Category Archives: American Culture

Stand by This Faith, Rally, March

After Election Day, I continued to wear my ‘Love Trumps Hate’ button and also added a safety pin to my lapel for good measure. Beyond politics and personalities, I believe that certain principles generally hold true. On the eve of Thanksgiving, while I was riding an express train home on NYC transit wearing both button and pin, a man and his male friend got on at Penn Station. This man was well-dressed and a little older; he took the seat right next to mine on the subway, so our wretched encounter would be pointedly personal.

“I’m glad that b*tch lost,” he said, then turned to his friend. “A f*ck*ng female president. What a joke! It’s a good thing Trump won the election.” Is it? Hillary Rodham Clinton apparently won the popular vote by more than 2.5 million, the largest margin in decades. This means that the majority of Americans were indeed ‘with her’ and shared her vision of an inclusive civil society, much as I did. The first woman nominated by a major political party somehow won the vote decisively and lost the election definitively.

The loathing that has been found voice since Trump won the Electoral College count has been deeply disturbing to a significant number of Americans. The misogyny is striking. ‘Lock her up’ is more than a rotten little bit of sloganeering begun on the campaign trail; it is essentially a 21st-century version of ‘Burn the witch’. Notice how much vitriol that slogan has emboldened, along with psychic violence against women nationwide. As a New Yorker, I supposedly live in a liberal bastion in a marvelous ‘blue bubble’, but that seems to have burst in November 2016.

Not only was this male straphanger’s harangue meant to humiliate me, it was an orchestrated effort to me back in my place in an attempt to ‘make America great again’. Obviously, I’m a “f*ck*ng female” just like “that b*tch”; most women could easily decode those sentiments. I kept quiet as he continued to talk loudly and disparagingly about me and my kind in his profanity-laced tirade, but his tone communicated most clearly his feelings toward women. They were – in a word – hateful. When our train pulled into 96th St., as I was exiting, I told him: “You’re a prince among men.”

fullsizerenderThis toxic dynamic goes far beyond any battle of the sexes – this is the very public airing of sexist attitudes that endorse the open contempt for and the flagrant denigration of women. This includes all women, immigrant and native-born, every shade of us. The widespread mansplaining of  2016 election results has grown tiresome; we have little confusion left about how the prospect of “a f*ck*ng female” presidency in this country was received. Recent statistics have shown an uptick in hate crimes nationwide, as well an increase in calls to crisis and suicide hotlines. Thank God there are people to take those calls.

Only days after my unsavory subway ride, over that long Thanksgiving weekend, a male passenger on a Delta Air Lines flight out of Atlanta launched into drunken invective about the President-Elect, yelling, “Come on, baby – Trump!” Standing in the center aisle of the plane, he demanded to know: “We got some Hillary b*tch*s on here?” The closing image of that viral cellphone footage is a shot of young woman looking directly into the camera, her face stricken. To its credit, Delta permanently banned him from its airline and refunded each passenger the price of her ticket. But for too many women, moving through particular public spheres in America is a punishing proposition, an assault on their senses as well as their dignity.

Like HRC declared herself in that gracious concession speech, I remain grateful to be an American. Certainly I know I am afforded rights and opportunities that women elsewhere are woefully denied. But I cannot concede that we’re anywhere near our stated goal of a democratic franchise with greater equality between the sexes. Lately, a joke’s been making the rounds that it’s hard to shatter the highest glass ceiling when it has steel reinforcements -it’s painfully funny because it’s painfully true.

Recently, a ministerial colleague of mine was visiting a ‘square state’ in the middle of reddest America, when she was spied wearing her clerical collar. She was approached respectfully by a stranger there. “What do I call you?” this man asked her. “I’ve never seen one of you before.” She replied simply: “Reverend”. This notion that we should all have reverence for one another remains a bit of oddity, though, especially if involves men revering women.

My Universalist tradition was the first to ordain a female minister with full denominational authority in the United States. Tellingly, the Rev. Olympia Brown ended her esteemed career as a committed suffragist and at the age of 85, in November 1920, cast her first ballot following the ratification of 19th Amendment. She’s long been a personal hero of mine, and the responsive reading at my ordination service a decade ago was taken from one of her rousing public addresses:

Stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before us the loftiest ideals, which has comforted us in sorrow, strengthened us for noble duty and made the world beautiful. Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that we are worthy to be entrusted with this great message, that you are strong enough to work for a great true principle without counting the cost. 

Now that great and true principle might best be summed up as “Love Trumps Hate”. Frankly, the issue could not be less partisan – each of us, male and female, is asked stand united on the side of life and love and openly opposed to forces of hate and division.

Standing by my faith will mean my marching on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017, alongside hundreds of thousands of other American women. Call us whatever pejorative comes immediately to mind: “b*tch*s” or p—–s or ‘nasty’ women, but know that we will remain loyal to our inviolable truths. It’s actually possible to look at a woman and see her as something more than an assemblage of body parts rated on a scale of 1-10. Someone might even look at a woman and see in her visage the face of God, conceivably, or the rightful leader of the free world.

Now we are confronted with a ferocious backlash against our growing certitude that indeed, “women’s rights are human rights”. Yet what’s coming next is a resolute and unyielding pushback to that backlash, and I’ll gladly join others in working for it and sacrificing for it. Trust me: I am not going to waste my precious space here, not in my city, nation, or world, not at this day and time. If you join us at the Capitol next month, you will see me wearing my clerical collar and ministerial stole, along with that same old button and the safety pin in my lapel, expressing my spiritual solidarity with those who share a belief that we are already strong enough and still stronger together.  

‘Love Trumps Hate’, really and truly, and it will eventually defeat the blatant misogyny,  male supremacy, and patriarchal privilege that unapologetically sprawls across our national stage. But we need to plan for the long game here, and we cannot merely play at it for an election cycle; the stakes are too high, and we – women of these United States and all the men who happen to care about them – have to be in it to win it. We need to ride our subways, buy our train tickets, take our seats on the bus, board those airplanes, move forward, and rally.

Despite It All

Just recently, the conductor has once more begun calling my train stop by name. Each time I hear it echo, I feel a touch more relieved, a bit closer to home. When I hand him my green Metro-North Railroad ticket stamped SPN DVL, he peers at it closely, then booms “Spites!” as he punches two holes in rapid succession. “Spites” is railroad shorthand for Spuyten Duyvil. For several years, this New York station was known for having a Dutch name almost impossible to pronounce. Now it’s best known for being the worst accident site in regional commuter rail history. The train wreck took place right near the bend in the tracks where the Harlem River meets the Hudson – one year ago, this December.

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Time warps and wends around tragedies, but the tragedies themselves: those stay fixed. I still remember the day of the derailment so vividly. I was not on the train into the city; rather, I was on my way to church in a nearby town. The train jumped the tracks early on a Sunday morning, and I naively assumed that the first radio account I heard was sensationalized, because it sounded altogether too dire to be true. During the church service, we put the Metro-North staff and passengers on our prayer list and held worship as usual. A few hours later, back at home, the helicopters continued to circle the stretch of sky above our neighborhood, gasping at the sight, winded with every passing hour. Then I understood that this massive wreck was true and dire in equal measure.

Seen from far above, the wreckage looked a child’s train set destroyed by a ferocious tantrum. Practically at the water’s edge, the head car had careened to a full stop, while another six cars trailed catastrophically behind. The finally tally included four dead, sixty-three injured, with some of the 115 passengers aboard suffering permanent disability. My mental objections were immediate: it was the start of the holiday season, a long weekend, the first Sunday in Advent. Whatever protective benefits I believed these circumstances might confer were purely fictive and thoroughly nonsensical. Continue reading

High Holy Week

Down the street from us sits a quaint neighborhood pub in the Irish tradition, and by tradition, I don’t mean the pouring of green beer in March. Its name is a jumble of words from the Irish Gaelic that have been scrawled in Celtic script on a sign with paint faded by successive seasons. A fair number of Irish expats patronize the place, and the wait staff still have brogues thick enough to charm. The pub even hosts a resident theater company that will stage a Synge play in the back of the back room, against the backdrop of a velvet curtain. So it’s worth looking at the grainy chalkboard outside to see what offerings the pub has in store in addition to the stout. Each March, a coy listing goes up for the ‘High Holy Week’ that culminates in St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday which the pub rather valiantly tries to keep respectable. God love them for that. Continue reading

Buddha out of Bounds

For a few years now, I have shared a lovely office suite with a marvelous assortment of helping professionals, although I am the only minister in the lot. The diversity among us is impressive – we have psychiatrists, psychotherapists, couples counselors, chiropractors, acupuncturists, naturopaths, and nutritionists practicing side by side. We hail from a variety of faith traditions, including Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and that perennial favorite of ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’, in addition to other, increasingly popular hyphenated-hybrid categories. So I was startled one morning to open up the front door of our suite and come face to face with a huge Buddha head.

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Tiny’s Kindness

The sharp economic downturn took place shortly after we moved into our corner of the city, and the result was that our neighborhood was coming undone just as we were settling into it. Restaurants and stores emptied as quickly as dominoes falling up one side of the street and around down the other side. Yet the small corner diner was one of the last businesses to go, which seemed odd, given just how horrible the food was there. Since the window blinds were always drawn shut, it was hard to know when (or whether) the diner was even open, but the blinds did serve to hide an especially dreary interior from the view of passersby. Continue reading

Because it is Beautiful

In my 20s, I briefly served as the junior-most member of a church board. My implicit assignment may have been to bring new energy and a fresh outlook to bear, and while I might have done those things to a passing degree, mostly I learned an awful lot. I loved this church, my home church in Washington, DC; it was an urban congregation located in a stretch of the city blighted by the riots of the late Sixties and left fairly desolate for decades afterwards. Several of our older members would drive a ways in from distant suburbs, but the younger members tended to live within the city limits, and we were all looking to be good neighbors. Continue reading

Who’s Your Guru?

Like a considerable number of women in my demographic, I’m certified as a yoga instructor, and like a portion of them, I completed my teacher training in an actual ashram. My plan was to eventually teach classes in a church basement someplace. The first yoga classes I ever took were held in St. Mark’s for a nominal fee and having such easy access to them undoubtedly changed my life for the better. Out of gratitude and a kind of evangelical zeal, I wanted to get out the word about yoga to precisely those types who would give the Hare Krishna singers a wide berth in the airport. Continue reading