Don’t Normalize Hate Speech

This morning, as I was looking through the list of quotations that I have gathered over the years for this day, I consciously removed two, both of them lovely and thoughtful sentiments, both of them by writers who have also said and done some things I find inappropriate. One was by Garrison Keillor, the other by J. K. Rowling.

I don’t know what I think about Keillor. The stories make me cringe; they make me angry. As much as I loved the humor of his voice, I have also usually rolled my eyes a bit at his curmudgeonly persona. With the stain on his reputation, I don’t feel like I need his words as part of my holy morning reflections.

I don’t always throw out the writings when I find out that the writer is objectionable. Humans are fallible, and even brilliant thinkers have their blind sides. Some blindnesses are too difficult to ignore, however. When I read Neruda’s piece about the woman he raped, how he didn’t even seem to understand that what he had done was to commit rape, how he described her with the same tender pen he used for the love poetry that made me swoon, I knew I would never return to his words. I no longer read or share his poetry. There’s rot at the heart of that. The same is true for others, for Marion Zimmer Bradley, for Orson Scott Card. On the other hand, I still love, and teach, Shakespeare despite some of his truly objectionable elements.

The one that is bothering me–a lot– right now, is J. K. Rowling. I think it is important to look with a clear eye at her recent tweets about trans people and name the speech what it is: hate speech. It’s couched in lots of attempts to sound open and conciliatory, but she cannot hide her transphobia. Even without any other red flags, this sentence in one of her tweets to try to explain herself is a real kicker: “I know and love trans people, but. . .” Yeah, nothing good ever comes after the “but” in such a sentence. She goes on to defend transphobic restroom laws. She has liked tweets that refer to trans women as “men in dresses.” It feels like I am building a case against her, doesn’t it? It’s just that I don’t want to excuse bigotry or normalize hate speech, and that is a sentence I have stolen from Rowling herself.

Yesterday, I listened to some of the recording of Daniel Radcliffe reading the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was caught up again in the way she develops the Dursleys in the first few pages of her tale as people who are terrified of difference. She sets up a scenario in which the reader, from the very first moment, feels like this tale is going to be about celebrating the weird people in the cloaks who stand out because they live who they are instead of who a constricting and unimaginative muggle society tells them they should be. That’s the liberating beauty I have found in the Harry Potter books, the deep truth that anyone who has ever felt marginalized for living their truth can hold onto.

As I try to be part of the movement to create a society in which my trans beloveds are not marginalized but are safe and welcome and embraced, I have sought out stories like this. And now it turns out that the author herself is doubling and tripling down on her anti-trans language. Not just flinchy and cringey, but hateful.

Here is the Rowling quote I took out of today’s quote line-up: “We stand together. We stick up for the vulnerable. We challenge bigots. We don’t let hate speech become normalized. We hold the line.” So. I’m holding the line, Ms. Rowling. I will not tolerate your hate speech toward the beloved children of the Universe who are trans and gender fluid. I don’t know what I will do with your books or your movies. Meanwhile, I’m going to seek out other constructed worlds that offer their readers hope and vision for just and loving societies where everyone is safe and welcome and encouraged to live their truth, worlds created by authors who won’t exclude anyone for who they are.

I’m not asking you to give up the HP world. But, if you’re looking for some alternatives to Rowling, try Nnedi Okorafor, N. K. Jemisin, Octavia Butler, Charlie Jane Anders, Ursula K. LeGuin, Starhawk, Madeleine L’Engle, Tamora Pierce. Listen to LeVar Burton reads–he has an absolute treasure trove of authors who question the boxes a dull-witted and authoritarian society wants to place people in. Who else do you suggest?


Gratitude List:
1. Friends who bear with me and help me stumble along as I figure things out.
2. The way good literature offers visions of what we can be.
3. Finishing a project! I’m going to wrap up the prayer shawl today.
4. Oriole still sings in the sycamore every morning, but his call has changed. I think he must be feeding young ones now.
5. I’ve been seeing this sign in images of the BLM protests: “Sorry I’m late. I had some learning to do.” We can change and grow. I can change. You can change. Keep listening. Keep learning!

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.” ―Marian Wright Edelman


“Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.” ―Marian Wright Edelman


“It’s still a world with plums in it, my loves, & chamomile & lipstick & cellos. It’s still a world with us in it. Find a hand & hold on.” —Elena Rose


“The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.” ―Wendell Berry


”So many of us feel an agonizing longing to contribute something meaningful to the deficits of our time. But years can disappear in the doing of duties, in the never-reaching of rising expectations, in the always-falling-short of proving of one’s enoughness.

“The truth is that if we really want to make an eloquent offering of our lives, we have to step out of that ‘call and response’ relationship with the external world and locate our source of guidance within.

“To hear the rhythm of your indigenous song, to fall in step with the poetry of your unfolding, first there must be a clearing away: a ‘temenos’ of simplicity in which to dwell.

“Strike a holy grove of silence where you can listen as you long to be heard, see as you long to be seen, acknowledge where you long to be relevant, needed and necessary in the ‘family of things’.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa


“One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.”
―Henry David Thoreau


Rumi: “Ours is no caravan of despair.”


“I profess the religion of love wherever its caravan turns along the way; that is the belief, the faith I keep.” ―Asma Kaftaro, UN Women Advisory Board


“Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things you fight for and then you protect.”
―Wangari Maathai

Ranting

I have been ranting for the last couple of days. Here’s the gist:
Quote by Nancy Shulman:
“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.”
***
Dallas Megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress said: “Apart from the vocabulary attributed to him, President Trump is right on target in his sentiment.”

To the contrary: The word “shithole” is nothing compared to the vulgarity of the sentiment he expressed.

I have been quietly not openly calling myself a Christian for years now, because I do not like the look of Christianity in this country. I now openly walk away from the name. I continue to be a Follower of Jesus, in an Anabaptist and Universalist sort of way, with an emphasis on the feminine nature of the Great Mystery, and a belief that the Great Mystery is within everything and everyone. But I can no longer categorize myself as a Christian. I do not belong in any way, shape, or form to the same group as this man. No, we clearly are not following the same Jesus. Yes, this is judgemental. Yes, it is not being accepting of differences. There are differences I will not accept. Racism and xenophobia have absolutely no role in the realm of Jesus. If that is Christian, I am not that. I will have no part of that. Rather than trying to claim the term as something that embraces me as well, I walk away from it.

I will not check myself in as a Christian on polls and forms. If you ask my religion, I will no longer tell you that I am “a Christian, just not one of those.” Public Christianity in the United States is nothing I recognize as having anything to do with Jesus.

There are many people I know who continue to claim and reclaim the word, and I do not judge them. I, however, feel that at this point in time, I need to make a clear distinction between what I believe and what seems to be the path of U.S. Christianity.
***
This is no shock. We knew he was racist. Still, putting it into the public discourse so baldly demands that public figures, especially ones who follow Jesus, repudiate the language. One can say that this is not surprising, that he’s been doing this all along. That is true. But this is a level of unstatesmanlike public discourse that needs to be addressed right now. Robert Jeffries certainly did. His counterparts need to speak up. Now.
***
I believe in the path of Love, but this is one of the biggest challenges to that, even more than Dick Cheney. It was easier when it was abstract, but having an actual person to work it out with is really hard. I should probably take a FB break and read more Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron and Richard Rohr. Still, I feel a need to be part of the conversation. Somehow, I think these things need to happen in tandem: the inner work and the outer work.

Let’s keep talking about how to manage this. If not to Love, if not even to stop hating, at least to manage it all, to not be drowned, ourselves, in the hatred.

This I can say: I love You. I love my family, my students, my colleagues, my Beloved Friends, the sun and the earth and the animals. The moon. Those who are downtrodden and beaten and excluded. And because of that Love, I must fight the Wrong that these men are unleashing.

I have a sense that my hatred will not be an effective tool in that, though I have not managed to quell it. My anger can go either way, to push me to toward effective Work, or to enmire me in the bogs.

I cast a line from me to you, a line of Love for all that we love in common.
***
“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.” –Elie Wiesel
***
I have been neglecting the grounding work of my gratitude lists during a couple of days when I desperately needed the grounding.


Gratitude List:
1. The fine musicians and singers at my school. They are really given the opportunity to learn and to shine.
2. A long weekend
3. Bright souls, all around
4. A warm hat and slippers
5. Being surrounded by stories

May we walk in Beauty!

The Difference Between Rage and Hatred


In the midst of the rage and anxiety, despair and turmoil, let’s keep our eyes open to Beauty.

I am really struggling this morning, not sure how I can go about the process of reflecting on gratitude after the events of yesterday in Charlottesville, and how that drives home the awareness that we are indeed watching forces of fascism rise in the United States today. We have a president whose mean-spirited and careless rhetoric has incited and encouraged the alt-right and their friends to feel like this is their time to rise. One headline I read this morning made a point of clarifying that yesterday’s event was not a protest, but a race riot. The people who came out for that rally were bringing hate out into the streets, eagerly anticipating the violence that ensued.

I am hesitant to call these folks white supremacists, though they are indeed so, because I don’t want to take the pressure off the rest of us, who live in and benefit from a white supremacist system that has gone too long unquestioned. Much as I repudiate the ideology, I experience the benefits of living in a white supremacist society. Yesterday’s race riot in Charlottesville was not just a response to our president’s bigotry, but an outgrowth of a white supremacist system gone unchallenged. This movement has been allowed and encouraged to fester and grow.

What do we do, now, in the face of this hatred?
I will express my shock and rage without letting them paralyze me.
I will repudiate the hate while I recognize that I, too, experience hatred in my heart.
I will commit intentional acts of love and solidarity with those who are marginalized and directly threatened by these people.
I will keep naming the truths and realities that the president and his followers are trying to twist into lies.
I will listen to music and look at art and read poetry (maybe make some of my own) and remind myself of what is good and beautiful, and how the arts challenge the impulse to destruction.
I will love. I will keep trying to love.

And that is hard. How can I love the torch-wielding rage-filled mob that tries to intimidate and cow people who stand up for peace? How can I love the Nazi-slogan-chanting gun-slinging marchers eager for blood to feed their rage? Holy Mystery, help me to walk in the pathway of love, to speak truth to the lies, to set the boundaries firmly and keep the doors wide open.

I titled this post “The Difference Between Rage and Hatred” because someone on FB this morning said that my words about the president and his supporters were full of hate. I challenge that perception. We MUST speak out. We MUST name the bigotry. This is not about hatred, but about truth.

Today, let each of us commit to one act of defiant love and kindness, one word of revolutionary truth, one prayer for peace grounded in hands-and-feet action.


“Good luck with figuring it out. It unfolds, and you experience it, and it is so horrible and endless that you could almost give up a dozen times. But grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on. Through the most ordinary things, books, for instance, or a postcard, or eyes or hands, life is transformed. Hands that for decades reached out to hurt us, to drag us down, to control us, or to wave us away in dismissal now reach for us differently. They become instruments of tenderness, buoyancy, exploration, hope.”
― Anne Lamott, from: “Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers”
*
“We do not have to live as though we are alone.” ―Wendell Berry
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“We are made and set here to give voice to our astonishments.” ―Annie Dillard
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“Writing is one of the most ancient forms of prayer. To write is to believe communication is possible, that other people are good, that you can awaken their generosity and their desire to do better.”  ―Fatema Mernissi
*
Harrowing
by Parker J. Palmer
The plow has savaged this sweet field
Misshapen clods of earth kicked up
Rocks and twisted roots exposed to view
Last year’s growth demolished by the blade.
I have plowed my life this way
Turned over a whole history
Looking for the roots of what went wrong
Until my face is ravaged, furrowed, scarred.
Enough. The job is done.
Whatever’s been uprooted, let it be
Seedbed for the growing that’s to come.
I plowed to unearth last year’s reasons—
The farmer plows to plant a greening season.
*
“Through trial and fire, against the odds, you have grown to trust that the world can be a safe place and you have every right to walk here. You have made parents of your instincts, intuition and dreaming; you have allowed love into where it had never before been received; you have grown life where once it was barren. With just a few found and trustworthy seeds, you have nurtured the greatest harvest there is in this, your humble life of belonging.” ―Toko-pa Turner
*
Gratitude for:
“The gentle and fierce ones, the compassionate and powerful ones, the wise ones–so many people I know who work directly with people and communities who have experienced trauma, to explore and understand it, to help people seek for their inner resilience and to heal. These people I know, they work in education–both in the US and internationally, they develop social services to break cycles of trauma across generations, they make songs and music, they write poems, they tell their stories and the stories of others, they listen. How they listen! And they ask questions. They hold a big, big bowl. You probably know some of these people, too. Let’s stand around them and help them hold the bowl of stories that they carry.”  ―Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
*
Gertrude Stein defined love as “the skillful audacity required to share an inner life.”


Gratitude List:
1. The forces of love that stand against the hatred. May we be strong enough to prevail.
2. Hard as it is, reminders to look into my own soul and see how my own rage and pettiness can harden into something twisted and wrong.
3. Thinking more about my sister-in-law’s ordination: The time for women leading the church has arrived. Not only was she a woman being ordained, but she was ordained by a woman, the conference pastor, leading a whole branch of the Mennonite Church. This is the time of reparations and new balance.
4. This morning, when my heart was doing its little panic in response to the news of Charlottesville, I opened my FB page to a message from a former student of mine, a fine young man who is crafting incredible music, finding ways to share his artistic vision. He shared a file of a string quartet piece that he composed. It was healing music, and the steel bands that were tightening around my heart began to release their hold. And I am proud, so proud of him.
5. Cats in the house. I know I am a little obsessed right now, but it’s such a joy to have a furperson walk through the house. I sort of think they got a little mixed up at the Humane League and gave us a cat and a dog instead of two cats. This morning as I was quietly typing, Thor came up and laid one of those little plastic armbands in my lap. I tossed it, and he went tearing after it, bringing it back to lay it at my feet. I have been almost unable to do any work this morning because of the ongoing game of fetch. I had to go wake Joss up so he could take over the game, and I could get some writing done.

May we walk in Beauty!