Saturday, October 14, 2017

Facts, and Other Ugly Things


I posted on social media the other day about the devastation in Puerto Rico. I added a picture of the damage, just to illustrate my point.

One of the first responses I got, from a nice, educated, middle-class white woman, was, "I don't believe it."

I looked at the response in confusion. I read it again.

"I don't believe it."

I took a few moments and flipped silently through the hundreds of pictures of the destruction. I read through the CNN and New York Times and even the Huffington Post articles about the loss of the power grid.

I went back and double checked the multiple articles about the hospitals without power, the loss of every patient in an ICU, the deaths due to dehydration.

"I don't believe it."

In four words, the madness which has swallowed our country. Not a mental illness, but an uncaring, willful and wild disconnect from actuality for which we have no other word.

Over the past ten years a growing segment of our population has decided that they have not only the right to their own opinions, but their own facts.That they have a right to look at reality, unfolding before them, in living color and often accompanied by screams, and to say, "I don't believe it."

And the rest of us have allowed it to happen, in the name of peace, and tolerance, and conflict avoidance, and family harmony.

I am not a Democrat, and I am not a Republican, but in the words of Little Steven Van Zandt, "I am a patriot, and I love my country."

So, let me give you some facts. Facts that are verified as far as it is possible to verify them under our given system of scientific law, and our current understanding of the nature of reality.

  • The earth is a globe. It is not flat. It is about 4.54 billion years old.
  • Climate change and global warming are real. Surveys of the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the opinions of experts consistently show a 97–98% consensus among scientists (across the global community) that humans are causing global warming.
  • 57% of Americans do not have a gun in the home, and the US is less than 5% of the world's population, but the US makes up a THIRD of the WORLD'S mass shooting incidents
  • The United States, with less than 5% of the world’s population, has about 35-50 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns
  • In 2016 in the US there were: 58,782 gun incidents. 15,080 people died of gunshot wounds. 30,616 people were injured. 671 children under 12 were killed or hurt. 3,125 teens were killed or hurt. There were 383 mass shootings. Police officers shot or killed 1,908 people. People shot or killed 325 police officers. There were 2,200 accidental shootings- the rest were deliberate firings, even if not at the actual victim
  • White people have been considered the default "normal" since our country was founded and receive privilege because of this
  • Black people are more likely than white people to be shot by a police officer
  • The US ranks #1 in the world in prisoners held.
  • The US ranks 38th out of 71 nations for math and science
  • The US ranks 44th out of 51 countries for health care efficiency
  • The US ranks 2nd (out of 14 developed countries) for general ignorance about social statistics
  • We rank 101st out of 162 countries for peace
  • We rank 23rd in gender equality
  • 46th in freedom of the press
  • 26th out of 29 developed countries for child well being
  • 24th out of 65 for literacy
  • 27th out of 36 for leisure and personal care time
  • The richest 0.1% in America now control wealth than the bottom 90%
  • Read that again- 160,000 families with net assets over $20 million each, control more wealth than 90% of our country together
  • Our military budget is larger than every other military budget on earth, combined
  • The US was intentionally and specifically NOT founded as a Christian nation
  • Every version and translation of the Christian Bible spells out the following commands: Love your neighbor. Feed the hungry. Comfort and care for the sick and the dying. Care for the children, widows, and orphans. Free the prisoners. Give generously
  • Freedom to PRACTICE your religion is guaranteed in the US. Freedom to impose your religion on others is not.
  • Freedom to protest peaceably is guaranteed in the US
  • Freedom of the press is guaranteed in the US 
  • Working for 40 hours at minimum wage does not allow a person to obtain food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare
  • Undocumented people are providing essential labor that no one else wants to do

What does all of this mean?

It means we are undereducated, and over-worked. It means our children are not cared for. It means that when these same children turn to crime they are drawn into the gaping mouth of a for-profit prison industrial system and sold as commodities. It means that undereducated young people who cannot find jobs are fodder for the military-industrial complex.

It means that our country is owned by the rich, and controlled by corporate conglomerates in their names. It means that our people are dying from lack of affordable healthcare. It means that our people are dying for lack of food.

It means our planet is warming up; our polar ice is melting. It means if we don't do something, very soon, we will reach a point of no return.

It means that you cannot be a Christian if you are working and voting to keep food and medical care from people. It means you cannot be a Christian if you are working or voting to harm your neighbor.

It means that not only are we not #1 we are not in the top 5 and we are falling.

It means that if we, we the people, don't do something, now, we risk losing our ability to do anything ever again.

What should we do? We should fight.

We should fight now.

For opt-out rather than opt-in voter registration
For universal healthcare
For a livable minimum wage
For CEO salary caps and wage ratios
For House and Congressional term limitations
For educational funding
For gun control laws and the disbanding of the gun lobby
For pharmaceutical reform, and the disbanding of the for profit drug industry
For the lives of people of color
For the lives of people with disabilities
For the right to be free of the imposition of religious practices or laws

For all of us.

Believe it.





Monday, September 25, 2017

Healing the Cracks- Yom Kippur, Forgiveness, and UU


Take a china plate, and smash it on the ground. Gather up all of the pieces, even the tiny ones, almost too small to see.

Tell it that you’re sorry, and really mean it.

Did it make a difference?

Today I want to talk about breaking and healing. We’re also going to talk about burritos, wolves, and the Japanese art of kintsugi, but it wouldn’t be one of my messages if we didn’t.

There’s been a lot of conversation over the last ten years about where Unitarian Universalism falls on the religious spectrum.

We’re Protestant. We’re Post-protestant. We’re post-Christian. We’re post-modern. We’re a religion, we're a denomination, we’re a movement.

What we’re not, is good at talking about what to do when we have screwed up and offended against our own personal values.

Some versions of Christianity have dogma that says that humans are inherently sinful, that because the first man and first woman screwed up we are all born needing to be cleaned. For some Christians the answer is Jesus- the messiah who washes away all of the sin we’re born with and those we add on later. This is substitutionary atonement, a loving God providing humanity with the only sacrifice large enough to equal all of the sin that ever will be. 

For some of us, this makes sense. For others, Jesus’s crucifixion, suffering, and death are the expected end result of the life of a radical young Rabbi, and the time and political system in which he lived. For some of us, his life and death may have great meaning, but are not ways to erase any wrongs we have done.

Even in mainstream Christianity, however, there are rituals around this forgiveness. 

This atonement.

 Most basic is some group's belief that saying aloud or in your heart that you accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is enough, at least to begin. For them it is enough to claim the forgiveness you have already received.

Another simple set of Christian words to request forgiveness is The Lord’s Prayer from the book of Matthew: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

The forgiveness is there, but you have to ask for it, and like our broken plate just saying words doesn’t make it all better. You have to believe.

Judaism, too, recognizes atonement. I've spoken a lot about Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year. The time when the year is done and you are ready to go forward. Yom Kippur comes ten days after Rosh Hashanah and it is the day when you forgive and make it possible for others to forgive you. The day when you atone for your wrongs, and when you accept the atonement of others.

And they’ve got something there, the people who participate in Yom Kippur, something that we need. Not to appropriate in an act of theft, but to understand, and to use as a starting point in approaching forgiveness, and atonement. Something that we can use no matter if we believe in God Almighty, or Divine Humanity, a mother Goddess, or nothing much at all.

Yom Kippur gives us a way to deal with sins, those offenses we make against our beliefs, our Divine, and ourselves, a way to deal with our sin without violating our belief in individual worth and dignity.

It’s funny- as I was writing these words and thinking about sin and forgiveness, I remembered when Chipotle Mexican Grill first opened near me, about 17 years ago. (Here come the burritos.)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the chain, Chipotle specializes in huge burritos, and when I say huge I mean wrap it in a blanket and people will think it’s a newborn huge. These were the first burritos this size anyone in my neighborhood had ever seen, and it quickly became a thing for some of the very athletic people I worked with to eat a whole one with double meat plus chips and salsa at one sitting.

So this slender marathon runner from my office would run his noon-time laps around the parking lot, and then run up to Chipotle and get his food and he would dash back to eat with us. It was like watching wolves in a National Geographic special, as pounds of meat just disappeared before our eyes, and by the time he stood up this healthy athletic man had a tight belly pushing against his waistband. He was literally bulging with food, weighed down by what he had taken in.

He couldn’t run after lunch on those days. For two or three or even four hours he was pregnant with that food, slow moving with that weight sitting in his gut.

And then it would digest, and he would be himself again.

Food digests quickly, and when I get too full it is a simple thing to wait a few hours and feel right again.

But when my life gets too full, too weighted down, digestion takes a little more effort.

Our burritos are stuffed full of jobs and families, friends, and co-workers. They are sauced with social media, spiced up with news blasts of Syria and the middle east, of crime and punishment and politics and sex and relationships. Day after day we do our best but the world is hectic and sometimes we take bite after bite after bite of life until we are the ones who feel like wolves at a kill, staggering away with bellies dragging the ground, almost too weighted down to move any more.

There is an old children’s story that some of you may know. A monkey sees a jar filled with nuts, and thrusts his hand into the jar to grab a fist full. He grabs as many as he can hold, but now his overloaded hand won’t fit back through the mouth of the jar. Unwilling to let go, the poor monkey sits and cries, and cannot enjoy even one nut.

Relaxing our fists and letting go of some of our treasures isn’t easy, but it’s the only way to enjoy any of them.

Recognizing the ideas behind Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur isn’t about dates. It doesn’t matter when, as long as it’s about the same time every year.

Pick a date that works for you. January 1st is fine, Rosh Hashanah is fine. It is the end of the old, the time when you stop eating the burrito, the time when you recognize that you cannot withdraw your hand, that your belly is dragging the ground.

And you reclaim the power to let it go.

You take a week or ten days and you examine the previous year. You pick up the shreds and shards of all the plates you have smashed, you digest the burrito.

You walk away from the wolves’ kill.

And when you are ready, there is Yom Kippur.

The day of atonement.

The day when you empty yourself of the weights you have been carrying. All the slights and screw ups of our overflowing lives.

The day when you say “I’m sorry,” and “Forgive me,” and “I forgive you.”

There is a Jewish prayer called the Kol Nidre, which means “all vows”. It is a prayer asking the Divine to release us from all sacred vows we made this past year, and to allow us to start fresh. These are not promises to people, but are promises we made for how we would act in the world based on our view of what is Divine. This is a rough translation:
"In the court of heaven and the court of earth, by the permission of God—blessed be He—and by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with those who have erred."

"All vows, obligations, oaths, and things we swore were forbidden, by any name, which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next (whose happy coming we await), we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths."

"And it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that travels among them, seeing all the people were in ignorance."

This means that we recognize that people screw up. That we are imperfect, with no capacity for absolute perfection. It means that we are saying aloud “I promised stuff this year- I said that I had specific values and beliefs, and I didn’t always live up to them.”

And I recognize this.
And I should be forgiven.
And I’m going to start over.

It doesn’t matter what belief system you are working within. For a Christian who believes that Jesus’s suffering and death atone, then maybe this is the time of year to contemplate where you have fallen short of your personal beliefs this year, to recognize that you are granted forgiveness through grace, and to resolve to begin again.

For a Buddhist this is a time for mindful contemplation of the past year’s unskillful or unwholesome acts, and a place to begin seeking greater wisdom.

For a Wiccan you might choose to recognize the turning of the wheel on one of the Greater Sabbats, and for a humanist this might be a time for thoughtful assessment of how you are living up to your stated values.

The specifics don’t matter.

One of the things that does matter is willingness, to both forgive and be forgiven for those moments when things didn’t happen the way they should have.

But this is often where the problems start, where I clench my fists tight and hold on to those nuts.

Because I don’t deserve forgiveness or I don’t think I get to say if I should be forgiven.
Because they don’t deserve forgiveness and I don’t want to let go.

You know what? It doesn’t work that way.

I can keep punishing myself, but I can’t control how the people I’ve wounded feel. If I am sorry for what I’ve done, and I recognize where I broke my vows to myself and my world, and I resolve to do better to the best of my ability, then it is enough.

And I can try to punish others for what they have done to me, I can hold hatred and anger in my heart, and then what?

I am hate filled and angry, and they are still themselves.

Forgiveness of others isn’t about whether or not they deserve it- it is about releasing their hold on my life.

The burrito weighed me down, I digest it, and it is gone.

So I pick up the plate I have broken, collecting every shard and shred, and I say I’m sorry. That is Rosh Hashanah.

But then I go a step further.

In Japan there is an art form called kintsugi, the art of repairing with gold.

So I take that plate, the one we broke way back at the beginning of this page, and I use pure gold to form seams everywhere it is broken. I do not try to hide the damage but I heal the cracks using something more precious than the original materials. When I am done, it is a priceless work of art.

That is Yom Kippur.


Amen.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Playing Life on the Hard Setting


I just finished reading a lovely article on UU Worship Web. It's here: https://www.uua.org/worship/lab/what-youre-saying-when-you-say-i-dont-need-mic and I highly recommend it. It gets it mostly right, and that is rare.

I'm going to let you in on a secret. I have a disability or two.

That sentence, of course, is normally the point where I find out exactly how ableist the people around me are.

"You're not really; I mean, it's not like you're in a wheelchair."
"No one would ever know if you didn't tell them."
"Don't say anything and no one will find out."

Why would I care if someone knew that my body operated under a different owner's manual? I admit I am playing life on the hard setting, but my body is no less important and good than anyone else's (and no more important or good either).

I don't care if anyone knows the handicap I am playing under. I just want to play the game.

Of course, my life game is more challenging than others at times, because I live in a world optimized for an able-bodied experience.

I am hearing impaired. My husband is deaf. I have 40% of my hearing; he has about 15%.
I have Lupus Anticoagulant Syndrome. This means that sometimes I get tired. I have Hashimoto's encephalopathy, and no thyroid or parathyroids. This means that sometimes my legs don't work so well and sometimes neither does my heart. Sometimes I overheat, and sometimes I cannot get warm. My vocal chords have been damaged by the surgeries, so sometimes breathing can be tough, and sometimes sounds don't come out just right. Sometimes my medications make me very ill. Sometimes I have to go to the bathroom over and over again. Sometimes I can't go.

My husband has had a hip replacement, and he has scoliosis and asthma.

My medications fill a wheeled suitcase. The mobility scooter fills the back of the SUV. The nebulizer fits in there somewhere.

So.

What does it mean to be disabled in an ableist world? What does it mean to be starting the game with fewer lives and a lot more things ready to attack you?

It means people get it wrong, even when you are surrounded by people desperately trying to get it right.

It means eating at the same place for lunch every single day, while attending an anti-oppressive, anti-racist, multicultural seminary, because my disability does not allow me to reach anywhere else in the time allotted, and there is no reasonable way to order food delivered to the ultra-secure building.

It means not being able to hear opening worship at a conference, despite requesting adaptive equipment a month in advance, because it wasn't a priority and the organizers forgot it.

It means registering for Ministry Days at the General Assembly of my faith, and finding out that the hearing adaptive equipment we'd reserved was a quarter of a mile away, on another floor. Another year it meant getting to the Opening Reception and finding out that the registration we needed to do first was a quarter of a mile away. When we got there, it was up a staircase where the mobility scooter could not go. There were elevators, of course, but they were all the way back by the reception. You see, no one thought enough about people with hearing and mobility disabilities being included to make sure that this didn't happen.

Disability means having seminary welcoming rituals on a sandy beach, in "easy walking distance" from the parking lot and standing for over an hour and not feeling very welcome at all as you fight to keep from falling down or sitting down on wet cold ground with legs that don't stand so well. It means listening as new classmates offer soft sentences about their hopes, which you cannot hear because using a microphone would spoil the naturalness of the event.

Disability means fighting to hear the retreat speaker who refuses to use a microphone because the room isn't that big, and knowing that you have paid $375 to watch his mouth silently move.

It means having my expensive hearing aids become ear plugs in a huge echoing room with a booming sound system, because no one thought that not having a T-Coil loop was a dealbreaker.

Disability is trying to open a bathroom door from your mobility scooter, only to find out that the impressive potted plant beside the door blocks the only possible angle that would allow you easy maneuvering and so you have to wait and ask someone else to hold it for you please. It's finally getting inside and realizing that there is one handicapped stall and while you can fit inside, you can also either transfer to the toilet safely or choose to close the door. Disability is wetting your pants because the one handicapped stall is filled by three teenage girls trying on their new t shirts and giggling.

Disability is realizing that the only door in a huge Convention Center which allows a mobility scooter to exit without assistance is at one end of a mile long building. Disability is thinking about fire over and over again.

Disability is spending months and hundreds of hours helping to organize a conference as a volunteer and finding out at the last minute that they will not pay for a private room, even though you have to bring thousands of dollars worth of drugs, some with needles and some difficult to obtain, and some with catastrophic side effects and all of them essential which means that if a roommate is careless, if a roommate spills or steals or leaves a door open accidentally, you could die in the space between the insurance company and the time it takes to replace what you had. Disability is being told that it isn't fair that you need such a thing and that you will have to pay for the other half of the room you need because the group isn't going to treat you specially. Disability is being told that everyone gets half a room and why should you be any different. Disability is being asked to pay $372 for the privilege of volunteering.

Disability is an ongoing part of my life.

Years ago, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a short story called Harrison Bergeron. Find it and read it if you haven't already.

It's about a dystopian world where everyone is equal, and no one can do something better than the person who does that thing the worst.

Graceful people are weighted down. Brilliant people have their thinking disrupted. Clear sighted people are fitted with distorting lenses.

You get the idea.

The world of Harrison Bergeron is a nightmare.

It's not any world I would want to live in.

Fighting ableism isn't about stopping people from doing everything their bodies can do. It isn't about holding people back so that they aren't doing more than me.

You can say deaf. You can ask me if I heard something.

You can't use the phrase "fell on deaf ears" without sounding like you think not hearing is a choice, or that deaf people just aren't paying attention.

You can walk and run and kickbox, and you can talk about these things.

You can't can't use the inability to do them as a metaphor for not WANTING to move, or not choosing to see, or any other thing which implies that the conditions some bodies have can stand in as short hand for "like us normal people only worse"

I am playing life on the hard setting because life is optimized for the able-bodied. I'm not asking for the able-bodied to be given a handicap. I'm demanding to be given a game controller that allows me to play with everyone else.





Friday, May 5, 2017


Micah 6:7-9 (21st Century King James Version )(KJ21)
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He hath shown thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
9 The Lord’S voice crieth unto the city (and the man of wisdom shall see Thy name): “Hear ye the rod and who hath appointed it!


Micah 6:8 gets tossed around a lot. What a reading- everything neatly packaged like a big Christmas gift. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.

Whammo. Got it.

Neat. No loose ends.

Now let's talk about the rest of it. Let's talk about the not so neat parts.
The parts that talk about trying to buy off God.

Let's talk about Micah 6:7.

The question is simple. If I make a lot of money, or manage to scrape together a large amount of property, and I give it all to the church, or I use it all for charity work, is that enough for God? I mean, I don't really have to think about why I'm doing this, right?

If I give away or give up precious metals, and fancy cars, expensive perfume, and designer clothes, won't God be happy then?

What if I make my kids go to church? You know- make them live by the Word and read all the important stuff and generally let everyone know that they are right up tight with the whole idea of doing the right thing and living the right way?

Isn't that enough? I mean, it sure as hell seems like a lot and anyway people would see me doing it and know...

No?

No.

It isn't enough. It isn't even relevant.

You have been told what you need to do, and God ain't about that life. God doesn't care if you give away a million, if you do it to feed your ego and buy a place in some angel-winged after world.

Do justly. Do justice. Do what is right. Maybe what is right is giving away that million, but only if you are expressly, specifically, giving it away because and only because it IS right.

Not for the Board seat.
Not for the adulation or the attention.

Not to impress the wife or the friends.

Not begrudgingly or angrily or with a sense of "what's in it for me?"

Do justice. Period full stop. God doesn't want a sacrifice. God doesn't have a price tag you can pick up and fulfill. God isn't for sale.
And what about "love mercy"?

No be merciful, or try not to hurt people unless they really deserve it, but "LOVE MERCY."

Hunger and thirst for a chance to be kind. In Hebrew, "Love mercy" is hesed, which translates literally as "loyal love" or "loving kindness". It isn't about what is fair or deserved; this conversation was a reminder to Israel that what mattered most was a change of heart. What mattered was allowing other people to matter.

Be kind because it nourishes you. Be kind not for a return, but because you can be no other way.

And the last piece. The hard one.

Walk humbly with your God.

Open up your heart and realize that no amount of things you can give could ever be enough to buy off God. God is there with you, walking with you, because you are enough. Don't get big headed about it. You are what you were created to be.

You want to get it right?

Look in three places.

Do justice in the world. Love mercy in your heart. Look upward to God in humility.

You'll be ok. You got this.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wings of Angels, Tears of Saints


1st Corinthians 13 is old news.

I’ve heard it called trite.

Done to death.

It gets quoted at weddings, used for vow renewals, read out haltingly in a variety of translations…

It’s passé. So very 1970s Hallmark feel-good pap, deprived of all or any strength it once had to move the heart.

Deprived of any power.

So, let’s try it again, from another point of view.


13
You can say all of the right things, but if you don’t believe what you are saying, if you don’t live it with all the strength of your being, you are just making noise.

You can be brilliant, able to make intuitive jumps that dazzle the imagination and lead millions. You can be learned, with enough knowledge to plan for any eventuality. You can even believe you are completely committed to serving the Word of the God of your heart, but if you don’t care about people, all people, it isn’t worth anything. Humanity is the reflection of God, made in the Divine image- how can you claim to Love the Divine if you turn away from its Mirror in disgust and anger?

You can give to charity and work for social justice and brag about how much you have sacrificed for the cause, but if you didn’t do it because you love the people with all of your heart and soul, if you didn’t do it because you needed them to be free so that you could breathe, then there is no point at all.

Love doesn’t work for your schedule. It doesn’t care that you had an important meeting. Sometimes it needs you now. Sometimes it makes you late or get you dirty. Sometimes it says that you must start again. Love isn’t about keeping score and getting ahead. It isn’t about being seen with the cool kids or the power brokers. Love doesn’t care if you succeed in business without really trying. Love isn’t about getting even and getting over and being glad when someone gets theirs- love says we all cross the finish line together or it isn’t a finish line at all. Love says we are all one family, and we can never quit until everyone is seated at the table.

Love turns over tables. Love pushes open doors.

New fads die away. Brilliant speakers stop speaking. People forget things and new facts come to light. The fact that we are all part of a human family remains no matter how we look at it or what ideologies come and go. If you are still holding onto ideas of “better than”, “more worthy than”, “more deserving than”, then you can’t see the whole picture, and you can’t speak to the whole truth.

If you want to be all that you were created to be, if you want to claim all that is yours to claim, you must claim it for everyone. Recognize the immense good, the immense Love, of which you are a part, and in doing so see clearly all the other parts of that Love. You can see the beauty, and the power, and the immensity, only when you can see the whole.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Amen



Thursday, March 16, 2017

Poverty and the Pantry


I just made squash soup.

It took about 15 minutes to prepare. It will cook for 10 minutes, and then I will puree it. My chef's knives and cleaver make the chopping go fast.

Easy as hell, right? A healthy dinner with almost no effort. 8 meals for under $1 a serving. I am a kitchen god.

Why don't poor people make such easy food- instead of wasting their money at McDonalds?
Why don't they just do it RIGHT?

Whoa there, Nelly. I didn't ever make squash soup until last year.

Not because I didn't like squash, but because I couldn't afford it for much of my adult life, and then I never thought about it again.

Because when you're poor you try not to think about all the things you can never have, and it gets to be a habit.

Healthy food is an honest to God luxury, right up there with not knowing how much money you have in your account, and having a tooth filled the actual week it starts hurting.


Now before you start handing me phone numbers for your local organic butternut squash dealer, and explaining how cheap it is, let me break it down for you.

It's expensive to live poor.

I could make that soup today because I work at a calling with decent hours and realistic expectations. I have a writing day today, so I can go to the store and make dinner at home.

I have a reliable car which lets me go to the store where the squash is good, and reasonably priced. I have a reliable car which lets me carry home all of the things I need for soup, all at once.

I have an Instant Pot, and an Immersion blender. If the blender breaks I have a huge food processor.

I have space to store my supplies until I need them. I have space to store my kitchen tools, and electricity to run them. I have hot water to wash them when I'm done. I have knives and a chopping block and a reliable fridge to store the leftovers. I even have matching Tupperware and most of the lids, hallelujah, world with out end.

Twenty years ago it wouldn't have been so easy. Making the same soup would have gone from being a 30 minute trip to the store and a 30 minute total prep to table experience to something much, much more serious.

It wold have become a luxury.

I worked 16 hour shifts- 3pm to 7 am, 4 days a week. For a long time I had a decent car, but no insurance.

So making that cheap soup would have looked like this:

Get off work at 7am. Walk up to the local Kroger. Realize I could afford either the spices or the squash. Buy the spices (in the plastic half-size jars, exactly enough for this recipe. I can't afford to keep large amounts of something that I might never use again).

Wait 2 weeks for the next payday. The store has no squash. Buy broth. The store with squash is 6 miles away. Risk the drive. Buy squash that is 10% more expensive because I am now shopping in an upscale neighborhood.

Go home and go to sleep. No time to cook. Go to work at 3 pm the next day.

Next off day, haul out the 20 year old crockpot. Attempt to cut the squash with a dollar store knife.
Break knife.
Attempt to peel squash with a dollar store peeler.
Break peeler.
Walk to dollar store for new knife, but now I can no longer afford a can of coffee so I'll be drinking water for the next two weeks.

90 minutes to carefully peel and section squash. Saute onions and garlic, and spices in pan- use extra oil because pan is peeling and sticks.

Toss all ingredients in crock pot. Set alarm to wake up every 2 hours because both house wiring and pot are old, and a surge could cause a fire. There are no smoke alarms.

Allow soup to cook for 8 hours, using lots of electricity. When soup is done, use potato masher to puree. Puree process takes 40 minutes, and there are still some lumps. Taste the soup and realize it needs more onion, but there isn't any more because Sav-a-lot doesn't sell onions in a bag, it sells them one yellow onion at a time and I only bought exactly what I was supposed to need.

Add more salt instead.

Use spread containers to freeze left overs. The containers are thin, and will potentially leach chemicals into the hot soup. They will allow freezer burn in a week.

Lose all food in the fridge and freezer three days later, when the old fridge door comes open while I'm at work. Or lose it a day later, when the electric gets disrupted for a downed power line, because it is two days to payday, and I have no money to buy bags of ice, and no cooler to put it in anyway.

The one bowl of soup I actually got to eat cost me $8 in materials, 11 hours of time, and $1.23 in electricity. It cost me another $1 in gas, and I had to wake up 4 times

Same soup.
Same me.
Different worlds.

When we talk about how easy it should be for people living in poverty to just do it the way we do, we need to stop an look around.

At our houses and our dishes and our stoves and our knives.
At our car and our spice rack and our matching Tupperware.

Change the lenses and understand why maybe, just maybe, spending $3.00 at McDonalds is not so bad.

Change the lenses again, and ask ourselves what real change would mean.

Beginning with "everyone deserves to be able to make nutritious and safe food" and asking "How do we achieve that?" looks a lot different than "They shouldn't be eating that- how do we stop them?"

Beginning with love makes it a different world, and everyone deserves a chance to be a kitchen god.



.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Love, Sex, and Pie



“I Love you.”
“I just love pizza.”
“I love those shoes.”
“Love your neighbor.”

I’ve noticed the word love gets thrown around a lot these days, and maybe it always has. But I’ve also noticed that it’s very hard for many of us to articulate exactly what we mean when we say the word.

Is it the deep meaning of agape, or selfless love, that we are called to for all other humans? Well, not generally. Most of us couldn’t really explain that one on a bet.

Is it interpersonal attachment? The emotion we experience for our parent or our child, or our adored pet? Perhaps.

Is it the twining of erotic attraction and personality match that we call romantic love, or being “in love”? Sometimes. But our Judeo-Christian heritage has convinced us that, somehow, we can only be said to be authentically “in love” with one other person at one time and then only if a certain exact particular level of depth of feeling is present. If we claim to be in love with more than one person, we are told that we are indecisive; that only one is long-lasting and “real” and that for any other the red of love waters down to the pinks and roses of like, or enjoy, or that it flames to the crimson of desire, which is transient and will fade. We are told that sex has to come into the equation somewhere, or else we are talking about friendship once again.

Our love for food or shoes or the wallpaper we saw at a store we can never afford is a misnomer; we are quite fond of these things, or we are attracted to them like ravens with a shiny stone, but there is, in the majority of cases, no true depth to our statement. We are saying “I like this thing more than other similar things” but there is no personal connection. I do not care about this piece of pizza more than another piece of the same pizza, and I love my shoes but when they fade I will buy another identical or similar pair and be instantly comforted.

Most of the time Americans navigate these muddy linguistic waters without serious thought. We know what we mean, and convention and habit give others a good idea of our intent.

But what about the other times?

Love can be a tricky thing.

We have been sold a bill of goods here in the United States, and it is half rotten. We’ve been told that love fits neatly into one of those categories, and that any deviation is awkward.

Dangerous.

Unacceptable.

We don’t even have words to explain the places where categories of love diverge and overlap and sometimes just explode.

By the time we reach 18, we have been exposed to society, and books, and movies, to friends, and to family, and to all of the boxes we are expected to put things in. We have learned the rules of love.

Straight men love women. Straight women love men. Gay men love men. Lesbian women love women.

Trans people and people of fluid gender orientation are just supposed to be very, very, quiet. We get to go stand next to the bisexual folk somewhere in a dark and soundproofed room. From time to time other people debate the possibility of nailing up the door behind us, and maybe covering the airholes.

If you are female, with a female friend, depending on depth of emotion and closeness, she is your friend, or your BFF, or your bestie. You are allowed to say you love her, but if you say you are in love with her you are assumed to be declaring a sexual orientation.

Men can have a male wingman, or friend, or best friend, or bud. In moments of deep emotion, he can admit to loving him, but only if everyone around understands that the words “but not, like, love love, no homo” are implied.

We pick a partner, based on a host of factors from physical compatibility to intellectual stimulation, financial status or lack of, hormonal response, and personality.

We learn to fit neatly in a box.

Only, sometimes, we don’t.

And then our lack of words becomes painful.

I have a friend, a long-term part of my life. We have no sexual relationship. I love her deeply. I am in love with her and always will be, and as far as I know the feeling is shared. She is as deep and real a part of my life as my husband. I introduce her as my beloved friend.

And when she dies, if it is before me, I will grieve as completely as if I had lost a wife, but there are no words for what she is to me.

There are other families like my own. Other combinations and expansions, other alternate normals and unique relationship structures.

We as a society have become convinced that love is like pie, and that if I give you a piece I am taking away something which rightfully belongs to someone else, and worse, is going to make us run out quicker. We’ve learned that we can only love so much, and that we can only like one flavor. We’ve learned that taking too much will make you ill, and that eating more exotic flavors is poisonous. We’ve learned that we can only eat from one piedish, and that sharing forks is absolutely forbidden.

You know what?

Everything you’ve learned is wrong.

Love isn’t the problem, but honesty is.

Human beings are intelligent, territorial, phone using, latte-sipping, upright apes. Biologically we are pushed by a host of drives- pheromones, the need for reproduction, safety, hormones, pleasure, pain… We are not, however, hardwired for only monogamous pair-bonding.

We are capable of so much more.

We can put down the pie dish; love is not an exhaustible resource. We can’t continue to exclude any relationship or set of relationships for which we do not have an easy label. We can’t continue to turn our backs on any relationship we don’t understand.

We don’t have to understand. It isn’t our relationship. It exists, they exist, whether we get it or not.

When in doubt, create more words.

Or simply learn to call it all family. Radical welcome, radical love, means that just because I don’t know what to call you I cannot make you invisible.

I cannot wipe you away.

I want us to learn to honor and welcome the beloved friends and the additional thirds, or fourths. To respect the alternate relationships, and the compound hyphenate loves. To realize that it is none of our business who is sleeping with who as long as everyone is adult, and honest about who is loved and how within their own relationships.

I want us to recognize that mine does not have to look like yours, or theirs, or theirs over there. You can eat pie and I can eat cake with pizza, and they can have a smorgasbord.

Love is real, even when the definitions change from person to person and house to house, and no human being deserves to have their loving relationship ignored because it doesn’t fit in a box.

Boxes are for those shoes.

You know, the ones you love.