The last phrase of this charming memory from hallywoods is absolutely pure, “learned to appreciate the beauty and serenity of working a cultivated environment.” I suspect this applies to a world much greater than the fertile earth beneath him:
Been reminded lately about family and folks I’ve cared about who are now gone. It’s good to remember, I think.
Lillie married José at sixteen. The oldest of a large family, she was a pastor’s wife, had ten kids, lost two in infancy. The last kid she had was born when Lillie was forty. Shortly thereafter she went back to school to become a nurse, a career she then gave herself to for twenty years. Lillie had her share of shortcomings, could talk her way into (and out of) just about anything. I’m pretty sure she loved her daughter the best she knew how. Sometimes, that’s the best we can expect.
José was born in Mexico and was a talented guitar player and singer. Like most religious leaders in the charismatic Pentecostal movement, he was equal parts showman and shaman, mystic and holy man, counselor and friend. A man of passionate words behind the pulpit and few words in front of it, he had an open mind and an open heart, and willingly shared his gardening duties with me, from which I learned to appreciate the beauty and serenity of working a cultivated environment.
I see my identity as deeply tied to a family. I’m very deeply Jewish. My mannerisms, whatever it may be, I mean, I was brought up with Jewish music, my father, he was very poor, but he celebrated the Shabbat with joy. So I have deep memories, Jewishly. So I have never had the desire to leave. I had the desire that it should be better, so my criticism grows from love. It’s like I was once told, don’t be critical as your mother-in-law who enjoys to find out things that are lacking in you [laughs], but be critical out of compassion, out of real love for what you think the people could be. And as I suffered that, because on one level I want to feel empathy, intimacy, with these people with its history, with its longing, and I know its vulnerabilities, its weaknesses, its psychological problems of wanting to be loved.
For as far back as Joy Ladin can remember, her body didn’t match her soul. Gender defines us from the moment we’re born. But, how is that related to the lifelong work of being at home in ourselves? You’ve got to check out our show this week, "Gender and the Syntax of Being." Krista’s interview with her explores this question through Joy’s story of transition from male to female — as a poet, as a parent, and as a the first openly transgender woman teaching in an Orthodox Jewish world.
A Nigerian Easter in the Midwest
From the front door she calls, “He has risen!” Her children respond, “He has risen indeed. Let’s eat!”
I dodged church Easter Sunday this year. My mother Gbeme, however, worshipped at the Baptist church she’s been attending twice weekly for the past 20 years.
Raised Catholic in Nigeria, my mother’s Easter begins the seasonal swap from heavy wools to floral prints and pastels. She wears a beautifully vibrant gele — an intricately fashioned tie around the head worn by Yoruba women — and iro and buba — the matching outfit traditionally worn by Yoruba women — to church. She exchanges compliments with the other congregants about their upbeat clothes and steady health. For two hours the pews fill, the choir sings, and for the larger Easter crowd, the young new pastor delivers an especially rousing sermon. Soon thereafter, church dismisses. Time to eat.
For many Americans, Easter is synonymous with the egg. But in my bicultural household, creamy frejon is the signature Easter week delicacy. The bean soup is made of smoothly blended brown beans called ewa ibeji and steeped coconut, then sweetened with cane sugar to taste.
In the mid-1980s, my mother left metropolitan Lagos to attend college in rural Wisconsin — and made necessary modifications to the original frejon recipe. Back then international foods weren’t as integrated. In lieu of traditional Nigerian dishes, my mother observed her first few Easters amid sweet friends, sweet rolls, egg salad, and hearty Midwestern casseroles. After she graduated, she moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota, reuniting her with city dwelling, a dense Nigerian immigrant community, specialty grocers, and Easter frejon.
This inspiring story about the love of two brothers had NBA superstar LeBron James on the verge of tears, as you’ll see in the video. Very emotional and so good in so many ways.
Conner and Cayden make up Team Long Brothers and were recently named Sports Illustrated's 2012 SportsKids of the Year. Cayden, 5, is diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy and can't speak or walk on his own. But, in the summer of 2011, Conner, who was seven at the time, decided to compete in the Nashville Kids Triathlon, pulling his younger brother behind him.
They finished together, in last place, but in the process became role models of what is possible and the power of love. When I think about this family, I think of Andrew Solomon’s phrase of “horizontal identities” and what we would miss as people and a community if we didn’t encounter these special people in our daily lives. It’s Conner who says it best:
"The one thing that makes me really made is when people walk down the road and say… the ‘r’ word, if you now what that is. I just tell them that like it doesn’t matter what it looks like on the outside, it matters what’s on the inside. He still has regular feelings like we do. And he understands what you say about him.
If people could race with people that can’t walk or talk or can have any kind of autism, it might open eyes of people that don’t really care about it. And, maybe, the people that don’t care in the past will care in the future and actually do it with somebody.”
Turning To Instead of Against Each Other
by Gloria Lowe, guest contributor
We live in difficult times. Stories of corruption, violence and down right evilness surround us. Trying to make sense of this state, it sometimes seems easier to close it all out, becoming numb to our pain and the pain of others. Often we pretend things will somehow get better tomorrow.
Many of us come to this holiday season with fear. What do we say to our children and our friends when there is no money for the “things” they have come to expect from us? What do we do when we cannot buy our way out of pain?
Many of us have been chasing the American Dream, trying to consume our way to our image of the “middle-class American.” We have come to believe we are what we can buy.
Everywhere we look, corporations encourage us to value things over people. Over the last fifty years the average American family has spent more hours working, chasing an ever-decreasing paycheck to buy things. We use these things to replace the time we no longer spend with families and friends.
The holiday season, sacred to all faiths, has become nothing more than a hyped-up consumer season and a wretched time of the year for those with no money. As more people are thrown off state support for the barest of necessities, as foreclosures increase and unemployment checks decrease, people are turning against one another.
This season we have an opportunity to rethink our values and what it means to be a human being. Can we begin to look past the superficial ways we judge one another by what we wear, what kind of car we drive, or what church we go to? Can we learn to see each other in our hearts and not just with our eyes?
As a community we have a long history of transcending pain, of turning fear to hope and hope to action. We have learned to reach out to each other in service. We have known that a fragmented heart manifests a fragmented world. We have always made a way out of no way.
This holiday season is an opportunity for all of us to dedicate ourselves to building authentic relationships with our families, our friends and our communities.
We may not have money for toys and trinkets but we can wrap our arms around our children and show them how to love. We may not be able to spend money, but we can spend time.
We can set aside time and talk to one other about our hopes and dreams. We can take time to reconnect across generations, sharing stories of family and friends that pass on the values and skills that have enabled us to endure for centuries.
We can ask ourselves what do we need to do to create peace in our homes, in our families and in neighborhoods? How do we decide what we need, not just what we want? How do we live more simply, to consume less and love more?
We are facing an economic and spiritual crisis that threatens our survival and our deepest humanity. But it also an opportunity. It is an opportunity to create a more just way of living. In earlier, more dangerous times we created families, villages, places of worship and respect for one another. We have that creativity within us still.
Let us all celebrate this holiday season through the eyes of a “beloved community,” turning away from wanting things to valuing people. We can turn to one another and ask what kind of community we can create together.
Gloria Lowe is founder and CEO of We Want Green, Too! Ms. Lowe was also a guest in our show "Becoming Detroit."
The Act of Parenting Is Folding the Towels in a Sweet Way
by Krista Tippett, host
I picked up Sylvia Boorstein’s lovely book, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist, years ago and loved it. Then, several years later, I found myself on a panel discussion with her and loved her in person.
I was struck in that discussion by one story she told, about a man who participated in one of her meditation and Metta or “lovingkindness” retreats; she conducts these for Buddhist practitioners but also for rabbis and clergy and lay people of many traditions. As this man prepared to pack up and go home, he described an unsettling sense of vulnerability, of openness to life which also meant that his defenses were down. He felt blessedly sheltered in the context of that retreat but far too exposed to take his newfound vulnerability out into the world.
This has its corollary in becoming a parent, I think. One’s sense of sovereignty and safety goes into freefall — and stays there. But no one tells you this in advance! As the French theologian Louis Evely beautifully put it:
"(W)hen one becomes a father, or a mother, one suddenly sees oneself as vulnerable, in the most sensitive part of one’s being; one is completely powerless to defend oneself, one is no longer free, one is tied up. To become a father is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart."
So how to live, how to love, how to know what we can do (and what we can’t) to raise children who will participate in the world’s beauty and its pain and be safe inside their skin. This too is a conundrum, a daunting challenge that we rarely name together. But it is always there if we are raising children not merely to be successful (and there’s lots of advice about that), but to be good and grounded and kind.
I went into this conversation with Sylvia Boorstein hoping for some practical wisdom about imparting such qualities of character. In the course of our time together, some of it in exchange with an audience of people with children in their lives, we circled back to the simplest and most daunting reality of all: our children are likely, in the end, to act and live as we act and live. Nurturing their inner lives means nurturing our inner lives, for their sakes.
I couldn’t have found a better conversation partner on this. Sylvia Boorstein has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and her spiritual practice is blessedly reality-based. Buddhism, of course, is at its core about embracing reality head on, about minimizing suffering in life by first acknowledging that suffering is a fact of life and resolving not to make it worse.
So, as she describes, this spiritual practice has helped her grasp that her lifelong tendency to worry is simply a quality she possesses, no more remarkable than the fact that, as she puts it, she is short and has brown hair. Others of us may have a tendency towards anger, or to reach for sensory comfort when life throws its curve balls. The trick for achieving balance and joy in our own lives — a trick made both harder and more important by the presence of children who exhaust as well as delight us — is first to know this about ourselves.
Spiritual parenting, as Sylvia Boorstein describes it, is not about adding work or effort to our overly busy lives. It is about self-knowledge and “wise effort” that helps us live gracefully moment by moment. It is manifest as much in how we fold the laundry as in how we discipline or praise our children. She offers this, for example, as a simple piece of effort that can reorient our attitudes and responses in all kinds of situations. Rather than asking, “Am I pleased?” in any given situation, we can ask instead, “In this moment, am I able to care?”