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3/14/12

she's almost here.

The Waking

BY THEODORE ROETHKE
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I learn by going where I have to go.
Theodore Roethke, “The Waking” from Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke.







I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   I learn by going where I have to go.

3/5/12

we need equality, kinda now


It was suggested to me, recently, that I should not be upset about racist comments from my church, because, and I think this may shock some of you, I am not black. I am not black, and (SPOILER ALERT) I am not a man. So while it is good that I stand up for things that seem wrong, (Really? Oh. Good.) I should focus on the things that apply to me, and not look for excuses to condemn the church.


I reject that idea on so many levels,  and it makes me really upset.

1. I reject the idea that anyone who advocates for change is just "looking for an excuse to condemn the church." To vilify our motives, my motives, with the assumption that people like me just want to cause problems? Unacceptable. Racism is the problem, and racism condemns us as false Christians. Pointing it out? Common human decency. 

I want the church to stop being racist because racism is wrong. I want them to recognize the wrongness, because it is the first step to making sure it never happens again. I'm also not a Jew, but the phrase "Then they came for me," rings in my head. 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then 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.
-Martin Niemoeller

2. If we tell ourselves that we cannot be upset by things that do not directly concern us we our denying ourselves  of what I believe is the primary purpose of our existence: To gain empathy. To alleviate the pain of our fellow humans, not only the humans that are like us, but the humans who are not like us. Jesus said it best: Love one another.

For the Mormons in the audience, Alma says it too: Mourn with those that mourn, even when we aren't black. Comfort those who stand in need of comfort, even when you are not directly hurt.  (Mosiah 18:9)

It is why we are here. You can believe it is why God put us on earth, or you can accept it as just the right thing to do, but it doesn't change the fundamental truth: Learning to love and accept one another is why we are here.  Sometimes we fail, and we hurt each other, but we must be willing to try again, however imperfectly.


3. But there is a Black man who said some pretty great things about our need to confront not only racism, but injustice and inequality as a whole: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that the Civil Rights Movement wasn't just for Black people, it was for human people.

James Zwerg knew that too. James Zwerg participated in the Freedom Rides from Washington D.C. to Birmingham. At one point, he was the only white passenger. In Montgomery, the bus was attacked. Zwerg was one of the first people who stepped off the bus, allowing others a chance to escape. His attackers used his suitcase to bash his skull, then pinned him down and proceeded to knock out his teeth, while spectators stood on the sidelines. One man stood by and watched the beating, carrying his little girl on his shoulders.





When asked about his experiences, Zwerg simply noted, "My faith was never so strong as during that time... I knew I was doing what I should be doing."


I've never been attacked for standing up for my beliefs. I've lived a comfortable and safe life because of people like James Zwerg. The very least I can do is say what should be obvious: Racism is wrong. I can't just stand by and watch.

4. Lastly, because racism is one piece in the ugly puzzle of injustice, I want to include a quote from Joss Whedon. Yes, he of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. In his speech for the "Equality Now" foundation, he responds in various ways to the question, So, why do you write these strong women characters?

"Because equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity, we need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and women who’s confronted with it. We need equality, kinda now.

So, why do you write these strong female characters?

Because you’re still asking me that question."

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ASSORTED FLOTSAM AND JETSAM

*It was also inferred to me that white people are hypocrites for being mad at Professor Bott because black people aren't even upset at his comments. Apparently, someone has spoken to all the Black Mormons, and knows how all of them feel. I'm not even going to address this argument further, because it makes my brain hurt.


*Here is a  question I am not asking: Can you be a good and faithful Mormon and still reject racist "folk doctrines?" I'm not asking that question, nor have I ever, because the answer has always been "yes."  Despite comments to the contrary, I never implied that those who stay active in the LDS church, despite it's issues, are wrong. I respect the individuals that faced discrimination- black, white, male, female, and still stay in an attempt to make the world, and the church, a better place. We all have ways to combat injustice, from Jim Zwerg to the actively Mormon BYU students who protested Professor Bott's comments last week. I never said, nor believed otherwise.


3/2/12

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar

This is another response to the Professor Bott/LDS Newsroom debacle. You've been warned:

Every once in a while, the cosmos blesses teacher with a wonderful student. These students make your day better simply by existing. They say “thank you” at the end of each day. Your heart leaps every time he or she raises their hand, because their comments consistently validate your belief that you are accomplishing something of worth. You remember that student for years.

For me, Sam is my student. I unabashedly love him in a way only English teachers can love a 17 year old boy. (That means I love him in a completely appropriate way with clear boundaries rooted in a desire for him to succeed academically.) I like that he thinks before raising his hand. I appreciate the way he incorporates his beliefs and thoughts into his reactions to the text. Sometimes he speaks in a way that makes me realize the characters in the novels are real to him. I suspect he genuinely cared about Huck Finn.

He cared about Huck Finn, and I've only seen the mild-mannered Sam remotely angry once: during our discussions on  racism and culture in Huck Finn. He was horrified by Tom’s unnecessarily cruel treatment of Jim. He couldn’t understand how Tom could treat Jim like a plaything, prolonging his slavery for the sake of “adventure.” Later, without any guidance from me, Sam pointed out the callousness of Huck’s answer when Huck makes up a story about a steamboat accident.  Aunt Sally asks if anyone was hurt, to which Huck remarks “No, just a n_______r.”

Maybe the racism in Huck Finn horrified Sam because, according to Brigham Young, he "wears the mark of Cain." But I think Sam’s horror stemmed at least in equal part from Sam’s sense of personal integrity. Sam is a good and kind person, and the truly good and kind tend to be horrified by little things like injustice.

I don’t even mind when Sam reads his scriptures during SSR (at the beginning of class, students are allowed to read a book of their choice for ten minutes,) even when he is behind on the assigned reading. I don’t mind, and despite some major cynicism towards the LDS church, I do wonder if that all that scripture reading helped create my kind a thoughtful student. My heart breaks a little thinking that, because it forces me to ask myself why it didn’t work for me? If Mormonism helped make Sam the kind of person who cares about the well-being of others, even fictional characters, why can’t it work for me?

I don’t know when Sam’s family joined the church. I wonder when his father received the priesthood, and if his grandfather died waiting. I wonder if my student who reads Preach My Gospel despite being two years away from serving a mission is familiar with our history of racism and discrimination. Does he know that the school he dreams of attending is named after a man who supported slavery because he believed Blacks were cursed? Is he aware that he may take a religion class from a teacher (Professor Bott) who promotes a “discriminatory” God, a God who withholds blessings because Blacks were “fence-sitters” in the pre-existence? I look at Sam’s heavily annotated triple combination and recoil at the idea of anyone telling this bright and thoughtful student that his testimony just isn’t enough, or wouldn’t have been enough 34 years ago. I think of Huck telling Aunt Sally that no one got hurt.

Of course, in light of the  Professor Bott’s comments, the LDS church is quick to remind us (via statement from the vague and mysterious newsroom,) that “It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine.” Great. We don’t know why Sam’s testimony didn’t matter 34 for years ago, but it does now.

Of course I am pleased that the LDS church made a clear statement against Professor Bott’s statements: “We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.” But I don’t know if a 196 word statement claiming only partial responsibility for generations of discrimination is enough. When Sam meets his first Mormon Bigot (because he will,) how will a “statement issued by the LDS Newsroom” fare against the words of a prophet like Brigham Young, or McConkie, or Kimball?

Like many LDS bloggers and writers, (Joanna Brooks, Jana Reiss,) I want more than a Newsroom statement. I want an apology, I want a sincere asking for forgiveness for the pain our practices caused, and will continue to cause if we allow racism to die a slowly anesthetized death from The Newsroom. I want a death blow issued by President Monson, over the pulpit, in Conference. I want something that Sam can hold onto when he serves his inevitable mission and someone incredulously asks him why he serves a church that barely recognizes their racist heritage.

I want it for Sam, but I’ll confess, I want it for me too. Someday my great-great grand-daughter may question why her ancestor stayed connected to a church that told her that her worth lies solely in being “the wife and mother of the children of a worthy holder of the priesthood,” (note that this implies that I am mother to his children, not ours,) while her husband receives not only the opportunity to be a parent, but the power to “speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world.” When that day comes, I’m sincerely hoping that there is more than a Newsroom quote to calm her heart. I’m hoping that there will be more than benevolently sexist language about women being “worshipped” instead of being equal. I’m hoping that someday my grand-children, whatever their race or their gender, will be seen as truly equal to their white male counterparts.  

But what I’ve learned, not only from Sam, but from Professor Bott and The Newsroom, is to recognize that the tiny part of me that wants to make Mormonism work. I want it to work for me.  I want it to work for me on some level that I don’t understand.

 I’m just not sure it can. I’m not sure I can have a testimony of The Newsroom when my testimony of the gospel itself seems questionable. I don’t want to live like my ancestors, or Sam’s ancestors, waiting for the change and apology that may never arrive.  It is good that we are condemning racism, it is good that we see men and women as equal partners. But we need to apologize for racism, and we need to recognize that it is impossible to be equal when one person “presides” over the other.

 It is good. We are on the right track. But it is enough?




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