I grew up 60+ years ago in a culture where black was the color you wore when someone died.

It is also true that black was considered an elegant color for women to wear, e.g., the little black sheathe for a cocktail party.

But somehow what really stuck with me was black = death.

Black lives matterI remember, in my adolescence, reading, in Time I think, that Queen Juliana of the Netherlands (or was it Wilhemina?) said she wanted to be dressed in white for her funeral. I thought that was really cool, because it reflected her truth, and mine today, that death is not the end. However, that leads me to think I want to be dressed in my favorite colors (if there is a casket)–teal, purple, and pink.

But still people wear black to funerals, or at least dark colors, and people wear black arm bands to signify some deep sense of loss or despair or anger.

I have decided to change that for myself.

I am wearing black today to signify life. I am wearing black today, as part of “Black Lives Matter Sunday.” Black Is Beautiful. Black lives are beautiful. [The irony is that I am wearing a clerical collar for part of the day, and it is white–standing out against the rest of my clothing. I am thinking we need a black collar!]

There often is debate about whether black is a color or the absence of all color. In the science of optics, in the visible spectrum, black absorbs light and is thus the absence of color.

But still we see black. So it must be something. And because black absorbs light, we could say it is the wisest color, receiving and accepting all that is light and transforming it to black.

Whatever science says or does not say, I believe we–especially those of us who are white–must change our relationship with black. It is a social color even if scientists say it is not a color.

Healing our nation of nearly 400 years of overt and covert racism and white supremacy requires that we begin to truly value black.

I matter- young African American boyI live in a city whose infrastructure was built on the backs of Black slaves and marginalized workers during Jim Crow, and where today, as in our whole country, the poverty rate among Black people is much higher than among white people (and the gap continues to grow). And of course, Black men die, due to police actions as well as to neighborhood violence, at an alarming rate. Among transgender persons, the rate of murder against Black women is many times that of others.

This is not due to something inherent or inborn in them. Sadly, however, many Black people have absorbed this negativity, too.

But the truth is that white people create this monster. And we are the ones who can stop it.

I am starting here: Black = Life.

The mid-September days at 10,000 feet at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite were warm–although as the sun slid away in the late afternoon the temperature soon dipped way down.

From late morning until later afternoon, it was warm enough to wear light clothing, and even go naked. Given what my body had told me on Tuesday (see December 10), I spent some of Wednesday afternoon sitting naked on various rocks. I knew I had to expose my whole self to the sun, to the earth and creatures and trees and rocks around me. I knew I needed to do that to be able to wade into the lake on Thursday.

So Wednesday is a day to become better acquainted with my surroundings, to sit and watch and listen. Perhaps I will connect more with my soul, even become more appreciative of myself.

As I sit, I begin to see the trees. I sit for awhile, not very conscious, just gazing mindlessly at various trees. I notice how multi-shaped they are, how misshJu, Aug to midSept 2014 incl R & C wedding, HR Pride, Quest 068apen many are. I notice what will become my soul tree (see December 9).

I begin to speak, calling the trees my siblings, thanking them for being here, for surviving long enough to bless me. I have an “aha moment,” when I realize that the trees are doing what trees do. They grow, even in granite and weather extremes.

Then I notice that all are growing, whether they are “properly” shaped or not. They don’t have to have perfect bodies to be trees, and to grow. I realize that I could learn from this truth. I don’t have to have a perfect body (as defined by someone else, or society, or me) to be me, to live and thrive.

As I take this in, I say “Thank you” to the trees, my teachers. I tell them I am glad to be with them.

Then, a voice, well, not exactly a voice in the human sense, but a voice nonetheless, says, “We have missed you.” It is so clear, and simple. We have missed you.

I cry a little, and then I sob, great big gulping sobs, so aware of how long it has been since I really paid attention to trees and how grateful I am to be here, now, with Ju, Aug to midSept 2014 incl R & C wedding, HR Pride, Quest 069these beautiful trees. Every tree is simply stunningly beautiful. I want to touch each one, and bow and say thank you.

And I see that I am beautiful–maybe not stunning, not quite sure I can say that about myself, at least yet–but certainly beautiful, handsome.

So I cry some more, and stand up and walk around, just being glad to be revealed to these siblings. And I hug my soul tree. It is a careful embrace, given my bare skin and his (I have decided he is male) needles, but a brotherly, tender embrace nonetheless.

It is beginning to cool, and it is time to put some clothes on. But I know I am now ready to wade in the water tomorrow.

I am home with my pinus albicaulis family, and all their neighbors and friends. I am safe. I have been missed, and I have missed them. We are together and I am loved, and I love, too.

Next, the lake, and who knows what else!

Paying attention is not always easy, or pleasant. Sometimes, you see or hear or learn stuff you’re not sure you wanted to deal with. On the other hand, if we stay stuck in where we are we will never get to where we can be, or where God wants us to be.

That is one reason I went on the Vision Quest. I knew I needed to be more open to the nudges I kept feeling, and the sense that I was not fulfilling what some might call my “destiny.”

Cathedral_Peak_and_Lake_in_YosemiteI have written about the amazing trees I encountered at Lower Cathedral Lake, and especially the one I call my Soul Tree. But there is more to share about our encounters. First, some background is needed.

I went up the mountain as one in a group of seven, led by an amazing shaman, Dr. Tom Pinkson. We spent all of Monday getting to Yosemite by car from Marin and up 10,000 feet, arriving at that height after dark so we had to stop for the night. Putting up your tent in the dark is not fun!

But I made it (with a lot of help from more experienced hikers), and the next day (Tuesday) we headed up another 1,000 feet and then back down 1,000 feet to get to our base camp site. We set up our tents, and we each picked out a site around the lake where we would camp alone, fasting, for two days, starting the following day (Wednesday). Then we relaxed.

I started writing in my journal, of course. So much to record, and there had been no time since we left Marin the morning before.

lower-cathedral-lakeAs I sat on a rock, writing, I heard a splash. I looked up to see one of our number wading into the lake. He was naked, which of course is the way to do this if you can’t afford to deal with wet clothes! Besides, some say your body stays warmer naked than covered (but I am not advocating this, or even claiming it is true).

He is a good looking man, and I noticed his backside appreciatively.

But what came over me so fast was body shame, my own. I was shocked, thinking I had dealt with this a lot in therapy over many years. But here it was. I knew it was one thing I would have to deal with on the Quest.

And I knew at least one thing I had to do: go into the lake, without clothes.

This is where my siblings the trees come in. I am so grateful to them and as I relate more of the story, I think you will understand better, if you don’t already, about what Gerald May calls the “wisdom of wilderness.”

But I am going to stop here to ruminate about this experience and prepare to share more another day.

I am sitting at my desk, looking out the window and ruminating about what to write, when a large black bird walks across the lawn and a squirrel scampers from our yard across the street into the woods.

Now I know what to write. These two creatures, now disappeared from my sight, are messengers, reminders that it is time I began telling of my adventures on the Vision Quest–what I have come to call my Soul Quest–in Yosemite National Park in September.

The understanding that other animals (not just human animals) and the natural world contain and share messages and truth for us is one learning from the Quest. I learned a lot from these teachers during my short time in the relative wilderness at 10,000 feet, and a primary lesson is to pay attention.Soul tree front view

Being without a watch, cellphone and internet reception, books or other devices that divide my attention from what is immediately around me in the natural world opened my eyes to what I so often take for granted–the movement of flying creatures and four-leggeds, as well as sky and water and earth, and, perhaps most of all, trees.

Trees are my special love. I grew up on a tree farm. I was not especially enamored of all the hard labor helping my Dad, but I always loved the trees (and I really liked growing flowers, too, but that is for another time).

I try not to use the word “love” when it comes to talking about things I enjoy, or like, but with trees it is the right word. I love trees.Soul tree side view

We had thousands on the farm, all in rows, plus 10 or more acres of woods, and I felt connected with so many of them. I especially felt close to the trees in our small orchard–pear, apple, apricot, and cherry–and most of all to the giant white oak, Quercus alba is the Latin name, standing majestically next to our driveway where it met the public road.

Trees are signs of God to me. Like God, they grow everywhere, or try to. They appear in whatever form is most conducive to living. They grow in the most improbable places at times, like the five-needled white bark pine, Pinus albicaulis is the Latin name, that grow out of granite in the Alpine or timberline forest in Yosemite. How trees can be rooted in granite is a mystery to me, but then how God takes root in us is one, too.

As I spent time alone, fasting, near the shore of Lower Cathedral Lake, sitting on huge granite boulders, I began to notice these trees. Some of them were soul tree side view 2tall and graceful, well-shaped conifers. Most of them, however, showed the effects of living in harsh conditions so that many appeared as dwarf trees, and others almost prostrate, almost all lacking the shape we think of as normal for pine trees.

Together, these trees became my spiritual teachers, even masters, helping me move into a meditative state and then guiding me into some deep soul truths.

One tree most captured my attention. As I share three pictures of my soul tree, I am going to pause to gaze for a while. At another time, I will write more about our encounter.

Transitions are usually challenging. That is true of the one I am in now.

Claiming my vocation as a writer means leaving my work for and with People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV). That is work I enjoy, at least much of it, and certainly it taps into and often fulfills my passion for justice (especially as an expression of my faith).

Friday was my last day as the full-time President of POFEV. However, I will be continuing in a part-time capacity until mid-February, working on a couple of projects and making sure the transition to the future goes well. I also am writing more, taking a poetry class, officiating at weddings, and looking for some adjunct teaching or other part-time work for the future (work that helps sustain and even complements my writing).

Transition figureSo, I am in that strange in between space–not entirely in the old mode but not entirely in the new either. It requires a lot of balancing; sometimes I feel like the man who has one foot in the canoe and the other on the dock–I don’t want to fall into the water!

When the guru of transition theory, William Bridges, started writing and teaching 30+ years ago about the phenomena of this kind of change, he called the in-between period “chaos.” At times, that feels right.

But more recently he started naming this period as the “neutral zone.” I don’t feel that at all. There is nothing neutral about this; I certainly am not stalled either!

Instead, I experience it as an intensely nourishing time, even as I struggle to balance. The conflicts between the old and the new often produce rich new understandings of myself and my journey, provided I can avoid getting ensnared in anxiety.

The key is to not fret, and not to spend time trying, in moments of challenge, to be in the space where I am not. It also is necessary to plan, and then not let the plan become more important than reality. Time for both, I keep saying.

Time for both. Or perhaps the best way is to say, “Time for my life.” the one I have been in, the one to which I am going, and everything in between. Maybe, in that sense, we all live in transition, all the time. Some are just more, well . . . .  transitional . . . . than others, right?

I am grateful to God for being on the move, and for knowing God is going with me, or better yet, I believe I am going with God!

[Note: I will say more in coming weeks about how I came to make this shift, or perhaps more accurately, how this shift came to move me.]


What is this Black Friday? What does it say about us?

Theories about its origins vary. The most popular these days stems from usage of the term in Philadelphia to describe the heavy, often disruptive traffic–both by car and on foot–occurring on the day after Thanksgiving. Others take a longer view, pointing to a moment in 1869 when speculation in gold was stopped by the action of President Grant (leading to a big disruption in the stock market called “Black Friday”).

The real meaning may rely on the view that for most of the year retailers operate in the red, but on this one day they sell so much that they are suddently “in the black.” This theory may be sustained by the numbers: In 2013, approximately 141 million U.S. consumers shopped during Black Friday, spending a total of $57.4 billion, with online sales reaching $1.2 billion. Others call this an urban myth.

Another myth seems to be that Black Friday is when slave markets had sales on the day after Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving only really came into existence as a national repeating day during, not before, the Civil War, and really only became regular with President Franklin Roosevelt).

Black Friday lineBUT in this time when being Black–living Black, dying Black, even driving and shopping while Black (extra surveillance by police and security personnel)–carries a lot of meaning, i.e., baggage and freight for many in our culture, is this the best name we can give this “non-holiday” holiday?

And does anyone remember the fiasco of a death by trampling and the use of pepper spray? Now we have “dying while shopping.” If you want to see an alarming list of Black Friday deaths and injuries, click here.

Yesterday, many of us overate, and today many will overspend. Tomorrow and Sunday, many of us will lie more or less comatose on sofas and contemplate how to pay the bills. And watch football or old movies, or both.

Is this what we are thankful for? The right to shop ’til we drop (and/or beat someone else out of a bargain?) and eat ’til we explode? Is this the American dream? Is this why millions of immigrants clamor to our shores?And is this the best name for this day of insanity?

Having no wish to appear Scrooge-y, I will stop there with only questions. You may guess at my answers. My hope is that you will have your own, and share them here, or in your home or community.

thankfulOn this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful to be alive, to share in much goodness that has come, and keeps coming, my way. My husband Jonathan and entire extended family–including our beautiful and beloved daughters and their families (especially Juna and Annie), my sister Nancy and her whole extended family, and the family of my late sister Marny, and our treasured Cocoa– and so many friends and colleagues and neighbors, all are a great blessing.

God is good. All the time!

And on this day I pray that more people in the world would share in these blessings. Help me to remember that so much that is good in my life–more food than I need, a warm home, living in a democracy where we can speak our minds and hearts, some measure of economic security, and more–is not available to others.

Help me also to realize that some of this that is blessing me comes at the expense of others–our global world is interdependent, but often some of us get more thturkeyan our share. So I pray for a better way to distribute food, so that no one goes hungry. And I pray our nation would rely less on force and more on peaceful measures to help others have less strife and more peace and blessing. And I pray that the violence in our own nation, especially the killing of people of color (including not only African American men, but also Trans women and poor women), will end and that we find a way as a nation to begin talking openly and honestly about our heritage of racism and internal colonialism.

Finally, I pray that not all turkeys are killed today, or even between now and Christmas, and that eventually we can learn to give thanks without killing what should be our national bird as part of the celebration.

For me, it is Thanksgiving Day, not Turkey Day. And if I have to include food in the name of the day, then let it be Tofu Day!