Fiona Hill’s Defense of Women

Democrat, republican, or a member of the who-gives-a-damn party, anyone watching Dr. Fiona Hill’s testimony yesterday was surely impressed. Having watched the impeachment hearings from start to finish (I’m recovering from surgery so have had plenty of time on my hands for TV watching), I can say emphatically that she was the most impressive in a line of impressive witnesses. I use the word “impressive” here not necessarily referring to the content of testimony but rather to the poise and intelligence of the witnesses (even Sondland, whom I otherwise take issue with regarding both character and veracity).

But Dr. Hill… she blew them all away. Her no-nonsense attitude, clarity, poise, steeliness, and resolve were gratifying both because she’s a woman and because her expertise is a credit to career civil servants. I don’t know her politics (though she referenced both non-partisanship as well as leftist ideals in line with the UK, not US, definition of “left”) or personal history beyond what she disclosed. On the face of her performance, however, I stand by my complete takenness with Dr. Hill.

Importantly, Dr. Hill stood firmly in defense of herself, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and Congresswoman Stefanik in the face of sexist treatment. These women have been bullied by primarily white, primarily male politicos, and, in Stefanik’s instance, support of male bullying by those on the left who would—and do—cry foul at similar treatment of women by the right has reeked of hypocrisy. I have little doubt that Dr. Hill has faced bias throughout her career in a male-dominated field. Knowing this, I wondered if this bias is what has led, at least in part, to her steely, no-nonsense demeanor. Men often label women’s anger and indeed any show of emotion as histrionic, and women seeking respect and career advancement must quash emotional responses, whether those responses are warranted or not.

Earlier this morning, President Trump stated on Fox and Friends that he was told by others in his administration they had to be “nice” to Ambassador Yovanovitch because “she’s a woman.” This is disturbing whether it’s true President Trump was actually told this or whether it’s a fictitious account. No, women do not need to be treated “nice” because they are women. Kindness is a trait we should all work to demonstrate, but in the hard-knock world of politics it’s absurd to expect genteel kindness based on gender. President Trump’s statement furthers discriminatory treatment and hiring practices by giving credence to a belief that women in the workplace will require special treatment and kid gloves lest they break down in tears, scream in anger, or lodge a harassment suit against unkind treatment.

Dr. Hill’s testimony lays this myth bare, exposing it for the fiction it is. Anger at times is warranted, such as when one is being undermined in their jobby others acting in direct opposition. In this precise circumstance, Ambassador Sondland characterized Dr. Hill’s anger as “emotional,” to which Dr. Hill replied, “Often when women show anger, it’s not fully appreciated. It’s often, you know, pushed on to emotional issues or perhaps deflected onto other people.”

Indeed.

I applaud Dr. Hill for refusing to allow that kind of disregard and disparagement go unchecked, whether it is against her, her colleague Ambassador Yovanavitch, or congresswoman Stefanik. Sexism is not bound by political party and our reactions to it should not be, either. Dr. Hill’s across-the-board calling out of bias is either proof of her non-partisanship, proof of her deep belief in gender equity, or proof of both. As we continue along our political journeys in a deeply divided United States, I strongly urge us all to remember and emulate her example. Disagreements over policy, candidates, and politics are one thing, but disagreement over equitable treatment of our shared humanity is simply not debatable.

Every Child Matters. Every Child.

According to an audit done by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), in the summer of 2017 there was a significant increase in children who were separated from their families at the US/Mexico border. The Trump administration did not officially announce its family-separating zero tolerance policy until June of 2018.

The children detained after the policy’s official implementation have mostly been released to their families, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintains that the children detained prior to implementation have been similarly reunited.

So. No harm no foul?

I don’t think so.

There are a number of frightening things at play in this latest bit of breaking news, one of which is that while DHS and other government agencies can say these children have been released to their families or “sponsors,” the truth is, we simply don’t know. It appears that the government agencies responsible for these children can’t really know either, as the number of pre-policy detainees has been put in the vague range of “thousands” of children, and no adequate records of these children exist.

There are many (MANY!) jaw-dropping pieces of news floating around right now, but I implore you not to ignore this one. Even if the relevant agencies knew without doubt the exact number of children and had proof positive of reunification, the question remains: how did we, the American people, not know about this?

(DHS spokesperson Katie Waldman maintains that the practice of detention has been going on for decades, and so at this point it should be well known and old hat. What Waldman is referencing, however, is detention of unaccompanied minors, which is not what is at play here. I’ve worked with a few of those minors in the past and feel generally well informed about what goes on in those equally sad cases.)

There is no need to wax on about why this story should break your heart, make you so angry you could spit, or send you to the streets in protest. I assume you already feel all of those things and more.

But what feels even worse is what this all of this implies for the collective soul of our nation.

As someone who prays daily that we might all be able to fully realize one another’s humanity, it is this type of news that renders me breathless and overwhelmed. I cannot think of many clearer cases than this of failing so completely to see the face of God in others. When a parent of five knowingly and intentionally separates a child and parent, I can think of no other reason for it. Because if the humanity of “others” was realized, that person would know there is no difference in how “their” children versus “our” children feel when taken from their parents. No different heartbreak for a mother or father when his or her child has been taken to God-knows-where and is being cared for by God-knows-who. Have no doubt about it, memories of this moment in time will be reflected by history books, and we will not like what our grandchildren will read of it.

And then there’s the helplessness to stop it.

Because yes, while we, the American people, put so much pressure on the President that he signed an executive order meant to end the practice of separation, and the courts compelled reunification of the families, we didn’t even know about the thousands previously detained.

As a mere citizen, there are a large number of things I don’t know about what goes on in the world. I’m well aware of that, and I know that in most instances there is little I can do about it. So, I push those things aside and focus on what I can do now, and how I can learn to do more in the future.

But this. I didn’t know about this?

As a long-time child advocate, as someone whose primary concern in life is the care of children, this frustrates, saddens, and angers me beyond belief. It is something I feel in my gut. In the tips of my toes and in the pounding of my temple. It is one of those things that makes life unbearable, and yet makes me realize that with the one life I have, I better live it well and for not just myself, but for the well-being of others.

News stations don’t seem to be focusing much on this story, although every reporter I’ve listened to says the news is “huge.” Instead, the focus today is on the letter-writing pissing match between Speaker Pelosi and Mr. Trump. Today’s other, more important news is a much-needed reminder to focus on the things that truly matter. Not trips to Brussels, but children.

 

Thinking too Deeply about Marie Kondo

I’m bad at many things in life (math, geography, and basketball come immediately to mind), but one thing I know I’m good at is tidying, cleaning, organizing, and maintaining a clutter-free environment (household members’ spaces excluded, since those aren’t mine to touch).

So other than for pure OCD enjoyment, I’ve generally stopped reading about the best ways to purge, organize, and clean.

A recent exception to this is the work of Marie Kondo.

After seeing so many of my Facebook friends referencing her, I decided to check her out for myself. I see why she has such a wide following! Her ideas and methods are simple, clear, and steer us towards a place too few other things in life do, which is that of curating our lives for the sake of joy rather than materialism. If it doesn’t bring joy, out it goes!

With that said, I’ve also read several articles pointing out the KonMari method doesn’t really work for those with small children (which is true), and that prior to Kondo’s smashing success, NAPO took issue with perceived all-or-nothing draconian ways (there’s debate about this). But what I find myself struggling with is neither of those things, but rather the impact of Kondo’s work on historical preservation.

My mother lives in my home and has quite a few things in her possession that she has made clear she expects me to keep after her passing, then leave to my own children when the time is right.

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Mother’s, grandmother’s, and mine.

Most of these things don’t bring me joy, nor do I think they bring joy to her. But they do have a significance that if overlooked would be tragic.

For example:

My grandmother’s sorority pin (I was never in one). The torn and faded photo of my great-great grandfather with safari hat and rifle, holding up proudly the jungle animal he’d just killed (vegan here). The leaded oil and vinegar set no one can use anymore because, you know, lead.

What about handmade quilt fragments from several generations ago that take up valuable linen closet space and smell slightly (or not-so-slightly) of mildew?

To be fair, Kondo does make exceptions for certain things: super special baby clothes? Frame them. Art from the first day of kindergarten? Put it on display.

And yet … there is so much more than that to a family’s history.

Will anyone want the cremated ashes of my recently-passed German Shepard? Probably not, but when my great-great grandkids find the lovely (sealed) urn and corresponding plaque, and realize it goes along with the photos neatly arranged within a dedicated photo album, they may think it’s a little weird and creepy, but they will also be awed to hold those bits of history in their hands.

The Spode Christmas dishes I bought for 80% off? 100 years from now a future descendent will lovingly set them out for Christmas dinner, admonishing her children to be very careful with them given their family significance and age.

My mom has always said one of the meanest gifts you can give someone is a Bible they don’t want, like, or need. Why? Because who the heck is going to get rid of a Bible? (Don’t answer that). And they’re big! I have so many Bibles from so many family members that they take up an entire two shelves in my home library. Do I need all of them? No. Do they all spark joy? Not really. Some do, like my father’s. But what of the family tree neatly chronicled in Uncle-what-his-face’s Bible? I may not have ever met him, but man, that handwritten tree is historic.

As I read through the specifications of the KonMari method, I began to question my recent decision to save in a special box all the Christmas cards we receive each year. My original thought process was that someday a future generation will stumble upon and untie the box, and fully enjoy the found faces of babies, now grown or gone, or notes that at the time were quickly jotted – “pray for us during the shutdown!” – that have since become museum-worthy.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t note that sometimes items saved don’t just fail to bring joy, they actually bring great sadness.

And yet … in that sadness there is a memory we would never choose to purge.

The clothes of my first son, gone now for over two decades.

A red rose saved from my father’s casket.

A photo of a broken-out window, leftover from a marriage gone horribly wrong.

These are things that remind us who we are, where we’ve been, how we’ve loved and been loved. Of how we were once brought low but then rose up by virtue of a strength we otherwise might forget we have, and by a God we learned would always be there, no matter how bad things might get.

So while I say tidy up! Declutter! Fold your socks until they are perfect rectangles that stand on end! I also say keep. Remember. Hold tight.

Because what’s important doesn’t always spark joy.

What sparks joy doesn’t always do so for the best of reasons.

And the space we want to see decluttered might be better off overflowing with what will later bring joy to someone we’ll never meet, tell a story in need of telling, teach a lesson in need of teaching, or lift someone from the ashes of despair as they see historic proof of struggles overcome and the life-affirming work of a still-speaking God.

Our spaces are not necessarily ours to keep, and it isn’t just our personal joy we’re responsible for sparking. So as you hold each object in your hands, waiting for it to speak to you, listen not just for yourself, but for the generations yet to come.

One of the Lucky

Yes, yes. I realize my blog has been dormant (or shall we say fallow?) for quite some time now. No need for me to go into that; if you want to know why you can read this.

But things have been improving over here in my snowy neck of the woods. Since September I’ve followed a whole food, plant-based diet (WFPB), and the results have been extreme and miraculous. Does that mean I’m cured? Nope. Right now my hands are swollen and painful, my knees and ankles ache, and my Raynaud’s is flaring because I dared to have fun outside with my kids. But man, the difference between now and pre-September is astounding and life changing and God-given. But this isn’t a post about that. It’s a post about equity in the world of chronic illness.

Over time I’ve realized ways to work around common problems encountered when living with illness and pain: Jar openers, “grabbers,” a really good cane, my Sleep Number bed, Daily Harvest, not working, having a housekeeper, my WFPB vegan diet, and a number of other things I won’t bore you with here.

Perhaps you’ve already noted that these are not inexpensive work-arounds. Me writing a blog post recommending these things to others is akin to Sheryl Sandberg telling minimum wage female employees of color they should simply lean in.

The truth is, there are Rohingya women with lupus (and men, but I will say women). There are women with lupus working physically intense and demanding jobs. There are women with lupus who are single-parenting, living in abusive relationships, a cardboard box, or facing the prospect of homelessness.

Women with lupus who are at this very moment seeking asylum, living in refugee camps, or going without life-saving medication because of the government shutdown.

I may bemoan what this illness has done to my life, but the truth is, I am one of the lucky ones.

Today I promise to count my blessings, pray for those suffering, and give thanks for all that I have. Please hold me to it.

 

 

Is the American Way the Jesus Way?

Brian Zahnd is the co-founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Brian is known for his focus on embracing the deep and long history of the Church and wholeheartedly participating in God’s mission to redeem and restore His world. He is also the author of several books, including, A Farewell To MarsBeauty Will Save the World, and Unconditional?: The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness. Today, as we in the US prepare to celebrate Independence Day, Brian talks to us about the conflation of flag and cross, Christianity’s long history of accommodating itself to the pressures of nationalism, and the transformative hope of local churches to overcome both of these distortions of the true message of Christ.

You’ve said that for many American Christians, the American Way and the Jesus Way are essentially the same way of being human. What do you mean by that?

Many American Christians would be hard pressed to identify five examples of how the Jesus way differs significantly from the American way. In the civil religion of America, the Jesus way and the American way have been conflated into the same mode of being human. In essence this means Christianity exists primarily to support the supreme idea of America. Put just so it sounds ludicrous, nevertheless it remains the tacit assumption of American civil religion. But authentic Christianity is a radical challenge to all other allegiances.

Christians confess that Jesus is Lord and thus “We the People” are not. Christians are far more committed to the Beatitudes than the Bill of Rights. Christians believe that only Jesus has a manifest destiny to rule the nations. Christians proclaim that “the last best hope of the world” is Jesus, not America. And that most American Christians would view these assertions as controversial reveals just how deeply the Jesus way has been subverted by the American way.

You can read the rest of my interview with Brian Zahnd at Red Letter Christians. He’s an amazing writer and speaker — the interview is truly worth a read!

Brian Zahnd headshot

Heavenly Treasures

Today I have the pleasure of writing for my friend, Lindsey Smallwood. I wrote this over a year ago, as we prepared for our move to Maryland. I’m happy to say I’ve learned my lesson, but it did take a while. We’re all a work in progress…

You can read the post here, at Lindsey’s excellent blog.

(Graphic by Lindsey Smallwood)

(Graphic by Lindsey Smallwood)

Shrimp-tutionalized

Knowing that I just moved to the area and am searching for kid friendly ways to Get Out Of The House, a friend told me about a local swim class she attends with her two little ones. If I remember correctly, the conversation went something like this:

“You know, there’s this great swim class we take the kids to—“

“Did you say swim class?”

“Yeah, it isn’t far, and it’s relatively inexp—“

“I HATE swim classes for kids. They are TORTURE. Let me tell you….”

I went on from there, probably for a good thirty minutes, disparaging every swim class between here and Berkeley.

I’m sure I appeared both selfish (or at least a bad listener) and crazy (or at least slightly obsessed), but being selfish and/or crazy doesn’t make it any less true that my experience with kids’ swim classes is one of misery.

In the funny way life has of being weird and coincidental, shortly after that heated one-way exchange, I was searching for an old email and accidentally stumbled instead upon an email I sent Andy in 2010, detailing every painful moment of one of Rachel’s first forays into Shrimp-dom:

Today’s Shrimp class was soooo not worth it. You know how it starts at 10am, ends at 10:30am, and then it takes until approximately 11:45am to get both of Rachel and me dried off, showered, dried off again, and re-dressed? Well today I had a definite plan for how I was going to reduce that time to about 20 minutes. Seriously. Of course, I failed miserably, and I ended up driving home in my wet swimsuit.

The five other moms and babies in class seem to have it all figured out. The moms put the younger babies (6-8 months) on towels on the changing benches, and the moms with older babies stand them up in the little closed off area the benches make. One mom even gets her seven-month-old to sit on a towel the whole time. Amazing. When I try any of these things, Rachel: 

  1.  falls down
  2.  crawls on the icky floor
  3.  cries
  4.  all of the above

The mom with the seven-month-old who sits on a towel without moving saw me struggling to keep Rachel from crawling away and said, “does she know the word ‘stop?’”

“No.”

 “Oh. Well what about ‘Red Light?”

Uh, no. She’s seven months old. She thinks ‘no’ is the funniest word she’s ever heard and has not a freaking clue what a red light is. I told the women this and she smiled like she felt really sorry for me and my obvious incompetence.

This was when I decided to wear wet clothes home.

I put Rachel in the stroller and she immediately started crying and reaching up for me. Okay. Rachel out and gym bag, diaper bag, and purse in. I pushed the stroller to the elevator with one hand. This did not go well. You know how the stroller alignment is all screwed up? Well, there’s an old-person class right after the Shrimp class, and I was forced to dodge canes and walkers lest I take some old lady down. I got a lot of glares. That was especially true when I couldn’t figure out how to push the stroller with one hand while carrying Rachel and her Froggie blanket through the swinging gate to leave. The gate swings IN, which is just plain stupid, but everyone looked at me like I was the stupid one.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so disorganized: no makeup, hair half wet/half in a ponytail/half in a bun, wet swim suit soaking my clothes, one hand busy knocking down old people with my run-away-stroller, the other hand struggling to carry a grumpy baby and her Froggie blanket, all while wearing disgusting, soggy sweats as I walked the two blocks to the parking garage where I was parked on the sixth floor. Rachel freaked out as soon as I put her in the car seat, so I had to drive all the way home with my left hand while my right hand was twisted behind me holding a bottle for Rachel. I could see a mom in a minivan behind me laughing as I drove down the garage ramp.

I’ll admit that one reason I felt so incompetent is because I’m used to being the one who has it all together. I certainly did with Collin. Collin thinks things are different with Rachel because I’m “old” now. I think it’s because I don’t co-sleep with her like I did with Collin so I get up every two hours between midnight and 6am and am too damn tired to do something like change a wet, squirming baby with one hand while sitting on a cramped, stinky pool locker room floor with five other moms and their kiddos watching me, waiting to see if I’ll screw up.

Anyway, finally Rachel fell asleep in the car. Yay! We were almost home and since it wasn’t yet 1pm, Collin would be asleep, too. I figured I’d get something hot to eat, maybe write you an email about today’s Shrimp fiasco, and then take a long hot shower.

Uh, no.

Rachel did stay asleep, but as soon as I got home Collin let Bella-dog out of his room, so she started barking and whining and Winston-dog started trying to rough house with her, then Collin turned his techno music &!*$ up really loud and the bass started thumping the half of the house I wanted to relax in. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my hot food and drink, so I went straight to the shower, desperate to get in there before Collin came upstairs and started running his day’s plans by me, such as, “can I experiment with smoking tree bark today? Can I drive the minivan to Taco Bell? Can I go to a girl’s house while her parents aren’t home and she’s having a pillow-fight-pajama party?” Honestly though, at this point I would have said yes to all those things just to get some peace and quiet in the house while Rachel was still sleeping.

Anyway, I finally managed to shower. Ready to recover from my horrible morning, I sat down at the computer with coffee and homemade blueberries muffins slathered with butter. Of course, that’s when Collin walked in and said, “Andy wants me to check my email right now.” Crap, crap, crap. So I turned on Martha Stewart, which I almost never watch, and guess what? It was one I had already seen.

Maybe someday I’ll re-write this to make it touching or funny or something more than what it is, but for right now, I just needed to get this off my chest.

Shrimp class sucks.

Author’s notes: if the person who advised me on a great local swim class is reading this (and I assume she is because I’m going to tag her on FB), now you know I am neither selfish nor crazy. I am, quite simply, still in Shrimp-covery.

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