Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Turning Mourning Into Dancing

As fall moves into the ground to comfort winter, I look back over these scant three months and say WOW! A lot has happened!! It would be easy to focus on "loss" and grief because letting go, releasing, losing and death have been a large part of these last few weeks. I leave "large" crossed-out  in the above sentence as I invite you to consider with me what is loss? What is grief? As I reflectively write I see that there are many losses, lapses, smiles, joys and laughter; and each has been a daily occurrence. I am coming to comprehend that grief is a sadness with which we constantly dance and is truly the sweetener of joy and happiness. 

Now, there are changes that are embodied in my being; rhythms that move as solidly in my soul as blood pumps through my veins. Still, nothing prepares me for the sudden absence of someone I know - however tangential that relationship may be. The broader cultural deaths create a new orientation to the world and the personal deaths re-orient me. In between there is a mindful field to be explored that always yields life-sustaining gifts.

Now, every time a father dies, I revisit my father's death: walking through the initial shock to the first time it settled inside me; stepping beyond I sometimes fall into a moment of ache. I take a deep breath and dive to the bottom to spring into the moment I knew I was going to be okay, and I continue to be okay, returning to the death of this moment of a friend, colleague or client’s father.

As I journey alongside my friend, sometimes she or he will ask: How did you do it?

And I now say: The only thing I knew to do was to walk, sleep, eat and talk with, to and through the sadness. Every day, I got up – whether I wanted to or not. Every day, I got out – whether or I wanted to or not. On the days I had trouble I knew who to call and I called. I had a small group of friends who independent of one another took it upon themselves to call me often. Between them, over the course of several months, I received at least one call almost every day. On the days, I was in trouble, I kept calling until I got one of them. And, in the earliest days (really the first year), I used the rhythms of Jewish practices and rituals honoring death and Jewish practices and rituals honoring life to sustain me.

Once, in the early months after my Dad died, someone said: You must be feeling pretty depressed.

No, I said. I am profoundly sad.

Sometimes - if not most times, sadness is manageable. We mope, sigh, sit or walk alone or with friends, we sing or dance or gladly receive hugs and kisses, we take naps, we meditate or simply shake it off - all to move the sad energy through us. Sometimes the sadness requires more attention because there is more of a rupture in the fabric of our lives and/or a shift in our psyche. Some of these sadnesses are also accompanied by a blessing such as a wedding, the last bar or bat mitzvah in a large family or among a group of cousins, retiring from something you loved doing, or seeing our child become a parent. Still, we find ways to honor our feelings and move through the sad energy.

Then, there is profound sadness. To those on the outside looking at us, it can look like depression precisely because our lighter energy is dampened. However, from my own experience I can tell you that profound sadness or deep grief is not the same as depression. 

When I was depressed, I was numb and I did not want to feel. Inside depression, staying in the world was a daily negotiation. 

When I am profoundly sad, I am in a blanket that is sometimes tattered, leaving me vulnerable, and sometimes amazingly soft, thick and comforting. Either way, I am aware of all around me, deeply moved by nature, ritual and human kindness. Inside profound sadness I still want to be part of the world even as I sometimes hold the world at bay.

In learning to dance with grief I am learning to dance with the fullness of life. It’s easy to say loss is everywhere. Now I now see it is just as easy to say joy everywhere: the turning of the day, the striking beauty of nature, smiles and laughter, conversation and connection, the comfort of ritual, sweet children, kind adults, hugs, good jokes, dark chocolate and so much more. Noticing and appreciating these joys aid me in dancing with grief in whatever manner it appears. The profundity of my sadness magnifies my joy to be boundless and more deeply marked. That’s why I put a line through "large." Yes, I have moved through several major disappointments and losses; and yes, I have gained so many, many sweet and wonderful moments. 

"You turned my mourning into dancing, loosened my sackcloth and girded me with gladness; allowing my me to sing Your Praises and not be still! My G!D, forever will I thank You." Psalm 30 12-13, my translation.

To book Sabrina Sojourner as a speaker or trainer on diversity, leadership or another subject for your group or organization, contact her at ssojourner at ssellc dot net. 

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

To Those Forever Gone

The eleventh morning of your absence
I feel it just as strongly as the first
Morning after the world went awry.

I keep thinking this must be a mistake
          to lose so many smiles
          to lose so many arms
we who remain will forever
miss your charms:

To the hundreds that showed courage
we used to take you for granted as we raced
around our world
sometimes getting annoyed with that sound
and lights that flash and twirl.

The heroes on the plane sealed their fate
to save thousands if not more.

Your sudden absence
prompts me to say
I love you
to everyone.
Yes, to everyone.
Every one.

In the continuing wake of your absence
May your strength be remembered as freedom.

May you strengthen us to be the souls on earth we need to be.

From the forthcoming collection: G!D Went Looking for Me Today

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From Choosing Battles to Creating Opportunities

For those who do not know, this evening begins the Jewish New Year. At sundown, through candle lighting, blessings, prayers and food (gotta have food!), Jews around the world will celebrate creation and welcome the Jewish year 5774.

Among the rituals and customs in which we partake is seeking atonement: from the Divine One for offenses against God and from other people for offenses against them. In either case, it matters not whether we intended to offend. The only matter is the impact of our action or inaction. 

In discussions of my last blog "What it Takes", several people have commented on the line "I will not allow you to be comfortable with your biases because I care about you." wanting to know how I live into that commitment. "After all," the conversation usually continues, "don't you have to pick and choose your battles?"

For me the answer is: No. I have come to understand that battles pick and choose me. Therefore, my choice is how I will live with my response to the situation presented? Simply put: 

  • If I choose to say nothing, will I "kick" myself for the next however many years for my silence. 
  • If I choose to say something, and it does not go well, am I willing to engage to deepen understanding and/or let it go if the "offender" takes on the role of victim or refuses my assessment?
  • If I choose to say something, can I do so with an open heart and an engaging manner that holds the "offender" in esteem?
  • If I choose to say something, can I do so with an open heart and engaging manner knowing that some people will get it, some people will not, some people will scapegoat me for shining light and some people will only support me out of the sight of others. Lastly, if it is a work or educational situation, I know that one of the consequences could be that I will marginalized, ganged up on and/or further abused with the ultimate goal being to organize me out of my job or cohort - and can I live with that?

After many years of accepting the "pick your battles" pablum, one day I realized that the real question is: Who do I want to be in response to the little things that cut away at our collective humanity everyday? In discovering the answer to that question, I also looked to the Torah commandment that we love our neighbor; that we love the stranger. 

As I shared last year, one of the things I discovered is that the Divine One expects us to love ourselves - not with ego-centered inflated love. The self love of which I speak is the recognition of our humanity; the acceptance of our imperfection. If we proceed in our lives with good intentions, we will assume that others have good intentions. If we recognize that we make mistakes and show ourselves compassion, we can have compassion for others when they make mistakes. If we can recall situations in which, despite our intentions, our words or actions did not land as intended  - or our mouth got ahead of our good sense or we really did not know - what is the compassion with which we would have liked or would like to be treated?

On the last point, I offer the response of my friend Michael Twitty to Paula Deen's troubles and my response to the reactions Brad Paisley received to his song Accidental Racist. Though Deen's and Paisley's situations were very different, I was fascinated by how some of the same people who skewered Paisley for his honesty defended Deen's lack of honesty.

All of this is to say we are a complicated people. We do not come with instructions on how to see what we do not see. We can only welcome the opportunity to have our eyes opened, embracing the momentary discomfort and welcome the opportunity to open the eyes of another - perhaps with more compassion than we were shown. Yes, we will encounter bad actors, but that is not an excuse for us to be bad in reaction to their badness.

As you move into the New Jewish Year or move to the end of the secular year, I invite you to change your vision: instead of seeing battles see opportunities to share your compassion and knowledge; to open doors and bring healing. 

As we look to grow into who we want to be, consider that it is time to look into the dark corners of our emotional closets and face ourselves with compassion and love so that we can bring more compassion and love and light into the world. We may not live to see the end of bigotry and ignorance in our lifetimes, however, I firmly believe we can continue to nurture the spiritual and social ground that will allow such a day to blossom. (Good food helps, too!)

To book Sabrina Sojourner as a speaker or trainer on diversity, leadership or another subject for your group or organization, contact her at ssojourner at ssellc [dot] net. 

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What It Takes

I know who I am
I am child of the Divine One of Many Names
I mindfully stand in the strengthening Glory
I give thanks and honor to the Divine Presence
I celebrate and hold sacred the Renewal of each day
I crumble and cry in the comforting Grace

I know who I am
I stand openhearted to greet you.
I extend open arms to meet you.
I sit with an open mind to hear you.

Yet, because I know who I am 
I am not and refuse to be your fetish or your pet or your experiment or your way to irritate your family or friends.
I am not a curiosity to be marveled at or exclaimed over.
I am not your exotic to be displayed.

I know who I am and
It is commendable that you continue to take responsibility for the tension between us.
It is not so great that you still expect me to solve the tension by what? Changing who I am!

I know who I am
I am child of the Divine One of Many Names
I mindfully stand in the strengthening Glory
I give thanks and honor to the Divine Presence
I celebrate and hold sacred the Renewal of each day
I crumble and cry in the comforting Grace

I know who I am
I continue to grow and morph and expand and contract only to open more.

I take on more years and more weight.
I decipher and reframe past experiences to accommodate new understandings of who I am and how the world works that serve an open heart and larger life.

And, because I know who I am
I am not your punching bag.
Your public displays of abusive behavior is my business.
I will talk back when you speak to me dismissively because I am not your servant
I will not allow you to be comfortable with your biases because I care about you.

I know who I am
My femininity is not a frailty.
My kindness is not weakness.
My trusting nature does occasionally get me in trouble and I am not naive.

It is an honor to be living at this time.
It is terrifying to be living at this time.

I know who I am and
It is not easy to be judged for everything that I do and do not do (yes, that is an understatement).
It can be stressful to be the symbolic exemplar inadvertently challenging another's assumption about who they are in the world.

I know who I am
I am child of the Divine One of Many Names
I mindfully stand in the strengthening Glory
I give thanks and honor to the Divine Presence
I celebrate and hold sacred the Renewal of each day
I crumble and cry in the comforting Grace

Knowing this 
- knowing this -
Is what it takes daily to walk mindfully, to stand honorably with great fullness, and to be openhearted in a complex and changing world with fascinating people that sometimes wish I was other than who I am.

Looking for a speaker? Email ssojourner at ssellc.net

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

This Book's for You!

Full disclosure, Kathleen Sindell is a friend of mine. As others can tell you, that is not enough for me to take the time to review and write about what you do. Having already recommended it to several people who found it useful, I choose to write a review.

In the opening paragraph of the introduction to Social Security: Maximize Your Benefits, Kathleen Sindell. PhD states that she wrote the book for "you and the thousands of folks like you who will soon be living on fixed incomes." Since soon is a relative term, I add Sindell's book is for anyone wanting to maximize their future retirement choices, particularly if your work history or future means that a significant source of your retirement income will come from Social Security.

Even when I was younger (and I am not that old), financial planning gave me a headache. Still, like many of you, I hung in there to understand the lingo, counter assumptions about everyone and do my best to make the decisions I could for me and my situation. 

What I love most about Sindell's book is that she does not talk down to us! The language is clear and straightforward. She includes a glossary of unavoidable terms in an Appendix. For those of you who have chart phobia, once you get passed it (deep breaths help), you will find the tables are easy to read and comprehend. What is most amazing is that Social Security: Maximize Your Benefits is less than 130 pages and that includes the Appendix and an extended Table of Contents. 

In some ways that is the beginning and the end of my review of Sindell's book. Except, I know that some you may be wondering why I want you to read this book now instead of later when you are close to retirement. In short, because depending upon your age, current work situation and where you see your career or work situation, and marital status - there are actions you can take now, and periodically, to save yourself - and your family headaches later. For instance:

  • Everyone ought to review their Social Security Statement for accuracy. Are all your working years there? If not, now is the time to find out why. Some discrepancies may be because of government work or military service, or because you worked for a particular type of non-profit. 
  • If you are married and there are differences in your income, there are advantages you and your spouse have of which you may not be aware.
  • Have you factored in your life expectancy as a consideration for your retirement?
  • Do you need to update your beneficiary information?
There is more I could say about Sindell's Social Security: Maximize Your Benefits. Instead, I quote a friend I recently told about the book. "I wish I had had that book when I was trying to figure all this out!" Being clear and straightforward, it all comes down to this: if Social Security figures into your retirement - however remotely - get and read Sindell's book. It is available as a paperback and in a Kindle Edition. 

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Kaddish - Holding Paradox

What a month June has been. There are definitely items I embrace and items I release. Of course, there is so much more to come! I won't go into details because we each have our own list and I invite you to fill in the blank. I will remember...  I release or just want to forget... 

I share with you this poem about a praise hymn and a state of mind. Kaddish is multipurpose prayer used many times in several different formats in traditional services. Most people, Jewish or not, know it as the prayer we say to mourn people who have died - that is only one of its many forms. Regardless of format, Kaddish says nothing about death. It is, in my opinion, an ecstatic praise of the Divine One! It is for that reason that I see it as the path through which I learned to embrace paradox! Being about to embrace the complexity of what is so is amazingly useful when dealing with a complex world.

Let me know your thoughts. Shavua Tov (A Good Week)!


There is a moment that always surprises me.
It can happen at any time I am in a moment of
Sheer joy
In moments dizzy with unassisted drunkenness
My physical body and
Spiritual body merge and
I am boundless as I move with the
Incremental tide of time soaking in
savory note!
Ecstatic exquisite elatedness can
Unexpectedly open a window or door to
Sadness or sorrow
I wanna call my Dad or another no longer with me on this plain
I instantaneously understand the lesson of a disagreement forgotten or
I am simply able to gaze unflinchingly at the fullness of life
holding the paradox of
my joy and my sadness or grief
          my joy and the grief of others
          now a marble cake mix
I swaddle all with my joyous elation for
          All is bitter!
          All is sweet!
          All is Divine!

There is a moment that always surprises me.
It can happen at any time I am in a moment of
Surrender to the quarrel in my mind
Accepting what is so
          New or old pain making itself known
In whatever fashion required
          No water
(I no longer go to numbness)
Moves and courses through me and
Ecstatic profound sadness can
Unexpectedly open a window or door to a
Spark of joy
          My head lying in Aunt Edna’s lap
          The bad joke or pun of someone I love – totally appropriate for the moment
          The unmistakable aroma of my favorite comfort foods
The voice of the police officer saying “Are you lost, little girl?” to my four-year old self because I was lost…
I am simply able to gaze unflinchingly at the fullness of life
holding the paradox of
my sadness or grief and my joy
                    my grief and the joy of others
now a marble cake mix
I swaddle all with lovingkindness for
          All is bitter!
          All is sweet!
          All is Divine!

There is a moment that always surprises me, yet
I create room for the door or window to open
Every time I say Kaddish.
I stand before The Holy One, Blessed be The One,
Honey coated words of praise!
My mouth watering with each syllable that exits my lips
Each meridian of my body opens and
I tremble as
my hands open
my heart opens
my spirit body merges with The One
All flows through
          All the ecstatic goodness
          All the ecstatic sadness
Weave and swirl
Into a marble cake
I am bound to the profoundness of totality
Rooted love of the
Holy One, Blessed be The One
The bittersweet Divine paradox of
Mind   Fully   Engaged.

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby!!!

Of course, the truth - as I see it, the subject is not really sex. The bad behavior of men that causes them to use sex as a weapon is about power and privilege, and I believe this to be true regardless of whether the man is in or out of the military, at the highest levels of society in terms of power and access or a working class stiff; on the grid and technologically savvy or a luddite. Control is control. Power is power. Privilege - perceived or actual - is privilege. 

There has been much hand wringing about the deplorable behavior of men in the military, up and down the command structure, and the sexual abuse of women and men under their command as well as their trainees and protegees. It is beyond disgusting. All agree something must be done. 

I was thrilled when a female Air Force three-star General's promotion was held up because she overturned the sexual assault conviction of an officer under her command. While there is a chance she was ill-advised by her male colleagues that "that is the way things are done" if she wanted to get ahead - like a lot of people, I didn't care. Yes, it is unfortunate that a woman would be scrutinized for this behavior in a way that a man had not and I don't care because it is time for the military to stop viewing sexual assault as a hazard of the job and to fully embrace there is no room for abuse of power in the military. After all, the appearance that one's commander does not have the best interest of the men and women under his/her command firmly in his/her sights undermines unit cohesion. 

I know this because I am the daughter of a former Marine. Over its history, the military has been a microcosm of how to address a variety of social issues in our country, including "racial" integration, "don't ask don't tell", the integration of gay people and the inclusion of women in combat situations.

It is therefore fascinating for me to watch members of Congress express outrage over how the military is and is not handling the sexual assault of women when some of those same members of Congress opposed and weakened the original Violence Against Women Act and delayed the most recent renewal. If Congress wants to truly transform how sexual assault is handled in the military, then Congress needs to be willing to transform how sexual assault is handled in the our society as a whole. Too many men (and some women) are more concerned about the reputations of "good men" being spoiled than they are providing justice for those harmed. Men assumed to be "good" have used that assumption to betray social trust time and again; and still the powers that be (read those who identify with those good men) hold victims accountable for the bad behavior of their perpetrators.

Let's face it, the women and men in the military are our sons, daughters, nieces, nephew, and cousins; brothers and sisters; generational aunts and uncles; and mothers and fathers for some. We have every right to expect them to be the best of us. Yet, precisely because our society continues to maintain antiquated values regarding the rights of women in terms of sexual assault,  in particular, and equity in general, we have exactly the military we deserve: one that delivers above and beyond the call on one hand and breaks our hearts on the other. 

Sexual abuse of men or women is abhorrent. Period! There are those parsing the statistics from the most recent report to make the case that gay men are responsible for most of the assaults against me. This is clearly an antigay canard. Sexual abuse is about power, control and humiliation; not about sex, sexual orientation or gender identification. 

Unlike racial integration and the integration of gay people in the military, I believe that the military cannot be depended upon to lead the way to end sexual abuse. If we really want them to change, we as a society need to change. We need to take sexual abuse seriously, particularly when the perpetrators come from among the privileged classes. 

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Baking: The Perfect Antidote for Cloudy Day

Spring is almost gone and summer keeps peeking out for a day or two before returning to gloomy, rainy days. So, I've been working on my gluten free bread recipe. I like this one better than the previous one because it's moisture and has a structure closer to regular bread. Additionally, the dough can be used to make any of a number bread products, including cinnamon rolls and pecan buns. 

The original recipe came from www.glutenfreegirls.blogspot.com. This recipe has more eggs, oil, yeast and xanthan gum than the original. Additionally, I use two Bob’s Red Mills products instead of a combination of several different gluten free flours. No, Bob’s Red Mills has not paid me or given me free products to mention them. Frankly, I do NOT recommend their gluten free bread mix because it includes soy flour and does not produce a tasty product.

Note: I found a standing mixer to be my best friend for making gluten-free products. If you have a relatively new variable speed hand mixer, use a deep bowl and only one beater. Though this is a wet dough, it is thick. If you are ready to get a new hand mixer, this will kill your old one. I also prefer the silicone challah molds to the metal one. However, use a Misto oil sprayer and spray it well.

Gluten Free Challah Bread - A Better Recipe
Prep Time: approx 3:05 (includes rising time)
Total Time: approx 4:05 Yield: 2 loaves or 12 to 20 rolls

2/3 cup lukewarm water (hot tap water)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast (two packets)

3 1/2 cups Bob Red Mills GF All Purpose Flour
1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oat Flour
1/4 cup Brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons xanthan gum
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional if on low sodium diet)
1 cup lukewarm water (hot tap water)
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 teaspoon white or apple cider vinegar
8 large eggs room temperature (1 cup egg substitute)
1 egg plus 2 tablespoons water for egg wash (optional)

If you did not pull your eggs out to bring them to room temperature (30-60 minutes), place them in a bowl of hot tap water (DO NOT use boiling water or water above 120F degrees).
  1. If you did pull the eggs out, crack eggs into a bowl and set aside.
  2. If you have a new oven (without a traditional pilot light), turn oven on 375F degrees. Allow to come to temperature and leave on while you create the dough.
  3. Dissolve the 2 tablespoons brown sugar in the 2/3 cup of lukewarm water, mix in the yeast and place on stove top in a warm but not hot spot (DO NOT place in oven).
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flours, 1/4 C brown sugar, xantham gum, and salt. Whisk by hand for about 30 seconds (machine 15); set aside.
  5. Crack eggs into a bowl and set aside.
  6. In the mixing bowl combine the olive oil and vinegar with the additional 1 cup lukewarm water and vinegar and mix on low speed until blended. Note: if using a Kitchen Aid or other standing mixer, used the whisk for this step, then switch to dough hook
  7. Add the dry ingredients a third at a time. Blend in the eggs, 1 to 3 at a time. The dough should feel slightly warm. Pour the yeast mixture into the ingredients in the bowl. Blend on low until incorporated.
  8. Turn off and scrape bottom and sides of bowl, then beat at high speed (8 or 10) for approximately 2-3 minutes. I find a silicone spatula works best.
  9. Turn oven off.
  10. Loosely cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap, using a spray bottle or your fingers to oil the center; then cover with a kitchen towel.
  11. Place the bowl in a warm spot and let rise for 1 hour, 30 minutes.
  12. Remove bowl from stovetop and preheat oven to 375, again.
  13. Return the dough to the mixer and beat on high for 3 minutes. Note: If you plan to use the dough for some kind of bread that requires additional handling, beat at 7 or 8 for not more than 2 minutes; just enough time to get most of the air out. See additional directions below for Cinnamon or Pecan Rolls
  14. Spray Olive Oil in challah molds or bread pans, including the outside edges. Alternately, you can grease with coconut or palm oil. If kosher is not an issue or the bread is for a dairy meal, you can use butter.  
  15. Using a silicone spatula, scoop approximately 1/2 to 2/3 of the dough into oiled challah pan or greased and loaf pan. If needed, use wet fingers to even out or shape. Note: You may divide and bake the remainder as rustic rolls by dividing dough with spatula, or wet hands, and use wet fingers to shape. You can also place in greased muffin tins, etc. Or make all rolls into about 18.
  16. Turn oven off when you are ready for the second rising. Cover as before and let the dough rise for 60 minutes.
  17. Preheat the oven to 325F and bake the Challah loaf for approximately 40 to 55.
  18. Bake the rolls 15 to 20 minutes, depending upon size. 

Cinnamon or Pecan Rolls 
There are lots of great recipes on the web. The instructions below will help you work with the gluten free dough which is wetter than a regular dough.
  • Prepare your mix and pans as directed about 20 minutes before the end of the second rising. 
  • Turn dough out on clean floured surface. 
  • With floured hands work enough flour into dough to make manageable and shape into rectangle not more than 1/2 inch thick and 10 to 14 inches wide. The length will be determined by whether you use all or only a portion of the dough.
  • Spread the mix fairly evenly over the dough.
  • Pinch one end and carefully roll to other end. Use a metal spatula to "encourage" the roll.
  • Use serrated edged knife to cut rolls and place in pan 1/4 inch apart. If using circular pan, place rolls along outside edge and work to center.
  • Along to rise for 1 hour.
  • Bake according to instructions.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Last Day of Poetry Month Offering

Av HaRachamin, Compassionate Parent

How do I sing to You?
What can I say that could be worthy?
How do I sing to You
and express my heart's journey?

I offer my heart through song
A prayer for community and earth.
There is much that needs repair.
There is so much of worth.

And I must tend my own pain
To be Your vessel of healing.
So let me serve You minus ego
And with every feeling!

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Take a Deep - Deep Breath and Read Why I think "Accidental Racist" is Brave

Jumping straight into the deep end: I am disappointed in the reactions to what I believe Brad Paisley and  LL Cool J are trying to accomplished with the song "Accidental Racist". I love the song for its bravery and candid honesty. 

I was introduced to Paisley on Prairie Home Companion about two years ago, when he sang "Letter to Me." A few days later, I sat down and wrote my own letter to me. So, when I heard about the song, I dug past all the news stories and critics to view the lyrics for myself. 

"To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand
When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I'm a Skynyrd fan
The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south
And I just walked him right in the room
Just a proud rebel son with an 'ol can of worms
Lookin' like I got a lot to learn..."

I know there are some people - perhaps many - who believe as one critic said "There is no such thing as 'accidental.'" I know it's an easy concept to believe as someone who has been deliberately targeted by racist, sexist, heterosexist and Antisemitic people. The viciousness and cruelty of such attacks can be completely unnerving to the point of severe trauma. However, I also know that very good people, and I believe most people are good, can walk right into being offensive and the intention to do so truly was the last thing on their mind - and I've done that! About 20 years ago, after a workshop I facilitated on diversity, I was critiqued for being anti-Catholic. I was horrified, especially since there was no specificity to the remark. As I racked my brain trying to remember what I said that could have been perceived in that light, I also found myself laughing so hard I was crying as I heard me think "But, some of my best friends are Catholic!" 

"I try to put myself in your shoes and that's a good place to begin

But it ain't like I can walk a mile in someone else's skin"

Those are hardly the lyrics of someone who is "clueless". Paisley said he wanted the song to spark discussion. The lyrics are rich and simple. He and LL Cool J have walked out on a huge limb in a society that is hardly post racial and, for all the progress we have made, still does not know how to talk about race!

"... but from my point of view

I'm just a white man comin' to you from the southland
Tryin' to understand what it's like not to be
I'm proud of where I'm from but not everything we've done
And it ain't like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn't start this nation
We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells, fightin' over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

One of the things that can keep white people (men, straight people...) from being honest and having an exploratory conversation about their ideas, fears, "things they don't understand" is the absolute fear that they will be called vile names and/or otherwise privately or publicly humiliated. When it comes to the racism (substitute Sexism, Antisemitism, heterosexism -you get the idea), the offended want a-head-on-a-platter and the guilty-by-association allow themselves to be bullied into the belief that "somebody's head must role" for the socially unacceptable, though totally human, mistake.

I think the easiest way to demonstrate this problematic paradigm is to examine Congress. There are people on both extremes who see themselves as as THE moral authority on (name the issue because the issue matters not). There are people in the middle (I believe a solid majority) who believe and understand compromise (common promise) is the best we can do in THIS moment, regardless of stance and vision of the future. In this camp, you are more likely to find the Brad Paisleys and LL Cool Js: people willing to be vulnerable with where they stand in order to better understand the vulnerability of someone whom, if you are standing in judgement, appears to be the opposition. 

Tuesday afternoon, in the context of a different conversation, I shared with a friend of long-standing, who happens to be white, the instant in which a white therapist told me "You need to find your authentic Black voice." Regardless of where you stand in terms of what is or is not authentically Black, I'm sure you can understand that was the last time I saw that therapist. As my friend said, "Were you too articulate? You didn't speak enough Ebonics?!" We both laughed and that felt good. As a side-note, a few months later, the therapy center tried to collect the money I owed them for sessions, I wrote them a lengthy note explaining why they owed me money for training their therapist to be culturally competent, even though I clearly failed. 

I've traveled nearly 60.5 cycles around the Sun on this planet. I first learned about racism when I was 4 years-old (save your mind, I was born in 1952), though I was raised, primarily, in California. What I learned in the ensuing conversation with my parents was that racism was the shame of "Negro" people (that's what we were called, then) and the privilege of white people we "not white people" needed to bare. 

Upon President Obama's first election to the White House, you had many people talking about a "Post-racial" America. We are far from there, AND, if we want to get to a post-racial, post-bias, America, then events such as the Braid Paisley and LL Cool J's song need to be opportunities for thoughtful discussion instead of opportunities for pointing fingers and being self-righteous and hateful. 

If you haven't made a mistake like the one described in "Accidental Racist", then look at your life: Who is in it? Who is close? What kind of conversations do you have with them? With whom do you fear saying something wrong - and maybe keep at a distance? Whose criticism do you turn back on them - and not in a constructive way? Remember, when you point a finger at someone else, three remain directed at you.

"I'd love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air
But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn't here" (from LL Cool J's overlay")

Critics have also said that "Accidental Racist" isn't "Ebony and Ivory" and they are correct. Paisley's song is not intended for us to feel comfortable. It's intended to make us think; reflect. Talk about this song.

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ah, Warmth!!!

Though it barely snowed, I feel like I was colder than usual this past winter. These last few weeks I have been waiting for warm days and for the time to plant. Today, that warm sunny day and the time arrived. 

I got everything together and went outside, though I discovered that the work gloves I had so carefully kept track of over the winter were actually two left-handed gloves. I laughed out loud and posted the finding on my FB page. Later, and while it was still useful, I did find a right-handed glove that matched one of the left-handed gloves!

I chatted and joked with one of my neighbors. We were both thrilled with the outcome of last night's NCAA final game. 

I planted rosemary, sweet basil, and thai basil. I cleaned the chives out of the mint pot. Once the mint is a little taller, I'll need to add more dirt to the pot. I cut long dead limbs to fit into "lawn refuse bags". I played peek-a-boo with a one-inch wolf spider(?) and was grateful for my first black fly bite. I, of course, forgot about sunblock on the back of my neck, so it's a little warm right now and I don't care. 

As I carried out these tasks (today they were not chores), I was repeatedly reminded why I wrote the poem below and decided I would share it with you. Whatever you did today, I hope you made it a good day. If your day has been less than stellar, it's not too late to turn yourself around.



I touch the Earth in a
ritual of planting
restoring some piece of her
A laying on of hands
to her body
my attempt to give back
empower Her
as I would aid the ailing
psyche and body
of a woman raped.

Tears fall off my face,
as I recognize the agony
traveling through my hands
transforming Her/my rage into
acts of creating
sustaining life and light,
become the first water for the
raising their smiling faces
shimmering delight as they feel their
re connectedness
with our Mother.
they bow in thanks.
Returning their gesture
I wish I could relieve
as easily as I can heal
one patch of Earth.

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013