Prayer for Children Reclaiming Structures Meant for Climbing

This is a summer scene along the Harborway in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

IMG_20150724_112143203It both delights (the children) and infuriates (the sign) me.

My companion and I debated what we thought it might be. It turns out that it is called “The Wave.” It was created by artist Donna Hiebert. Its shape and size seems built exactly for the purpose to which these children are putting it to use.


It is located right next to a community playground, for godsakes.


the waterfront playground right next to The Wave in Halifax

Someone — or more likely, some entity — put up a sign (several signs, actually) around its perimeter. Not just any sign. A sign etched in granite.

Don’t do the very thing your heart leaps toward at the sight of this structure.

Don’t scale this whimsically shaped protrusion that provides the perfect amount of traction underneath the soul of your sneakers or your bare feet.

Don’t risk greatness because you might end up with a scraped knee or broken arm along the way.

This scene calls to mind the fourth stanza of Woody Guthrie’s anthem, This Land Is Your Land:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

My first prayer: No way. Amen.

It turns out that there is a whole history to this piece of art: municipal attempts to keep it as untouchable and human insistence on reclaiming it for the righteous purpose of whimsical play. I was glad to learn, as this article seems to indicate, that in 2012 authorities gave in: the sculpture has been given over to its rightful, if not originally intended, function.  (Even if the granite markers suggesting that people stay off are still present.)

Still, I offer up this second and lasting prayer:

May all children know the call of adventure, the thrill of risk, and the heart-leap of “let’s do that again.”

May all children know failure as the teacher who says love yourself, then try again.

May all children experience the astonishing fruits of their bodies and minds whatever their abilities; may they be praised no matter their accomplishment.

Should they tumble down or fall off, may all children be met with kisses and caring, as well as respect for personal autonomy in deciding when to return.

Should they have to leave before they are ready, may all children be companioned by patient grown-ups who remember with empathy disappointments from their own childhood.

May caregivers of children be not reckless with the safety of those in their charge; but may they also be willfully ignorant of bureaucrats saturated with disproportionate fear of litigation.

May the seduction of protection or security never stop any of us from finding delight or courage, stamina or justice.

May all our metaphorical climbs contain some portion of the whimsy, some portion of bravery, some portion of helping the person beside us.  

May all our metaphorical descents contain some measure of pride in our accomplishment, some measure of gratitude for those who helped, some measure of humility for the gift of our body, heart and mind.

And let the people say: Amen.

Posted in Hope, Prayers, Travelogue | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

From Halifax to Havana and Back Again

July 26 was a national holiday in Cuba.  Photo by Karen G. Johnston

July 26 was a national holiday in Cuba. Photo by Karen G. Johnston

Four years ago, to the day, my newlywed (like, two days previously) partner and I arrived in Havana, Cuba for our honeymoon, endearingly dubbed “Commie-moon” by a friend. It was what I call a “soft adventure:” it was still illegal for U.S. citizens to travel there (well, officially, for us to conduct financial transactions there), but Obama was president: word on the street was that he was not likely to prosecute.

So we made our way – as many adventurous US citizens had over the years – through a third country.

Some of our best experiences there came from meeting real Cuban people – and doing so in places and spaces where they might talk freely. This was not an easy feat – informants were (and likely still) a real danger: friend pitted against friend, family member against family member. When people learned we were American, there was enthusiasm and curiosity. While the island had many tourists, few were from the U.S. Somehow, on multiple occasions, we found ourselves in unplanned and delightful situations where we were able to speak frankly with our new friends.

On one day, we went to the top of a tiny “mountain” called Mirador. We rode sorry horses as far as we could, then completed the final distance to the summit on foot. There, we encountered this lovely couple.

Photo by Karen G. Johnston

Photo by Karen G. Johnston

In the tiny, cleared area on top of the mountain, there was no one else around. And no listening devices. We found our conversation going further than superficial polite engagement. Luckily, she spoke fluent English, as my Spanish was not sufficient for the depth of exchange we ended up having. We spoke about many things, including what Americans call “the Cuban Missile Crisis” of 1962.

I can’t remember how that topic came up. It quickly became clear that our view of the facts were significantly different than their view of the facts. Our exchange was good-hearted – not tense at all – neither couple was invested in the other seeing it as they did. Both couples descended the mountain, still certain of our own view of that historical event.

I was reminded of this because on our walk around Halifax, Nova Scotia today, we encountered this.

IMG_20150724_104137835_HDR In Dartmouth, which is across the bay from where we are staying, there is the World Peace Pavillion. Its history is detailed below.

IMG_20150724_134115There are rocks – or variations on rocks, such as bricks made from earthen materials – from all over the world. The above rock was given to the project by Cuba.

Here is the plaque, associated with Cuba’s contribution to this peace project, no doubt written by some official within the Cuban government:

IMG_20150724_104923In case you can’t read it, it says

Rock from the “Playa Giron,” an historic beach where in 1961 a mercenary invasion was defeated – and POWs were exchanged for food for the children of Cuba.

1961 is the year that the U.S. government decided to invade Cuba.  Growing up in the US, I was taught this was called the Bay of Pigs.  I was not taught that POWs were traded for food for the children of Cuba.  I do know – as the world knows – that military incursion was an epic fail. The kind of which was perhaps a foreshadowing of what was to come in Viet Nam. And Iraq. And Afghanistan. And…

So maybe you can see why I might be thinking about my Commie-moon of four years ago, about those delightful encounters we experienced, about how the peoples of one country still find ways to connect with the peoples of another country, no matter what stupid-ass, archaic ideologies our governments might keep in place to divide us?  Given what is going on in the world — I am thinking in this moment right now of the US and Iran — this continues to be relevant.

May we ever and always find ways to know each other, to connect across borders and sanctions, to make peace even as our nations make war or create twisted detentes misconstrued as peace. Our very lives depend on it.

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Showing Up for Racial Justice: One White Person’s Wading into the Waters… (Part II)

Part II: C’mon In, the Water’s … You Tell Me

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

With inspiration for following through on this project (as described in my last post), I called up courage and confidence to go beyond the posting of a yard sign and move to knocking on my neighbors’ doors. Last Saturday morning, I spent an hour walking two streets – my own and one adjacent to my house — with a new friend from the local SURJ group.

I have lived here for nearly five years. I expect to live here for one year more – two at the outside. I know some of my neighbors – we have helped or been helped out when it comes to shoveling snow. Our dog is a rascal and gets out of our fenced yard regularly, which has brought us into contact with neighbors further away than I would like for my dog’s safety. Though some people clearly know each other well, we are latecomers and don’t have friends nearby. My kids were mostly grown by the time we moved in, so that chance to get to know neighbors through kids playing together was long gone.

Painting by Phoebe Cape.

Painting by Phoebe Cape.

The layout of the neighborhood leaves much to be desired – once you find your way in, it can be hard to find your way out. Here is a painting my talented step-daughter made of the experience of getting lost in our neighborhood.

GPS is, more or less, a necessity.

Built in the mid 1960s, the neighborhood originally consisted only of single-family ranch-style houses. In the past decade-and-a-half, some houses have had second floors built upon them. I live in one of those. There are people who have lived here since the very beginning and there are many families who have different relations who live down the road or two streets over. There is more racial, ethnic, and class diversity in this neighborhood than the last neighborhood where I lived in the same town. It is not close to the village center, which makes the housing more affordable.

There are 19 homes on my street.  Not everyone was home. I’d say that we got to interact with fewer than half of my neighbors. Here is a sampling of some of our interactions.

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

One guy, white, was busy in his yard but took the time to talk with us. He wore a t-shirt with the American flag, cut off sleeves, and had a crew-cut. Father of two kids under the age of seven. He said he was “one hundred per cent supportive” of our efforts and that what is going on is “not right.” He seemed more willing to talk, than wanting to talk. His social cues were for us to stay talking, even though he seemed ambivalent. He mentioned how things were supposed to be better, but then the shootings in South Carolina happened. He agreed to sign up for more information about local organizing. He chose not to take a yard sign we were giving out for free.

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

The next family – an older couple, both white – didn’t want to talk about it but agreed to the sign. We planted it proudly in their front lawn.

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

One guy – white, middle-aged, bald head, lip-piercing – didn’t even allow us past the knock. “Not interested.”

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

One guy – about my age, which is to say, middle-aged – who I think was white, but maybe not, it can be hard to know just by looking and I didn’t ask – he said he had grown up in here. He felt though there are problems in the nation, things are pretty good here.

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

One white woman, when she heard what we wanted to talk about, said directly that she did not support Black Lives Matters. “All lives matter” she said, no matter the color.   We listened. She pointed to the sign in my yard – “I don’t agree with that” she said.   “No thank you” she said in so many words. I responded, “Well, since it’s my sign in my yard, if you would let me just tell you why I put it there – not to argue with you, but to share my perspective – I’d appreciate it.” That it was my sign and that I was a neighbor slowed her down and opened her up. She agreed to listen. I said

  • Yes, all lives matter.
  • Since in our nation’s history and current events, Black and Brown lives are treated differently, with more violence, it’s important to say out loud that their lives matter.
  • To me, to say “all lives matter” in the face of all these killings is like going to a fundraise for breast cancer and shouting to all the people there – the people giving money and the survivors who have battled the cancer – and saying “all diseases matter!”

She listened. She shifted. To how wrong all the police brutality is, no matter who is the target of that brutality. And I got to agree again. And I said, “You know, our nation wasn’t paying attention to police brutality before #BlackLivesMatters so I’m feeling thankful for them to raise our awareness.” With that, she could agree.

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

One guy (yes, white) said he didn’t support it because he doesn’t support anything outside his own yard. He said it matter-of-factly, with no intended animus.

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

One guy (again, white) just straight out said he didn’t support it (and gave the indication that we were not welcome to stay).

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

One young – mid-twenties – white guy came out of his garage to talk with us. He seemed the most informed of any of the white people we met. At least, the most able and willing to talk about different issues. He expressed interest in talking about the topic. He had a different perspective on it. He mentioned his support for a local guy who is newly displaying a Confederate flag as his response to the national controversy. My neighbor said, “It’s Southern heritage, you know?”

This is such a volatile issue in our nation given the Charleston shooting of nine African American Christians in their own church by a white man with white supremacist intentions. It seems like a no-brainer to me, as a Northerner, that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. However, I was recently told by a friend, a white person who grew up in the South, who gets intersectional politics of justice and oppression better than most, that it’s much more complicated than how the media is portraying it.

So, I wanted to be not just careful, but thoughtful, as I considered this conversation with someone who has such a different perspective than I do.

Me: “It’s a pride thing? Is that guy, is he Southern?”

My neighbor: “Nah. But I think he employs someone from the South.”

Me: “Oh.”

My neighbor: “Yeah. He wants to show his support. But it’s not racist.”

Me: “I hear you. But I just read this thing. Can I tell you about it?”

Awkward silence.

My neighbor: “Sure.”

Me: “Yeah, it turns out the guy who actually designed that flag. He published an editorial in the newspaper at that time stating that his intentions were that it be a symbol of white supremacy.”

My neighbor: “Well, I don’t know about that…”

Me: “Yeah, neither did I ‘til just last night.”

Awkward silence.

Me: Hey, [to friend knocking on doors with me] didn’t you say you grew up in the North Carolina?”

My friend: “Yeah, I did.”

Me: “What was your experience of the Confederate flag there?”

My friend: “Well, I grew up in a place with a lot of Black and Native American people and none of them flew that flag.”

I don’t know that the exchange of information changed his mind. Of course, it didn’t change my mind. I do want to believe that he might integrate two new pieces of information, but I don’t think this is an issue that is rooted in ignorance of lack of information.

What I have more hope about is that he sees me, and people like me (liberal bleeding-heart door-knockers who live in two story houses and drive Priuses), as more dimensional than before our conversation. Certainly, I see him as more multi-dimensional than before our conversation – I see him as more than his opinion. Part of my spiritual practice is to continue to see individuals as whole, affirming their inherent worth and dignity, even in the face of disagreement, even in the face of odious, hurtful points of view.

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

Our last knock ended up being on the door to a home of a family of color. The guy we talked to – middle-aged, Black – spoke of his support for the #BLM movement, but could not display a sign for reasons I cannot go into here. We engaged in a long conversation about race and class in this country (he is originally from elsewhere). He is of the steadfast opinion that the divisions between us not really about race, but is about class. Race is a wedge to divide working people so they will not join together against the “two percent” who run everything and gain from how our society is set up.[1] I couldn’t agree more. I was glad to shake his hand.

I was glad to shake the hands of all my neighbors – those who would let me – regardless of whether our perspectives matched or not. My engaging eight neighbors is not going to change the world. But that is why I am not doing this in isolation. Taking part in a national campaign (organized by the fine folks at Showing Up for Racial Justice’s — SURJ), with others here in my community, with others across the country – allying ourselves with the #BlackLivesMatters movement, seeing ourselves as a part of the wider global movements of democracy, of environmental justice – now that just might change the world.


[1] History bears this out. European indentured servants worked the fields alongside African slaves and Native Americans. Not only did they work together, they sometimes socialized and rallied together. Laws were written by land-holding European men who, by doing so, began to socially (and legally and culturally) create Whiteness and divide the workers so that they would not pose a threat to their wealth. The three-part documentary, “Race: The Power of Illusion,” is a great resource on this.

Posted in Justice, Standing on the Side of Love, Unitarian Universalism | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Showing Up for Racial Justice: One White Person’s Wading Into Waters (Part I)

Part I: Wading into the Waters

I am not an activist.

(My activist friends are trying hard not to bust out laughing, because this is so obvious.)

Certainly, not the kind who regularly goes out on the front lines, who stops traffic, who risks arrest. I am more than willing to learn, to listen, to reflect, to examine, to challenge, to grow, to advocate, to re-vision, to ally, to be held accountable, to hold accountable, to march, to educate, to speak, to donate, out, to speak up, to amplify, to read, to blog, to publicly mourn.

I was once arrested for civil disobedience. That was nearly twenty-five years ago — during the First Gulf War. I did partake in an action described by detractors as vandalism but which we understood as holding rapists accountable and raising visibility of sexual assault in a community sorely in need. But, again, that was more than a quarter century ago. I don’t sit on those laurels any more — haven’t in a very long time.

We live in a time of great hope and possibility, yet the potential for a just world for all of us is not possible when racism and oppression keep us divided. This can make us forget how closely connected we truly are. Racism is still present throughout all of our contemporary institutions and structures. Racism is devastating to People of Color and is closely intertwined with all systems of oppression. It robs all of us- White people and People of Color- of our humanity.*

I have my socially-constructed white skin color and my new-to-me, always-temporary class comforts of enough income. I have too much education (one course away from my second masters degree) and speak with acceptable diction. I live in a gender-conforming body and experience few barriers in accessing any place I want to go. I experience privilege in so many ways that allow me the illusion that activism is a choice, is a life style into which one can opt.

On top of all that, I have a temperament that does not lend itself easily to street-level activism – though I can visit that realm, I am much more a tourist than a resident.   I am much more comfortable with other forms of social change – ones that are, not coincidentally, less demanding of courage and the possibility of confrontation.


We honor and learn from the long history of People of Color and White people who have been unrelenting in their struggles for racial justice, and ending all systems of oppression. We are showing up to take our responsibility as White people to act collectively and publicly to challenge the manipulation of racist fear by the ruling class and corporate elite. We know that to transform this country we must be part of building a powerful multi-racial majority to challenge racism in all its forms.*

I sometimes wish I was the kind of activist who goes out on the front lines, who stops traffic, who risks arrest. I wish to be the kind of clergy who stands as an oasis of calm between a too-nervous-for-comfort police officer and a raging protester. I admire the courage of such clergy: their clarity, their bad-ass-selves. Just maybe, that will be me one day.

While I am wishing, I sometimes need a kick in the ass to remember that I can do what I can do, even if it doesn’t look like that version of activism.

captured from

captured from

In that spirit, I recently joined the door-knocking campaign started by the fine folks at SURJ.

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

SURJ is a six-year old national network organized to “engage and move white people towards racial justice action.” It is “rooted in longstanding white anti-racist efforts and leadership, along with strong relationships with organizers and leaders of color.” (Thanks, Chris Crass, for those quotes.) Since last summer, with the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, new chapters and members have been met with new projects to mobilized this growing base of white people who want to do more than just feel bad or angry or depressed about what is going on.

This particular project was inspired by grassroots efforts in St. Louis called the Anti-Racist Collective (ARC), where they brought yard signs that said “Black Lives Matter” to predominantly white neighborhoods. According to the organizers, of those people with whom they spoke, half took a sign and agreed to display it, as well as to learn more about that organization’s efforts.

According to the national SURJ web site,

We are taking up the project of door-knocking with Black Lives Matter yard signs in hopes of providing local organizers with tools to initiate conversations around race in predominately white communities, and to build larger bases of white people to take action for racial justice.

My local chapter of SURJ – WesternMass SURJ — decided to join with other communities across the country and do this same action.

Earlier this month, I attended a meeting with about forty other people. First of all, we beheld one another. Forty people! More than expected. With representation across at least three generations. We learned more about the goals of this campaign: to increase invisible support for #BlackLivesMatters and to create opportunities for conversation about race and racism among white people. We examined our fears about taking part in knocking on doors, as well as our hopes.

Everyone’s biggest fear was different. My most noticeable anxiety was door-knocking in my own neighborhood — what if one of neighbors is a real a**hole about this and there is an awkward residue after we encounter each other? (If this is my biggest worry, this is the proof of the ocean of racial privilege in which I swim daily.)

We left the meeting with a suggestion-only script (well intentioned, but a bit too stilted), helpful instructions, and some yard signs to hand out.

I wonder if you might have some time right now to talk with me about racial justice, about what’s going on in our nation, and how heart-breaking it is?

Despite my anxiety, it made sense for me to do it on my own street: this is where I have relationships, this is where someone might be more likely to listen to me when I knock on the door. As one of the other people attending the SURJ meeting pointed out: maybe I would have the opposite experience. I might discover reactions from neighbors that would give me hope.

Upon my arrival home from the meeting, I immediately planted one of the yard signs in my lawn. I live on a corner, so it would have good visibility. The first step in the dipping of toes! I wasn’t yet knocking on doors, but I was publicly casting my lot with the #BlackLivesMatters movement.

photo by Karen G. Johnston

photo by Karen G. Johnston

I wondered what the reactions would be? I wondered if the sign caught anyone’s attention or whether they just drove by. I worried it might be defaced (it has not been). It did not take long before I found out.

On a sunny afternoon, I was in my house with windows open. I heard two little girls riding their bikes past my house. I could not see them but I could hear them. One of them read the sign aloud in that halting way that reading is a newly-acquired skill. This caught my attention, so I listened more closely. As if speaking to no one in particular, the girl said, happily, “Well, of course they do.”

The next day, I was at home and on the phone. The doorbell rang. My younger daughter answered it. Later, when I was done with my call, I asked my daughter who had been by. It was a neighbor, several houses down, someone I had never met though I had seen her in her yard numerous times. She had come over because she had seen the sign. She wanted to thank us.

I was sorry to have missed her and decided to take a chance. I went over to the house I thought was hers. I knocked. She answered, wearing the orange dress my daughter had described. She smiled. I smiled. We learned each others’ names. We talked, which is to say she told me some stories and I listened. We hugged. Perhaps you guessed? She is African American.

It was an incandescent moment. It cemented my intention: ready or not, I would go door knocking.  (Click here for the next post in this series.)

BLM yard sign* These words are from the information sheet prepared by the local SURJ folks using national SURJ materials to handout during  door knocking.

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New Title for Blog

Dear Reader,

You might have noticed — or not —  that when you typed in “irrevspeckay” to come to my blog, and you hit the return key — or when you clicked on the link delivered to your inbox —  that the wonders of technology changed what you wrote to

Awake & Witness Net image

Same blog, new title.  Found at both URLs.

The change in title reflects a developmental shift for me (and, I suppose, the blog) as I come into what I hope to be the final year of my ministerial formation.  I can affirm that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“Light at the end of the tunnel” Image by

Towards that end, I reviewed the “About” page and changed it to reflect the clarity I have gained about my ministry:

The heart of my theology and ministry can be summed up in two wide concepts: AWAKE and WITNESS.  

AWAKE: to grow our spiritual capacities in this world, we are asked over and over again to be awake; to turn towards, rather than away from, heartache,  suffering, oppression and injustice.  We are called to open our eyes with curiosity, our hearts with compassion, and our conscience on the side of those who have been marginalized. 

WITNESS: ours is not to passively watch, but to actively witness.   This is to engage, not to observe from a comfortable distance.  This is to live into our place in the interdependent web of all existence and our tasks reflecting the participatory nature of the Universe.

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Not Over…: A Response and A Call to Further Respond

AdamNotOverAnother compelling post from friend and colleague, Adam Dyer.​ Rock on and write on!

It is more generous than deserved, but so it is with Adam’s spirit. His post, entitled, “Not over…” ends thusly:

“So, I don’t have an answer to how or what form or why Southern pride will be reborn once the Confederate Flag is uniformly relegated to history books and museums. I do, however, know that Southern pride is very real and a valuable part of what makes the United States what it is. My earnest and sincere hope is that the people of the South are able to find the part of Southern heritage that they can celebrate that doesn’t celebrate the denial of my heritage as a black person.”

Adam’s post identifies that universal truth: nature abhors a vacuum. Just because the flag is down (or coming down), does not mean that racism is ended (not that anyone thinks that, but I still thought it worth mentioning). And if there is a seed of truth in the apologists’ declaration that the Confederate flag was a symbol of pride, then the vacuum needs to be filled and filled soon before it is filled with problematic stuff.

Here is our opportunity. Even though I am from the North (well, really, I am from the Pacific Northwest, but I am not from the South, so I guess that means, for these purposes, that I am from the North.), I would like to take on this challenge.  My apologies if I step on any well-intentioned Southern toes with my Northern sensibilities.

That said, let’s fill the vacuum left by the removal of the flag with Southern heroes of all stripes.  And since it is so important, because there is such a dearth of these stories out there, let us fill that void with Southern white heroes.

Here is my contribution. These are the people from whom I learned anti-racism work as a white person. Some of them I have known in person. Some of them I have done my learning through reading their writing or listening to their talks. These are the people who made it possible for me to see that as a white woman, I had a role in creating a racially just world besides feeling guilt and shame.

41hmAYgXbYL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Lillian Smith, author of Strange Fruit and Killers of the Dream, is likely the most well-known of these names. Her books were banned in some localities (not just in the South, friends, but even in Boston) and not allowed to be sent via the United States Postal Service (until, according to Wikipedia, Eleanor Roosevelt asked her president husband to lift the ban). She was outspoken both on issues of race and gender. Born at the turn of the 20th century, she died the year before I was born.

photo by Leslie Feinburg, MB's late wife

photo by Leslie Feinburg, MB’s late wife

Minnie Bruce Pratt is an educator, poet, and feminist author. I first met Minnie Bruce when she was a visiting lecturer at my undergraduate college. She was frank and funny, kind and clear-spoken. We maintained a minimalist correspondence and when I moved to Washington, DC, we met. She encouraged my poetry writing, though I think she was more generous than what my writing called for (thank you, Minnie Bruce!) She is one of my earliest role models around what is now called intersectionality: how race, class, sexuality, gender identity combine and require more of us than a silo’ed approached.

Mab Segrest, another winner when it comes to getting the crossroads of race, class, and gender/sexuality. Mab wrote one of my all time favorite books of short stories: My Mama’s Dead Squirrel: Lesbian Essays on Southern Culture. I have never met Mab Segrest, but her influence on my understanding racism and the potential of my role as a white ally is huge.  She organized against the Klan in North Carolina in the 1980s.  In 1990, she spoke at a conference in Boston I helped to organize to celebrate the life of Audre Lorde before that fabulous, fierce activist died. I recommend her autobiography, Memoir of a Race Traitor, to any white Southern person I meet.

51KWOhYYLxL._SX296_BO1,204,203,200_ Segrest wrote these words, which I hold dear:

We need a [Beloved Community] that is by necessity anti-racist, feminist and democratic; a politic that does not cut us off from other people, but that unites us with them in the broadest possible movement. … What I really mean is a more genuine democracy, where the citizens of our country have more direct access to all the decisions that affects us, not only in the political but also in the economic arena. …What I mean is a less lonely society, where we think collectively about resources for the common good, rather than struggling individually against each other for material and psychic survival.  What I mean is a more humane society, where our driving motive is abundant life for all rather than increasing extravagance for a few and suffering for many more…. This re-energized movement will be, in Suzanne Pharr’s eloquent terms, “not a wedge, but a bridge;” not a point of division, but of expansion and connection.  To those who insist on denying us our full humanity, we will insist on the sacred humanity of all people.  A bridge, not a wedge.  A bridge, not a wedge. (excerpt, “A Bridge, Not a Wedge,” Mab Segrest, Memoirs of a Race Traitor, South End Press, 1994)

Carter Heyward is an Episcopal priest, one of the first women ordained as such, back in 1974. In college, I read one of her books, but I also got to spend time with her as she taught at the seminary my ex-partner attended. We had dogs that played on campus together. She had been a member of the Mudflower Collective, which produced God’s Fierce Whimsy: Christian Feminism and Theological Education, which helped me to engage spiritually and theological in issues of cultural identity and resisting racial, as well as other, oppressions.

quote-in-the-spirit-which-draws-us-into-honest-engagement-with-one-another-including-those-carter-heyward-54-66-74To a one, these women are not only Southern white women, they are Southern white lesbians. This is not coincidental, but neither is it solely a consequence of who my early influences of choice were, given that I was bisexual, living in a lesbian relationship, and living happily within mostly lesbian or women community.

Some of the worst racism in our nation exists in the South (yo, North, this does not let you off the hook).  Yet, also, some of our best truth-seekers and justice-makers come are rooted there, too.  The presence and activism of these Southern white lesbian women taught me that the fires of oppression — especially the presence of oppressions — create great destruction, but they also can be refining fires that give us diamonds of people who develop courageous insights and take that step to use their own privileges towards our collective liberation.

Thank you, sisters, one and all.

No doubt there are others. I invite you, Dear Reader, to expand our horizons. Please add to the list by commenting below. Give us names of white people – (no need for them to be just lesbi2232146227_9d317437fc_oans.)

White Southerners are better for this particular exercise, but any white person working for racial justice can be added here. No need for them to be famous. Perhaps you have a personal story to share – that works, too. Please share something about why you placed them here: your own words or a link to help all of us learn.

Let us bring to life Adam’s words that “Southern pride is very real and a valuable part of what makes the United States what it is.” Let us make the names below into household names.

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Inherent Worth & Dignity and (Possibly) Defending Clarence Thomas (reblogged)

While at the national (with some international flavors, as well) gathering of Unitarian Universalists that just concluded in Portland, Oregon, public theologian Rev. Tom Schade was generous enough to invite me to occasionally lend my voice (and others — he must have passed Kindergarten with flying colors because he plays well with others) to his blog.

Here is the results of my first effort.

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