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Friday Dispatch: Responding Even When You're Afraid
On not running away from power, but towards it.
Today’s dispatch began during 20 minutes of writing with the Bagels, Belief and Belonging group. If you would like to explore your spiritual and Jewish (or Jew-ish) journey with a small group of thoughtful humans through writing and conversation, sign up now for the next 6-week session (Thursdays, 1-3pm EST, June 15-July 20). Details & a link to register.
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After reading this incredible piece of student journalism by a group of students from the Amherst Regional High School, led by a courageous teacher, about systemic anti-LGBTQIA+ mistreatment of students and families as well as bullying by peers that went unaddressed by years, to say I was shaken would be an understatement.
Almost immediately, I sent the article along with a few sentences stating my alarm as a parent and community member as a complaint to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the ACLU, and the Governor’s office.
Every fiber of my being pulled into a hyper-present state, anger sending me into action, anger that kids have been suffering at the hands of adults abusing their positions of power and other kids, many of whom were not held accountable.
And yet when an email came from a reporter – for the second time this week – my heart quickened in a different way that I immediately registered as anxiety. Would I be willing to talk with him for a few minutes before his 1pm deadline for a story about this unfolding story?
I popped my head into the bedroom where my spouse was hard at work on their final final of the semester. They reminded me that boundaries are not at odds with being vocal and visible but rather crucial if one is to sustain any kind of long-haul activism.
Relieved, I responded that I did not have time to talk today and gave him permission to quote anything I’ve written and shared publicly about this situation.
A few hours later, I received a voice mail from someone at the Massachusetts Department of Education following up. I spoke with them shortly thereafter. The anxiety had subsided. I noted that allowing myself to say “no” to one thing helped me relax, tend to other things that needed my attention and time, and be available later in a more present way.
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Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin writes:
“‘Hineni’ is a response of sacred and undiluted presence, a response in which the self sheds all reservations, which expands the boundaries of self, indicating a readiness to receive and respond to whatever experience is about to unfold. It is brave and humble.” [read the rest]
When we step forward and speak out against harmful practices and behaviors, when we call people in positions of power to accountability, is God choosing us? How do stay in a place of grounded courage while also taking care ourselves? How do we remain both brave and humble?
In a 2014 editorial, David Brooks wrote, ”Moses, famously, tried to get out of it. When God called on him to lead the Israelites, Moses threw up a flurry of reasons he was the wrong man for the job: I’m a nobody; I don’t speak well; I’m not brave.”
It can feel dangerous to put yourself out there.
It can BE dangerous to put yourself out there.
Anyone who has accomplished anything in the realm of social change knows this and has experienced this. There might be all kinds of reasons not to do it. And obviously each individual needs to discern where to put their time and energy, especially in a world that deluges us daily with emergencies.
I might want to run away from power, not towards it.
But who am I if I don’t use whatever power I have? And where am I?
What greater response can there be than to have so many people in a community come forward declaring, I am here, we are here, we are present, we care, we will not stand for this.
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“I am here” might sound passive or static at first blush, as if one is simply being and not doing anything.
But is it not by being – really and truly being present when and where we are needed – that we find our deepest callings, our greatest blessings, and our biggest challenges?
Sometimes, I am afraid of getting in over my head. But then I recall that I get to determine my own boundaries, which calls to answer, and also that mine is not the only voice in this wilderness. All of our voices matter. There are so many of us saying, I am here, here I am. Are we are communicating to our kids: You are here, you matter, and we will do everything in our power not let harm come to you.
Ultimately, this is what drives me and supports me: Queer and trans youth need every adult they know to actively, vocally affirm our love and support and unequivocal willingness to go up against power – by using our own.
As I sit here in the peaceful sanctuary of my sunroom on a gorgeous spring afternoon, watching chipmunks and cardinals and light and shadow dancing in the trees, that fear lessens a bit.
I remember that yes, I am here, and recharging, sometimes saying no, and taking time to calm my own nervous system are not the same as running away.
“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants. And do your homework.” – Maggie Kuhn :: read more
Wherever these words find you today, consider where you are. If God called your name right now, maybe even said it twice, would you answer? Would you hide? Where are you? Are you here? What in the world moves you to respond, even when you’re afraid?
As with most things, there are no right answers here. I think it’s more that I’m seeking a connection, a conversation. I always welcome hearing from you in the comments, on Facebook, and via my website.
Shabbat Shalom and love,
High points this week
Early mother's day breakfast with my girl.
The "Bagels" group, week 2.
Gorgeous spring weather.
First soft serve of the year.
Progress on the e-course.
My son’s goodnight hugs.
Community in action.
Some good laughs.
Dinner with my parents.
How about you?
”The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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