Shapes of a retreat.

IMG_4795.JPG
IMG_4796.JPG
IMG_4800.JPG
IMG_4799.JPG
IMG_4798.JPG
IMG_4797.JPG
this one is from my friend’s beautiful new house.

this one is from my friend’s beautiful new house.

A retreat. I am an introvert living an extrovert’s life. 

Being an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t love people. It just means that if I don’t get solitude, I start to lose energy and focus, I get exhausted fuzzy around the edges, and if it goes on for a really long time, I start to forget who I am. That’s when I get clingy, peering up at faces to see if they can tell me who I am, tugging on coat sleeves, trailing after monks in the street, casting myself at the feet of the grandmother next door.

Well. That’s maybe where it would end up, if I didn’t retreat.

I walk backwards, very silently, fingers to my lips. Then run!

Actually, no, I just kiss my husband and get in the car. Find a cheap guesthouse in a part of town where I know nobody, and spread out my journals, pencils, computer, books I intend to read but never do, a bag of almonds, my coffee paraphernalia, and my blanket. Do you remember my blanket? I’m still working away on it. It’s the longest delight.

Some things I do on retreat:

Lie in bed and don’t get up.

Look at colors and shapes in the market. A stack of mangos. Embroidery thread. Dried mushrooms. Shapes, smells, and colors are very soothing. Very simple.

Find a park and look at trees.

See a movie.

Write words and words and words and words.

Read.

Paint.

Do the big shopping at the big store. (Sometimes non-retreat things have to be combined with retreat things. This is life.)

Talk to God in long, uninterrupted sentences that can be complainy, boring, or grateful.

Then I run (drive) back under the trees to my family and dog and hug them forever.

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work.

I like what you have made.

IMG_4747.JPG

I love to cook for big groups of people. It’s something I just love, what can I say?

Maybe it’s because cooking is one of the most sensory of the tasks of our lives: cut tomatoes. Cut six kilos of them. Keep your fingers out of the way. Cut onions. Cry at the doorway. Come back and cut some more.

Cooking on Sundays is smell, taste, organized work. I line the vegetables up in the order they need to be cut. I set a timer and go as quickly as I can. Later I slow down and go carefully. Seeds in hot oil: Fennel, coriander, cumin, mustard. I add turmeric and a spice with the magical name of Kitchen King. Suddenly, the kitchen is alive with fragrance, with memories of jungle days.

Abundance. We have enough and plenty to share.

Holy work. I couldn’t do it if it wasn’t art. But every color, every texture, truly is beautiful. It’s holy work to cook for others. Before anything, God is Creator. Whenever I respond to what God has made, I feel as though we are in an act of making something together. I appreciate this, I whisper. I like what you have made. Especially purple cabbage. Especially the glorious tomato.

Holy work is always messy. True holy work, that is.

So there are stacks of dishes. There’s a chunk of dhal that has spilled on the stove and is blackening at an alarming rate. And there are friends; here they are helping, here they are chopping, creating, we are making things together. We are saving the sambar from burning in the pot by ever more ridiculous and ingenious methods. I am asking Sonal to make the chutney because hers is the best. Keren is cutting a mound of cabbage that nearly engulfs her.

And then somehow, it all disappears. The two rice cookers are empty, the giant pot is being scraped, the salad is long gone. People are walking around with the food we made in their bellies. Fed. I love it. What can I say?

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work.

The day before the last day.

IMG_4578.JPG

It’s the day before the last day of the year.

I’m sitting in my studio with a new candle, thinking about the past year and all it has held. Thinking about the next year and what it will be.
This year my oldest son moved out partially. He’s doing really well.
I published another book.
I started a podcast with my community.

Next year I want to play more.
Play more music, play more boardgames.
I want to take Chinua’s camera out sometimes.
I want to sketch and draw and paint.
I want to publish more books.
I want to appreciate, and write, and take photos, and make art. I want to have people over, and be a mom who is present. (More of the same.)
I’m starting seminary. I’m homeschooling my own kids. I want to do it well, with care and without playing the hardworking victim. (My weak spot.) It’s going to be a busy year, but each day has its own work and play and God offers buckets of grace.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much.
Hello, day before the last day of the year. What do you have to offer today? Maybe a walk? A cup of tea with a friend? Helping some beloved friends pack up their house? Making palak paneer?
Hopefully all of those things with some little surprises in between.

You do not know where it comes from or where it goes...

IMG_4358.jpg

The other day, during art meditation,

 we focused on this verse:

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

These words are comforting when I feel too different to get along in this world.

When life feels confusing and overwhelming, with too many deadlines and not enough dancing.

When I am far from people that I love, or great trees that have been a shelter to me.

There is always that wind

It blows where it will

a warm wind

a kind wind

a breeze full of life and consolation.

Learning to listen.

Unintended but not a mistake.jpg

Part 1.

I’ve been trying to write this post since I first read the about the tragic killing of Jemel Robersen. I think it hit me hard because of my naive believe that as soon as people learned about police brutality toward black Americans, it would stop. But it hasn’t stopped, and at the same time as seeing our awareness build, there is also a sort of defeat. How will it end?

I went searching for some statistics on mass shootings. Not my normal afternoon exercise, but it seemed important. Specifically I wanted to know how many mass shooters end up in custody rather than dying during the attack. 

Here’s what I have read in these statistics.**

First, police do extraordinary work in subduing and arresting mass shooters—people with weapons who have already used those weapons to kill and injure multiple people. And still somehow, in 90% of cases where the shooter does not kill himself, police manage to take the shooter into custody. Without killing him. In cases where the suspect has a gun, has proven he will use it, and has already taken lives. These are truly difficult situations of high danger, and they have the skills to take people in alive.

But then we have someone like 26-year-old Jemel Robersen, who was killed on duty as a security guard, doing his job as he apprehended a (white) shooter who opened fire in a bar in Chicago. Jemel did his work well, disarming and holding the shooter until police could arrive. He did what he was supposed to do. 

Doing what he was supposed to do didn’t help him be any safer. When police arrived, they saw a black man with a gun and shot him, ignoring the shouts of people around who said, “he’s one of us!” or “he saved us!” He died. The original gunman was taken into custody.

Like many other horrified people, I shared the article on Jemel Roberson on Facebook, and my brother-in-law commented, “The sad part is the culture has always been in the shadows. Now it's in the light. They always have been killing us. It's just on camera now. And they still won't stop.”

They have always been killing us. Here is the hard truth. Even though many police have the skill to de-escalate, black lives are simply worth less than white lives in America. 

White people have always been killing black people. 2 million deaths in the middle passage (slave ships from Africa to enslaving countries). 2 million more African deaths attributed to slavery, a system of profit for white people. It’s how America started. It is poison, and the poison has not been eradicated. 

From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States.  Of these people that were lynched 3,446, 72.7% were black. Other people who were lynched included people who smuggled runaway slaves or were caught helping black people. It was a form of execution without trial. Police shootings are also a form of execution without trial. Young black men are 9 times more likely than any other kind of people to be killed by officers.

They have always been killing us. We have to get rid of this poison. We must. It is poisoning all of us.

Part 2.

Here’s how it goes with black men. A young black man looks “dangerous.” He’s standing around. Sitting at a cafe, doing his job, walking down the street, and someone calls the police. The police come, and don’t use their extraordinary skills of disarming dangerous people with guns. They shoot first.

Here’s how it starts: We (white people) start it by labeling a normal situation dangerous. We call in the authorities for no reason. (He looks suspicious. I don’t think he lives in this neighborhood.) Those men laughing and talking on the corner? Hanging out? Why do we call the police on them? At best it’s harassment. At worst it costs people their lives. 

Our family has not had a visit back to the US in the last five years without some sort of interaction with the police. 

One scary moment happened when we visited a friend. We had gone to a nearby park because the friend’s father and brother-in-law were arguing and he felt it would be better if we left them alone. (Our friend and his father are Asian-American. His brother-in-law is white.) After a while, the brother-in-law ran out of the house shouting, “Call 911, he has a gun!” 

Someone did call 911. We walked to the other side of the park to get far away from the house. But when the officers arrived, they spotted Chinua, and charged out of the car toward him, aiming their guns at him, while he held his hands up, despite the fact that we were nowhere near the house. His friend beside him called and gestured to show the house that the gunman actually was in. The kids and I were only a few feet away. There was a two-second pause while the police considered this, and then they changed course and went to the house where the man was. (It turned out to be a pellet gun.)

We were in the wrong place at the wrong time- the incident had nothing to do with us. But why did they run toward Chinua, despite the many, many people standing around in that park? He was the only black man.


Chinua has been pulled over for nothing more than driving an expensive car. (It was the car he was borrowing from a friend while he spent a month with Ian in the hospital, at the end of Ian’s life.)

He has had special services swarm him for exiting his vehicle during a motorcade. 

When he was a boy, he was surrounded by several police cars and told to get down on the ground because he was running down a sidewalk with his brother. 

Part 3. 


I want to learn to listen well.

I have been on my own journey with race. From my youth in Canada, to meeting and falling in love with Chinua, learning about historical racism on a different level, hearing his stories of his mother’s investigations into police brutality in Los Angeles in the 80’s and 90’s, to current day issues. I know that I have listened as though I was listening to a story that has nothing to do with me. I know that I have refused to acknowledge the reality of racism at times, as though my own sheer optimism (that came from growing up believing that people would listen to me and fight for justice for me) could cover everyone around me. Or have not wanted to acknowledge that I have benefited from a system where white people have the most power. And I am slowly starting to see that not having to think about race is a privilege for white people, how race effects nearly everything in our world and political systems for anyone of color, especially black people in America. 

The other day I sat and listened as a couple of white friends kept brushing off what Chinua said about racism. 

Chinua was talking about cultural misunderstanding as a piece of the problem, an fixable piece. “People see black people talking loudly and think that they are angry, when it’s just the way they talk.” 


“There are differences between everyone,” one said shrugging. “There are differences in cultures between the different regions of my country.”


“But we can learn about cultural differences, rather than calling the police,” Chinua responded.


“What, then we have to learn every culture in the world?” (That would be ridiculous, is the implication.)


White friends, we sometimes respond to the reality serious and tragic injustice toward black people in unkind and disempowering ways. Maybe we’ve tried to say that the problem can’t be as bad as they are making it. Maybe we try to act as though the same kind of thing has happened to us. Sometimes we try to show how much better we are than those other white people. “I have a black friend…”

I have done all of those things, not even realizing just how dangerous it is. Because actually what we need to do is stop talking over black people, stop saying it is all the same, stop saying All Lives Matter (everyone already knows this), stop distracting from the conversation about the dangers that black men and women (and children) face. 


Chinua, my kindhearted, right-living husband, has faced these dangers his whole life. As have his family. As have his people. He has skills in how to diffuse a situation, how to not appear threatening, how to assure white people of their worth even while trying to talk about the real race issues of a people who have historically been enslaved and killed, en masse, by white people. 


Clinging to our sense of the world as a right and good place, where people get ahead because of their worth, or fail because they haven’t tried hard enough, makes us bad at listening. But we have to listen.

Part 4.


So let’s listen. Here are some gentle suggestions from someone who has got it wrong many many times. The next time you’re in a conversation about race, and a black person speaks about how hard things are for them, don’t invalidate, brush off, or diminish what they are saying. Just listen, and then say, “I’m sorry. I haven’t heard about that.” Assume there is a lot you don’t know. Learn to be okay with being uncomfortable. (It’s the least we can do for our friends.) Let’s sit uncomfortably with our race (and its history of oppression) without twitching it off by saying “All lives matter,” or “black people enslaved each other too,” or “there’s such a thing as reverse racism.” Let’s not divert the topic to something more comfortable. Let’s admit to not being able to understand what it feels like to know that you are the most targeted type of person in America. We don’t have to understand. We just have to listen and we have to care.


Race is not all we are. Chinua reminds me that there are many ways to slice the pie. I don’t particularly like being in a slice that is away from my entire immediate family and all my in laws, but I am. I can’t pretend away my privilege because I don’t want to be different. It’s dangerous for my family if I keep insisting the difference doesn’t exist. It’s dangerous for my sons, who are in the 99th percentile of height and weight for their age, and about to become large mixed-race (black) men. In one configuration of our family, I am different. I am not in danger in a way that they are. I am the one who gets out and checks for a camping spot at a KOA in Kansas, because I am less likely to be turned away.

I also have great power to be a good listener, friend and ally. We get to decide who we want to be. Do we want to get rid of this poison? One way to keep it around is to keep it hidden, pretend it isn’t there. 

Let’s be okay with being uncomfortable. The last thing I’ll say to my fellow white followers of Jesus is that this is the kind of thing our faith prepares us for. Repentance, discomfort and pain, weeping with those who weep, remaining quiet in order for others to have a chance to speak at the table—these are all earmarks of our faith, and every one of them ends in what we always have, the mercy and grace of God. Our fairytale kingdoms may fall. Our image of ourselves and our countries or heritage as “completely” good may fall. But nothing can separate us from the love of God. It is safe for false constructions to fall. God will remain, and his love and mercy are for all of us.

Here are some resources: 

The current season of Serial. They did some amazing work of spending time and reporting in one courtroom in Cleveland, and what emerges shows how biased things can be in the judicial system.

 The New Jim Crow and The Color of Law explain a lot about the systemization of oppression and segregation in America. (Disclaimer, I haven’t read them. They’re on my list.)

13th, a Netflix documentary about unpaid inmate labor in America.

**Of the 107 shooting sprees that Mother Jones records between 1982 and 2018, 61 were carried out by white people. 17 by black people. (The rest were a mixture of Latino, Asian, Native American, and Unclear.) 

Of those 61 white people, 32 died by suicide. Of those who didn’t shoot themselves, 21 were taken into custody, 8 killed by police. 

Of the 11 black shooters who didn’t kill themselves, 5 were taken in, 6 killed by police. 

(Mother Jones marks shootings that are spree-like, have 3 or more fatalities and often many more injuries.)