Listening to another’s story

It’s been a challenging week, hasn’t it? The earthquake in Nepal…Bruce Jenner’s interview…the protests and riots in Baltimore…the penalty-phase in the Boston Marathon shooting trial…the Supreme Court hearings on marriage equality…

Are we listening to each other’s stories? Really listening?

Unfortunately, sometimes the news stories don’t help us listen. News bites are short and don’t have the time to give us the background and context that would help us understand. And…sadly…pictures and stories of violence attract more attention than positive ones.

I’m a straight white woman who has never been homeless…never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from…not been shot…never been stopped by the police…. I am married (happily) to my husband who is bisexual and have some family members who deal with gender identity issues and sexual orientation issues…but those issues are not mine.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of that as I’ve been watching some of the coverage about Baltimore…and reading updates from some of my friends who live in the area.

I do not condone the rioting and looting that is occurring. That is no way to solve a problem; it only creates more issues.

But what happens when people feel unheard? If that continues long enough…and problems go unsolved…something will eventually give.

It’s not just Baltimore.

There are far too many stories of unprovoked traffic stops…of injustices…of disproportionate jail terms. Too many situations where black people are killed while white people in similar situations are given more leniency. Too much ease in throwing around the terms “thugs” and “crooks.”

It’s too easy to not listen to stories…especially in times when there is so much destruction and lawlessness. But unless we are willing to listen to those who have been trying to peacefully bring about change, those situations will continue to happen.

Those who break the law do need to understand that there are consequences. But all of us must also understand that our lives are interconnected. What affects one person…one community…affects us all. A quote I saw recently says it all: “One of the most powerful things we can do to bring healing is to listen to each other.”

We don’t always know

Back in 1972, I played for the wedding of one of my cousins. It was a cold winter day, but she and her husband seemed to be a golden couple.

Four years later, after hours of training on his part–and lots of support on hers–we cheered when he became America’s champion…Bruce Jenner, the decathlon winner. They came to visit my parents shortly after, and we shared in the joy of his victory…oohed and aahed over his gold medal.

They lived in a different part of the country, so we rarely saw them…but we kept up with them both through news stories and through letters from my aunt.

Then…suddenly, it seemed…the golden couple was no more. They had separated…and then divorced.

Why? We didn’t know, but in our humanness, we blamed Bruce. And since it seemed not long after that he began dating…and then married again…we were angry with him. How dare he talk about family…and then leave and start another family? and later another?

We just didn’t talk about Bruce.

Then came the interview with Diane Sawyer…with all the jokes, the innuendo, the gossip leading up to it. Quite honestly, we vacillated a bit about watching it…but we did.

And that put a whole new twist on the story.

While I am still sorry for some of the decisions Bruce has made through the years, I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to try to live as one gender while knowing deep inside that your body and soul do not match. When you lie to yourself, how can you be truthful with others, even (or maybe especially) ones you love?

We don’t always know what is going on inside a person. And I have been reminded again of the importance of Jesus’ challenge to not judge others. Would I want to have been judged the way I judged Bruce? No…and I deeply regret that.

What will the future hold for Bruce and his family? None of us know. It is clear that there has been reconciliation and healing in many ways, and I am grateful for that.

I know there will be many who do not understand Bruce’s journey…and that’s okay. But can we all be willing to acknowledge that there is much about each one’s journey that we do not know or understand…and simply be willing to be companions on the journey?

I didn’t want to be an ally…

Many years ago, I didn’t know anyone who was part of the LGBT community…at least I didn’t think I did. Not willingly, anyway. There were those who were “different”…but they weren’t part of my group (or any group, really).

I was pretty sure I knew what the proper response was…and it was to love the sinner but hate the sin.

And then I began to get acquainted…and my preconceptions began to be turned upside down. The folks I saw flagrantly displaying their sexuality in various parades were no more typical of many members of the LGBT community than Westboro Baptist is of Christianity.

But even as I began to get acquainted with folks because of my involvement in theatre, I still wasn’t sure about accepting their “lifestyle”…until I began to understand that their “lifestyle” was much like mine, except for the sex of the one they loved. They went grocery shopping…they went to plays and concerts…they played with their nieces and nephews (and in some situations, their kids)…they (at least some of them) went to church…

And I began to wonder.

If God said “It is not good for human beings to be alone”…and if science was beginning to show that sexual orientation was not a choice in most situations…then how could I not allow them to have someone to share their lives with?

Then it got even more personal. My youngest brother called me with a couple of things he needed to let me know…one of them was that he was gay. Without even thinking, my immediate response was, “So…you’re still my brother.” And I realized that along with him I had begun a new journey…trying to understand these issues of sexual orientation. When he found someone he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, I was thrilled. He was happier than I had seen him in years…true to himself.

But the journey wasn’t over. It was just beginning! I became more sympathetic to some cousins who had been dealing with issues of sexual orientation…and then my husband challenged me even more when he came out as bisexual. Wow! Lots of issues of sexual orientation to deal with!

And now we have a young family member who is dealing with issues of gender identity.

My eyes have been opened on this journey. When I hear some of the comments that are made to and about individuals I love…and see the many ways members of the LGBT community are seen as “less than”…I have to be an ally.

Being an ally doesn’t mean that I’m trying to make everyone else believe the way I do. Nor does it mean that I’m wanting somehow to place your loved ones in danger. It doesn’t mean that everything revolves around sex.

It does mean that I want to support my loved ones and their friends in the same way you want to support your loved ones and their friends. I want them to be accepted as human beings with gifts and talents they can share with all of us. I want them to feel safe…at work…at church…in school. I want them to be able to share their lives with someone they love…and, if they choose, to be able to have a family. I want them to be able to live fully and completely.

I didn’t start out wanting to be an ally…but now, in the spirit of Martin Luther, “…to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”

Yes, I can…

When I was in high school, I loved to write poetry. In fact, I loved writing in many of its forms…and for a while hoped to make a career in some aspect of the writing field. However, that didn’t happen.

While my parents were supportive in many ways, my thinking about a career in writing didn’t get supported. It wasn’t a logical career choice–and they wanted me to make sure I had a career that I could count on.

So I went into education–English education. I taught for a few years and then left to rear a family and support my husband in his education career. I went back to school for an advanced degree in music–but that wasn’t really for a career choice either. Later (much later) I did some college teaching in music…fun, and something I might have pursued more significantly if I had started it earlier.

But there was always something missing.

Periodically I would write…some poetry…and more recently, this blog.

Blogging makes you kind of vulnerable. At least it can. You can decide how much of yourself you want to put out there, and while some of my posts have been pretty personal, I didn’t feel that vulnerable.

But poetry? That’s different.

I’m not sure why, but it feels like when I write poetry, I’m letting people pretty deeply inside. And that IS scary.

Part of the reason why I have let very few people read any of my poetry is because I was afraid of how they would react…and that reaction would touch the core of who I am. I didn’t want to hear “That’s nice”…which is what I had heard when I showed some of those early poems to my parents. I wanted to know that my poetry somehow touched something in someone else.

I finally showed some to my husband. His reaction was what I wanted and needed…but I still needed something else. I needed to know that someone who didn’t have a vested interest in a relationship with me could be touched.

So I finally got up nerve to ask a friend who had been an editor if she would look at my poems–and she said she would. She let me know that she had almost finished them–and wanted to meet for lunch. That was fine…but what was even more important was that she said she had been enjoying them…and there were some she wanted to read again!

We met today. She pulled out some of the poems that really spoke to her–and that she encouraged me to submit to some magazines. I don’t know that she really knows how much that validation meant to me. It was a “Yes, you can…” experience…a support I’ve been waiting years for.

It’s never too late…so watch out, world. Here I come!

“Jesus wept…”

There is a verse in the Bible that’s only two words…but I think it is one of the most heartbreaking. It takes place in the context of a death–the death of one of Jesus’ good friends, Lazarus of Bethany. Jesus had received word that Lazarus was sick, but for some reason delayed his journey to Bethany–and when he arrived, Lazarus was dead. Not just dead…but dead three days and already buried. The Bible says that when Jesus went to the tomb, “Jesus wept.” There’s much more to the story…it ends in hope.

But those two words have struck me with new force recently.

Jesus also wept over Jerusalem, because the people were unwilling to listen to his message of love. He wanted so badly for them to be healed…to be restored to right relationships with each other and with God.

Jesus wept.

While it doesn’t specifically say so, I think there were tears in Gethsemane…when Jesus asked for the burden of what was ahead to be taken from him. When he realized that was not possible–and acknowledged his willingness to go to the end–I can’t imagine there not having been tears. And when Judas betrayed him with a kiss, I think there must have been tears in Jesus’ eyes…tears of anguish that one of his followers had so misunderstood his message.

Jesus wept.

He cared so much for those who were his family–both his family of birth and those who had become a family of choice as they followed him. Yet all of these struggled with understanding what he was trying to share with them. They just didn’t get it.

And Jesus wept.

Those are sad, sad words–and yet they also give me hope. In those times of pain when members of our families just don’t get it…and I weep…I know that Jesus understands the depths of that pain. He’s been there and experienced it. He walks that path with us. It doesn’t necessarily take away the pain–but a shared burden can become lighter.

And there’s another reason for hope. His followers–who cowered in locked rooms after his death, fearful of what might happen–were offered peace by Jesus when he came into those locked rooms. It wasn’t an easy peace…but it was strength and courage to walk the road that lay ahead of them. It was a peace that changed them from terrified cowards into bold proclaimers…who brought a message of a living, loving God who journeys with all…who weeps with those who weep…and who offers strength and courage to walk the road ahead..

Thank God!

Let’s stop the welfare cheats…

I’ve heard some variation of this statement for quite some time now. And while on the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with this sentence, there are problems with the rationale.

First of all, let me say that I am fully supportive of going after those who “play” the system. However, that’s really only a small proportion.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 90% of government benefits go to people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households–not to those who are able to work but who choose not to.

Food stamps…another source of “welfare cheats”…right? Wrong. According to the USDA, 76% of households that receive food stamps include a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. According to the National Council for Children in Poverty, about 22% of the children in the United States live in poverty…and another 23% in low-income families. Are we really willing to deny them the basics of life?

As we are moving into this next political season, I’m hearing lots of talk about “Christian nation” and “biblically based principles”…but our actions sometimes say otherwise. The Christian principles I want to follow deal with taking care of the poor and the vulnerable.

Yes, there will sometimes be those who will take advantage…and we do need to do our best to resolve those situations…but not at the expense of those who are truly in need.

Tough love is…well…tough

It’s easy to look at a family situation from the outside and wonder why the parents don’t use tough love…or when that decision has been made, to wonder what took so long. It’s a whole different story when you’re on the inside!

We all want our children and grandchildren to be the best they can be, and we will do almost anything to help them live up to their potential. We want to keep struggling and working with them as long as there is any slightest hope that the situation will improve. That’s what is seen on the inside. That love and hope will go just as far as they possibly can.

It’s so difficult to reach the point of saying that we’ve done all we can…and that the decision is now in the child’s hands.

Sometimes our kids can learn from the lessons of others. But for whatever reason, some of our kids have to learn things the hard way…and all we can do is hope that they learn before they make decisions that will have life-ruining consequences.

We can talk…encourage…lecture…pray…hope…love…but in some cases, there comes a point when for the good of everyone–including the child–tough love decisions have to be made.

What’s the best thing that can be done then? Not to judge about the length of time it took the family to get there…but to support everyone (including the child involved) in love and prayers. Don’t ask what went wrong…that’s not really anyone else’s business, and it often serves no purpose except to reopen wounds that need healing.

Be there with them. Love them. Hug them. Keep in touch with the child if possible. Pray for them–or send warm thoughts or energy, if that’s what you would prefer.

Because tough love is…well…tough…on everyone.