Assumptions Left Unchallenged

I’m feeling awkward writing this. But I want this to be acknowledged as the other part of the race card. So, bear with me as I reiterate a recent event.

She accused him of being a racist and raising racists.

I know these people. They are raising their children to be kind, compassionate, open, forgiving, honest, respectful. They are not raising their children to be racists. In fact, color of one’s skin never plays into a conversation.

Let’s step away from my friends for a moment and consider an average child’s normal behavior, with my own son, a six-year-old as our example. Occasionally, he lies. It’s very interesting to see this tactic develop. Currently, thankfully, he’s not very good at it. He smiles, smirks, gets bashful, and when I call him out on the fallacy, he might admit that it was an untruth. Sometimes, he tells stories, and he doesn’t think of it as lying – and he gets really defensive, more like angry defensive, trying to defend his honor in the story he is trying to knit together. But he never, ever cries when accused.

My friends’ sons are kind of like my son in that way – very sensitive, and if they did try to lie, it would be very obvious to spot.

She accused him of being a racist and of raising a racist. She believed her daughter, and according to another son, had really told the lie.

It was bewildering to watch, and I refrained from saying anything because I couldn’t figure out how to quell the situation. He handled it fine. He defended his children, and opted with, “They will not play with your daughter.”

It was clear to me who was telling the truth and who was not. His children were telling the truth. His child, whose honor was defamed in front of his entire family, he was called a liar, he was sobbing, so sad, and not sure what to do with this adult who called him a liar. His parents told him lying is bad – and he doesn’t, and now he is being unfairly accused of lying.

She was parroting what her daughter said. Her daughter, it seems, knew how to get her mother riled up – play the race card and mommy will defend me. And mommy did. Damn the white man and his white sons for playing a game! They are the ones who turned it into a racist thing, not the beautiful, lovely daughter who was likely clamoring for mommy’s attention.

I wrote the other day about me owning my own fears, about me trying to recognize where I make false assumptions in the face of logic. This mother immediately defended her daughter’s honor, while challenging my friend to not trust his own child. She refused to see the irony in her own racism – quickly blaming the white man for raising a racist while refusing to accept that she’s raising one herself.

In order to stop this madness, we all must stop. We all must check our assumptions at the door. We all must stop, breathe, and let logic persuade. If, that is, we really want to move past racism. It’s not all the white man. It’s not all the black man. It’s all of us, together, in it to raise our children to be brighter, smarter, and more inclusive than we are. So, together, we can all find solutions to the world’s problems.

The Journey (Partially) Explained

Career Map
My Vizify profile outlines the varied interests that have captivated my attention over the last fifteen years.

I like to think. A lot. I like to just sit and pontificate about the ways of the world, and I get an idea, ping it out to my close family and friends to test how it tracks with their reality. I also like to think about my place in the world, which so often feels awkward and strange… where do I fit in?

For example, when I was growing up, and even now to many degrees, I didn’t (don’t) feel like I belong with say family members. They aren’t interested in tthe same things I am interested in, so it’s really hard to hold down a conversation beyond, “How’s the weather?” And, really, the weather can only take you so far.

Some say you should consider your strengths as one way to measure your place in this world, and I suppose I’ve done that since … well … as far as I can remember. In one regard, I followed my interests (my bliss) to lead me from one job to another. At the time, I couldn’t knit together the story. Thanks to neat tools like Vizify, I am closer (see the graphic above).

What I find curious tonight are the strengths or interests that have piqued my attention at various points in my life… For example… When I was in 5th grade, I knew the environment was important to me. I knew I liked to get riled up in support of the underdog. When I was in 8th grade, a friend and I started recycling in our junior high that would outlast our attendance at the school. When I was in 10th grade, I knew my thoughts aligned with “hippy” thoughts. When I was in 11th grade, I attended Project Close Up, getting me closer to politics and decision makers. When I was in 12th grade, I helped lead our church Youth Advisory Group where we did neat things like raise money for Habitat for Humanity. That same year, I knew I wanted to attend Michigan State University and study Political Theory & Constitutional Democracy through their James Madison College, a residential college on campus.

When I was a freshman in college, I knew I wanted to advocate for the environment and education – but I didn’t know if I wanted to be a lobbyist. I also knew that I could barely afford to go to school despite the loans received. And, I couldn’t fathom doing an unpaid internship for an entire semester. Talk about daunting. That, combined with other young adult woes led me to my first adult-type rut. So, despite understanding that I wanted to focus on educating people about the environment while understanding politics, I couldn’t paint the whole picture – and I froze. I couldn’t see the jobs I would hold, unlike some I knew growing up who knew since they were five years old they wanted to be doctors. I couldn’t see how I could finish school without having funds, and I certainly couldn’t see having all those funds lined up.

So, how could I do it? I have all this passion, but what am I supposed to do with it? What am I really interested in? What am I really good at? And, how can I get the education and experience lined up, while living responsibility within a budget? (I didn’t even know a 20 something should have a budget when I was 20. Oh, the heartache that would have saved had I considered that important tidbit.)

The years that followed allowed me to focus and articulate my educational, environmental, and political desires. What I find interesting is how this map of the last 15 years showcases the journey I’ve been on. The irony that, while in the middle of the journey, I felt lost and unfocused. But, I was following my interests, and always linking it back to education, the environment, and societal change (vs. strict politics). I’ve tried to gain skills on how to run organizations, climbing as fast as I can to the top where the big picture is more evident. And with all that … now, I’ve been doing the same thing for upwards of 5 consistent years – a feat I never would have imagined when I was 20, still job hopping and trying to study.

I still can’t clearly “see” what I’m supposed to be doing in 20 years. I can’t clearly see a particular role I should be playing. Right now, amidst current career confusion or dissatisfaction, I take comfort knowing I have been on a purposeful path. And, I am ever more thankful that path is graphed.

Race in America

President Obama on race
President Obama speaks on race in response to the Trayvon Martin verdict against George Zimmerman: not guilty.

I started this post a few days ago. And, I sat on it. But, on the heals of President Obama’s remarks, it seems àpropos to admit an uncomfortable thing.

Hello, my name is Michelle Lasley, and I am a racist. I first became aware of my tendency to judge people by the color of their skin when I was about 18 years old. I was in the grocery store, in line at the check stand, behind a black man. He was clean-shaven, wore glasses, and was dressed casually, yet neat. And, I felt a pang of fear. Immediately, I realized the irrationality of that fear, but the fear was there.

And, Obama spoke to that fear, from the other end of the spectrum. A vantage point with which I am wholly unfamiliar.

There are, frankly, very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often. And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.

My friend Rory challenged us white folks to admit it. He challenged us to admit where we sit on the spectrum with this post on Tuesday:

What if people of privilege and pallor were to begin statements with “I’m a racist and…” rather than “I’m not a racist but…” in much the same way that AA introductions begin with one’s name “… and I’m an alcoholic?”

Have been spending time explaining about racism since Zimmerman’s acquittal and have the insight that much of the problem may the way that so many people feel trapped by the word “racist” as if it were an eternal badge of shame rather than a clear system and accident of history, and thinking about alternative ways to frame the issue. In particular I am considering Alcoholics Anonymous, and the many ways it helped reframed an issue of shame and moral defect through different language.

Anyone entering into a conversation about race in the United States is in a fertile place where great healing can happen, but only with a conscious commitment. Various twelve-step programs use the mantra “progress, not perfection” and they provide a helpful structure toward addressing a social and environmental issue which can be ameliorated but never solved. What can we learn from them?

Admit that we are to some extent powerless to change our culture immediately or solve problems overnight. Recognize that there might be a better way that can help us navigate that fact. Examine our past errors with the help of a more experienced “sponsor” and begin a fearless moral inventory with a possibility for amends so that we can move forward in a better way and help others to do the same. No one asks to be born into a racist system or alcoholic, but here we are. What can we do with it?

Privileged white folk need to stop confusing poor conditioning with evil, and ditch the shame to address their guilt and do better going forward.

I don’t like admitting that things aren’t fair. I don’t like admitting that I have these tendencies towards irrational judgement. I find it conflicting and odd… how can I be in a seat of power, as a woman, as a mother, as someone who grew up poor, as someone who is a whose parents didn’t graduate college? The “risk factors” are on both sides. I am of Central European decent without much Native American ancestry, as such, I am white. And, with that veil of white, I must admit that I am prejudiced, but I work to overcome.

And, now we wait for Daddy

It’s July. It’s Saturday. It’s actually a significant Saturday, though all told I treated it as quite normal.

In the morning, after I left the house and parked my car, I walked by the sign that read, “Portland’s Museum of Modern Art” on a 2 story clap board building, across from Cherry Sprout Produce. I felt like I was walking into an episode of Portlandia. [Note, Sunday, Jun 21: I just checked my bank account, and the charge came through, not as Sweedee’s, rather Cafe Portlandia.]

We had an incident of sauerkraut tasting salsa, but besides that we weren’t Portlandia.

Later, we got our hairs cut.

Levi and I finished the day washing the windows in the car – after a much-needed nap.

And, now, we wait for Daddy.

Getting to the Heart of It

A Walk in the Countryside
Last year, visiting a friend, we walked with respective kiddos. The only issue we had to solve was wrangling the dog, the kids, and picking up trash.

Have you ever looked at a process and an outcome and wondered, “Why did that go wrong? We did everything right?” You were with a group, and you looked at all sides, you collected examples to back up your decision and chart the right path – but when all was said and done – the outcome was not one you wanted nor one you anticipated nor one you planned for.

Think about abortion – pro-lifers can’t understand why pro-choicers fail to see the life factor. Pro-choicers can’t understand why pro-lifers can’t put their bible beliefs at the door and accept wider viewpoints.

But what is the real issue?

  • Is it about the health of the mother?
  • Is it about choosing life over death?
  • Is it about the well-being of the baby after birth?
  • Is it about the well-being of the entire family?

Arguing about the sanctity of life doesn’t solve the issue of what’s going to happen to that baby if born into a family that doesn’t have the resources or wish to take care of him.

Another politically charged example might be around how we spend governmental monies. It’s our tax dollars that have funded the system – so how should we spend those dollars?

Some say, “We should be fiscally conservative.”

Some say, “We should boost the social safety net.”

But, here, what is the real issue?

  • Is it spending beyond our means?
  • Is it focusing on the wrong issues?
  • Is it not placing our dollars where we find our values?

Here, I find that arguing about how we should approach something doesn’t solve how we will approach it. We think we should be fiscally conservative instead of thinking – are we taking care of people? We focus on military as security strategies instead of asking, “Where, when, and why do people feel safe?”

Recently, I was a part of a group that grew organically. Some of us came together through want ads. Some of us came together because we had another group in common. Underlying, we had similar issues, and we agreed to be together to carry out a goal. After some time, a small group within decided they wanted to take the model we created together and start something new. Instead of simply saying, “Hey, we want to do this thing over here. Is that okay?” the waters were muddied. Members were asked to take sides. Members were asked to grant permission where none was needed. Collectively, we failed to get to the heart of the issue.

What happened was a lot of hurt feelings. A lot of hurt over something that was really simple. The group we started wasn’t meeting the needs of the smaller group, and they wanted to refocus their efforts. They didn’t ned to try to split the ball, which is how we ended up doing it, they just needed to say we’re leaving, OK?

I’m involved with a lot of groups, and a consistent struggle we have is taking the time to name the issue. When my husband and I were first married, I complained that we couldn’t talk. We couldn’t just talk about what was bothering us or simply what was on our minds. I was asked why I thought we couldn’t talk, and I pondered a typical scenario. He’d come home from work, Levi, then a small child, would need something as soon as we started a discussion on anything. We didn’t carve out intentional time to talk about those issues, instead we let life work its way around us. That wasn’t productive for either of us.

I find that we do the same thing in our professional groups – work, volunteering, civic clubs. We don’t carve out time to talk about the meaty issues. We have agendas that talk about little things here and there, but it’s without the big picture in mind. And, when we do carve out big issues, we skate around the meaningful parts. We fail to look at the end. (Remember, begin with the end in mind.) We don’t look at where we want to be, and we end up tackling issues as they come. Suddenly everything becomes important. And, if everything is important – then nothing is. Because we are tackling issues as they come up, we don’t give ourselves enough time to celebrate our victories, debrief on things to change, and brainstorm ways to solve the problems that arise. And, that problem solving is one reason that we’re all together doing the thing we love.

So, how can we manage up when we’re collectively not focusing on the issues? How can we guerrilla facilitate to get ourselves and our colleagues on track? How can we be more transparent with our agendas so that we can move the organizations we love forward?

When Justice Is Blind

Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Fla., received a 20-years prison sentence, Friday, May 11, 2012, for firing warning shots against her allegedly abusive husband. The judge rejected a defense under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.
Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Fla., received a 20-years prison sentence, Friday, May 11, 2012, for firing warning shots against her allegedly abusive husband. The judge rejected a defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Last year, a woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Florida. She tried the “Stand Your Ground Defense” and it was rejected and sent to prison.

Yesterday, a man who killed a boy – George Zimmerman – who also used the “Stand Your Ground Defense” was found “not guilty” by his peers.

I have two sets of friends, it appears. Those who side with George Zimmerman and those who side with Trayvon Martin.

I don’t know the particulars in the Zimmerman case. I wasn’t there. I, like the rest of America, heard about the story months after it happened when it became clear there was some sort of miscarriage of justice.

I believe in the 2nd amendment. I believe it should be held up in its purity. I’m glad there are groups who are fighting to uphold our rights to bear arms .

But, I also believe we need to equally spend time, money, and energy on basic community development.

My Facebook comment reads thus:

[This] sentence was handed down in May 2012, 5 months after Trayvon Martin was killed and we all knew George Zimmerman exercised Stand Your Ground (now successfully according to a jury of his peers). I can’t speak to the technicalities of either case. But, it seems clear that both felt threatened for their lives. One shot a warning and was convicted. Another shot a boy and was found not guilty.

The one to go to prison is black. A woman. A mother. A recorded Domestic Violence Victim. The irony should not be lost – and that’s what we owe to our children to fix – continue to create a truly just society.

On the face of either case, both should have been set free. Both acted in defense of themselves. The man goes free. The woman, with children, is set to prison. She had already filed charges against her husband, the man whom the warning shots were fired against, and he was not supposed to be near her. Her children will be raised by who? This man who beat his mother? What will that show? What will that prove?

It proves that our society isn’t sophisticated enough to appreciate the irony. It proves that we have a long way to go to allow justice to be truly blind.

In both cases, lives were ruined, lost, and forever altered. What will we learn from both tragedies?

Following My Feelings

Levi Growling
Levi climbed onto my flour bins. I told him to get off, and he growled then giggled. This is the transition from growl to giggle.

Let’s piggy back on last week’s post. Last week’s post was supposed to describe the irony between trusting your feelings and not, as preached by my pastor at the church I attend.

In recent years, I’ve been trying, as a good adult, to understand my place in this world. I’ve been trying to get a sense of the annoying middle school years, the searching high school years, the thought-provoking college years, the pontificating twenties, the studious college years, and the self-awareness that evolved in my thirties. I usually toss a few tenants in my head:

  • Each person holds the entirety of the human condition inside themselves.
  • Everyone wants to take care of those they care about – whether it be family, friends, oil entrepreneurs, or puppies.
  • Everyone has stages of success and insecurity, and it’s always interesting to see when you meet someone where they are on the roller coaster.
  • Everyone has a place in the world, it’s just really hard to find it.
  • We all have special gifts, talents, or strengths, and it’s our job to identify how those fit within the world.
  • If you ignore your feelings, you do a disservice to those closest to you.
  • It’s your job to name and articulate your needs.
  • There is no grand conspiracy (or rather, I refuse to believe in one), everyone really just wants to take care of those they care about (back to bullet #2, though not numbered lest we think one is more important than another).

By not following my feelings, I have found that I have done grave disservice to myself and those I care about. I’m not saying follow my pleasure from one hedonistic event to another – I’m saying feelings, those important indicators that let me know how I’m doing, how I may have affected someone, how someone may have affected me, and the navigator that should chart my course in this messy world.

This sermon my dear pastor gave is still ringing with me – two weeks later. He told our congregation, in more than three masses that we should not follow our feelings. He told us that our feelings are not to be trusted and in return, we should simply turn to God and God will solve all of our problems.

And, what I have realized is that by not following my feelings, I have ignored the navigator that God gave me.

My husband was checking in with me last night. He was making sure I had things I needed. I noted that I doubt I get enough quiet time – not TV time – quiet time where I can be alone with my thoughts. This time, right now, while Levi is bouncing between Legos and the Flintstones in the other room, would work as a semblance of quiet time. I am sitting at my computer (with new hard-drive and new battery!) noting these confusing thoughts and feelings in a way that allows me to reread the words and make sense of the incident that troubled me.

I follow my feelings when they indicate someone is holding something back, when someone close to me is angry or confused, when a friend is sad or tired. I follow the knot that bundles in my stomach to help unravel the mysteries we navigate daily.

I follow my feelings to understanding. When I follow my feelings, I find that I follow them towards spirituality. I follow them towards wholeness. I follow them towards being closer to my family, to my friends. I follow them away from the pleasure-seeking things that might have attracted me in my twenties – when I was really just starting out and really just starting to make sense of it all. As I mature, I have found my feelings draw me away from a lifestyle to which my pastor also wanted to draw us away from.

Follow Your Bliss

The Query

Last weekend, at church, our pastor (priest) reminded us that as humans we were not to follow our feelings lest they contaminate God’s hope of our holy spirits. This concept was particularly emphasized during the second reading, in which we were encouraged to not deny the needs of the Spirit for the lust of the flesh.

The Second Reading, Galatians 5:1, 13-18

Brothers and sisters:
For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.
But do not use this freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh;
rather, serve one another through love.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement,
namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
But if you go on biting and devouring one another,
beware that you are not consumed by one another.

I say, then: live by the Spirit
and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.
For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,
and the Spirit against the flesh;
these are opposed to each other,
so that you may not do what you want.
But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

[Emphasis added, mocking my lectern book. I did read last Sunday, so I’ve had a bit of time to pontificate this message.]

4th of July Celebrations
Levi snuggling on a blanket, on the sidewalk, with friends while we enjoy neighborly fireworks.

Searching for Understanding

This Christian – Catholic – guilt tripping view of life is one in which I’ve never been able to reconcile. This view, this sermon that my pastor preached, is the epitome of the hypocrisy of the church. On one hand we are taught that our bodies are temples and they should be treated with the utmost care. On the other hand we are told to deny the flesh any pleasures it seeks.

There is a spectrum here, that I can understand, but it is not oft described. The issue is often preached in a black and white scenario that leaves no room for any flexibility. So, the question begs, “How much is too much?” Or, “How far do we go to define the pleasures of the flesh?”

That is, is a little extra chocolate after dinner time too much? Clearly, too much sex is a bad thing. But, how do couples determine that in a relationship? Following some semblance of a hedonistic lifestyle, and I’ve known a few at varying points in their lives, where following their bliss was the all-consuming thing, and there was no room for anything else.

But, what happens when we don’t follow our bliss? Another thought that is emerging more prevalently today is that we should be following our bliss. We should be following the things that make us happy. We should be making choices that remove us from situations that do not make us a happy. We need to understand that relationships take work, and we should understand that we ought not to bail on everything that gets hard, but why remain in a situation that tortures us daily? The easiest example for me to relate to is a toxic work environment. You’re in a situation with a group of people, some of whom you’ve chosen to work with and others not, and somehow the combination lends itself to a messy pool of gossip, blaming, and ill focus on a common goal. Every day you go home with thoughts of drinking or not wanting to return. Your flesh is screaming for pleasure in this instance. You want healthful relationships. You want to go home with feelings of bliss. The literal scripture, for me, has no place here — it’s too easy to misconstrue and force yourself into situations in which you don’t belong and doesn’t honor the temple that your body should be.

Maybe what was really intended was a message of moderation – scaring us into moderation by decrying the needs of the flesh. A little bit of wine can help the heart, but too much makes you into a drunk. Enough sex to satisfy you and your partner brings you closer together… too much and you’re obsessed. Enough food, eaten enjoyably, keeps you healthy and strong. Too much turns you into a glutton.

I am an adult now dear pastor, and I can’t allow myself to be scared into the guilt-tripped ways of Catholicism that I turned against. Let me rework your message into one of moderation that allows each of us balance in our relationships and the ability to follow our bliss.