Saturday, January 6, 2018

Choosing Books for Change (or At Least Common Decency)

Today at work I had occasion to go through a box of picture books, sorting out what to keep for our church library and what to get rid of one way or another.

Now usually, when I do this sort of thing, the 'get rid of' books go to the thrift store.

Today I found one that is not, in fact, going to the thrift store.  It's going in the trash, since it's a hardcover and I don't know that the binding would recycle particularly well.  And it's not because it's moldy or water damaged.  It's because it's horrifying.

Published in 1963, Fireflies in the Night by Judy Hawes, illustrated by Kazue Mizumura seems like a fun little old-fashioned book.

It has some neat factoids about fireflies.  It also has this illustration:

 That is a BIG NO.  People in Africa (and their descendants in the diaspora) are not bug-eyed apes and it's not okay to depict them as such.  I don't want anybody picking that book up to read at random and will certainly not be suggesting it for a story time about bugs, nature, or anything else.

Also going in the trash:  Little Hiawatha from Wall Disney Productions from 1978.

 This is full of fairly extreme and disrespectful stereotypes about Native Americans.  Also not something I want other people to come across.

There are a few books that will be going to the thrift store.  My criteria for keeping a book are:

  • Must have something to do with a topic we might have a class or worship service about (that is a pretty broad range of topics.)
  • If humans are shown, they must be a diverse range of humans (in terms of race, sex/gender, age, etc.) unless there is some actual reason connected to the story why not (for example, I don't demand that a story about a family necessarily include racial diversity within the family.)
  • Language should be at least respectful of the people it is referring to - I don't necessarily require the most up-to-date terminology at all times.
Going to the thrift store today:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Other Favorite Bedtime Rhymes by Sanja Rescek, 2006:    This one has an all-White cast, for no apparent reason.  And I'm sure we have/there are much better, more reflective of human diversity, illustrated versions of nursery rhymes.

Spot Goes to the Beach by Eric Hill, 1985, is going to the thrift store because it's not terribly topical.  These books are fun, though, and they do make some attempt at artistic inclusion:

 Spot and his family and friends are a variety of colors, species, and have different abilities and interests.

All this made me think about really GOOD picture books and what I look for in them.

There are some books that are going all out for diversity and affirming each person for who they are, no matter what.  That's great!  An example I walked into my office and pulled off my shelf is It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr, 2001.  

That's not the only kind of book we want to have, though, because there are many stories in life and they are not all about being different.  Or even if they are, they don't all need to slam you upside the head with it.

There are lots of books that do a good job of showing diversity as something that just is, including Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, 1991:

 In fact, this story is about diversity, feeling different, and feeling the same, but there are a lot of excellent books on lots of topics that set the norm that there are people of all sorts everywhere.  See how much variety there is in Chrysanthemum's classmates in how they look (white, gray, and brown fur) and who they are (different approaches to posing for a picture!)?  I have books that do a good job of this that are about construction and feelings and dance and all kinds of topics.

Finally, there are books that show one kind of person but they do that for a good reason, because the story is naturally about one type of person.  There are books about being deaf that show mostly deaf people using sign and hearing aids etc.  There are books about mommies that show mostly women (I'd love one that shows trans women as on the spectrum of normalcy, although I don't know that I have one ...).  And there are books that show people mostly or entirely of one race or ethnicity.  A good example is The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry, 1990.  Since the vast majority of people who live in the Amazon Rain Forest have darker skin and many have mixed Native and European ancestry, I think this guy looks just right for this story:

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Higher Ground (by Stevie Wonder:

People keep on learnin'
Soldiers keep on warrin'
World keep on turnin'
Cause it won't be too long
Powers keep on lyin'
While your people keep on dyin'
World keep on turnin'
Cause it won't be too long
I'm so darn glad he let me try it again
Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin'
Till I reach the highest ground
Teachers keep on teachin'
Preachers keep on preachin'
World keep on turnin'
Cause it won't be too long
Oh no
Lovers keep on lovin'
Believers keep on believin'
Sleepers just stop sleepin'
Cause it won't be too long
Oh no
I'm so glad that he let me try it again
Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin'
Till I reach my highest ground...Whew!
Till I reach my highest ground
No one's gonna bring me down
Oh no
Till I reach my highest ground
Don't you let nobody bring you down (they'll sho 'nuff try)
God is gonna show you higher ground
He's the only friend you'll have around

"Do you want to speak...or do you want to be heard? Do you want to make a name... or do you want to make a difference? Do you care if you get credit or do you care if something gets done?" - Rev. Cheryl M. Walker (paraphrased from the Service of the Living Tradition, UUA General Assembly, 2017)

I care if I am heard, I care if I make a difference, I care if things get done.

Better Days

Better Days (Emma's Revolution:

We have come in the light to this place in the light with our hearts in the light open wide.
We are here in the light giving voice in the light to the truth in the light we divine.

Let us sing for today let us learn better ways.
Showing love in the light giving hope in the light we create in the light better days.

We are born in the dark we are fed in the dark we connect in the dark through the veil.
We are held in the dark we are healed in the dark mysteries in the dark we reveal.

Let us sing for today let us learn better ways.
Showing love in the dark giving hope in the dark we create in the dark better days.

Time is now we begin where we are we begin we have all we begin that we need.
To renew we begin to release we begin to rebuild we begin to believe.

Let us sing for today let us learn better ways.
Showing love we begin giving hope we begin we create we begin better days.

I sat in the opening worship for the LREDA professional days and I felt the tears well up and wet my face.

I did not want to cry. I did not want my colleagues to see me cry.

But I could not stop the tears.

It has been 12 years since I attended a General Assembly or a LREDA professional day at GA.  And my inner Child wanted to know why.  She wanted to know why I had abandoned her by neglecting these professional and collegial connections for so long.

Once I could hear that Child's wailing question, I could accept it and answer it.

I chose mothering infants and toddlers for a cumulative 12 years with my eyes open.  For much of that time I had very good communal support from family and friends.  I chose to become a doula and childbirth mentor in addition to my religious education calling with my eyes open.  I had amazing support from my partner and connections in that community.  But in the last half of that time, my family was also impacted by financial and social pressures we did not choose but could not avoid.   External changes beyond our control pulled us into the underworld, made us walk a labyrinthine path of change.  I will not speak for my other family members or even about our path as a family except to say that it has been hard and long.

Yes, in a way the time I've spent focused intensely on raising my young children and coping with familial and financial pressures and developing another professional role entirely in another field was an abandonment.  In other ways, it was not.  My inner Love Warrior was able to reassure my inner Child that even when it didn't look like it, all of that time I was in fact working very, very hard to get myself back here.  This reassurance steadied me, dried my tears, and let me move forward.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Put your fears down on the ground

Put your fears down on the ground. 
Walk away. 
Turn around 
and look at them 
from a little way off;

maybe holding the hand of someone you love. 
Maybe you'll feel the (ghost) hand 
of your beloved grandmother, 
The one in whose eyes you could 
do no be no think no say no wrong. 

They aren't you. 
Think about that before
you decide whether to walk over and
pick them back up again. 

Consider whether 
one or two small pieces
might have melted 
into the dirt by now. 

Look up at the sky. 

Even without those fears
held tight in your hands
your heart is still
beating, you are still

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter, a Terrible Story about Hope

Once upon a time, there was a man named Jesus.

Who was Jesus?  He was a man. Probably a carpenter. A Jew. And in the world Jesus lived in, there were people with power and authority, and people without.

The Romans had armies and money and power.

The Jews did not. They were seen as different. They believed in a different God, they held strange rituals. The Romans were the ruling class and the Jews were a small, not very powerful minority.

But even in his own community, Jesus wasn't loved by everyone. Oh, he had friends, and he had followers. But he spoke truth to power. He made people uncomfortable. He said things should change, because things weren't okay the way they were.

He was scapegoated.

And he was killed.

This part of story is terrible. When I was a little kid, this story really bothered me. When Jesus is killed, that is a terrible, terrible thing.

Who are you in this story?  

Are you the hero?

Are you one of his friends?

Are you a bystander?

Are you the persecutors?

Are you someone who doesn’t even know this is happening?

So this is a terrible part of the story, and yet, terrible things happen. Every day. Every place. Throughout time. Things fall apart.

The rest of the story is about things that both do and DON’T happen every day, every place, throughout time.

In the story, Jesus is buried and after three days people who love him come to mourn at his grave and his body isn't there.

Then they see him walking around.

And he talks to them.

And they go out to tell everyone they can the GOOD NEWS that Jesus is risen.

They tell the GOOD NEWS that they believe that Jesus is part of God, and God has brought Jesus back from the dead into a new life.

They tell the GOOD NEWS that they believe that if anybody, no matter how sinful a person they are, believes that Jesus is part of God, then after they die, God will bring them back from the dead into a new life in Heaven.

This kind of thing doesn't happen in our ordinary lives. It's more like a superhero story. SUPER JESUS!!!

But it also does happen. Even when things have fallen apart, and people do terrible things to each other, even then there is hope. There are choices.

There are flowers that grow from tiny seeds and crumpled up dead looking bulbs.

There are beliefs that bring us hope and return us to life.  Even when life seems really terrible and hard.

We can choose to believe in hope.  Each of us, here, now, can choose to look for good news and share it. Sometimes, we can choose to help someone who is hurt or treated unfairly or not included. Sometimes in big ways. But we can practice for that in little ways.

I don't know if everything happens for a reason. I don't know if it makes sense to believe Jesus died to fix our mistakes. Sins are just mistakes. But I do believe we can learn something  from everything that happens. And the lesson I choose to take from what happened to Jesus is that when things fall apart, there is always the possibility that growth and new life will come after. And that I can be part of that possibility, if I choose to.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

You Are Welcome Here

You Are Welcome Here

Black, Brown, Tan, White

No matter where you were born

Female, Intersex, Male, Trans

Bi, Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Straight

Able-bodied or Disabled

Adult, Baby, Child, Elder, Teen

Agnostic, Atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Other, Quaker, UU,

Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Radical

All People Are Welcome Here

But Not All Behavior

No Hatred, Yes Love

No Name-Calling, Yes Respect

No Harassment, Yes Consent

No Unfairness, Yes Justice

No Intimidation, Yes Inclusion

No Grandstanding, Yes Listening

It’s okay to feel your feelings

You have choices

Use them KINDLY