United We Stand

Heart To Heart

I was planning to write about winter squash but right now it feels more important to talk about making and healing community. For me, my community is the anchor that keeps me from drifting. It’s my port in the storm of crazy politics and an important source of satisfaction and contentment. One of the worst transgressions the current regime has perpetrated is the deliberate destruction of America’s communities. We are being torn apart and set at each other’s throats simply because it makes political and corporate takeover tactics easier to put in place. United we stand, divided we fall. November is coming, yes, but can we really put the brakes on?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling like my world is in freefall for the past two years. Even longer, if I’m honest; the Obama years were awesome in some respects (those coherent thoughts and complete sentences!) but many ugly policies were already in place then; Native American rights, the rights of people of color, women’s rights, queer people’s rights were all too often overlooked or denied. Too many immigrant children were separated from their parents, if not locked in cages, and some were adopted out before parents could reclaim them. Our government sanctioned the use of torture. Climate change got little attention. Gun safety regulations got little or no traction. And on and on and on…

Making The Community We Need

When our community life is threatened, it’s up to us to nurture it back to health. If our community can’t or doesn’t support us, maybe it’s time to create one that does. Few people can change a whole town or city, but any of us can weave a safety net. We may have to start small, but the sooner we start, the sooner that community can nurture us in turn. How? Well, when my oldest came out to me as transgender a few years ago, I found myself exploring a new world of ideas I’d never deeply considered and terms I’d never heard. For the most part, I was relieved to learn that instead of contemplating suicide my new daughter was feeling hopeful for the first time in decades. It was impossible not to feel that as a parent I must have missed some pretty important signals, overt or covert. It was frightening to discover that my daughter would almost certainly be faced with dangers that I had unconsciously considered side issues before. I clearly had a lot of learning to do, so I looked for a peer group; in all kinds of challenging situations, the company of people with shared experiences has been hugely helpful and comforting to me. Sadly, there wasn’t such a group nearby. Happily, I was able to invite one into being.

The immense relief of being able to speak plainly and honestly about my own worries and wonderings is huge. It’s beyond helpful to share experiences and resources with other mothers (and a few dads). True, our kids’ lives and needs and issues are all unique, yet there’s so much common ground that we can truly understand each other’s situations and decisions, even when they aren’t the ones we might make. We sometimes offer parent panels for faith groups open to learning more about transgender people. We talk a lot about what being transgender involves, and we talk a bit about our kids (with permission and respecting their privacy), but we also talk honestly about our own experiences as parents of transgender people. For some folks, that openness is a key to acceptance and understanding. Their relatives may not belong to the queer community (though a surprising number do), but as parents, they relate to a lot in our stories. Indeed, sometimes when people who fear or categorically dislike transgender people hear us, the shared filter of parenthood can change their hearts.

Longing To Belong

If we hope to resisting the deliberately polarizing influences in our culture today, we have to find common ground. Belonging is such a deep, essential human need; we all long to belong to family, to community, to our country. When differences are always presented as dangerous, it’s easy to trick fearful people into black-and-white thinking. That’s a prime goal for political and corporate interests who want us to fear and dislike people who disagree with us. We’re good, they’re bad; boom! Even in these divisive times, however, we can find tools for community building. One of the most important is using respectful language. Another is respectful listening, especially listening for ideas and beliefs we hold in common.

Since the Parkland massacre on Valentine’s Day, student activists have been changing hearts by respectfully speaking their truths. All summer, student-led March For our Lives groups toured the country, talking with advocates and opponents of gun control reforms. What I find most moving about this movement the courage and honesty of these young people, and their willingness to engage in meaningful conversations with people who disagree with them. Over and over, students meet with counter-protesters person-to-person. Each time, the students find that even angry NRA members can acknowledge that they share some common goals.

Words Of Power and Peace

Naturally, any conversation is influenced not just by our attitudes and postures but by the flavor of the words we use. This seems obvious yet the use of loaded language is so commonplace as to be almost unnoticeable. Conversations about heated issues tend to be explosive and often involve catch phrases that immediately trigger reflexive, reactive language in return. The March For Our Lives activists have learned to use clear, moderate, accurate language. They’ve also learned what many adults have forgotten; listening is as important to a conversation as speaking. That’s transforming angry counter-protests into true meetings of hearts and minds. One student, Daphne Frias, thinks these conversations are largely successful because students are seen as young and powerless. Where adult-to-adult conversations may come loaded with preconceptions and power plays, adult conversations with youth tend to be more open minded, especially when the kids listen well.

Since I’m passionate about community building, I was recently invited to help organize a dinner that partners progressive and conservative people. Dinner is prepared and enjoyed together and topics are respectfully discussed over the delicious meal. I was taken aback to find that I couldn’t immediately think of anyone to invite who I would disagree with on important topics. True, I live in a very progressive community, yet conservative people live here too. As I pondered this, I realized that of course I know people whose opinions very likely differ from mine; we just don’t talk about the disagreements. We do talk about the dozen or hundred or thousand things we both care about or have in common. Are we missing an opportunity to connect more deeply? Are we avoiding difficult conversations out of fear?

Unity In Community

I don’t know but I don’t think so. My gut/heart feeling is that not creating opportunities to disagree keeps us fully human to each other. Nobody is “othered” and we recognize how well we are connected by the community ties we both hold dear. Though we may and do disagree about some very important issues, we can meet in the great overlap of commonality. I imagine it like a giant Venn diagram, with overlapping circles that remain individual but share a lot in common. It feels more healing to focus on the overlap than to remind each other painfully of our differences.

After all, whose goal is for everyone to march in lockstep? Maintaining a healthy diversity is important in pretty much every aspect of life, from people to critters to plants to politics. As a community, our health and strength lie in our respect for each other as humans, including respect for those very important differences. Having grown up in a contentious historic period, I’ve experienced a lot of political strife and personal struggle. I’m not nostalgic for the 50’s of my childhood or the 60’s of my teen years, or really any other time; this is the time we have and it’s ours to create. Let’s summon up our inner Mr. Rogers and welcome each other to the neighborhood.

And maybe next week I’ll get around to talking about winter squash…

 

 

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Looking For Light

Hope, Anger, Courage

After yet another of the worst weeks of my life, I’m feeling battered and overwhelmed as usual yet something new is being added to the mixed-up mix. It took me a while to figure out that what’s new is a new kind of hope. I was recently reminded of a quote from Augustine of Hippo:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

That is the kind of hope I can feel moving in my being right now. I may never have been quite this angry before, partly because I’ve never been as enormously, electrically aware of the way rich old mostly white guys enjoy abusing their power and privileges. Their malignant glee in harming people they scorn radiates true evil as well as short sighted stupidity. It’s becoming clear as various members of the current regime spill their revolting confessions that causing harm to innocent people and to the earth is a deliberate policy of this regime. Keeping progressives upset day after day, month after month, year after year is an effective tactic. It leaves us weary and overwhelmed, since responding to so many damaging, malicious actions dilutes our ability to act.

A New Anger

As a different kind of anger develops in me, I’m realizing that my previous angers have been immature and crippled. I hadn’t really believed that I have true agency, a real ability to affect outcomes and bring about positive change. As the Me Too movement continues to expose countless instances of sexual abuse, millions of women are coming to terms with our own experiences. Speaking truth and being heard, acknowledged, and honored begins a deep healing that can unleash our chained up power. It’s disconcerting to realize that if I wasn’t the one who put those chains in place, I’ve been the one who replaced them many, many times. As I’ve pondered my own past, I am seeing with new, clear eyes how I grew up blind to my own power. Indeed, having rarely seen power used benignly, I resented and feared all power, including my own.

I’ll be turning 67 next month, an age that has traditionally been considered well past the power point. Ironically, I’m feeling stronger, clearer, and wiser than ever before. I’m also more compassionate, even as I’m becoming angrier by the day. Perhaps it’s that balance that makes this new anger feel more potent; I no longer experience myself as a helpless victim. Uncovering seemingly endless memories is both painful and enriching. Allowing hurtful, ugly, humiliating memories to have their moment in the sun of my own loving acknowledgement and acceptance is surprisingly healing because I feel myself gaining the power I set aside so many times.

Identify The Resistance

A recent NYT Op-Ed by Michelle Alexander entitled ‘We Are Not The Resistance’ points out that members of the current regime are doing all they can to stall and stop and frustrate the revolutionary America that wants everyone to enjoy freedom, liberty and social and economic justice. Resistance movements are usually small and covert, working in stealth against unjust regimes. Today in America, an unjust regime is working in plain sight against our country and the American people, against the world and all people of conscience and goodwill. Most Americans genuinely want to participate in the America Alexander posits; “A new nation is struggling to be born, a multiracial, multiethnic, multifaith, egalitarian democracy in which every life and every voice truly matters.”

We can’t build that nation together unless we ARE together. Remember? A house divided cannot stand. A nation divided cannot stand. Part of what makes us so vulnerable to takeover is the erosion of community in small towns and cities alike. If we are ever to find reconciliation as a nation, we all have to help mend the rifts and divisions that are splintering us into ever smaller groups. Remember, that’s deliberate; tribalism is as divisive as community is unifying. Our most powerful protest may be to refuse to be polarized, choosing instead to connect and reconnect, reweaving social rents and tears with the strong cords of community.

Courage To Change

Though Courage is Anger’s sister, she is not necessarily angry herself. It’s difficult to create positive change when anger is our favorite tool, and anger is stoked by failure, not success. Most humans change most readily when they feel loved and supported. My inner Sister Courage is cheerful and helpful, friendly and positive, and implacably committed to finding constructive, inclusive ways to move forward. Yes, that’s also difficult, but Sister Courage and Sister Change are both recharged by success, not failure.

As Martin Luther King assured us, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Sister Courage refuses to take the slippery slide into darkness and despair. Today I’m holding her hand and walking out of my own shadows into the light of truthful day. It’s painful but it’s worth it; wounds that fester in darkness can heal when exposed to light and air.

Persisterhood Prevails

All over the world, women who have experienced abuse make up a majority of every population (and always have). Right now, it’s tempting to feel that speaking out isn’t an effective tool for making change, since our anguished cries are falling on deliberately deaf ears. That’s not new, but in fact, what’s happening IS new; as women speak out, our sisterhood is uniting us. As we all speak out, decent, compassionate, kind men are uniting as well. When we join in universal community, our deepest desire is not for revenge but for reconciliation that leads us all out of the cesspool of patriarchy into a better future. Not perfect. But better.

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All Shall Be Revealed

Let There Be Light

I usually prefer to let natural light influence the flavor of my daily life; dawn and dusk, sunlight or cloudy skies can emphasize seasons. Today, I have the lights on because it’s rainy and I don’t want to be in the dark. Our national political situation is brutally, horrifyingly ugly right now, and we are not alone. America’s polarized politics and living history of racism and violence, corruption and abuse are shared by countries all over the world. In truth, the devastatingly cruelty we’re witnessing to women, to children, to people of color is nothing new. Indeed, it’s old as the hills, old as humanity, older than history.

Almost a year ago, blogger Adrienne Maree Brown wrote something I’ve been repeating a lot:

“Things are not getting worse
They’re getting revealed
We must hold each other tight and
Continue to pull back the veil.”

No Pain, No Gain

Like ripping off a dressing stuck to a festering wound, pulling back the veil of illusion is extremely uncomfortable. However, if we ever hope to achieve cultural healing, it has to happen. The veil that hides patriarchal authoritarianism/racism/cruelty/inhumanity must be pulled away, forcibly or gently, over and over and over again, a little more each time. It’s difficult and often discouraging work, so it’s helpful to remember that in doing all we can to propel our country and our culture forward, we are in truth working to change human nature. That’s definitely a good thing and very necessary but it is never easy to alter genetic and cultural patterns that have been repeated for millennia.

I myself often say, and hear my sisters saying, “After all this time, how can this patriarchal crap still be happening?” When I take a step back, I remember that the timeline of human history perfectly illuminates the intractability of the patriarchy. A few thousand years ago, Jesus started a movement in which men and women, slaves and free people were to be held as equal, a concept brought to life to some extent for a few hundred years before getting co-opted by the establishment. Other than that, women’s rights have only been on the cultural radar in Europe and America for around 300 years, when the Enlightenment brought the beginnings of a shift in cultural perspective. Children’s rights gradually entered the conversation, as did the rights of people not to be enslaved, the rights of animals, and shamefully late, the rights of the planet that supports us.

Something Old, Something New

So, diabolical political behavior is not new. What’s new is the enormous, very public backlash against inhumane political machinations. It’s not new that rich old white guys refuse to hear women speaking truth to power. What’s new is the force of social media that wasn’t around when Anita Hill was put through hell in 1991. It’s not new that protests get blown off. What’s new is that today, cellphones can capture the story as two women approach Senator Flake in the elevator and insist that he make eye contact when they tell him about sexual abuse they have suffered and how the treatment of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is sending a powerful and destructive message to American women; rich old white men, in the Senate, in Congress, and elsewhere, don’t care at all about us and really prefer not to have to hear anything that implies criticism of their worldview.

La La La I Can’t HEAR You

In a way, that willful deafness is understandable. After a bewildering and extremely painful incident, a skillful therapist explained to me that understanding the harm they do to others is so piercingly painful to perpetrators of violence and abuse that they’ll do whatever it takes to avoid that realization. Like alcoholics and other addicts, abusers develop a potent toolkit of tricks, from smoke and mirrors to raging and gaslighting, to deflect the blame and shame from the perp to the victim. Remaining a sociopath is much more comfortable for them, mentally and emotionally, than opening to the truth.

That’s the pattern we need to break, because truth really can set us free. Yesterday, UCC pastor Dee Eisenhauer quoted in her sermon (which she called the most difficult to write of her entire career) the following fantasy scenario written by my friend Jennifer Merrill:

Alternate Universe, Please

“In an alternate universe, it could play out like this:
In a heartening and healing about-face, today Brett Kavanaugh made the following statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee:
‘I come before you to declare that Christine Blasey-Ford is telling the truth. I am withdrawing my name as a Supreme Court nominee. I do this with a heavy heart; I very much wanted to serve on the Supreme Court. But, in reflecting upon my emotionally volatile behavior in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, I realize I have moral and spiritual work to do that takes precedence over serving as a Supreme Court Justice.

‘I have been living for decades under the weight of a falsehood. On Thursday the weight of that falsehood shifted just enough for me to actually see it: While under the influence of alcohol and/or entitlement and privilege, I may do whatever I want and I will not be held accountable. I now recognize how hurtful that falsehood has been-to Christine, to other women, to my wife and daughters. I apologize to Christine and to all the women I have hurt. I am sorry that alcohol indulgence and a sense of entitlement and privilege have caused me to behave solely selfishly. Bringing to light this falsehood-making this confession-while extremely humbling, has also freed my heart and soul. I am looking forward to nurturing more honest reltionships with my colleagues and associates, with my family and with myself. Thank you and again, I’m sorry.”

Open Heart Surgery Required

Wow, right? Opening the heart can be painful indeed but the relief of being truthful is indeed soul satisfying. Hearing jen’s words, I realized that I would find such a scenario soul satisfying, even more so than the (admittedly longed for) utter shaming caused by the rejection of Kavanaugh as a nominee. If Jen’s story were to play out in real life, it could in truth open not only Judge Kavanaugh’s heart and spirit but the hearts and spirits of the entire government.

After watching Judge Kavanaugh’s display of immature power, I found this quote clarifying:

“Good judges…understand that a judge’s demeanor helps lay the foundation for the regard given a judge’s decisions. A calm judicial demeanor allows participants in the legal process to feel that their position is being heard and considered, and that a reasoned opinion will issue from the court after the arguments are all submitted.”
Judge Mel Dickstein

Exactly.

 

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Zucchini On My Mind

Summer Harvest Goes Out In Style

Summer’s end fills our kitchens with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and summer squash. Most of us have many ways to turn garden abundance into pantry staples, but those over-achieving zucchini have a lot of folks stumped by September.  I learned to appreciate zucchini and other summer squash as a student in Italy, where cooks have countless ways to make this humble vegetable truly delicious. Some of my favorite treatments are the simplest, relying on fresh, flavorful produce. Here’s one that works beautifully with the young and tender but also does wonders for the hulking brutes that hide under the leaves until they’re huge.

Roasted Zucchini Wedges

2-3 zucchini or 1 huge one
2-3 tablespoons avocado or olive oil**
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 lemon, cut in 8 wedges

** I use avocado oil for its high temp tolerance

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut zucchini into 2 inch lengths, then cut these lengthwise into 6-8 wedges or more, depending on girth. Don’t worry if they’re unequal, it’s all good. Pour the oil into a rimmed baking sheet, add zucchini wedges and gently toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and roast at 400 F for 30-40 minutes until wedges are caramelized and slightly crisp on the bottom. Serve at once, with lemon slices. Serves at least one.

Grilled Teriyaki Zucchini

A quick homemade teriyaki sauce converts monster zucchini into a delectable entree. Tucked into crusty rolls, slathered with more sauce, and lively with slices of sweet onion and spicy peppers, the grilled zucchini “steaks” are toothsome indeed. Use the same approach with thickly sliced eggplant, sweet potatoes, or beets for a memorable melange. Leftovers taste great the next day, in cold sandwiches or served up as a spunky side dish.

Grilled Vegetable Teriyaki

1 cup plain rice vinegar
1/2 cup shoyu or soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 inches fresh ginger root, finely chopped
2 large zucchinis and/or eggplant, etc.
sliced diagonally in inch-thick slabs
6 crusty sandwich rolls, split lengthwise
1 sweet onion, sliced in rings
2 cups sweet pepper strips
1 cup chopped cilantro

In a shallow bowl or pie dish, combine vinegar, shoyu, maple syrup, garlic and ginger and stir to blend. Add vegetable slices, turning to coat well. Let them marinate for at least 30 minutes, turning a few times while you start the coals or preheat grill. Brush buns with teriyaki sauce, reserving about 1/2 cup, and sprinkle buns with onions and peppers. Set grill high above the coals, then grill veggies until tender (6-7 minutes per side), basting with remaining sauce and turning twice. Layer grilled veggies into the buns and serve, garnished with cilantro. Serves 4-6.

Stovetop Ratatouille

This simple and speedy version of the classic French ratatouille relies on braising to bring out flavorful natural juices. Like soups and casseroles, it tastes lovely served hot with warm rosemary bread, and even better the following day, served cold with a garden salad and ripe peaches.

Braised Ratatouille

2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon minced thyme
1 teaspoon minced oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 cups eggplant, cut in 1-inch dice
3 cups diced tomatoes, with juice
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch dice
1/4 teaspoon hot or smoked paprika
1/2 cup chopped basil

In a wide, shallow pan, cook oil, garlic, thyme, oregano and fennel seeds over medium high heat for 1 minute. Add onion, sprinkle with salt and cook for 3 minutes. Add eggplant and tomatoes, stir to coat, cover pan, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5 minutes. Add peppers and zucchini, cover pan and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in paprika, uncover pan, and simmer over medium heat until vegetables are tender but not mushy (shapes should remain distinct; about 15 minutes). Serve hot, garnished with basil. Serves 4-6.

Making The Most Of The Big Beasts

When giant zucchini are discovered, many cooks turn them into zucchini bread. This heathy baked version of a classic Italian dish converts monster zucchini into a tastes-like-more crowd pleaser. Reheat any leftovers in a low oven (225-300) to avoid turning the cheeses into plastic (!).

Baked Zucchini Parmesan

2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon minced oregano
1 large onion, sliced
1/4 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1-2 large zucchini, sliced in 1/2 inch thick rounds
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 quart pasta sauce (I use homemade marinara)
12-16 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
2-3 cups coarsely grated Parmesan cheese

In a wide shallow pan, combine oil with garlic, oregano, onion, pepper flakes and salt over medium heat and cook for 1 minute. Add zucchini slices and cook for 5 minutes, turning once. Layer zucchini slices into a 13 x 9 inch baking pan in rows, overlapping slices a bit to fill pan completely. In stovetop pan, add tomatoes, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add pasta sauce, simmer for 5 minutes, then pour over zucchini. Layer on mozzarella and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F until bubbly and golden (45-50 minutes). Let stand 10-15 minutes, then serve hot. Serves 8-10.

 

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