Breath

I often find inspiration in unlikely places– words and phrases from real or fictional people, books, articles, or my own brain that dreams up visions and sayings providing purpose and clarity for this moment.  I thought I’d share some of my current bedrocks:

Breath (and Strength)
Last week my yoga teacher asked us to take a moment and pick one or two things to commit to during our hour of practice.  After some reluctance in picking two (my perfectionist self always tries to take on too much), I landed on strength and breath.  My favorite thing about yoga is that the entire practice is grounded in breath.  The goal is not to lift your leg higher than your neighbor or stretch until you feel pain (though both may happen) but to maintain your breath throughout.  I’m always struck by how counter this is to the world I live in (read: the world I’ve created.)

What if my own success was measured by remembering to breathe?  By noticing and being present and….breathing?  I often credit my strength as an ability to get through…to do all of the things I’m “supposed to”–to get through all the e-mails and the meetings and the news feeds and the happy hours and the dirty dishes and the endless stream of plans.  But breath makes for life and presence.  Breath allows us to show up to our lives, to our work, to hard conversations, to our surroundings and our struggles.  Through sick parents and hurricanes and relentless self doubt we breathe.

Sweating is always better
I’m pretty certain this one came to me after a recent run.  It’s about getting out of my own head–spending less time thinking and preparing and organizing and more time just doing (for the record, writing counts as doing).  “BUT I REALLY LIKE THINKING AND ORGANIZING AND RUMINATING ABOUT ALL THE ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES MY LIFE COULD HAVE!!”, screams every resistant bone in my body.  I’ve always been a very physical person but one who easily gets trapped in the cerebral.  Like, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing if someone yanked me out of bed every morning and threw me into a cold river.  I would hate that person every time but I’d know it was the best thing. So, yeah.  Sweating (or hypothermia) is always better.  It just is.

Slow down
A few weeks ago I met a friend for coffee after work (ok, well it was my pastor…but she’s my friend!  And technically I had wine but…).   For a moment I was outside of myself looking at the two of us sitting at this nondescript table made available to us courtesy of the “No Laptops” sign–she with her tea and me with my wine.  The both of us with our “get to know you” questions and stories of faith and families and old vs. new New York.  And I couldn’t help but acknowledge what a small miracle this was in a city like ours and a time like this.  That there’s still space for two souls to sit and talk and connect and not have any particular place to be at anytime soon.  And how much better we both were for it.

 

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Ties that Break

This last trip to Texas was a real doozy and I’m not sure where to begin but here is where I try to make some sense of things. A few realizations I had while I was back in my home state the past week (and I’m sure more on the horizon):

I’ve turned out really different from a lot of the people I grew up with—this may seem obvious but I’ve always held onto a reality that no matter how different the paths life takes my family and I, there will still be that common anchor. That sturdy, wrought iron core of a shared value or belief or whatever that thing is we are proud to boast as “ours” and ours alone. And lately that has felt tested as some of the things I hold core to who I am and how I am in the world are not only different, but in direct opposition to those of my closest kin.

Religion can be a source of great manipulation or great freedom and I think I’ve found the latter in spite of the former. There is a vein of Christianity I grew up around that says “no” to everything in its path. It generates fear of the other and is in the business of creating new “others” on the regular. And there are clearly understood lines drawn to dictate who is in and who is out. Who is good and who is bad. Whose eternity is secured and whose is not. Which words are acceptable and which are not. Whose lifestyle is celebrated and whose is not. Which questions are allowed and which are not. And I have since breathed cleaner air and cannot go back to that suffocating place.

Being a woman in my family comes with limits. Now this is certainly not something that is advertised or articulated in explicit ways (as sexism often isn’t). It is the ever-subtle yet ever-present sense that others hold a limited set of expectations for who you are and what you will be. It comes in the childish retorts from adults’ mouths when you question them on a belief, a position, a life choice because who are you, as a female, to understand such complexities? Who are you, as a female, to know what the right thing is?

It is often communicated through absences—the absence of substantial conversations about politics or finance or career or economics directed at the female members of my family. The absence of women’s voices in mixed company and the absence of male listeners when women do speak up. The absence of confidence I feel in the presence of brothers and uncles and cousins who are male.

And it is sometimes spoken in the ways things play out. Like how the men have managed to plan and attend their annual golf tournament for ten years strong while the women have barely gotten their reunion off the ground in the past couple of years. Like how every one of my female cousins is a teacher, nurse or stay at home mom. Like the fact that my brother owns two houses in two different states. And how the more questions I ask and the more ambitious my dreams get, the more I am looked at like a traitor, a dissenter, a “liberal”, one in need of “prayer.”

And, believe it or not, I am thankful. I am sad but thankful. Because with each look and with each subtle snub I am pushed to be more, to do more, to fight harder for those who feel like this times a billion. To continue to speak truth to power—right now, a particular power who is about to become our president (and all of those that voted for him). I am thankful I live in a city of other fighters and work in a profession where every day I see strong, female, black and brown leaders in action.   I am sad but thankful. Because this anger ignites me. And this anger builds empathy. And empathy builds love. And love is unstoppable.

A Poem About Love

I have learned that love
is a malleable thing.

It builds fences
and abruptly tears them down.

It is never what you think
and always what you want.

I have learned that love
is a complicated thing.

Unattached
to the hopes you had for it.

Love instructs
From within
and without

I have learned that love
is a sorrowful thing.

When you think
you can’t can’t have it
don’t deserve it.

When it leaves
unsuspectingly

And slips
into places you have not yet been.

I have learned that love
is a freeing thing.

If you let it be
And choose to believe

That love
is everything.

On fighting to understand

In December’s RELEVANT Magazine podcast, hip-hop artist and man of faith Propaganda spoke about the then-recent Eric Garner verdict and race relations in America. I just listened to it the other night and thought his words carried such truth, simplicity and depth. He put words to so many frustrations that often whirl around my own mind.

Responding to pushback he’s gotten from Christians for speaking out about police shootings in New York and Ferguson, Propaganda says that as Christians “we are called to compassion and should be fighting to understand. So whatever you feel or don’t feel about the situation, just fight to understand it.”

Upon repeated news stories of white cops killing unarmed black men and women and the ensuing protests, I don’t hear a lot of white folks asking “Why?” Or, if I do, it’s the wrong kind of why. “Why are people still protesting? The court made a decision. Don’t these people have jobs?” is what one family member told me after George Zimmermann was found not guilty for the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Just listen to the interview already! It is So. On. Point. I’ve posted the link below but if you don’t have time to listen right now, here are some of my favorite gems from Propaganda:

Our call is to mourn with those who are mourning. The nation’s people are hurting and who are you to tell them that they don’t feel pain.

I don’t think that believers truly live an integrated life. You don’t know enough people of color. If you knew enough people of color–.once you humanize something you become much more slow to speak. I think a lot of times that comes from living in a very homogenous type of life to where your views or your understanding is at a challenge because you’re not living among it.

In response to the violent protests that took place in Ferguson:
I think Dr. King nailed it back in the 60’s with him saying, “I don’t condone this type of violence but I understand it. And he called it the language of the unheard.
When people finally talk about us is when a building is burning. People do a lot of irrational things when they feel they’re not being heard.

On how white people can help…
Use your privilege as a tool.
Serve as a translator when you hear people speak unjustly about situations.
Interrupt situations…if you write a letter to the CEO they’re gonna listen to you. Wield your privilege. Don’t try to excuse it away or justify it.

You can listen to the whole interview here

And, while you’re at it, bop yo head to Prop on Spotify:

Unseen

Happy new year, folks.  I just started a fresh page in my Doogie Howser style computer journal.  I stared at the blank screen and immediately closed it.  I figure if I have anything to say, I may as well share it with some people.  My friend and I had a conversation about this recently.  She doesn’t understand why people need the public forum of a blog to write.  Writing on this thing makes me feel like I’m not alone in the universe.  I can’t see or hear you.  You may not even read this, but I know you’re there.  And that is a beautiful thing.

I’ve been pondering my faith life lately, re-reading this one chapter in Tozer’s The Pursuit of God.  He says:
The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible; the temporal, of the eternal.  That is the curse inherited by Adam’s tragic race.  At the root of the Christian faith lies belief in the invisible.  The object of the Christian’s faith is unseen reality. 

He understands how absolutely crazy the idea of faith is.  Belief.  But somehow he’s on board.  And that is where I teeter.  I wish he would tell me more.  There should be a how-to manual after a statement like that.  I think I waver for lack of trust in my own mind.  I think God is real, but I was also the last kid to stop believing in Santa Claus (I mostly blame The Polar Express for that).  So I often wonder if I just inherently want to believe in something higher or if God is actually real.  Or both.  Or does it even matter that much?  Has anyone else been at that tipping point of faith?  Which way did you jump and why?