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Tweet1. I worry, extensively and probably needlessly, about expectations.
2. I define friendship and closeness by how comfortable I feel when we are together in a new place.
3. Negativity. I don’t do it. Don’t want to be around it. Can’t explain it but I know it when I sense it.
4. Contrary to gender stereotype, men grieve. And it looks like a dam bursting when they allow themselves the emotional release of expressing it outwardly. More than dam. A bomb.
5. I care about what others think until it sounds ignorant.
6. Compassion is growing more and more extinct while bullshit terms like tolerance keep growing in popularity.
7. The more we forgive ourselves, the more we forgive our parents.
8. The more I love, the freer I feel.
9. Physical movement can be a prayer.
10. God doesn’t care what you look like.
TweetBelow is an incredibly brief processing of the conference I went to a few weeks ago, “Amazing Grace,” the Cleveland Archdiocese’s Forum on Race and Faith….
I recently had the pleasure of attending a conference, “Amazing Grace: The Diocese of Cleveland Forum on Race” two weeks ago. There were provocative keynote addresses and rich breakout sessions to discuss the impact of race in our world and in our faith.
How race and ethnicity affect our world is a complex matter and there’s no way to address such complexity in a few hundred words. The most effective and powerful way to address the sin of racism in the church and in our world is to cultivate two paths of understanding: the path of self-awareness and basic functions of racism itself.
We all come from stories of belonging and exclusion. All of us. All of our stories can be told with moments of pain and forgiveness, just and unjust conditions, but our commonality ends there. We are incapable of knowing the details of how discrimination has impacted others through power and privilege. It is not our responsibility to know every single story, but it is our responsibility to understand and believe that the world runs on a system that normalizes, standardizes, and distributes resources based on a racialized lens. Poverty, violence, and injustices often come to the most vulnerable and least protected. These are often communities of color who are disenfranchised by society. To deny this fact in our faith is to deny the message of Christ.
Jesus’ order to “love one another” is a clear, holy, and discomforting commandment. It love, to truly love one another is not to pretend we are all the same, it is to regard one another with radical humanity, fully embracing the differences between us. We are called to love one another. We are not called to be a “post race” mentality or be color blind to the reality of the shades of our skin.
To live out this commandment, it is not enough to love others the way we want to love them. Racism pushes communities to look for sameness and present difference as frightening, wrong, and unlawful. Love defies all these tendencies. But it must begin with understanding that love in action, us humans trying to live out God’s love will make us uncomfortable. And that discomfort is a blessing.
1. Redefining justice for survivors outside judicial proceedings
2. Incorporating the study of sex, gender, power, and violence into high school curriculum.
Cross-posted at Xavier University’s Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice Blog
There are a million things I’d rather be than a Catholic Feminist.
It was a gnawing and haunting restlessness that pursued my conscience like a ravenous lioness. It was relentless. And once I acknowledged it, it was like pressing UNMUTE on the button of life. I could not deny the pattern that was emerging from my life experiences, reflections, and work. Personal, professional, familial, academic, spiritual – the thread punctured all layers of my conscience.
The something was the ungodly needle of gender oppression. It began quietly, observing theory and famous authors with a gender issues bent, like studying Wollstonecraft at Xavier. And then it became visceral holding the hands of sexual assault survivors while doctors performed a rape kit on them at 3am in an emergency room during my Jesuit Volunteer Corp experience. While studying trauma and pathology in graduate school, I took a feminist theology class at Harvard that ripped down every door that I thought was securely nailed to the hinge. Then I found myself listening to stories of female college students selling their bodies to pay for tuition. Then I found myself hotly negotiating paid time off, benefits, and maternity leave in preparation to give birth to my son. With each passing year of my adult life, I saw that the world more clearly. And I saw that it spun on an axis that disproportionately distributed violence, poverty, and disadvantage to women and girls, especially women and girls of color.
It was right around the time when in the morning I was trying to convince a suicidal grandmother to report her two person sexual assault and later that same afternoon was dodging spitballs from high school boys sneering at my lectures about power and sexuality that I realized for the umpteenth time that the world was deeply problematic. But that deeply problematic realization quickly morphed into a deeply inconvenient epiphany when it hit me that I was partitioning my faith from the rest of the world instead of using it as a tool to help heal it.
The separation of faith and feminism was a futile, self-serving, psycho-segregation act. How does one reconcile feminism – distraughtly misunderstood movements with a history of both progress and digression – with Catholicism – a distraughtly misunderstood institution that has danced on both floors of social justice and injustice? I know how labels work. In today’s water cooler conversations, use the descriptor “modern Catholic” or “contemporary feminist” and see how long it takes before someone utters a negative stereotype about feminists (male-bashing, abortion loving radicals) or Catholics (gay-hating, scandal cover-up hypocrites). Watch how quickly and thoroughly ignorance washes their thoughts, as quickly as the water they drink. Watch how quickly the opportunity to engage disappears because of preconceived notions with their cultural attributes rather than remaining open to the person holding them.
In these early days of March, Women’s Herstory Month, it is easy to be caught up in media headlines and sound bytes which profile fantastic activists of the past, scholars and philosophers with visionary quotes about equality and human rights. I celebrate this as well, but I also want more. I want liberation.
Engaging and critiquing both the women’s rights movements and the Catholic Church has birthed a perspective to view the chaotic world; a way to organize thoughts, probe issues, and build a more critical and relevant conscience for the 21st century.
It is only through profound empathy and solidarity with the least in society that Catholic feminism resonates. It is a holy call to education; to unravel racism, transform violence, and challenge systematic oppression. Understanding the role of gender in the assignment of privilege, punishment, and power in the world is one of the most urgent and rudimentary calls of Catholics today. Our faith is bolstered, not weakened by feminist praxis, and feminist methodologies must more deeply embrace the spiritual gifts of their activists, not shun them in fear of conservative religious propaganda. And though some might argue there are fundamental differences between the two that prohibit peaceful co-habitation, I would kindly offer this experiment:
Find five active Catholics and five active feminists. Put them in a room for one hour and ask them one by one to articulate their vision of liberation, of radical love in the world. I believe they would have much more in common than one might guess. Their rhetoric and politics may seem incongruent, but is the point of progression to achieve same opinion or a better outcome than the present?
TweetFor the last twelve years, I walked around with an idea about helping survivors of rape and sexual violence. For the past three years, I’ve been working intently on finishing and publishing a collection of letters, essays, and prose written by survivors for other survivors exploring issues of justice and healing. Each time I’ve arrived at my screen to work on it, it’s been an uphill battle. Though I am comforted by the contract that it will be published, I still sit with the same heavy question as I did twelve years ago: What will it take to end rape and violence against women?
In my experience working with survivors in the context of mental health, advocacy, and now publishing, I’ve articulated some cornerstones/reminders/mental sticky notes that keep me grounded in this labor.
1. Power exists. Most folks know this, but don’t KNOW THIS. The majority of folks still need mentorship and education on its dynamics; what it is, how to use it, and its impact in daily action and relationship.
2. Gender…Essentialism. Stereotype. Discrimination. Whatever label is assigned. Gender_____ must be addressed. Ongoing. Never ending. There’s nothing more loaded or consuming than a dialogue unfolding the layers of the invisible gender laws of US society.
3. Discerning leadership. Every campaign, movement, or rally must acutely examine its use and spaces of power, privilege, and cultural differences.
4. A global dance, not choreographed. Each community must take the primary role and responsibility of creating and implementing its own actions toward ending violence against women. (Yes, United States of America, this means you. Stop trying to diva your way into lands and peoples trying to save them. They’re quite capable of their own liberation.)
5. Be mindful of the bokeh effect. Bokeh is a photography term. It’s the blur of a camera lens, throwing something in the background out of focus for an aesthetic quality. I fear this is the case for many movements to end violence against women. It throws so many out of focus. The reality is that men are not an accessory to ending rape, they are the primary target and tool to the fruition of this reality. We need everyone. Men. Children. Gender non conforming people. Transwomen. Transmen. Houseless folks. Mentally ill folks. Physically disabled folks. Todos/ALL. Everyone must be included in building a transformed world. Women cannot be the disproportionate population surviving rape and then be the ones who take majority over the work in ending it. How does that make any sense? The work must be shouldered and inclusive.
As Vday 2013 comes to its final hours in the United States, I sit watching the sky darken and wonder…
What happens on February 15, 2013? What happens when the 1 Billion Rising are risen? What happens when the music stops, everyone gathers their things, and heads home? Before I throw support behind a cause, I ask a question: Does this effort dismantle rape culture action or transform it? If it dismantled, it’s focused on awareness. (Keeps the issue bobbing like a buoy. It’s important and sustains it on media’s radar.) If it transforms, it digs deep, trying to get rid of the bokeh. (Works at a deeper level of change, goes to the root of the issue utilizing timeless questions about sustainability, liberation, and vision.)
I’d never say 1 Billion Rising is a bad thing. It’s a great thing. But the music will stop (if it hasn’t already). And the wonderful movement that uplifted the Rising will carry them home while those who did not dance may or may not catch a faceful of the stirring breeze the Rising created. That’s it. From what I gather, there is no clear follow-up for organization or education.
I ask my question: Did it dismantle or transform rape culture? I think it’s clear that 1 Billion Rising is about dismantling, not transforming rape culture. That’s not a bad thing! Every project fills some kind of void gathering forces to make a statement has a role in ending rape. I’d never discourage anyone from participating in action that brings energy and inspiration, but it’s also helpful to keep in mind how many more consciousness-raising campaigns we promote in the name of ending violence against women when we know full well that as long as we keep using bokeh – keeping one billion in focus and blurring the other six billion – we are not advancing forward. We are not ending violence against women, we’re just delaying it by a day.
I want more than One Billion Rising. I want Seven Billion Transforming.
We’re Divided by Power, not Gay Marriage: What Firing Mike Moroski Says About Catholic Church Leadership
The termination of Mike Moroski as Dean and Vice Principal at Purcell Marion High School in Cincinnati, Ohio is reaching a national audience. Recently, Moroski offered these questions as prompts for deeper analysis:
WHEN do institutions go too far in trying to quiet their members?
HOW do you reconcile your faith and your own personal beliefs that are the direct result of that very same faith?
WHY are some people seemingly so afraid of differing opinions?
WHAT is the REAL issue in all of this confusion?
The impact of this situation has always been much larger than Moroski’s unjust punishment or standing up for gay marriage. In my opinion, if you take a closer look at the fallout, you’ll see a prime example of what is eating the Catholic Church from the inside: a hierarchal leadership removed from the needs of the people.
When my partner, Nick, was an employee at Moeller high school at the same time when Moroski was teaching English, Nick often commented about a gift that Moroski possessed. It was an undeniable and rare ability to connect, truly connect, with teenagers. “God love him” was my reply because if you work with teens, observe youth groups, or sit in on high school theology classes, you know that anyone capable of entering the often ear-budded tunnel leading to a 16 year old mind can only be described as a miracle worker.
How we educate the Catholic youth is, in my opinion, one of the most pressing crises of the US Catholic church. It’s not just the statistics of school closings. (In the 2011-2012 school year, 34 Catholic schools opened while 167 were consolidated or closed. And we know that this pattern will only continue.) What makes Catholic education so dismal is the manner in which Catholic adults, notoriously, mark their faith formation beginning and ending with Sunday school programs, sacramental preparation classes, or formal Catholic education. Once a diploma is in hand, or high school youth group is over, the faith formation often ends as well. Catholics often regard faith formation like algebra class: learn what you need to get through it and survive. I imagine that Mike Moroski’s approach to education and faith formation somehow penetrated that superficial layer. From the outpouring of student support, the emotional upheaval is clear: the students listen(ed) to him and they loved him. The archdiocese removing that kind of educator from Purcell’s environment not only devastates the community, but models an abuse of power that not only insults and damages the students who stand to lose the most, but it insults and damages us all.
My generation finds itself repeating history, we are once again living in a time when the combined use of our vocal chords and critical thinking skills is a threatening action deemed punishable by church leadership. When we put our conscience into action, when we speak from the multi-lingual living God who. dwells. in. each. of. us., we are not met with open curiosity or inquisitive invitation. Those of us who publicly and openly claim our identity and embrace our “divergent” beliefs are met judgement, with condescending suggestion to study Scripture more closely, we are advised to find the REAL truth of our lives by prioritizing someone else’s reasoning over our own. It’s as if there is a myopic, linear way to God. It’s as if our human history hasn’t already spoken volumes about the evil we are capable of when we misuse systematic power and control in the name of God and orderliness.
It is most certainly not a modern trend to be an outspoken Catholic, to be in the fray. It was the searing call of the earliest Christians. Our history books reveal multiple instances of church leadership changing their tune, ideas and decisions (slavery, capital punishment, the priesthood to name a few). Does that mean there is no merit to having leadership or believing its teachings? No, of course not. Quite the opposite. The church leadership should stand with us in dialogue, not above us. Why is that such a threatening position, to stand shoulder to shoulder? Could it be that we’re equal (no master is greater than the servant) and that equality doesn’t neutralize power, but rather perfects it? This collective massaging of truth does not make it inauthentic or morally relativistic nor is it about making it convenient for everyone to lead comfortable lives. Quite the opposite! HIERARCHY is the easy way out. The social and religious construct we currently practice IS the convenient way. We may have moments like this when many are in uproar and as tragic and outrageous as this situation is for Mike and Katie Moroski, it’s also a lot easier to deal with this than it would be to engage each and every student, educator, catholic, priest, lay person, minister, child, friend. Operating as a love-centered, God-revealing community would mean that we actually and actively reflect upon our lives as we strive to understand the mystery of grace. Hierarchy is the convenient way to run companies, organizations, and institutions. Yes, it limits creativity and spirituality, but it does remove our sole responsibility to own our lives of faith. Hierarchy. It’s instructional and thereby the very definition of convenient. We Catholics pay lip service to “The Process” or “Discernment” or “The Journey” of faith. Yet, in my lifetime, my own personal discernment of love, sexuality, identity, human rights, reproductive health, and power is commendable only if I arrive at the same answer as church leadership. If and when I arrive elsewhere, I’m labeled a liberal, a moral relativist, or a rebel, a heathen, ignorant, uneducated, lazy, unsaved. I reject these labels. I reject the idea that unless I completely embrace all the teachings of the Magisterium that it disqualifies me from asserting a valid, thoughtful, sacred insight of my own, born out of the fire of my own God-given existence.
I believe church leadership is capable of rich goodness and wisdom. I believe that its guidance and prudence has a place in our church community, but its patterns of behavior, its unapologetic bullying and abuse of power – the very model of leadership that Jesus overthrew – is not only spiritually killing its faithful, but viciously destroying our ability to pass on the faith to the next generation.
Moroski says that for him the issue has always been about the acceptance of diverse opinion. For me, the issue is much uglier than that. We all know that Catholics possess different and opposing opinion, but how it is publicly handled is the problem. This is not about accepting diversity, it is the prioritization of details over children, of dogma over community, of uniformity over reality. It is about how we are treated by our brothers in leadership positions of the highest levels of church. It is about being callously thrown around like dispensable objects instead of sacred vessels. It is about church leaders being so removed from the people that they do not see they are persecuting their own sisters and brothers in the name of church doctrine. It is the lack of relationship with community that these situations arise. Or, perhaps, it is the utter lack of faith (or is it fear?) that God is speaking through others that paves the way to Calvary.
Today, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, Catholics receive a marking upon our foreheads and souls reminding us we are entering a season of change. I reflect upon “change” and conjure up some of my favorite images of Christ which pertain to the restoration of the senses. The blind see, the deaf hear, the diseased walk, the dead rise, the mute speak. If one of the messages of the new covenant was absolute clearing and openness, why do we expend so much energy on the opposite? Why does church leadership spend so much time and resources trying to mute those who are speaking?
May this season of reflection bring inner transformation for us all.
TweetOne of the most challenging calls of being a modern day Catholic is to openly and publicly be yourself.
For years, the combination of working for the church and writing progressively on issues relating to feminism, gender, and reproductive health made me feel like I was living a double life. I would turn down writing opportunities that would let my writing career flourish or deepen because I didn’t want the inevitable questions to arrive: how can you believe ______ when the Catholic Church says ______this instead? (insert a variety of issues pertaining to women, sexuality, gender, liberation) It’s a difficult thing to balance: your call to write your vision of the world knowing its very core lies in conflict with the walls of the Catholic Church where you’ve been educated and formed. After years of working at an adult education center that eventually was investigated by the Vatican because of reiki and yoga sessions I helped program, after attending retreats by excommunicated priests whose message was identical to that of Sunday homilies, after being raked and silenced by the archdiocese for participating in social justice organizing with interfaith communities, after turning down yet another assignment because I didn’t want to publicly deal with the inevitable outrage, after self-editing my own soul, after reflecting for the umpteenth time upon how my now partner had to choose between living out a vocation either as a priest or married person, after meditating on the sexual abuse scandal while simultaneously editing an anthology about sexual violence, I left my position working for the church. Willfully. Quietly. I work now on a project-by-project “consulting” basis because I didn’t want to arrive at the day or situation that Mike Moroski has now found himself in.
Mike Moroski is many things in my life. He’s a good friend. He’s a human anchor for Cincinnati, Ohio and, truthfully, for all who know him. Nick and I just attended his and Katie Moroski’s wedding back in the fall. They are the kind of people who remind you why you’re alive. They embody not just a Catholic spirit, but a human spirituality. A fleshy, tangible joy that celebrates good music, the miraculous nooks of our planet, food, love, justice, and community; all the best things in life. Whenever I see one or the other, or better when they’re together, I am flooded by emotional memos to enjoy more, live deeper, and cultivate my being.
No, I’m not exaggerating. They’re that kind of good.
Which is why, unfortunately, I was not surprised that Mike was given an ultimatum to either be terminated from his position as Dean from Purcell Marion High School in Cincinnati, Ohio or take down his words on his own website and blog voicing his support of gay marriage. It was heart-wrenchingly predictable to read this news. And it was my own reaction that was the most depressing to absorb, my non-shocked state. Everything about that choice – be silenced or lose your livelihood – sums up the prison/call of being a modern day Catholic. Most Catholics I know profoundly disagree with at least one component of church doctrine or dogma and for those of us who have professionally chosen to wade even deeper in the Catholic ocean by working for it, being aligned with it, and getting paid by it, we know that the risks and punishments are severe. The punishments always seem to lie with being silenced one way or another. You’re ostracized, excommunicated, fired, cornered, bullied, or trampled on by the powers that be because of the very existence of the diversity of belief, the diversity of faith. Catholics who believe in equality, in social progress, those of us who want to see more peace in the world – and care a little less about who marries whom or who loves whom – are cast out of Catholic institutions because the sign of conflict is perceived as disorderly, not as unity.
So many people over the years have said the obvious, “Just leave the church.” I chose one year to discern that. For one year, I thought intensely and darkly about leaving the Catholic church and weighed it all: family, culture, choice, spirituality, power, oppression. I came to the decision to stay when I was singing at mass one ordinary Sunday. I was looking around my worship community who come in every shade and size and background and ability, all of us fumbling, all of us so heartwarmingly hapless, trying to love and forgive in this world, and the song – lyrics and rhythms I’ve known since I was a young child – overpowered me with simplicity. The choice wasn’t about staying or leaving, it was about growing. Deciding WHERE and how to grow was the question, how to position myself to best hear the Inner Voice, how to stay close to my Conscience. It came down to this: where does God speak to me? At the time, I told folks it was to focus my energy on writing and give myself to freedom to openly write my positions. Inside, I was screaming for air. I no longer wanted to be questioned or defend my beliefs which I thought to be as basic as breathing. The first thing I decided was to give myself my own breath back. I chose to stay Catholic, but leave my position of leadership.
Mike Moroski and Katie Moroski came to a decision because of an illusion of a choice the archdiocese gave them. The media will report that the choice is either to take down a blog post or resign from your job. That’s not a choice, that’s a silencing. Either way, there’s an attempt to silence him. Mike, typically, finds his way to rise and says he’ll take the consequences that come with voicing his opinion. In this unsurprising dilemma, Mike will join a very long line of Catholics who have dealt with the illusion of choice by the church (abortion: mother or child; vocation: marriage or holy orders; sex: abstain or count fertile days; gay issues: deny yourself or deny yourself) and I hope he knows that regardless of the outcome, he is not alone in this turmoil. Mike, you are not alone.
My prayer is not for Mike. I know him and have every confidence in the physical and spiritual world that this will only strengthen his resolve and core to continue to be the anchor he already is to his communities. My prayer is for all of the modern day Catholics, especially young folks, who think this is about gay marriage. It isn’t. It’s about the future of the church, who we want our leaders to be, and how to teach ourselves and the next generation how to fully respond as the person God has called you to be in voice, in action, and in uncertainty.
Be, write, love, live who are you called to be. Answer only to your own conscience, the place where you and God converse. This is the signature commandment and challenge enscripted for our generation. On this wall, I gladly sign my name, too.
2001 Onward and Upward
2003 Health in All Forms
2007 Spectacular, Spectacular
2009 My Time
2010 Believe In Goodness
2011 This Was the Year that I…
Twelve years ago, I stopped making specific resolutions. They felt too breakable, too fragile to withstand an entire year. Instead, I began making thematic resolutions in hopes of slower, more broad, more impactful change in my life. Instead of “more gym time,” “publish first book,” “lose more weight” I started choosing themes that would remind me of the greater picture of life. I’d choose words or phrases that evoked an area of my life that needed cultivation, attention, love. As I look researched what past themes have been, I see there are two things that I’ve improved in the past twelve years: reflection and writing. I’d like to think that will continue for the rest of my life and at a crotchety old age of 89, I’m going to be a masterful zen of all things spiritual and spit out pearls of wisdom with my fake teeth and mismatched outfits, and a magenta toned walker.
2012 was the most impressive year I’ve ever lived. In some ways, I fear I may not be able to top it, but that silly thought is cast aside by the very principle that led me to make 2012 the beast of a year that it was: confidence. The year was “Simplify” — I was to do nothing but work on two parts of my life: writing and my health. Both were measurable in clear ways and my achievement defined itself with two markers. I had a year-long commitment to work out at least five times a week. Save a few weeks of sickness and travel (and most recently, holiday gluttony and laziness), I did it. And not one week went by where I didn’t work out at least twice. Healthy and whole cooking took on immense importance this year with a focus on dramatically decreasing alcohol and caffeine. I took to veggies and fruits for snacks, and instead of forcing myself to run, I allowed myself to breathe (literally) in activities I looked forward to engaging: lifting, stretching, dancing, kickboxing, walking, playing. Not using self-torture was critical to my falling in love with health, with my own body. As a result? A slow, sometimes painfully slow decline in weight. Almost 20lbs. More importantly, though, now my body not only expects but needs activity to maintain balance, sanity, and keeping anxiety at bay.
Mental and physical health are not two peas in a pod, they are the same pod. 2012 revealed a relationship so delicate and obvious that it seems almost silly not to have understood it before. Sanity is available when the body works out its stored aggressions and sadness, disappointments and hang-ups, fears and bitterness, confusions and mistakes. Not only do I feel physically better after activity, but my mental state is on another level afterward. Miracles happen when the body moves. Sometimes the anger is dispelled, sure, but more incredibly epiphanies arrive in movement. There is not a void after a workout or a hard dancing hour, there is a simple line of reason, a bottom line, if you will, that served as a life line. An inarguable peace that emanated courage to talk to Nick about what upset me, perseverance to push forward with my anthology, resilience to get back up off the floor, hope to repair a frayed relationship.
It had been a long time since I dared to believe I was capable to be astounded by life. There were no surprises in store for me, I surmised a few years ago, and I could feel the enemy – complacency – creeping toward my mental horizon. In 2012, I blew it out of the water. I am in the best physical shape of my life, and as a sweet result, grew an unexpected fortitude that gave spring water to the soils of spirituality and motherhood.
In some respects, 2012 was the year that I was waiting for since I was a little girl. It was the year, at age 33, my first book was picked up to be published. It is an anthology, a multi-authored work by survivors of sexual violence for other survivors. First books – first anythings, really – reveal much about where you are in life, I think. And my first book, I am so proud to say, is a book of love. It is for others. It is for the world. It is my offering to come always and only in peace to disrupt the silence and culture of acceptance for survivors of rape. The anthology is my monument to stand as a gathering place for survivors of sexual violence to project their voices, share their stories, and show their communities what radical healing looks like. 2012 was the first year of my life that I finished something grand, that I saw the fruits of my labor. Fruits that I have been praying for and honestly didn’t believe I would ever get to enjoy.
For years, I had been babying the seeds, even whispering pleas into the flower beds that something would come up out of the dirt. For years all I saw was soil, and the tiniest hint of green or growth would turn out to be a weed. Or it would wilt after a few weeks and whither away. But not this year. In 2012, the flowers and fruit came. The work paid off. The symphony began. And it was glorious. The anthology was about an organic vision of seeing a need in the world and working on patching that hole with nothing but mud and spit to hold it in place. 2012 delivered a confirmation I didn’t know that i needed: trusting my own visions. To have an external party validate your vision is a gift that I wish on every soul that walks the planet. Not a publisher, per se, but the metaphorical publisher – another entity in the world saying to you: YES. WE SEE THE SAME NEED THAT YOU DO. LET’S WORK TOGETHER TO FIX THAT. It makes you trust your eyes more. It makes you believe in the good of people again. It makes you want to work more, give more, love more, love better, find healing, bridge gaps, and yes, even walk out on the plank once more ready to jump into an ocean full of rejection and pain because sometimes, just sometimes, there is a buoy to hold onto, there to keep your bobbing head above water.
I simplified my life and chased my dreams. The chase ended and they came true. Not magically or easily, but they came true. I reached the top of my mountain this year and the view was not only majestic, but showed me a horizon full of other mountains to climb. And the difference between last year and now is that t I am not afraid of the climb, of the arduous journey. Not only am I excited for it, I believe that I can do it. I believe that I will do it.
In a Los Angeles coffee shop, on a warm summer night, I sat across a table from my dear friend Jess Hoffman, who in the middle of updating me on her life, offered a hastily remarked but profound statement, “If you’re not working on relationships, I don’t know what you’re doing.” We were talking about communities, families, friends, life…and holding it all in balance when cancer comes unexpectedly, when circumstances create needs must too large to independently navigate, when you realize in this really dramatic way that the things that matter most in life are people and relationships.
If you’re not working on relationships, I don’t know what you’re doing.
For me, the self-examination began, How strong are my branches?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a relationships guru. Even in my childhood years, I’d be the one dispensing advice on dating your crush, resolving fights with your parents, keeping peace with your roommate, creating community, buffering the safe zone in hostile work environments. Relationships are, like, my THING. Or so I thought and yet when Jess said that sentence, a deep anchor of doubt hit the sediment of my soul. How much of my time do I spend growing my relationships? Is that really the center of my life?
Yes and no.
Instead of divulging my half thoughts, I made it my 2013 theme. It will be a year where I examine my relationships to God, Self, Family, Others, Community, Strangers, World, Technology, Writing, Food, Church, Things. Clarifying relationships is one of the most radical things I can do to deepen my existence in the world.
One of the specific goals I made is around organization. When I examine my relationship to technology, I see that I spend an inordinate amount of time either 1. searching for something that in my computer or 2. avoiding something because I don’t want to spend time searching for it. I see patterns of my life reflected in my relationship to technology. My inability to delete ANYTHING has affronted me now with a surplus of digital photos, emails, buried requests, and unanswered correspondence. It’s overwhelming and quite literally out of control. So one of the things I am doing to improve my relationship and overcome this particular form of procrastination manifested out of my inability to let go delete things is to take the year to organize four email accounts and countless photo libraries. Tens of thousands of files need to be collapsed or simplified. It’s a daunting task. But, it indicates something about my relationship that I want to address.
Another specific goal is to truly define what friendship means to me. Living in the digital era has put me in a boundless limbo of “friends” and “connection.” What does it mean to be truly friends with someone? Is shared history enough to carry forward relationships into the future? What is the line between building trying to build relationship across difference and ripping open old wounds that probably will never heal? How much of myself do I truly share with others and the world? Who do I want to let into my world? More people? Or less people to more deeply become connected?
And what about my relationship to my aging parents? My busy siblings? My emotionally precocious toddler?
If you are not working on relationships, what are you doing?
The question, for me, then becomes: How do I strengthen my branches?
This detail may sound small, but I believe it critical to 2013: listening. Taking the time to listen, truly listening is a skill that I need to polish. Like so many, I love fast paced productivity. Action, movement. But multitasking doesn’t work with listening, not the kind of listening I want to do anyway. To listen, means to go out of my way to NOT be preoccupied with my own life and agenda. It means focus. Eye contact. An extra moment. Waiting. Not prompting. Not interjecting. Not interrupting. It means letting others ask their questions first. It means observation and patience. Working on relationships means taking the initiative to communicate. Returning a phone call. Texting a thought. Realizing a text is only a thought. It means face time. Not Facebook.
Relationship building is not just about doing, but being. Then the question morphs again into: How do I root myself even deeper to the earth? A tree cannot flourish with full glorious branches without a sturdy trunk and thick, chunky roots. Knowing my own limits and challenges is key to strengthening my branches. Relationships is intentionally slowing down to evaluate who and what I am today and how that is different from yesterday. Relationships is also about applying the reflective process to others, realizing that they have also transitioned and changed somehow from how I last knew them and to provide space for all that change. Relationships means trusting that relationships are not purchased items with clear instructions on maximizing its usage and expiration dates. Everyone and everything has a different formula. But one thing is consistent: the key for building relationships in a healthy, sustaining manner is radical self-awareness. Without that steadiness, the rest is windfall.
If you are not working on relationships, what are you doing?
I am working on my relationships this year. I don’t know of a more demanding or necessary task that I could assign myself.