, legislation and culture.

Recently, Boami Jones wrote an article in the Undefeated titled “Kaepernick is asking for justice not peace,” where he poignantly suggests that “While the major party candidates for president spent the week pointing at each other with charges of who is or isn’t the real racist, Kaepernick pointed at the flag and, by extension, every person who takes pride in the American flag.” This suggestion naturally ruffled quite a few feathers. But if we consider for a moment that you lived in a country where your founding fathers considered you to be 3/5ths of a person, a smelly, unintelligent, lustful person, property, that perhaps you would have a difficult time revering it as much as your white countrymen.  Especially when you witness firsthand the racist imagination that your fellow countrymen have inherited from our founders. It may often be much subtler and undetectable to some, but it is also very obvious when videos of murdered black citizens scroll across our screens every day.

To deny the very obvious historical racism that Kaepernick is protesting is not just ignorant, it is wrong. The work that he is doing is only un-patriotic to those who hold our country up to an infallible esteem and who ignore the very problematic and hurtful history of racism that many of our brothers and sisters in America experience daily. There is nothing noble about forgetting and ignoring that history and present reality.

That is why critiquing our country is important. It’s what moves our country forward and away from its dark beginnings of slavery and genocide, and towards a hope of more equality, freedom, and liberty. This is a freedom that has not solely been fought for by soldiers. It has been fought for by generations of oppressed people. People whose backs were striped with whips and held by chains. Necks that have hung from trees. Women who sat on bus seats. Children who first integrated into schools. Indigenous people who stand at Standing Rock. Football players kneeling on the side lines. Those are the patriots who demand that their country respect them and move us towards a greater freedom. A greater equality. A greater happiness. Kaepernick is actively participating in the National Anthem not by standing, but by kneeling in remembrance, reverence and in protest against the legacy of racism that has and continues to affect him and his ancestors. God bless America and the patriots who demand better.

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The Ways of Changing the World

Heavy lids heaving down and back up again over giant round eyes as glassy orbs
with every blink, lying and praying that maybe this time they’ll stay shut and
bring me sleep. Gears grinding and winding images of words across my mind’s eye
I continue to think about the gloom that knows my soulful cries and long to not need
my eyes to see. Maybe tomorrow after I wake and brush my teeth the new day will
bring me closer to learning the ways of changing the world.

Restless

There are things I want to tell you
but I don’t
because the world gets uncomfortable
when women are restless.
Only women are told that
what they already have
is more than enough.
So be happy.
And thankful.
And don’t ask for anything more.
Be patient and kind and gentle and meek.
Watch your tone, always smile,
and don’t ever offend.
When ideas and creations are trapped in the walls
of your head with no way to escape
just remember that you
are the Lord’s and your dignity
is bestowed upon you by Him.
Just be thankful that you are His and that He has saved you from your
sins.
What more could you ask of our Father in heaven?
Besides to not have to sit and watch everyone else
pass you by and leave you
restless.

Our Origins

And we pray, not for new
earth or heaven,
but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear.
What we need is here.

-Wendell Berry


If you could hear the silence that I’m sitting in. Still. Soft. I almost forgot that such quiet exists. The boys are at school today. Their first day back. It was an emotional morning for all of us, one that only months of being so close together can bring, where we all wanted to be apart but still near. Owen was worried that he’d be lonely at school. Myles was worried that he’d get picked on while riding the bus. I worried that they’d get homesick. But here I am. In the quiet. Ruby is napping. My mind can wonder; I wonder how they’re doing.

here i am. I am in Virginia. The place where I was made and have made myself in the world. I see the creek out of my window that pulls out and pushes in slow over its muddy banks and up to the top of the bulkhead. My sons walk outside and down the sidewalk towards their bus stop, readying to push out with the distant tide that will take them to their own here. I hope their here is here. With me. Where my sighs breathe out of the ground, in and out with the tide. Washing words on the muddy banks of our home and belonging, the songs of the osprey, who calls out in a voice over glassy water, perched high in its pine towards the east, words that fly to the banks of their origin.

 

This Season of Loneliness

 

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I’m sitting in my dining room this afternoon listening to coffee drip through the pot while my two boys are downstairs in the basement playing video games. One of my chickens is out back squawking from the heat, as she does every afternoon when the day breaks in two. She makes me nervous out there making such a racket. It’s not like she’s over heated or thirsty or anything. The girl has her other chicken friends and food and ice-cold water in her trough to cool her off, but at 2pm every day in the summer she starts up out there. One day a neighbor is going to complain about the noise, I’m sure. Not as if it’s worse than the college students who live next door laughing and playing their music until 3am, or the people who lived behind us and would leave their dog out back to bark at god knows what. Sigh. The realities of living in tight quarters in a city. There are so many bodies packed together, sharing the same breathing space, that we’re bound to get on each other’s nerves every now and then.

I was thinking the other day about how little I’ve written about my grandmother, or any of my ancestors lately. I wonder why that is. Somedays it feels as though they’ve left me all together. I was sitting in the back room yesterday trying to think of a memory of my grandma but nothing came. Maybe she got tired of all of the people who live around me, too. She is from the country where she grew up bare foot and unnoticed by city ordinances. Perhaps she left me to get some fresh air back up in the mountains. Not that I blame her. Though, if I’m honest, I’m not really too surprised that I can’t think of a memory. All summer I slowly spent less and less time in my garden until it was over taken by weeds and dead from thirst. Birds swooped in and pecked the tomatoes, attracting flies to the half rotted fruit, and the eggplant grew brown and misshapen from neglect. A family of mice took up residence in the green house underneath the soaker hoses, gnawing through bags of chicken feed and tipping over planter cups. A real mess. Jason finally went out there and pulled out the vegetable plants and took down the old green house, leaving only a planting shelf for me to work at this fall.

Did she leave once I began to neglect the garden or did I begin to neglect the garden once she left? I can’t be sure. But a thick unhappiness rested on me once she was gone and I have been so lonesome for family ever since. The long tired days of summer hide the fat moon and starve the stars, whose eyes bring a mindful rest to those suffering from sadness. Some evenings I watch the sun slowly creep down into the west, burning the trees into the horizon, waiting for black night to come. It’s under the soft light of night when I can finally see. Sipping wine or bourbon in the kitchen soothes my mind and quiets my angry thoughts that fire daggers into my memories of reckless parents and grandparents who destroyed our beautiful family. My mind’s eye opens and I no longer give my anger the attention it clamors for. I search for my grandmother, who my anger loves to attack with a spear, as I flip through my cook book, inviting her to sip with me. But she’s gone. I close the book. I haven’t cooked much this summer, either. Our pantry is filled with plastic wrapped gummies and granola bars that a factory pushed out on a belt. Maybe I starved my grandmother out. Or drowned her in alcohol and preservatives. Not much unlike my childhood.

Who knows how long she will be gone. I’m closely watching the world spin into autumn as the evenings cool much more easily when the sun perches on the end of the earth, waiting to push new seeds into the dirt and welcome them as new visitors when they sprout. Springing up as miracles.

 

 

An Elder’s Wife: Part II

Here on the other side of my husband’s life-long ordination to the office of elder in the Presbyterian Church of America the coffee actually seems to stay warm in my mug longer than it used to. I’m not saying that the Lord is now blessing his service with warmer than normal coffee. That probably isn’t in line with reformed theology. I’m just saying it’s a strange coincidence and He works in mysterious ways. That’s all.

If anything, Jason’s new leadership role looks to me more like the Order of the Phoenix where he shuffles off to a few super secret meetings and comes home with enchanted lips not telling me a darn thing. Not that I try to get things out of him. But, say if I did, we already discussed that it’s best for him to not share anything with me that I don’t need to know. Elders and pastors at churches tend to work with people who are involved in sensitive situations that need to be handled with, well, sensitivity and discretion: struggling marriages, infertility, diseases, loss of jobs, death, really a multitude of life’s curve balls. And I’m glad that Jason is there to walk with people when they’re at their most low and sometimes their most high. He’s such a gracious, loving, understanding, and gentle person. I’m glad to see him serve our church in that way. As long as he doesn’t tell me about it.

Honestly, it is a struggle for me to know that he is involved so intimately with so many important decisions and people’s lives in a way that I would love to be. I could very easily pressure and manipulate him to indulge my curiosity and desire to have some sort of power through knowledge in our church. But what would I do with that information anyways? Salivate all over it? Give my friends knowing looks and side glances when a whisper of conversation comes up that I know something about and they don’t? Oh, how important that would make me feel to be in some sort of imagined inner circle. That I would know information about people and decisions that others don’t. I’ll tell ya. That’s dangerous for a church. And I don’t want it. I mean, I do. But I don’t. So, I’ve told Jason to keep things that are need-to-know to himself. So far it’s been much more difficult than I thought it would be.  But, hey, the hot coffee is a perk.

The last thing I guess that I’d like to verbally vomit here and then regret later is how much I forgot, but am rediscovering, that I don’t naturally fit into white American middle class Christian culture. I haven’t really felt it this strongly in a long time. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I drink, cuss, agitate, and skirt the line between meek and coarse. That lovely and gentle elder or pastor’s wife who humbly couches her tone even when disciplining her children, probably even during the most hot sex with her spouse, just isn’t me. (What? Too far?) I’m not saying that those are the women at our church. I actually love our church because there isn’t this expectation for me to conform to imagined constructions of femininity. At least that hasn’t been my experience. But, you know. It’s still there. When Jason was interviewing for the position as elder, I had a frank conversation with the session about my voice; about what and how I talk in public spaces like this one here and they assured me that I didn’t need to feel any pressure to censure myself because of my husband’s new role. I really am thankful for them.

But, guys, I’m often so brash with people.  I have opinions. Opinions that are strange and offensive and I’m not afraid to share them and confront people when I disagree. And people don’t really like that. Especially Christians. And especially since I’m a woman doing it. Have you all ever watched the sitcom Roseanne? Well, that’s the women in my family. They’re all a bit raunchy, a lot witty, very loud, moody, problematic, rough around the edges, and opinionated. From my great grandmothers, maternally and paternally, all the way down to me. Every one of us. I didn’t know a woman who policed her tone or held back her opinion. And that did often cause harm and hurt in our family. There was and is plenty of abuse and damage because of it. But it also is a big part of what has liberated me. There was love and kindness in their rough wit and harsh tone. And it’s those qualities that have gotten me on the wrong side of people’s opinions about me, especially men and Christian women. I’ve gotten in more than my share of spats with people who don’t like my personality or who are offended by my tone, opinions, and way that I talk to others. And, I don’t know, I guess it makes me nervous that these expectations about what my personality should be will be much heavier with my husband being an elder. I don’t want to be antagonistic. I want and pray for humility and to love people. To be gentle and kind. To acknowledge and accept when I’m wrong. Repent and ask for forgiveness. And I’m often embarrassed and ashamed of my personality, especially since I choose to be so public online.  But being exceptionally nice, over the top kind, super sweet with cherries and whipped cream on top just isn’t my gig, nor is it a biblical calling.

Those are just a few of the things that have come up in conversation with me and Jason over these last few weeks. Things that have been on my mind. I’m also trying to be careful to distinguish between what is reality and what is my perception. I want to be wary of projecting my insecurities onto the actions of others. Meaning, I don’t want to assume that other’s think and feel certain ways that they don’t. And I also want to be mindful of why I’m sharing my experience of having a husband that is an elder at our church. I think it’s important to deconstruct our leaders, their roles, and the roles of their families. We should always be confronted with our expectations and beliefs about others and to rethink them. So, that’s what I’m doing for myself and offering it to you. Take it how you want. It’s not like I’m going to stop talking or anything.

When relationship habits hurt

We turned the key of our old wooden front door and were met with a century’s worth of woody must that lofted up through the floors while we were away. With the air conditioner off for more than a week, the stale air inside of our house stuck thick in each room from not circulating. Our house’s old age always surprises me and welcomes me back home, adding us to its history and care.

Our vacation last week was a dream. While I was worried that it would be more difficult and disappointing than relaxing and fun, the way vacations can often turn out, it met us with an abundance of unexpected pleasure and leisure. Returning home we all feel refreshed instead of exhausted and remarkably closer to one another. When was the last time you heard of a family vacation actually doing that? I don’t have many pictures from our vacation, which is probably a good reason as to why it was so nice. Phones weren’t a huge distraction and we didn’t force any posed family pictures, trying to fake the fun. It happened naturally and with low expectations. No organized games, events or outings. Nothing was planned. We kept it flexible. If we wanted to go on a bike ride, we went. If we wanted to watch TV or nap, we did. Food was kept simple. Lots of snacking. No forcing the kids to stay at the table and finish their veggies. We came and went with the breeze and tried to limit how much we controlled the kids. Even they needed a break from our often militant parenting that demands their obedience and complete adherence to our rules.

Bending our family rules for a week and being a bit more free was really life giving for us and our kids. It actually helped me to appreciate the rules in our house a little bit more.  Coming home to regular bed times, screen times, eating times, healthy food, and routines doesn’t feel quite as oppressive after having an entire week of foregoing what we do the rest of the year. And it makes me miss it. I miss the long evenings with the kids, snacking on Oreos and playing cards. The spontaneous jaunts to the beach. Leisure bike rides to the store. No where to be. No one to accommodate. No one to please.

If anything, that’s where coming home has been the most difficult for me. I came home having spent time alone with my family for 7 days to friends and family, both close and far, whose expectations I just can’t live up to. This summer has been difficult in a lot of ways for me, but mostly it has been most difficult relationally. I am usually very committed to keeping up with my friends and family throughout my day and week, trying not to become insularly consumed with my children, spouse, and work. That means that I regularly text, call, and keep up on social media with people in my life. But this summer, for various reasons, I just couldn’t do it. Perhaps I felt relationally tapped out. Perhaps having older kids around during the summer proved to be a lot more demanding than I had anticipated. Whatever the reason, I haven’t been responding to texts and keeping up with phone calls like a usually do. I’ve stayed a savvy social media user and responder, though we all know that that medium of connection is much more impersonal. Maybe that’s why I preferred it these last couple of months. At any rate, once I returned home from a week away with my family, I was immediately hit with how I’ve disappointed a number of people this summer. Friends. Family. Acquaintances. How I can’t juggle so many relationships, both near and far, with any type of depth for such a prolonged periods of time without disappointing someone. If I choose to start a new relationship, an old one will naturally be taken from. To spend lots of time and emotional energy on a long distance relationship means that I will have less to give to those who are close.

And then add to all of this that I’m introverted. I’m extremely relational but it costs my mind and body a lot of energy. I am charged with quiet and solitude, which as I’ve mentioned before is a rarity around my house, not with relationships. So, it’s no wonder that being away from others and the demands that my (amazing!) relationships require was so life giving. It should also then not be a surprise that it showed me how unsustainable being constantly available to so many people is. It doesn’t leave room for me to invest deeply in a few people. It only allows for me to invest shallowly in many. And I say all of this as if I have soooo many friends. That isn’t true. I don’t spend a lot of time with people. I’m mostly always at home with my kids, reading, writing, texting, lurking facebook, being super digitally social, but not super physically invested. What a shame. For me and for my loved ones. But to stop that behavior means that I won’t be as available to as many people. To get away from my texting and social media behaviors and relationships means that I’ll hurt a lot of people with whom that’s my only form of relationship with. And I hate that. I love being connected to so many of my friends. But, in all honesty, being away from those pressures was so wonderful for me and for my family and in turn, I am so much closer to them for it.

I’m not planning on stopping my relationships with people who I primarily text and interact with online. I’d miss you all too much! And I have more long distance friends than I do physically close friends. Maybe I should just ask for a little grace when I drop the ball, or maybe my phone. I do need to be in my physical space occasionally! Or maybe just more vacations.