Category Archives: Words

from a recent letter

OH chica. I know. I know. The thing that heals my heart is that Christianity is bigger than the petty shit we try and turn it into. Jesus Christ is bigger than the hate we try and throw at each other. And by loving Him we are made bigger, we are made able to love more deeply and widely and fiercely, more able to appreciate this amazing creation He has given us, and everything, everyONE in it.
You have been given more than the “golden ticket” to heaven by accepting Christ. You have been given an opportunity, a COMMANDMENT, to love bigger, love more, love without reservation.

Humans have turned Christianity into this tiny box, have made gods of politics and money and power and anger, have given each other a checklist to meet in order to love Jesus, love Him enough, love Him the Right Way.
And you know, that’s some bullshit. That’s not what He’s about. He’s not about creating dichotomies and factions amongst His people, within His people. Jesus, I believe, would be pissed as hell to hear that the Christian church is making gay teenagers hate themselves. “FUCKED. UP.” I believe would be our Lord and Saviours words. Because it is. JesuCristo is into us being one body, He’s into us appreciating all of the myriad types of people He put on this earth with all their myriad types of talents, He’s into us letting go of ourselves and our stupid shit and being about Him. And His incredible capacity for love.

I don’t know why I rant to you, you know these things. This preaching to the choir must be tiresome for you, my marvelous girl who gets it.

I guess I am just trying to say: Loving Christ isn’t about how you do church and all the commonplace bullshit and awesomeness that entails.

Loving Christ is about Loving Christ.

And you do that so well.

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Short Fiction (unfinished…)

God in the Mouths of the Damned

Originally, She had been in charge of the amputees. It was a difficult assignment, to be sure. Every 15 years or so She would be hundreds of places all at once. Fields and filthy med units, sterile hospitals stateside and mountains and valleys, they all called out so loudly in war zones. When they weren’t shooting at each other she heard them calling out from car accidents, heard the rasping whispers of cancer victims. She answered them all, if they called. They felt her presence as tangibly as they felt their invisible limbs. Sometimes at night she would give the ones who had healed a little vivid dreams of being whole; that was her idea. They liked that, most of the time, recalling the playing of the piano, or bowling, or running marathons. She liked that her business offered at least a little respite, at least at night.

It was unclear why she had been reassigned. She was not particularly talented, though She was thought of as innovative and unusually compassionate to her charges. They were all sympathetic to these wasting bodies, but few of her counterparts remembered what it had been like and so carried out their duties in a faintly mechanical way. She didn’t exactly remember her soujourn among them but could see herself in their eyes and so She stayed as long as She could with each of them, preforming like a muse of courage, soothing their racing thoughts. But a transfer came down from above and she shrugged. She was glad it was still a job of empathy and interaction. Had she been moved to the needs department her talents, minimal thought they might be, would be completely wasted. The needs department did carpet bomb answers, thousands of civilians taken care of all at once, they did a lot of weather work: rain, sun, and vice versa. It was boring and there was little time off.

Re-reading the call she was perplexed at the oddly dramatic title for such a small sector, especially one that was kept at arms length: God in the Mouths of the Damned. She didn’t recall where her department head was based, and when she asked around and she got some very chilly responses, some shoulder squeezes of sympathy as though she had done something terribly wrong to be moved to such a disagreeable sector. It piqued her interest and she felt herself buzzing with anticipation as she approached her new location.

She entered the non-descript lobby area and waited. She was always amused at the smaller departments attempts to mimic the comforts below: the walls a bland comforting color, some beige carpet, the scent of coffee brewed and sitting all morning. The assignees didn’t need these things here, barely noticed their absence to be honest. But the smaller departments liked to try and set themselves apart, make up for the fact that they answered the fewest number of calls.

Her handler arrived. He was small, but blindingly bright. He had been here for a while then, more pieces to the puzzle. As they aged, their connection to on high strengthened and they gleamed with The Light. It was a way to establish a hierarchy without coming out and saying it (Up Here they liked to play at being socialists, but the two spheres were more alike than one would think). He was as wrinkled as a nut and a bit stooped. He seemed quite at ease with his truest self and she didn’t have to focus hard to see his face clearly like a lot of them up here. She smiled at him briefly, quizzically and waited for him to begin.

“So. Transfer to God in the Mouths of the Damned. Are you talented or unruly?” His voice lacked the sonorous buzz of most of the supervisors. It was deep, and thick, like maple sap. He looked at her expectantly.

“Neither, to the best of my knowledge. I’m just…transferred. Um…What do you…do here?” She hated the hesitation in her voice. Better to be confident right out of the box with the admin level types. She cleared her throat. “I mean, one hears rumors but…” she trailed off at his unyielding stare. He was going to let her flounder. She closed her eyes briefly and sighed. She waited.

“We’re a highly specialized department. But we also get minimal calls compared to some. We never have more than 10, 15 people on staff at once. We lost a half dozen to the needs department after a busy week last week. They always ask to go over to the needs department, less thinking, less involvement. I’ve been thinking about doing competency tests to get placed here but what’s the point? no one much likes us initially…no one much likes our charges that is. As much as we can have an opinion on that.” He looked hard at her. “Can you manage?”

“I couldn’t say. Who are our charges? What do you do?”

“We cater to the folks on death row.” Flatly. As though this wasn’t just the worst assignment anyone could possibly get.

“Pardon me?”

“Murderers, serial rapists, terrorists. They call out. We show up.”

“We answer the calls of people on death row.” she was stunned. Sickened. “WHY?”

He looked at her curiously, his eyes burning into her face. “They call out. They call out and mean it, someone has to answer. Someone is us.”

“But they…and we…but…” she trailed off at his hard look again.

“You don’t think they deserve it. Understandable. But it’s all there. It’s all written down. They call out, they mean it, they let in The Light and we go. We do what we do. He wrote it down for a reason. Gives them something to rely on, gives us our job requirements in writing.” His tone was dry, not amused but resigned. He had done this speech many times. “There’s another hitch to the job while you’re digesting that first one”

Her eyes widened.

“We can’t go to them like the rest.”

“What do you mean?”

“The rest of the empathetic departments, where’d you come from…amputations? Right like amputations, you go to them in their hospital bed, on the battle field. Hold them, enter their space so they’re sure of you. Be near them. But that place they go, to preform the executions? That’s separate from Him. That’s something they thought up on their own and we can’t go there.”

“The Other, th-the Nothing is it…?” she swallowed at the mere thought of it. To be near such destruction was the provenance of the warrior class, the Michaels.

“Nope. Nothing so dramatic. It’s just a nasty little thing they came up with down there. He gifted them the ability to think for themselves and lo and behold all they can come up with is wretchedness. Typical. Typical.” He sighed heavily. “Whatever the case, like all things that aren’t a part of Him, we work a day types can’t go near it. Frustrating but for the best.”

“So what do we, how do we preform our duties?” Her mouth was dry and her heart pounding. This was awful. AWFUL! Who did she enrage to get shuffled here?

“We sit in the gallery, only they can see us. They know who we are because we don’t show up until they let in The Light. We give them a smile and a wave, one of our more senior staff members gives them some waterworks, a little tear, and give them a big flash of light as they go. Easy as pie.”

Her mind raced. How was it possible that they REALLY answered the calls of the worst of the worst down there? The ones who destroyed all the goodness He put in the world. She had heard about this ghoulish idea they had thought up down there, she knew that it didn’t work quite the way they had hoped and that sometimes good people perished needlessly. She knew that there were occasionally wars that she had had to hover above because they weren’t really part of Him, but she was always allowed to go to them after they left the battlefield.

(and then…I just sort of lost the thread of the story. Do you have it?)

Kitchen Music

I spend a lot of time in my wee kitchen.

I live in an 850 sq. ft apartment in one of the most expensive parts of the Metro-Phoenix area: North Scottsdale. This is not my first choice of location but it’s 10 minutes from my husbands job, which also happens to be our church and so we make it work. We don’t go out to eat very often, I try and make a lot of staples here at home…

and so I spend a lot of time in my wee kitchen.

And so I have learned the rhythms of my stove, my mixer, the meals I make there.

The best way to make my kitchen seem larger than it is, is to have some fabulous music playing while I work. Really! Finding a rhythm in a song that matches the rhythm in my tiny workspace allows me to dance and sing while I knead and mix. It’s a soothing exercise, and I never recommend cooking without a good soundtrack!

We are making bread early this week (Thursday is our usual baking day), I traded a lovely friend a loaf for a big bag of lettuce from their garden! FABULOUS!

We are also shaking our flour dusted booties to The Punch Brothers album, Antifogmatic. Chris Thile is a genius and I like everything he does, from Nickel Creek to Goat Rodeo. And this is no exception.

Enjoy some kitchen music of your own with Don’t Need No

on “that quote”…

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image via Pinterest but I can’t find the original source. If you know it let me know eh?

You’ve seen this one making the rounds. Inspiring introspective blog post after introspective blog post. “I used to find myself lacking in comparison!” “I compared myself all the time!” “BUT NOT ANYMORE! I won’t compare myself to her or them or that…”

I am about to blow your mind. I think this quote is bullshit.

I appreciate the sentiment, of course I do, do I find myself feeling less than or like a failure because my life doesn’t look like someone else’s? Of course. That’s human nature.

But you know what is also human nature? Comparing ourselves. And not because we want to wallow in our pitfalls, we compare ourselves so we can move forward, learn new things, improve our lot. (And for a hardcore liberal Democrat to be saying something that sounds like “bootstraps” you know that I take this concept seriously!)

Comparison is an opportunity to see something you admire and learn about it, and go for it, and strive. If we simply view it as a “thief of joy” we remain complacent, we hold where we are now up as the highest standard… and I refuse to accept that.

I speak from a place of staggering privilege, I am fully aware that I can change my education level by going to college, I can change my income level by getting a job, I am a fairly well educated white woman in the United States. These tangibles, these changes require outside forces beyond our control, other people rooting for us and helping us out. If I compare myself to a woman with a Master’s Degree in Divinity, I can take comfort in the fact that I need only fill out a FAFSA and apply to a school and because I am a fairly well educated though not particularly well off white woman in the United States, I can get that degree. I get that concept.

But I also speak of the intangibles. I speak of the years I spent languishing in crippling anxiety because I didn’t fight to have my meds adjusted because it was scary to be my own advocate, the days when I don’t feel beautiful or styled or fashionable even with my husband grabbbing my ass and telling me how sexy I am.  I speak of the times I feel like I am not the best parent because I don’t have a million projects planned and photographed with my kids when I’ve got chalk and a porch right there. It’s these things, it’s embracing the drive and focus, it’s looking at what other people have and saying “I want to be there, what do I have to do to get there?” These comparisons allow us to work at ourselves. They provide benchmarks for what we view as success and then urge us on to more. It’s fighting for your best self, understanding your best self and loving the hell out of it because you worked so hard to get there.

Look, there are things in this life that you are never gonna have. That’s a given. You might not get them because you look a certain way or believe a certain thing or make a specific amount of money. You might not get them because they are just outside of your capabilities as a human being. We can’t do and be everything, no matter what line of crap we were sold as kids.

We CAN be the best version of ourselves. We can listen to our bodies and our hearts and believe ourselves capable of great things. We can see something that we want and say “I can get there, I KNOW IT” and fight to do it. We can look at our shortcomings not as failures but as opportunities to learn about ourselves and others.

That’s what comparison is about. It is looking at another persons story and jumping in. Hearing it and learning from it. It’s about looking at our own story and not seeing it as flawed but as being continually told with every opportunity to add to it.

Comparison may be the thief of joy for some, but for me it’s the instigator of inspiration, the spark towards learning, comparison is the opportunity to become something marvelous.

The one where I show my cards.

Some people in North Carolina voted yesterday. They voted on a little something called, in shorthand “Amendment 1”. This “measure defines marriage in the state constitution as between one man and one woman, and bans any other type of “domestic legal union” such as civil unions and domestic partnerships.” It passed with 61% of the vote. Our lovely President today came out and said that he believes “same sex couples should be able to get married“, ostensibly in response to the outrage over Amendment 1 passing.

I have seen many of my brothers and sisters in Christ respond to this battle, some celebrating another law “upholding the sanctity of marriage” and some lamenting the fact that in this day and age our gay brethren are still denied basic rights, they have responded in this way each time this battle comes up for another round.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that knows me, know I come down on the side of the lamenters. That I believe gay people have every right to be married in the exact same way my husband and I are married. They should get tax breaks, hospital visitation, the legal recognition of all their peers that theirs is legitimate partnership. I sometimes take it for granted that my Christ loving brothers and sisters do not feel the way I do. That they do not view marriage as a secular institution, they believe the Bible is God breathed and God breathed a river of pain on the man who sleeps with other men, they worry about legitimizing sin, not relationships. And I understand, I do not think the way they do but I know their hearts. They love Christ and they love marriage and they believe that their marriage will be cheapened if 2 people of the same gender, people living in active sin, are allowed the same privilege.

And it makes me weep for them.

Yeah, I said it. It breaks my heart.

I know the Bible verses they quote, I’ve read 1 Corinthians, I’ve read 1 Timothy, I’ve read Romans. I’ve read em. But I’ve also read Matthew 25:40 where Jesus Christ, Himself says: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

The least of these. The ones who hunger. The ones who thirst. The orphans, the widows, the lame, the sick. The prostitues and lepers, the tax collectors. The ones society says: “we hate who you are, what you stand for. You are weak, you are flawed, you are worthless.”

What we do for them, we do for Him. What we do TO them, we do TO Him.

When we tell a marginalized sector of humanity, a group of people bullied and discriminated against for something as simple as loving a person of the same gender, when we tell gay people: NO. Because you are the same sex you cannot marry your partner and see them in the hospital when they are dying, or get a little something back on your taxes as a reward for contributing to the country as a family. NO. You can’t legalize your partnership because you are bad and wrong and hellbound. People like you deserve to be alone. People like you deserve to die of AIDS. People like you a disgusting.

When we say these things, with our voices, with our votes?

We say them to Christ.

I see pictures of my fellow Christians cutting a wedding cake in celebration of this amendment passing. And I want to rage. I want to curse. I want to call them bigots who are so filled with hate they’d burst if you touched them. I want to scream at them that they are horrible people, dead inside. I want to tell them that no real Christians would actively take joy in making a fellow human being a second class citizen. I want to tell them there is not way they can really love Christ because all that judging makes them horrible Christians.

But I’d be wrong.

Because just 2 verses earlier, Jesus Christ says the words that made me decide to become a Christian. In Matthew 22: 37-40 He says:” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I might think they are behaving in a hateful way, but I am commanded to love them. Love them just as readily as I love those I believe are being marginalized and pushed out. A very well spoken wise pastor said to me once: “If we could see what God sees, we would do what God does” And God sees us, all of us, flawed and hateful, empty and angry, and He loves us, He adores us.

Oh that I could do that with ease. With…GRACE. God is so much bigger than the hate we have for one another, He is so much larger than the box we try and put him in.

It’s hard for me to swallow that there are people who are actively behaving in a way that I think is horrible who also love Jesus. Like, legitimately love Him with all their hearts. But somehow that loving Christ doesn’t translate into them being a decent human being (as I see it) in any way.

I don’t understand it. I don’t.

And then I realize that the Christian church does not equal God. The church was made by human beings, fallible and flawed and all failed.

I realize that the God that I love is bigger than that little box we have tried to put Him in and I’m so grateful for it.

And more than that I can fight for Him.

I can fight to make sure that my fellow humans are treated with all the love and respect He is capable of pouring through me. Whether they are in the majority or minority I can fight to make sure that in spite of all the hate and discrimination we spew out into the world, we have a Father who loves us, all of us. He commands us to love each other and so I will. I will fight to love my fellow man.

I can fight like hell to make sure that people who love Christ understand that loving Him should open your mind farther than you ever thought possible…not close your heart to the hurts of others. Loving Him should open you up and out and overflowing with the love of Christ, so much love you have no choice but to spread it around a little.

So let this be my battle cry, small and insignificant though it may be, I will fight against whatever hate others may spread. I will fight against whatever ignorance you may admire.

I will fight till I take my last breath.

And while I fight that?

I will love you…just so you can see how it’s supposed to be done.

Fearless

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear

1 Peter 3: 3-6

When I converted to Christianity, I knew immediately that I would not be your typical Christian lady.  I was outspoken and loud, I was liberal of politics and coarse of speech. I read the Bible avidly and despaired of ever being a “Proverbs 31 woman”.  I hated the gender disparity rampant in the church, I lamented the loss of Mary the mother of Jesus as a touchstone. I once said to my husband: “if I have to hear another well meaning Christian man tell me I don’t really know what submit ACTUALLY means I will scream”. It was not pretty.

4 years later I am still fairly outspoken, I am still liberal of politics (slightly less left than when I was 19 but football fields more left than even the more liberal Christians I know), I drop f-bombs when my kids are out of earshot. I still read the Bible avidly, I still hate the gender disparity in church. I have taken it upon myself to talk to other Christian women what submission to Christ and to my husband means and tune out all those well meaning, but ultimately clueless (if only by dint of their gender!) men.

But I am different. The first time I read this passage from 1Peter I was actively sad. No one ever, in my entire life, would ever, NEVER describe me as a gentle and quiet spirit. Ever. Even when I wasn’t impassioned or enraged (which was not very often), even when I wasn’t anxious (which was almost NEVER), I buzzed, I hummed, I was incapable of being still and being quiet. I was incapable of being meek and mild. I longed to be like the pastors wives I knew, lovely gentle women, quiet and soft edged. Never blurting out things that struck them as funny or ridiculous, only speaking in low tones and soft voices.

Ok, I’ll cop to it, I was sad but I was proud of my fire. I was proud of my strength and my drive. Those women were doormats! I shouted to myself. I am an Amazon! I am woman hear me roar! I thought I had it all figured out and I thought I knew I would never be a real woman of the Good Book. But it was ok, because God made me strong!

Several months ago one of those amazing pastors wives shared a little bit about the word gentle and the Greek meaning behind Paul’s usage of it. And it changed my life. Literally

A good definition for gentleness in this context is strength under control.

A horse when it is wild, when it is strong and proud and fierce, is of no use to man. It dangerous and destructive. It lashes out, it is impulsive. When a horse is tamed it retains that speed and strength, the pride of being a creation of God, but it no longer destroys. It no longer lashes out. It’s strength and speed and ferocity are under control.

All of a sudden the gentle women I thought I was so different from? I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be like that. Smart and in control, strong and fierce for the Lord, but still capable of listening to others and learning.

Like I said, it was a life changer….but it went further.

I got home and the last line of the passage had been underlined in my Bible. I don’t remember doing it but there it was, blue ink ,strong and sure: “you are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear”.

The her being referred to here is Sarah, Abraham’s wife. She bore Abraham Isaac after years of barrenness, she had Isaac because of a promise from God. And I’ll lay it out for you, she was kind of a smart ass. In Genesis 18: 12 she literally laughs at God. She does it for an understandable reason, she and Abraham are long past childbearing years and yet He promises she will have a son, that she will be the mother of nations. I mean, in her defense, I’d snort too. When reading the account of Sarah and Hagar, I thought to myself: “Dang, this chick is fierce. She’s merciless!” I felt terrible for her because I identified with that anger, that feeling of being so frustrated. She shows herself to be a sinner, laughing at God, openly defying Him.

And then we see that God blesses her anyway. He has a plan for her and like all of His plans, they come to fruition, they all come together for good. Because Sarah has her son, and she brings him into the world with laughter, so overjoyed is she.

In Galatians, Paul describes Sarah as an allegory for Jerusalem. The free city, not enslaved, the children of promise, the children borne through laughter. She is fierce and hard but she is loved just as fiercely by God.

Fearless. Righteous. Gentle.

I have been meditating on these traits today. My prayer is that though I am a sinner, prideful and hard, I strive to be a daughter of Sarah. Because my reward is the fierce love of God. How marvelous.

 

 

Listen

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We are a musical family. My husband is a sound engineer, I was in vocal performance for years and years and both of my children love to sing and dance to music. When I am home with the kids during the day we always have music playing, usually the same albums over and over but the boys and I stop for impromptu dance parties and break it down with the best of them.

This summer I’d like to introduce the boys to new music, we listen to a lot of bluegrass, a lot of James Brown, a lot of the Glee soundtrack, a lot of Jack Johnson, a LOT of Foo Fighters. Varied, yes, but the same stuff over and over. This summer I want to expand my children’s musical horizons(and by extension my own). I am looking forward to discovering all sorts of new (or at least re-discovering stuff that is not in heavy rotation) tunes and having late summer night dance parties for the next few months!

First up? An Album I have had since I was a sophomore in college. Songs to Live By by the Square Egg is a solid funk, jazz album. It has catchy tunes and easy to sing along with lyrics.

We are enjoying Hello Sunshine with our lunch today! We hope you will too!

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Memory of a workplace

I am 20. Maybe 19. I have been at college long enough to know my way around, but not long enough to legally go out drinking. I am on about 40 milligrams of Celexa a day, with the occasional Xanax for panic attacks triggered by having to leave my house and meet new people. (Agoraphobia and going to college are not a great combination)

I am working at the scene shop of a theatre on campus. It’s a small house, only a couple hundred seats, they do mostly opera and upperclassmen projects. I work in the mornings mostly, we are able to make our own schedule and I was a morning person so I went in when we opened at 8:00 in the morning and I worked till my first class at noon-ish. I work with a man named Bill, he is the TD of the opera company but also runs the shop. Bill was probably in his mid 30’s, he seemed dramatically older than me at the time but he probably had graduated from ASU only about 10 or 12 years prior. He was married but hated talking about his wife. He had silver rimmed glasses and shoulders so broad you could land a plane on them. He was an unapologetic liberal, a noisy one and as we were the only two people in the shop first thing in the morning, he turned the radio up and yelled at the talking heads. Between radio call in shows he taught me how to use a band saw, how to assemble basic flats in under 5 minutes. He taught me the right way to coil cable and didn’t expect me to talk very much. A few months into it he had me in charge of doing a lot of ordering. I sat at a battered desk, covered in paint and pitted, I filled out forms in triplicate and leaned over as Bill signed things on my back, hammer in his rights hand, nails clamped in his teeth.

It was a dream job.

I am 23, about to leave for London to live with a friend for several months. I have put in for a leave of absence at the job I have been at for the last 2 years. I answer phones, organize research for grants, and develop marketing materials for a non-profit housing organization. I work with my mother and the man who will one day be my step father. I have learned to use several different graphic design programs, I spend the majority of my day at a computer, the long thin muscles I developed using power tools and lifting scenery are less defined.

I started at this job answering phones and talking to clients. I was not particularly suited for this aspect of the job, but I was dynamite at compiling research materials for grants and writing letters to people who might give us money. So I developed my own position.

Several years later, I visit the office and notice they are still using the marketing materials I developed. I am proud…but distressed to notice how dated it looks.

I am 26 years old. I have not taken anxiety medication in 2 years, I have a son and 2 marriages under my belt. I am, in truth, a wholly different person.

I write grants for an established theatre company in Arizona. I help plan parties. I talk to funders and convince them to give us $1000 more a year even though we are in the middle of a recession. I love my job, I work with 2 women who are forces of nature, hilarious and beautiful, driven and classy. We make each other laugh and frequent the tiny Mexican joint near our office for margaritas after big events.

I cannot believe my luck at finding this job. It’s perfect.

6 months after I start, they lose funding for my position. Last hired, first fired.

I am curiously not devastated, just curious at how they are going to finish the stack of funding letters sitting on my desk. I find out later that they never do and in the following year have to lay off about 70% of their staff.

On Monday, for the first time in 3 years, I sat at a desk and did some basic work. Pulled some files and printed off some forms. I am working in the nursery at our church, as a temporary fill in for a friend. I am on my feet a lot in my new job, picking up kiddos and carrying them around, talking to parents. I am well suited for it, at ease with both the children and their parents. I find myself being incredibly patient in many situations, I learn from the staff I am in charge of: how to talk to kids, the quickest way to clean a whole box of Legos. I am almost never in the office, almost always in the nursery itself.

But as I sat at my desk on Monday, the memories of the desks I have done thousands of minutes of busywork upon came flooding back. And I was filled with a lightness, and a joy.  A sense of satisfaction.

I have worked at a lot of jobs, many of them had no desks, but all of them fulfilled me, comforted me, in their own ways. All of them have been exactly what I needed at that point in my life. And I am terrifically grateful for that.

On Profits, pundits, and getting shit done (Part 2)

I’ve been ruminating on this part. And I won’t lie, I am grossly unqualified to take on the racial implications of 3 white boys rushing in to “save” Africans.And I am grossly unequipped to objectively discuss how I feel the “white mans burden” is propelling this movement forward faster than many other valid causes. I can’t speak objectively about the required emotional manipulation that is necessary for Invisible Children to raise so much money in such a short time. I struggle to discuss these things because I can only approach them steeped in my own privilege.

 

SO

I give it over to the much much muchmuchmuch more qualified, equipped educated voices to talk for me. Go, read, learn.

Solome Lemma offers an incredibly helpful piece on how to approach an emotional call to arms.

An impassioned piece discussing race and activism and KONY2012 from Malaka Gyeke Grant

An interview with Jacob (the young boy featured in the video)

Ida Horner discusses the larger implications of the campaign.

 

These are just a few of the many African voices discussing Invisible Children and the KONY2012 campaign.

For all I defended Invisible Children as a non-profit organization, please know that I struggle with some things as well. I think the discussion needs to focus more on what the wider implications of this campaign are: racially, from a class standpoint and what it means for pursuing peace in the area. I feel that punishing a non-profit for paying the people who work for them, or renting an office, or traveling to get the word out is ridiculous and only detracts from getting shit done.

 

on profits, pundits, and getting shit done (Part 1)

There is a video making the rounds today. It is a slickly produced little number put out by a heretofore fairly unknown American non-profit organization called Invisible Children. Go ahead and Google it (Kony2012 will bring it up), watch it, feel way moved to write a check, Invisible Children is GOOD at what they do.

But what is it exactly, that they do? Because there is a massive controversy surrounding Invisible Children and the work they do. There has been for a while now, but this particular campaign is garnering very visible support and so the opponents of the org are becoming more vocal as well.

Before I get into all that let me say that I have no dog in this fight except for the fact that for almost the entirety of my adult professional career I worked for non-profits. Every job I have had since I was 19 has been dependent on grants received, whether from private funders or the government. So I know about non-profits. To be sure I have never worked on a national or international scale, I’ve never worked for an NGO in a war zone or a clinic that has offices in every state but I have answered phones, emptied trash cans, written grants and designed flyers for a variety of organizations that depend entirely on the goodness of other people’s hearts.

Oh, and also? My family give Invisible Children about $35 a year.

So the dog is, like, the size of a beagle.

Everyone still with me? excellent.

“Invisible Children’s overall mission is to remove Joseph Kony from the battlefield and stop LRA violence. These are the three essential ways we achieve that mission: 1) Document and make the world aware of the LRA. This includes making documentary films and touring these films around the world so that they are seen for free by millions of people. 2) Channeling the energy and awareness from informed viewers of IC films into advocacy campaigns that have mobilized the international community to stop the LRA and protect civilians. 3) Operate programs on the ground in the LRA-affected areas to provide protection, rehabilitation and development assistance.” (This is a direct quote from IC’s Communications Director, Noelle Jouglet, in a reddit discussion regarding the controversy surrounding IC)

Essentially, what she’s saying is that Invisible Children is in the activism commodity business. They sell the idea that giving them $25 as a college student is helping to change the world for the better.

Sound callous? It is a bit. But it’s the most effective way to communicate what they do. I would maintain that very little of the good Invisible Children does is actually boots on the ground getting people out of harms way work and more about spreading knowledge and awareness.

Now that we have established what it is I think they do, let’s talk about the controversy shall we?

First we’ll look at the financial issue:

Invisible Children is a registered 501 (c) 3 in the US. Because of this they are required to disclose all their financial information. (Side note: If you are curious about a non-profits financial affairs your best bet is to look at what is commonly referred to as their 990. It’s a form that all non-profits are required to file with the IRS that provides information on programming and finances. It’s sometimes hard to find but it’s totally accessible to anyone.)

When people started looking at IC’s financials they did not like what they saw. CEO’s and founders making 5 figure salaries, money for computers, money for offices, money for travel, money for everything except what people thought to be the most important, getting children out of the clutches of the LRA.

People were outraged. HOW could an altruistic person pull down a large salary? HOW could an organization defend hundreds of thousands of dollars on video productions costs? Or travel expenses? SICKENING.

People were uncomfortable with the fact that IC does not have 5 independent voting members on their board. (The discomfort stems from the fact that this could be perceived to be a conflict of interest, or an attempt to hide actual spending from the public at large since the board makes most of the spending decisions)

When it came to this point of the controversy I was outraged. Not because I, too, felt misled and horrified that IC was spending money on such things, but that people still felt that a non-profit had to operate in some sort of beautiful fantasy land outside of the real world where things like employees and offices and computers weren’t necessary to further a cause.

Since I began working for non-profits one of the most tired arguments I faced was: “How can you take money away from the people you are trying to serve by taking a salary?” In NO OTHER SECTOR OF BUSINESS does someone look at a talented CEO and say: “you are selfish for earning as much as you do for doing your job” As though people working for a non-profit should volunteer their time and talent to the organization they feel passionate about.

Here is what it is to work at a non-profit: accounting for every penny you bring in and where it goes, spending long evenings at the end of your fiscal year to make sure all the numbers line up in your budget, actually volunteering your weekends and evenings for events because there is no more money left for overtime, working from home during your maternity leave because only 2 people in the office know how to do what you do and you’re one of them, convincing people every year that your cause is worth it to them even though last year they thought it was just fine. Putting in 50, 55, 60 hours a week. Hitting up your family and friends for money when your major donors fall through.

The list goes on and on.

Working for a non profit organization takes time, it takes talent, it takes offices with copiers and reams of paper, it takes going to out of town conferences and having to stay at a hotel so you can be on top of the latest trainings, so you can make the best connections, it takes turning on the lights, it takes buying the staff lunch when you’ve made them work late 4 nights in a row. It takes good mother fucking health insurance so you can get the best and brightest people wanting to work for you!

Yes, in a perfect world, 100% of the money you donate to an organization would immediately go right back out the door to the people it is trying to help. But in a roundabout way? It does. For every slick video produced, for every salary paid, for every cup of coffee made you are doing something to further the cause you care about. Because you are supporting the people who brought the cause to your attention, you are supporting the people who are doing what they can to get money to this cause.

And when we begin to look at the breakdown of how Invisible Children does business (looking at their 990, the ACTUAL posting from Charity Navigator (as opposed to Reddits interpretation and Visible Childrens interpretation of the Reddit discussion) and other assorted resources) we see that 80% of the money they bring in goes toward programing which is better than it’s been made out to seem. And for the work they do I think it’s a perfectly acceptable number.

And what is the work that Invisible Children does? Remember up at the top? Where I talked about IC being in the activism commodity business? This is the part that is going to make people uncomfortable and a little angry but stick with me.

While, yes, Invisible Children wants to get children away from Joseph Kony and the LRA, what they REALLY want to do is get you to CARE about getting children away from Joseph Kony and the LRA. When you give money to Invisible Children you are buying the idea that the more people who know about these atrocities the more good will be accomplished. You’re not actually buying a room for a child soldier to sleep in while he’s getting rehabilitated.

What I am saying that spending $25 on a tshirt is not necessarily getting anything tangible accomplished, but it IS getting more people to ask you “what’s up with your tshirt?” And in the land of slacktivism, the message is king.

Is this the perfect way to stop the atrocities that Joseph Kony is committing. Probably not, and in part 2 (coming tomorrow) we’ll discuss the problematic imagery of privileged white college students trying to “save Africa” and the issues that I, as a pacifist, have with the organizations history with the Ugandan military.

But this is one of the best ways I have ever seen getting young people engaged and becoming passionate about something outside of themselves. Invisible Children is doing an incredible job raising awareness about their cause, doing it in a way that gets people all over the world, from all different backgrounds talking about it…and for that I begrudge them not a penny of the money they have raised.