Personal life

I watched an hour-long program on MSNBC recently, “Everyday Racism in America.” Here’s the link if you did not see it.  I urge you watch it, even before you read another word here. That tells you, I hope, how valuable I perceive this video to be.

everyday racism in America MSNBCOne reason I feel that way is that the concept of “everyday” racism is most likely difficult for many to grasp—many white folks, that is.

The stories told during the program were not just the dramatic ones we know from police shootings and other violence, but more about how ordinary human encounters with white people, police yes but also neighbors and fellow shoppers and many others, too often turn out to be painful and angering, if not dangerous, for the person or persons of color who are involved. This is part of their daily living, their everyday lives, in the United States of America. They have to live each day knowing, yes knowing, something ugly can, and probably will, happen.

michael-hayesSometimes, police or others get it right, as here  in a news report about a young Black businessman in Memphis, Michael Hayes, but the initial action—a white woman calling police about the man at a boarded up house across the street, and continuing verbal outbursts even after the police verify his identity and his legitimate purpose in being in her neighborhood—is very common and at least painful and often dangerous for the person of color.

This story, and many from the MSNBC program, and others I read often in the media, have caused me to examine my own history of unconscious or inadvertent, or even intentional or at least obvious, racist behavior.

Recently, while walking our dog, I encountered a group of young Black men, and I was surprised to realize I felt some anxiety. I thought to myself, why do I feel this? They were a group of friends—hard to tell if there were high school or college students, perhaps both—who are enjoying joking and jiving. Then, my mind flashed back to an incident in Detroit from my childhood.

Bleazby's store Detroit

Bleazby Brothers, Detroit

My father and I (age five or six) had driven into Detroit to pick up my aunt (my mother’s older sister) for Thanksgiving dinner at our home in Milford. She worked in the city during the winter months for a gift store (she also worked for them in the summer in a northern Michigan community when the store catered to the many tourists). When in Detroit she lived at a downtown hotel near the store (the picture below makes it look very glamorous).

He parked right in front of the hotel. I waited in the front seat—I think it was 1952 when I was six years old—while my father went up the steps to the hotel to collect my aunt. He was gone a short time.

But in that time, an older Black (we would have said Negro) man opened the rear hatch of our station wagon and started to climb in. I was startled; I am not sure I had time to feel much fear.

My father came out with my aunt, waved to me, and then saw what was happening. He left my aunt standing on the steps while he raced down yelling at the man to get out of the car. When my father got to the back of the car, the man climbed out, mumbling words I could not hear. He left, giving a slight bow to my father.

Madison-Lenox Hotel

This is the hotel, now demolished (as so much has been in Detroit)

By now, my aunt had gotten to the car, and climbed in the back seat. My father sat in the driver’s seat. He asked me if I was okay. I said yes.

My aunt said, “Well, I’m not okay. That is outrageous” (I cannot remember her precise words, but these feel right). “That Negro (I don’t think she used the ugly “N-word” but I am not sure) needs to be arrested. Bob (speaking to my father), you should immediately call the police.”

“Well, Grace” (my aunt’s name), I am not going to do that. I think he meant no harm. It is bitter cold out and he had no coat or hat, only a thin shirt and pants. I think he was trying to get warm” (again, not my father’s precise words, but I think close).

“But,” continued my aunt, “Robin could have been killed. Don’t you care?”

“That’s enough,” my father said, his voice moving into a range I knew meant he was angry. “Of course, I care, and if Robin had been in real danger I would be doing that. In my judgment he was not at much risk. Besides, I don’t want this to create ugly feelings in Robin.”

My aunt started to speak again, but my father cut her off. “We will say no more about it, unless Robin has anything he wants to say.” I remained silent, as we all did the rest of the way home (an hour or so). I remember it was an uncomfortable ride.

Later, my mother asked me how I felt. She said Daddy had told her what happened. I told her I was okay. I don’t remembering acknowledging any fear or anxiety. She told me that neither she or my father would ever let me be harmed. I said I knew that.

I have thought of this over the years. It was my first encounter with a Black person (this is before we moved to the country and had Black neighbors (as I recounted in the previous post). How much has it affected my perceptions and reactions?

As I have acknowledged before, my father showed no signs of racist thinking or behavior (until I learned later about his ugly feelings toward Native Americans). In fact, his actions and comments in this incident are consistent with his voice on the subject of white attitudes toward Black people.

At the same time, however, he never engaged me in any dialogue on the subject, never sought to share one-on-one with me his own views and beliefs. He surely did not prepare me for a racist world.

And my aunt, who I cherished and who was in some ways like a second mother to me, was both a fearful woman and quite judgmental. Over the years, I heard her say some unpleasant things about others—not just Black people but others outside her circle.

So, here I am, a 71-year-old white man (65 years later), feeling anxiety when I encounter a group of laughing young Black men who make space for me on the sidewalk as we pass, even some nodding at me and looking admiringly at our dog.

Will it never end?

And I know the answer, at least for me, is to get it out, admit my prejudices and fears, trace and uncover my history, “scrape off the paint they used to cover my senses” (as suggested by poet Alberto Caeiro in my previous post), in order to undo the damage done to me and to help others do the same. I expect there will be more paint to remove, and I pray I will do it whenever I see it.

What about you?

I repeat my invitation: Sharing these stories is a form of confession, without which repentance and reparations are impossible.  I hope some readers will write here on the blog where comments are solicited. Whatever you share in this spirit I will approve for publication so others can see the comments too. If that is too much for you at this moment, feel free to write me personally at RevDrRobin@comcast.net

[This is the first installment in a series focusing, as I prepare to turn 70 in October, on what is so far the second half of my life, the 35 years that began in 1981, with looks back at earlier days as they affect the later ones.I am hopeful that this serialization of my life may provide some of the components of a memoir of a life rich in faith, hope, joy and love.]

Thirty-five years ago today–August 23, 1981–four people sat around a makeshift table to eat pizza and birthday cake. The occasion was the first birthday of Marjorie Elizabeth Gorsline, known then, as now, as Meg.

The setting was the second floor apartment of the Gorsline family–mother Judy, three-year-old sister Emily, Meg, and me, known as Daddy to the girls and Bob to Judy–in married student housing at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. We had arrived two days earlier, driving from Milford, MI, so that I could take up seminary studies.

Our furniture had yet to arrive, so we borrowed two chairs from kind neighbors for the adults and a milk crate on which to put the pizza box and then the birthday cake. Emily sat on the floor and Meg in our laps (and often on the floor), a great dining adventure for us all.

Meg & Kevin Party 015

Just about my favorite picture of Meg, from a wedding shower in 2009.

This was the beginning of an even greater adventure for all four of us (and a third daughter, Robin, who would arrive 16 months later)–a huge life-change for me to come about one year later that would over the course of that following year throw all of us into new and often painful, and, for me at least, often joyful and sometime frightening, and ultimately fulfilling territory.

But for now, all we knew was that we had left our Midwestern roots for the storied East. Judy was seeking a job to provide financial stability, Emily and Meg needed to be enrolled in daycare, and I had to get ready for classes.

What had caused all this change in our lives? I had felt a call to ordained ministry, having grown dissatisfied with the limits of political life. It was near the end of my first term as a Republican member of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, as I was seeking re-election in 1978 (a few months after the birth of Emily), that I had begun to discern disquiet in my soul about the vocational direction of my life. After an easy electoral victory, I told Judy that I was feeling pulled toward ministry.

As ever a wonderful helpmate, she encouraged me to talk with our priest, Rev. Jacob L. “Jake” Andrews, at St. George’s Episcopal Church, where I served as a lay leader and she an active communicant. It took me a couple of months before I gathered my courage and went to sit with Jake in his study at the church, a sanctum I had visited many times over the almost 20 years he had been our spiritual leader.

Jake said, “I wondered when, or if, you would recognize this. I am relieved and glad.” I shed a few tears–but not too many, because he was a Bostonian by birth with a quiet demeanor who seemed often to be embarrassed by displays of emotion. And then he began to help me chart a course that could lead me to seminary in the fall of 1981.

As it happened, Judy had grown tired of teaching fourth graders and was happy to contemplate possible new career paths. So both of us looked ahead with eagerness to a new journey together.

Before we would leave, she became pregnant again. I did not receive this news, initially, with gladness, having been convinced that she and I, both raised as only children (I had two older half-sisters but had not been raised with them, and Judy was truly an only child), would do best with one child.

But Judy, raised by unhappy, perpetually quarreling, mutually distrustful parents, felt she could not risk Emily being consigned to the sort of lonely, emotionally bereft childhood she had ensured. We had talked about all this, and I thought we were still debating the issue. But she, by then 39 and worried about her ability to bear another child, had decided on her own to stop using birth control.

When she told me she was pregnant just after Christmas in 1980, I was stunned and angry. I felt deceived. It was in some ways the forerunner of another, even more jarring time, when one of us would feel that way about the other.

But as I watched Emily grow excited at the prospect of a sibling (especially when we were able to tell her she would have a little sister) and saw the bloom of pregnancy and joy in Judy, I too was overtaken by happy anticipation.

And of course, this baby, named after Judy’s beloved Auntie Marge and my favorite older cousin, Elizabeth, turned out to be a delight, the greatest sort of joy any parent can have. At her birth, I loved my three women.

So on this day, I especially celebrate Meg, whose intelligence, wisdom, beauty, grace, and courage remind me so very fondly of her mother even as all of it is, of course, the mark of the particular embodied gift of God she was on her very first earthly day and all the rest since and into her bright future. There is none like her. She is her own person, beautifully, wondrously so.

[There is more to tell about our journey to, and our life in, Cambridge, and beyond; stay tuned for the next installment of “A Life Worth Living.”]

 

 

counterpunch.org

counterpunch.org

Black Lives Matter, Palestine/Israel, the U.S. Presidential race, Syria, refugees, Native American Lives Matter, health care, immigration reform–all these and more capture my attention, and are deserving of yours. There is so much bad, or at least difficult, news…..some might even say c–p, every day (Donald Trump’s latest, whatever it might be, is in a category all by itself).

youtube.com (not our Cocoa!)

youtube.com (not our Cocoa!)

But some of you, like me, have other more prosaic matters, other c–p, to deal with as well. Such as dog poop, AKA dog s–t (yes, I know, at times it seems like the label fits some of the big categories above, but that might be considered offensive by dogs).

A vital question is, what do we do with it?

Flush puppies doodie bagsJonathan and I have found what we think is simply the best solution for the dog . . . . er . . . version . . . . offered through an excellent product, “Flush Puppies Flushable & Certified Compostable Doodie Bags for Dogs.”

Here’s what the manufacturer says on their website:

Flush Puppies™ doodie bags are Certified Compostable in industrial compost facilities that accept pet waste, where they will disintegrate and biodegrade swiftly.*  (Sorry, home composters, they’re not suitable for backyard composting!)

Flush Puppies™ are flushable, too.  Yes, really…flushable.  Made from Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) – a water-soluble alternative to regular plastic – Flush Puppies™ are specifically made to be flushed down the toilet along with your pet’s waste.  (It’s science – not voodoo!)  Unlike regular plastic bags or other so-called “biodegradable” poop bags, Flush Puppies™ actually break down in water.

freerepublic.com

freerepublic.com

What you do with the bags is completely up to you — compost ‘em, flush ‘em or trash ‘em.   But we call them FlushPuppies™ because we think there’s enough crap going on in the environment without adding more to landfills, where your dog’s “business” (and the bag it’s wrapped in) will likely mummify and not biodegrade for thousands of years, if ever.  (click here for more)

For us, it’s simple. No more filling the trash can with poop bags (either ones you buy or the newspaper delivery bag), knowing the bags and their contents will not decompose any time soon and will actually contaminate the ground. Now, we bring the bag home (meaning you have to carry it with you) and flush it down the toilet (you do have to leave the bag untied or untie before flushing). The wastewater treatment facility in our town takes it from there.

Pet Smart corporate logo

phx.corporate-ir.net

You can buy them online, and at Pet Smart, and other local stores (click here to find one near you).

When a product comes along that seems just about perfect, friends share the good news. No need to thank me. Just thank the folks at Pawsome Pet Products LLC.

Help question markI am thinking about writing them a letter–asking them to design a product so we can take some of the other c–p we face each day (e.g., pronouncements from some Presidential candidates) and flush it, too.

That would take c–p and its disposal to a whole new level!

Jonathan acting head shot

My husband, Dr. Jonathan Lebolt

God has blessed me with the love of a Jewish man, and through him to connect in ways with Judaism that otherwise might never have happened (although the priest most influential in my adolescence and young adulthood was clearly most in love with the Hebrew Bible).

I worshiped in temple last week on both days of Rosh Hashanah and am doing so this week for Yom Kippur. These are very meaningful times of reflection and prayer for me, a declaration of the new year and an opportunity to let go of habits and attitudes and behaviors that get in the way of living the full life God has for me in this new year.

L'Shanah Tovah

Good New Year, sometimes with u’metuka (and Sweet). card-images.com

This sequence is so much more satisfying than the one I am used to as a U.S. Christian–beginning with Advent that portends (and even offers) great spiritual depth but is then overcome by secular Christmas and the hoopla of New Year’s Day and the well-meaning (but for me often ineffective) efforts of resolutions. Three years ago, at the first night of Rosh Hashanah, in a very crowded Jewish Community Center in Richmond, I received a holy message to change the focus of my life’s work. I have not been the same since.

biblia.com

biblia.com

Perhaps I find the Jewish practice more spiritually satisfying because it is not about marketing products and holding parties but rather about introspection, fasting, and self-change.

Self-change . . . the element missing from most of our public life, and probably private life, too.

Certainly, we don’t often hear national political candidates talk about self-change–either for themselves or for our nation. Instead, we hear them promising to make America great again. I just know that means someone else outside our nation is going to have to change. For us to stride the world, as in the time of Reagan for example, means someone else is going to have to stand down. We are the good guys, and you better get out of the way.

Many are critical, even dismissive, of President Obama, because to them he seems weak. He, in some modest but important ways, wants to run things in the rest of the world less and work more with others. I am grateful for that. It is certainly unusual in a U.S. leader.

Indeed, nations and their leaders are notoriously lacking in self-reflection and the desire to change themselves. First, they have to admit errors (but I don’t think President Obama is very good at this either).

jimmyong77.com

jimmyong77.com

As a nation, we have yet to really make amends to African people who were dragged here against their will and forced to do all sorts of things, or to Native Americans who were already here and were routinely pushed aside and even butchered so we could have our land. Both peoples still bear the scars and pay the price, as, of course, do the rest of us in other ways. This Yom Kippur, we could atone, but I doubt we will.

The United States is not alone in this. Europe still acts as if what various nations did in Africa, South America, and Asia was just fine.  Israel doesn’t seem to understand why Palestinians might be angry for being forced from their homes and land, in 1948, and now, too. Russia certainly is not over bullying behavior with neighbors, and Lebanon’s Arab neighbors do not hide their desire to maintain that nation as their fiefdom.

But what about us, you and me? Am I ready to change? Are you?

I will speak for myself (I hope you feel free to write and share your own thoughts for yourself, if that would help you).

My big change this year, now and over the next twelve months, needs to be in focusing–as in, I need to focus. I am accustomed to hard work but usually on agendas set by someone else or by society. Now, I need to take my own agenda, my own call and vocation, seriously enough to focus on it and move forward.

I am nowhere I am now here

mountainmovingmindset.com

This means learning to be organized, to set goals, to write regular hours, to listen and be alert to the prompts I receive from God (often through others), to invest in my vocation as a writer and teacher/workshop leader/ minister.

Pretty prosaic, huh? But life-changing nonetheless.

I repent of all the times I did not do this, when I was sloppy, disorganized, unfocused, distracted, not trusting God’s desire for me but living to get by without too much strain. And I ask God’s help to move forward in new ways, to learn new daily practices, to discern priorities better, to not say “yes” to every request, to be prepared to speak up with my truth and even gracefully to take some heat for it sometimes.

Of course, there is much else for me to repent–being rude to people, not caring enough about my loved ones, not always eating well, not getting enough exercise . . . oh my, the list goes on too long to bore you. One thing I really appreciate about Yom Kippur is its focus on ethical lapses, not about doing ritual things right in the synagogue but living right–and how it is about both the individual and the community).

Yom Kippur empty plate starting a good cleanse

blackgayjewish.com

The good news is that for Jews the ending of the ten Days of Awe, teshuvah (reflection, repentance, return), on Yom Kippur, while the holiest of days, is also a day of celebration–commemorating God’s forgiveness of the sin of the Golden Calf.

I repent of it all, and will celebrate at the end of the fast this evening a new, lighter (from carrying less remorse and guilt), more focused me. I also pray for repentance for our country (and how I have not always helped make us a better nation), and a true celebration of independence from all that holds us down as a people.

May you repent as is right for you, and also celebrate! Blessing to all! L’Shanah Tovah!