Category Archives: Practical Spirituality

tomatoes

The summer Trump rose to the epicenter of political spectacle, the garden grew thick with tomatoes ripening late into September, and I decided I wanted to have a baby.

Standing at the kitchen sink admiring the depth of color in the heirloom fruit the size of my fist I wondered if a German woman, in the early fall of 1931, had chosen to cultivate life, had grown tomatoes, as she watched in powerless horror as a madman rose to power. A generation later and from deep within the safety of American Democracy we learned that it was all her fault, that she by her silence allowed Hitler’s rise, allowed the genocide that followed.

I rinsed the tomato and watched the water bead and drip off its skin, shaking off the last drops.

In the borderlands of Ciudad Juarez/El Paso during the fall of 2004, my friends and I piled into minivans and pickup trucks and bumped along the unpaved roads of southern New Mexico handing out flyers for the Kerry campaign and registering voters in remote neighborhoods where a wrong turn meant a dead-end at a barbed wire fence beyond which a desert stretched to the horizon. Our Juarense “moms” laughed at our insistence on watching the debates, available on the American stations that drifted over checkpoints to Mexican TVs. They teased us over our moral outrage, called us naive and muy seria, as they reminded us that politicians say and do whatever they want. They kindly suggested we shake off our funeral-like post-election gloom and enjoy the life in front of us; we marveled at their laughter, and behind their backs we decided it must be some kind of coping strategy honed by centuries of political powerlessness.

I bit into the tomato I had grown in my own dirt, and as the juice dripped down my face and hands, I realized I had had very little to do with its growth, with its existence and perfection. It was the first moment that I’ve ever felt that I could actually grow, create, a little human being. I ate the rest of that perfect tomato standing in front of the sink.

The thought of bringing a child into this uncertain world seems selfish, and growing tomatoes and baking fresh fruit pies seems less than relevant. In mid-summer, when the tomatoes were barely more than buds on their stems, I wrote a facebook post about hope and despair and how to keep going. It read, “Well, we’ve been mourning hate crimes for a week, and at this point is pretty much certain that Donald Trump is the harbinger of the apocalypse, but surprise, it turns out I’m damn good at making pie.” It included pictures of the pie-in-process, and alluded to celebrating Father’s Day the next day, and got four times the number of “likes” than anything I typically post.

Did the German housewife, with Jewish friends and queer neighbors (though she didn’t pry), who thought differences made life interesting, and who imagined Hitler as a snake in her garden and fantasized smashing his head in with a shovel should he slither nearby, did she put her concerns aside to make a pie for her father just six months before Hitler ballooned from Chancellor to Fuhrer? Did that pie bring her a bit of joy amid the doom?

“While she was making pie we were being pushed into ghettos, killed in the gas chambers,” my sixth grade teacher would have said.

“While she was making pie, we were being targeted, called terrorists, shot in the streets,” they will say about me.

In elementary school I did a social studies project entitled, “Why Do We Study the Holocaust?” and learned, after interviewing local survivors and teachers, that the answer was unanimously “Because we can never let anything like it happen again.” If we study it, we can stop it, my teachers said. If we vote, we can stop it, my parents said. If we speak up, we can stop it, my friends said. But can we? I can hear the sighs of the Juarense mothers, see their heads shaking. No m’ija. She holds up a mirror. It is we who have cloaked ourselves in a coping strategy that’s beginning to fray.   

I was raised on the poetry of Martin Neimoller: First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist. They they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me. Beyond being a cautionary tale, the poem reflects and reinforces an assumption about individual power I never noticed until this year’s presidential campaign: the assumption that individuals are capable of stopping evil.

Tonight, independent journalists are on their way to North Dakota courts to face charges of inciting riots, body cameras document racial bias and manslaughter, the Republican nominee for President mocks allegations of sexual assault, and reporters covering the campaign have to exit Trump rallies flanked by police in riot gear so as not to be attacked by angry mobs of his supporters. I am beginning to think I’ve had the wrong answer all these years.

Maybe we teach about the Holocaust year after year because we need to to tell ourselves a version of the story in which we honest, freedom-loving civilians have the power to prevent such horror.

Maybe believing in poems like Martin Neimoller’s, believing that the German housewife could have stopped gardening and started screaming and that it would have made a difference, believing that we good Americans are in control of our democracy, helps us believe that evil won’t strike again.

Maybe gardening, and pie, and babies help ease the pain of powerlessness.

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Filed under family, Practical Spirituality, trauma stewardship

“Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.

Sharing this poignant reflection written by Darci Jaret.

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A prayer for forgiveness now could be like a slap in the face.

Almost immediately after seeing the news about this terrible hate crime and terrorist attack at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I heard white Christians speaking about forgiveness. This verse from Jeremiah jumped into my head, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 8:11)

I was in church today and we prayed for the community of Emmanuel AME Church and the nine people who were killed. I couldn’t be in the moment. I held my breath. My prayer ran counter to the prayer being spoken. I prayed earnestly, “don’t do it, don’t do it”. “Don’t turn this prayer into a call for forgiveness. It’s too soon. I won’t pray that.” Don’t be the priest who calls “Peace, peace…when there is no peace.” But then it happened, the prayer became a weapon as we called the name of the shooter and prayed for the healing of his soul.

We didn’t call the names of the nine people who had died, but we called the killer’s name. This hurt my heart. It felt like a slap in the face. My cries became sobs. I cried for those who died, but I also cried for those suffering. I am suffering. I pray for those not ready to talk about forgiveness. If the church doesn’t give space to feel this pain, we are perpetuating a system that sweeps racial injustice under the rug.

These nine people lost their lives and lest we dehumanize them even further we must speak their names. Susie Jackson, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, and The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

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I want to send a message to white Christians who implore us to forgive the perpetrator of this massacre. You might mean well in a call for peace. The fact still remains that a call for forgiveness can feel like a slap in the face. You might even look and see the resilience and beauty of the victims’ families and their call for forgiveness and prayer in the face of hatred. These voices in that community have found their place, and their role in reconciliation is inspirational.

We are not they. We, the white Christian clergy must recognize that it is inappropriate to call for forgiveness in this moment. To lament with people suffering and provide safe space for mourning is appropriate. I understand that the role of Christian leaders is to challenge ourselves and our communities to live in the way of Jesus and to build justice. This challenge to our communities of faith must come in calls for justice, not for pre-emptive forgiveness.

We must call out systemic racism. We must repent of racism. I cannot attempt to imagine the pain and anger that black communities are feeling right now. I can hardly wrap my head around the hurt and frustration in my own heart. But what I will not do is act like the priest and call “peace” when there is no peace.

Right now there is no peace. No peace in this country with hate crimes and terrorism. No peace in society where racism is systemic and justice looks different for a white terrorist, yet remains absent for people of color. Let me be as clear as I can: white Christians – and especially clergy -this is not your time to challenge those in mourning. This is not yet the time to quote the greatest challenge of Jesus. This is the time to weep. This is the time to lament. We need to check ourselves. No one called for forgiveness the weekend after 9/11. This would have been unthinkable. It would have been a slap in the face.

I don’t claim to know what to say in this moment of tragedy. I don’t know the exact words to help in healing. I won’t say “peace” when there is none, but I can share Jeremiah 8:21, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me.” I can also say the names of those who died. Susie Jackson, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, and The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

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