Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Balancing the News with the Good News

"Open to Light." Bennington College, VT. Photo by Becca.

Over the last year, I've been working a lot from home (I'm an online teacher of college writing and a freelance writer/editor/tutor). This work-from-home experience has reminded me how unnerving and powerful silence can be. After breakfast, I begin to crave others' voices, music, some kind of controllable community while I brainstorm, grade or proofread. 

So I've often climbed down my writing loft ladder to switch on the radio at the top of the hour. Each time I hear that familiar NPR theme music (daa-daa-daa-daa, daa-daa-daa-daa, you know the one), I feel like An Adult-- I'm about to tune in to something important!  I want to know what's going on in the world. I will be "an informed citizen" so that I can work towards more lasting good, know what to pray for, work for. Maybe that's why I open my Facebook account daily, too. I don't want to be left in the dark. I long, instead, to be a part of a caring, awake, and aware community. And that's why by lunchtime, I'll have 4-5 links to articles and essays waiting to be read on my computer. 

But here's the reality: most days I've let the mainstream media pull me out to an anxious sea. My work day grows longer--4 p.m., 8 p.m., 11 p.m.--because I stew and get distracted, because I just have to listen to that podcast on fracking in Ohio or read the piece on Monsanto NOW. Or because I'm so depressed and disheartened about the state of my nation and world that I'll stay in bed till well past my alarm.

I've learned to depend on timers and small rewards to keep me productive (and sane). I grade ten essays? I get to eat that piece of raspberry pie in the fridge, or read that snail-mail letter from a friend. Or, every hour I have to do something off-screen, away from technology--fold the laundry, weed the driveway, walk to the post office. I take breaks or else my wrist and elbow, neck and shoulders will pay--but so will my inner peace. And as much as I write and talk about the responsibilities and gifts of being part of an historic peace church, I often have to remind myself that peace starts within--a mantra that greets my eyes now every time I turn on my cell phone.

What small acts of online and off-line kindness
am I nudged to take, and do they matter?
So how to really reach towards a lasting inner peace, even as someone who wants to "speak up for those who can't speak for themselves" (Proverbs 31:8)?

I don't think I need a personal technology monitoring assistant (a job that now exists, by the way): For starters, I could practice the discipline of thankfulness. The Good News can shape my day if I let it, and I need its theme music more than any other if I want to keep hoping and working for a different world. "New earth, heavens new, Spirit of God moving..."

For me, the Good News sings out that lives--including mine--have been and will be transformed through a mysterious Love and a creative Holy Spirit. I am not in charge of this transformation--but I can put Spirit-fueled love into actions. Listening for a still, small voice might be my revolutionary act each day, especially in a social media-driven sense of community. And retelling stories of solution and justice can help remind me that small acts of kindness are happening more than our media will ever let on.

Here are some of my short-term goals: 
1) Name three things for which I'm grateful at the beginning and end of each day, and with someone I love.
2) Do small acts of kindness outside of any screen--put aside a weekly time for this.
3) Downsize to one cell phone and one laptop between my husband and myself.
3) Instead of daily doses of news on NPR or the Internet, seek out more stories/newsletters from people I know who are working towards peace & justice on a larger scale--and speak openly with those who are working for other (sides of) issues.
4) When I do take in the news (perhaps only on Diane Rehm's news roundup?), listen with ears tuned in to some Good News headlines, first spoken by a Good Shepherd, and away from the crowds:

Blesséd is the begging spirit—heaven shall be harvest.
And blessed are they who cry out—I will give them peace.

Loved is he whose heart is gentle—the earth is his to hold.
Adored is she who thirsts for justice—I will go where she goes.

Blesséd are the tender, blesséd is the heart unclouded.
Blessed are those who give their days to peace:
You are my songs and daughters—
You are my daughters and sons.

Be salt—Be light—Be water
and pour out, pour down, my love.

Monday, July 15, 2013

I Am George Zimmerman: How I've Helped to Keep America "Safe"

A photo snapped by a fellow writer-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center this past fall. 
One of my favorite mindfulness meditations asks me to close my eyes and envision my life as a lake. While there's commotion, change, and a city's worth of tiny movements below it, a lake's surface often appears calm, beautiful. Even safe. When we look out across this surface, we are calmed too. We can almost forget all that's happening under it. While this lake meditation's meant to help us in dealing with the realistic difficulties and change in adult life, there are times when we need to look deeper, dwell with what's hidden, dive into unfamiliar waters.

I grew up in a tiny, rural, wealthy community where if you weren't Mennonite or Amish and white, you were a minority. For most of my 32 years, I've been lucky and privileged--some would no doubt use the word blessed-- to not have to say that my life's been negatively affected by


And yet, of course, my life has been affected by these words--even if I'm blind or busy living in a relatively calm surface society around me, simply because I can. As I've been listening and reacting to the recent verdict of George Zimmerman, I've also felt a renewed call to repentance and reconciliation. You see, as a middle-class, non-minority, tax-paying U.S. citizen, and Christian, I played--and play--a big part in the America of today. I've actually been wondering why more of us--regardless of race--aren't posting our pictures online with homemade signs that read "I am George Zimmerman"-- not to support his actions or verdict, but to confess that we are part of creating and supporting the violence-driven realities of today.

The "Support for George Zimmerman" Facebook group page, created as a rebuttal to the "I am Trayvon Martin" movement, includes links to firearms websites, racially charged and hate-filled language, photos of guns, and many "God Bless George Zimmerman" and "I'm not a racist, but..." comments.  I might claim that these things make me sick to my stomach (and they do), but I am, in fact, more like George Zimmerman than the boy he killed because Zimmerman was trying to keep his own world "safe."

Americans of many belief systems continue to support a culture that believes in might, and often that our peace-throughviolence is justified by God. We support this by paying taxes without questioning what we are funding (drones, overflowing prisons, and decades of war, for instance), but also by smaller actions under the surface of our country and economy.

As a humanist, an artist, and as a 21st-century Anabaptist, what more can I do to show the world a third way, the way of nonviolence?

And as a member of an historic peace church, I'm often flabbergasted at my denomination's near- assimilation into society's militaristic and violent-ready identity, even with the chance to publicly support efforts like the Peace Tax Fund today (Imagine: every Mennonite household withholding the percentage of taxes that would otherwise go toward military spending!) Heck, asking Mennonite congregations to support nonviolence by buying only fair trade coffee seems impossible on some days... And yet, we, too, are shocked at violence met by injustice. But should we be?


We can repent today for our part in American violence. We can use this act as a new starting point, no matter how it might interrupt or ripple our familiar assumptions, lifestyle, or identity as a U.S. citizen. Will you join me?

Forgive me, O God, on most days
-for letting news outlets shape my idea and mental image of a "bad person"
-for being surprised that the man on drugs who murdered my great-aunt was white
-for forgetting that my tax dollars help to make more violence possible
-for avoiding any man speaking Spanish on the street, on campus, on a bus years after being mugged in New Mexico
-for being scared in many ways of what the Upside-down Kingdom might do to my comfort level as a white American
-for posting my thoughts, concerns, and beliefs on Facebook more than in prayer and everyday action
-for not writing letters to the editor, to someone hurting, to someone alone--and for not raising my voice in the face of injustice in other everyday ways
-for taking it for granted that when I step into an airport, a car, a classroom, I will not be profiled
-for catching myself leaving a little more distance between me and the young black men walking in front of me

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Mennonite Monologue: Choosing the Story to Tell Today

"Remember your audience:" One of many mantras repeated by this college teacher-writer-writing tutor. Some days I think it would save me a lot of energy just to get it tattooed on my palm.

For me, today, this mantra means choosing to focus on one story that has changed me as a member of a Mennonite Church USA congregation. This story's goal is to introduce who I am and where I am in my faith walk. Talk about freakin' difficult-- especially since it will hopefully (hopefully!) jumpstart another safe place where Mennonite women are invited to share stories related to their leadership in the church.

As a member of the Women and Leadership focus group behind the web site Mennonite Monologues, I was able to offer one final suggestion that enabled me (and hopefully many, many more women) to actually sit down and write: let's invite women to share more than one story--the more, the better, in fact. The weight of having space for only one story to tell is not only intimidating, it's a form of silencing, too. We change, we forgive, we get fired up, we reach towards justice, we get fed up, etc. And so our stories transform along with us...

I'll admit that this first story of mine is not the one I originally wanted--want--to tell. But that story, at least right now, is being told in other ways.

Telling our stories is just another way of being in community with one another. I hope other Mennonite women feel this way, too.