Why You Should Vote – Even When It Feels Like It Doesn’t Make a Difference

(Everyday Bravery, Day 16)

In which I make my case for why voting is so important, including a few points that voters in this particular election might keep in mind:

6) Assumptions can easily throw off a race. Are you assuming that the incumbent in your district is a shoe-in? Lots of other people are probably thinking the same thing. And when lots of people all make the same assumption… that’s when surprises happen. Maybe you like the guy, maybe you don’t – but when enough people stay home because they think he’s a sure thing, there’s a real chance that his opponent will catch him. Take challengers seriously. Don’t assume.

7) Your vote sends a message even when it’s not cast for the winner. Political types don’t just look to see who won a race. They look for how many people turned out, how close the margin was, how third-party candidates fared, etc. Maybe your guy won’t win. But if he does nearly as well as his opponent (or even just ‘better than expected’), that winner is more likely to tread carefully once he’s in office. Also, this election’s results may impact next elections’ prospects: a candidate who makes a good showing in one election cycle will likely have an easier time raising funds and attracting supporters in the next one.

9) Voting sends a message to your children that civic engagement is important. Maybe you live in a state (like I do) that’s completely dominated by one political party. Maybe you’ve rarely had one of your preferred candidates win an election. Maybe it feels like your vote has never mattered. But your children may find themselves in quite a different situation. They may go on to live in a different state, in a competitive district, where their vote makes a world of difference. Set the precedent now; help them to see voting as normal, as a responsibility and an honor.

Even if your children don’t end up in a district where they feel like they can make a difference, seeing you vote – in every election – will teach them something about stepping up. It will teach them something about doing their part, about trying to make a difference against all odds. Maybe it will even teach them something about bravery. Your example will serve them in more of life than just the voting booth.

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

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This post is the sixteenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month From October through however-long-it-takes-me-to-get-to-31-days I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

November 8 is Not the End: Sympathy Leading Me Forward

(Everyday Bravery, Day 15)

The turning point for me was Wednesday night’s debate. Specifically, the moment it became clear to me that Hillary Clinton was defending the indefensible (partial-birth abortion), I felt a surge in my chest: Sympathy. Every part of my clenched-up heart, which had for so long been agitated at the thought of all those pro-lifers supporting Donald Trump, just… released.

I still wasn’t there myself. I still wasn’t planning to ditch my write-in dreams. But when I heard Clinton express her support for that most tragic of offenses, I suddenly felt the weight of the obligation that many feel to support her opponent, whoever he may be. I experienced an explosive growth in the sympathy I feel towards pro-lifers who have come to a different conclusion than I have.

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

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This post is the fifteenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

I Want My Kid to Be the One Who Sticks Up For Your Kid: Empowering Children to Stand Up to Bullies

(Everyday Bravery, Day 14)

This morning I was supposed to find my son an orange shirt to wear to school for “Unity Day,” the point of which has something to do with not-bullying.

I’ll admit to rolling my eyes when I read the email.

First of all, because I didn’t think the kid had an orange shirt and I wasn’t sure how well he’d fit into one of his younger brothers.’ (And I thought it was ironic that my son could end up feeling all left out at school because he didn’t have the right shirt for not-bullying day.)

Secondly, (and more importantly) because I find this passive “let’s all talk about how bad bullying is” thing to be kind of maddening. I’m pretty new to parenting a school-aged child, so I’m not super familiar with anti-bullying initiatives. But in the past five to ten years of Bullying Awareness, most of the efforts I’ve heard of have seemed… vague? Unproductive? Misdirected?

(This morning when I told my son about the wearing-orange thing he wanted to know what wearing orange had to do with bullying. “I don’t know,” I told him. “It’s silly. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.”)

I’ve heard a lot about awareness, about educating, about something something policies and procedures and something something environments. I’ve heard a lot about celebrities jumping on the anti-bullying bandwagon. I’ve heard lots of iterations of the most obvious message possible: “Bullying is bad. You do not deserve to be bullied.”

Quite possibly there are some good, solid lessons hidden amidst all those policies and procedures, but I wish this whole movement didn’t come across as so gutless.

Because honestly, I think the best way to combat bullying is to teach our kids to have some guts.

I know I want my kids to. I’m doing my darnedest to teach my boys to stand up for what’s right and to work against what’s wrong.

As parents, one of our most fundamental responsibilities is to teach our children how to behave in relation to other people. Hopefully we try to teach our kids to be loving and kind and personable and welcoming. But we also need to teach them to be strong and protective and just.

My sons and I have had lots of discussions about bullying. Sometimes they’ve been in the abstract, sometimes they’ve been in reaction to playground meanness or brotherly squabbles. But the message always goes something like this:

You need to stand up for what’s right. Stick up for yourself. Stick up for anybody you see being bullied. Especially stick up for those who are younger or weaker than you.

You go right up to that bully and you tell him or her to STOP. Sometimes that will be enough (bullies aren’t used to being confronted), but if it’s not enough and if the situation really needs to be dealt with, tell a grown-up.

(Also: Don’t you be mean either. You are not a mean kid; don’t act like one.)

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Turns out he had an orange shirt after all.

Some might say that children shouldn’t have to deal with bullying to begin with, that we adults should be able to devise ways to prevent it. But there are lots of things children shouldn’t have to deal with – illness, loss, violence, etc. They happen anyway. We don’t do children any favors when we prepare them for a perfect, protective world. We’re better off preparing them for the one we’ve got.

I want to empower my kids to tackle these situations head-on, especially at these young ages. I want my three- and four- and five-year-olds to learn to stand up to the playground meanie so they’re equipped to deal with the schoolyard bully. I want them to learn to deal with the elementary school bully so they’re ready for the middle- and high-school varieties. I want them to learn to deal with them so they’ve got something to fall back on when they find themselves in contentious adult relationships.

Childhood is a training ground for adulthood. Here is where we plant the seeds for the habits and values we want to see in our adult children.

And anyway, even putting aside the concept of a “training ground,” I want my kids to tackle these situations because it’s the right thing to do. I would rather my child face negative consequences for doing what’s right than to slide by consequence-free because he kept silent in the face of injustice.

I know it can sound like a tall order. Some might say that children aren’t up to the task. But I know it’s possible because I did it. I did it as a kid, as a teenager, and I still do it when those unfortunate opportunities arise.

At the end of the day, I want my kid to be the one who sticks up for your kid. I want my kid to be the one who stands up to that kid. (And I hope against hope that my husband and I have made a sufficiently big deal about right and wrong that my kid will never become that kid himself.)

Let’s give our kids a shot. Let’s see what they can do. Let’s teach them to be brave, to stick up for others, to stand up to bullies, to be the kind of people who stand up for the right and against the wrong.

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This post is the fourteenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

The Everyday Brave: Abigail Benjamin

(Everyday Bravery, Day 13)

Last year when I hosted a small conference for Catholic women bloggers living in the Mid-Atlantic, one of the women who came was named Abigail Benjamin. I had not previously been acquainted with her blog or her online persona and I had very little personal interaction with her that day. But it didn’t take me long afterwards to figure out what a gem we’d had among us.

Shortly after our conference, Abigail became our group’s greatest cheerleader. Each month she’d ask us what we were working on and what we were excited about. She’d rejoice with us, empathize with us, encourage us. In that group and on her own, she revealed herself to be bright, enthusiastic, compassionate, interested, and motivated. She had big ideas and a bigger heart.

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I shouldn’t be putting all this in the past tense, because Abigail is very much here and well and still inspiring me via social media. But in the past several months, I’ve been seeing Abigail as so much more than a kind-hearted cheerleader (though that’s a great thing to be) – I’ve been seeing her as an example of great bravery.

Abigail, who is a wife, a mother to six children, and a home educator to five of them, is also a lawyer. Until recently, however, she was not qualified to practice law in her home state of West Virginia.

Then came the summer of 2016. That summer (this summer), Abigail took the majority of her family’s small retirement savings and signed up to take the Bar Exam. She studied for eight to ten hours every weekday while being the primary parent for six kids aged 13 years to 18 months. She took the 12 hour test in 16 different legal subjects more than a decade after “retiring” at age 30 to become a stay-at-home mother. She passed the West Virginia Bar and was sworn in with little kids in tow.

Abigail did all of this without any certainty that she could practice law well once she resumed homeschooling her five children in the fall. Yet she persevered, for the sake of her family and herself, and for her rekindled passions for the environment, her community, and for justice.

I’m about 98% sure I could not pull off such a feat. (I can’t even pull off a write-every-day-for-31-days feat.) What bravery, what dedication, what tenacity, what hard work such a move requires. I’ve loved watching Abigail move towards her goal and I’m so excited to see what fruits this back-into-lawyering thing bears in her life.

(1) What in your upbringing – in your family and/or your faith – encouraged you to be brave?

I’m not sure that I felt brave while I took the test. Instead, I felt pretty stupid and terrified. My encouragement came from Pope Francis, specifically his encyclical on the environment called Laudato Si, published in 2015. After I saw the Pope briefly at a free Papal Parade event with my family in Washington DC in 2015, I decided to read Laudato Si with my parish priest. I spent three hours on two Wednesdays reading the Pope’s encyclical inside my parish hall. At the end of our study session, my parish priest said “I bless your mission.”

At that time, I thought my mission was about film promotion for environmental documentaries. Six months later, my mission expanded enough that I took the West Virginia Bar Exam to become an environmental lawyer in a State that I felt needed me. Nine months later, I opened a solo practice. Ten days after I opened my law firm, I was asked to represent a small environmental group pro bono in the middle of a 30 million dollar natural gas pipeline case.

Whenever I start to become intimidated by going against huge law firms with more than 15 years’ experience in this complex field, I tell myself mentally “I’m working for the Pope here.” Pope Francis might never know my name, but as a faithful Catholic, I feel that I get to claim Pope Francis as “my boss” in my work as well as in my Faith. The Pope’s words in Laudato Si guide me. The Pope’s energy for prayer and his love of people inspire me.

(2) What does bravery feel like to you?

To me, bravery is persistence. It’s doing the hard internal work of listening to God in the stillness of my heart and then working hard to reach God’s goal for me despite all obstacles.

(3) What most threatens your bravery?

I’m a perfectionist. I’m terrified of failure. Taking the bar in the summer of 2016 was a public commitment with a public result. I was afraid that people who knew me only as a mom of a lot of kids would think that I was dumb if I failed the Bar Exam.

(4) Do you think you’re brave enough?

I think our final act of bravery is dying with our hope in Christ. I have no idea if I can make that final challenge. I like to think of all the little acts of bravery like childbirth, or taking this Bar Exam, that will help add up to increase my bravery at the big final moment.

(5) Is there anything else you’d like to offer on the subject?

One thing that helped me was taking the example of specific saints, and tying them to the specific task at hand. I didn’t just pray abstractly to St. Francis of Assisi for help with my law practice. Instead, I might think “Saint Francis of Assisi would love to come help me write the addresses of thirteen lawyers involved in this natural gas pipeline case and then mail my packages at the Post Office with three grumpy children in tow.” That kind of prayer helped me view holiness as not something removed from my life, but very much connected to the daily irritations and hidden sacrifices of my life.

I also want to say that I found the decade that I spent as a housewife really grounded me during this transition. Now when I get a complex case with 144 documents from 13 lawyers I tell myself “this is just like doing the dishes.” I take that same pattern of not being overwhelmed, of matching like and like, and getting down to the nitty gritty without panic. Peaceful work is peaceful work. I’m really grateful to see work as a healthy companion to my prayer life. I’m finding the combination of Catholic, Wife, Mother, Lawyer, Teacher, and Writer to be a pretty nourishing mixture.

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This post is the thirteenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Don’t Turn Away: Attempt the Politics You Really Want

(Everyday Bravery, Day 12)

I understand why people want to be done with this thing.

I understand why I’m seeing person after person complain on-line and in-person that they wish people would just stop talking about it. They want their Facebook newsfeeds to return to kids and puppy dogs. They want politics to stop encroaching on their neighborly conversations.

I get it.

But honestly, I don’t think we deserve that. I think we deserve to feel uncomfortable right now.

I don’t mean that as some sort of a punishment, some sort of Catholic guilt thing. (And I should probably find a better word for what I mean than “deserve.”) I just think that we should be present. We should inhabit the time in which we live. We should be attuned to the reality of our day, and today’s reality is uncomfortable.

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

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This post is the twelfth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Snapshot (Not) Saturday: Fits and Spurts

(Everyday Bravery, Day 11)

What was that about blogging every day this month?

Sheesh. By now I’ve lost count of how many days behind I am. Part of me feels guilty about this failure but the rest of me just throws my hands in the air and sighs and acknowledges that I’m not physically capable of every day blogging. At least not until I can get a nanny. (Ha!)

And by “physically,” I mean physically. Earlier this week my friend Rita (who is also doing – as in actually doing – the Write 31 Days challenge) asked me how I was doing with it. I answered with three photos. “This is how I’m doing. And this. And this.”

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My house has become a wreck, just as I feared it would. My paperwork/school organization has come undone, just as I feared it would. And I became sick, just as I feared I would. (On the mend now though, thanks.)

And that’s with me having not-blogged most days this week.

But I’m not giving up! Not entirely. I’m still enamored with this project and I want to see it through. (Plus, I figure that if I want this bravery thing to mean anything at all, I’ve got to finish what I started.)

I’m just acknowledging that it’s going to take a good bit longer than a month for me to hit that 31 days mark. If I were very clever and organized, I’d time it to end on Election Day. But I’m neither of those things, so that’s probably not such a safe bet. We’ll have to see.

For now, allow me to share a few more snapshots with you from the past few days. We’ve been busy: On Friday I helped at my oldest son’s school and then took my two younger sons on a pumpkin-picking field trip. (With the best, bumpiest hayride.) Then on Saturday we took all four kids to the zoo to belatedly celebrate our son’s birthday, and on Saturday night I took the two oldest boys to my cousin’s farm for his annual moonlight hayride and bonfire. So much fun.

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Anyway, this afternoon, I give you this post. This evening, I’ll give you another. And I’m almost done with yet another, to be posted tomorrow. I suppose I’m doing this Write 31 Days thing in fits and spurts.

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This post is the eleventh in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Loyally Yours: A Letter to the Republican Party from Pro-life America

(Everyday Bravery, Day 10)

 

Dear Republican Party,

I know that things have been seeming kind of questionable between us lately (or at least, that other people have been questioning our relationship), so I just wanted to take a moment to reassure you:

I’m not going anywhere.

Sure, there have been some bumps on the road, some unpleasantries. I can find you disappointing. You can take me for granted. Sometimes we fight a little. Sometimes we test the limits of our relationship.

But I’m here to tell you that I really am in your corner. And I’ll stay here as long as you do one little thing for me: Continue to nominate presidential candidates who claim to be pro-life.

I’m not asking much. Your guy doesn’t have to be convincing as a pro-lifer. He doesn’t have to demonstrate any knowledge of the issue or any attachment to it or to me. He doesn’t have to talk about it much. (A mention every now and then at a Christian college is plenty.)

He doesn’t even have to talk about appointing pro-life judges. I’ll do that for him. (And anyway, I know that you, Republican Party, will make sure the pro-life judges happen. Right? Right?)

Your candidate doesn’t have to demonstrate any character or guts or grit. He doesn’t have to be honest or trustworthy. His life doesn’t have to show that he respects the institutions of marriage or the family. Heck, he can even threaten to kill the families of bad guys.

He can be a complete jerk. I mean, come at me: He can be boorish, dismissive, overbearing, mean-spirited. He can demean and belittle people. He can show disdain for the disabled and the unattractive and the unsuccessful. (In other words, for the little guy. But just not for the littlest little guy, if you catch my drift.)

He can be just awful to women. And I mean awful. He can gauge their worth by their appearance. He can rate them. He can use them for his own satisfaction. He can cheat on them and leave them. He can even brag about going up to random women and grabbing their genitalia. I’m cool.

I mean seriously – I am really, really good at taking any issue at all – even the sum of lots of issues – and comparing them to one very particular thing: abortion.

It’s a big thing, to be sure. It’s a super important, super evil thing. It may not be the total of what supposedly makes up the pro-life cause (things like euthanasia and the death penalty and maybe even health care and poverty and war are in there too, I guess), but I’m not going to bother you about the total package. Nah – as long as your main guy makes that one claim, we’re set.

Oh – and he does need to have a pro-choice opponent. But that’s no sweat. We both know the Dems would never put up a candidate who says it’s wrong to kill teeny, tiny innocent babies.

Okay. Once again, just to make sure we’re clear: I want you, Republican Party, to know that I am yours. As long as you nominate a presidential candidate who claims to be pro-life (and I know you always will), I belong to you.

I am completely willing to cast my vote for your guy with a pit in my stomach. I am willing to feel disgusting for you. I am willing to cast aside everything else I stand for, I am willing to make excuses, I am willing to minimize whatever pain your guy might cause me and others (even rape victims).

I’ll do whatever it takes. I promise.

Loyally yours,

Pro-Life America

P.S. I was hoping to not have to spell this out, but it appears I should. This is SARCASM. I may be a proud member of Pro-Life America, but I am greatly concerned about the message the pro-life movement is sending the Republican Party this election cycle. If pro-lifers will support Donald Trump, who won’t they support?

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This post is the tenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

The Everyday Brave: James Yamakawa

(Everyday Bravery, Day 9)

When the idea for this Everyday Bravery project first occurred to me, one of the most prominent things in my mind was the collection of brave people I have known in my own life. And one of the first of them I thought of was my friend James Yamakawa.

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James and I went to high school together. It’s been years since I’ve seen him in person, but I’ve enjoyed keeping tabs on him and his beautiful family via Facebook. He is a husband, a stay-at-home father of three, a martial arts instructor, a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Salisbury, Maryland, and the head organizer for the group Showing Up for Racial Justice Delmarva. (More on that later.)

One of the things that has stood out to me in these years of following James online is that he is a person who tries. He doesn’t seem content to sit back and let the world pass him by. Rather, in his enthusiasm for his family, his church, his work, and his community, James comes across as someone who just about dives into life.

James and I come from different religious and political backgrounds. We disagree on the substance of some important issues and, I’m sure, on aspects of any number of smaller issues too. But I love watching James go about his trying. Because in doing what he does, James seems to be engaged in a dialog with the world. He’s not somebody who will shout a slogan at you and then walk away. He’s somebody who will hold up a big, controversial poster and then pour you a cup of coffee to talk about it. (Figuratively speaking. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to know that James also does that literally.)

James is a person of good will. And I think he’s awfully brave. Below you’ll find a little interview I did with him about bravery and about his work organizing the group Showing Up for Racial Justice Delmarva.

(1) What is Showing Up for Racial Justice Delmarva and what prompted you to organize it?

The group is part of the larger, national SURJ movement, whose goal is to inspire white Americans to stand up and speak out to their communities about racism. A friend and I started the group shortly after attending a Martin Luther King Day rally in Annapolis this past winter. However, the process, internally speaking, probably began much earlier, as I started reading more on social media from voices of color, from a perspective that I had not really ever thought about before. I am half-Japanese, from my father’s side, but for all intents and purposes I present as “white,” and I benefit from appearing like that.

(2) What in your upbringing – in your family and/or your faith – encouraged you to be brave?

If I had to say the one thing that informs how I approach all of this, it’s my belief in a God that loves me for who I am, and that there is nothing I can do to make him love me any more or any less. For some that may be a reason for indifference, but for me it means having the freedom to take action. To decide to do what you think is right, because no matter what happens, God is there for you. It’s a freedom I have been looking for throughout a troubled childhood and a tumultuous growing up; becoming a husband, a father, and learning what it means to be a true member of a community. Not only am I free to make mistakes, but also free to be content that I’ve done at least some good. The latter is definitely the more difficult for me to grasp. And when dealing with an issue like talking about race, you have to be willing to make mistakes, because that’s the only way you can learn to do better than you are now.

(3) What does bravery feel like to you?

First off, I would like to say that I don’t think I can call myself “brave”. I think bravery is something that is ascribed to you, whether you want it or not. There’s a southern African concept of “Ubuntu” – “I am because we are.” If I am brave it’s because I’ve done something that others consider brave. Perhaps that’s just the Lutheran in me, but I never feel “brave” myself.

If I had to distill it down into a feeling though, I’d say it’s like a weird combination of calmness and dread. You know what you are about to do is going to make you different afterwards, somehow, from who you were before. And a part of you doesn’t want to do it, but you go ahead and do it anyway. But consider that what little discomfort I get out of doing this is nothing compared to that which many black Americans experience every day, without fanfare.

(4) What most threatens your bravery?

Definitely fear. There’s probably a reason that “Fear Not” is used so often in scripture!  Fear of making a choice, and getting off the fence. Putting myself out there as saying “I believe this is the right thing to do,” and then having to do that and defend that. I’m not saying I always choose the braver course of action, but I like to think I do more now than I did before. And trying to talk to my friends, my neighbors, sometimes complete strangers about tackling a culture of white supremacy from the inside, it can get scary, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You may lose a friend. There may be anger directed at you, especially online, where the worst angels of our nature tend to get the most airtime. It gets uncomfortable, at the best of times, but I don’t think God would want us to be comfortable at all with racism.

(5) Is there anything else you’d like to offer on the subject?

I’m a quote guy. I like to read and try to emulate wisdom from sources older, smarter, and definitely more eloquent than myself. One of my favorites is the poet, farmer, and theologian Wendell Berry. In his essay The Hidden Wound, he writes:

It is not, I think, a question of when and how the white people will “free” the black and the red people. It is a condescension to believe that we have the power to do that. Until we have recognized in them the full strength and grace of their distinctive humanity we will be able to set no one free, for we will not be free ourselves. When we realize that they possess a knowledge for the lack of which we are incomplete and in pain, then the wound in our history will be healed. Then they will simply be free, among us–and so will we, among ourselves for the first time, and among them.

That speaks to me, because one of the pitfalls of doing this kind of activism is a well-meaning white guy trying to “save” black people. They don’t need saving. We, “white people,” need to worry about saving ourselves. We are not the primary victims of white supremacy, not by a longshot. But in a way, it hurts us, just in different ways, because it forces us into separation from our neighbor, from that which would make us whole. It fractures community. So working towards racial justice is really an act of Atonement, “at-one-ment,” that is meant to bring us together, not to divide as so many seem to be convinced it is doing. It’s an act of love. Love of our neighbor as ourselves, and love of that from which they were created.

***

One note before we end: As my readers will know, last week I published some of my own thoughts on racism and racial justice. Though I am following that post with James’ story, I want to be clear that I am not trying, in this one interview, to be exhaustive in showing what bravery on that big, complex, divisive issue looks like. Most especially, I’m not trying to make one white man’s experience representative of the countless African Americans who work toward racial justice every day.

I just started with someone I knew. I started with a friend.

If you have an example of bravery on this issue or another – an idea of someone I might want to interview, please let me know. I’m enamored with this The Everyday Brave idea and I hope to continue it beyond my Write 31 Days project.

Thanks in advance for your ideas – and thanks especially to James for allowing me to interview him.

these-walls-the-everyday-brave-james-yamakawa

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This post is the ninth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Dare I Approach?

(Everyday Bravery, Day 8)

Note: this post was meant to go up Sunday evening. But then I – you know – got completely wrapped up in the presidential debate and let the finishing touches on this slip. So the post will be better read if you pretend it’s Sunday. Yesterday. There you go.

 

For the past few years, my parish has been hosting this thing they call “Church Chat.” When they instituted it, they changed the times of the Sunday Masses so that one is kind of early and the other is pretty much late, and in between they scheduled faith formation classes for the kids and Church Chat for the adults. (This year they’ve even opened the nursery to Church Chat participants, so parents can drop their older kids at faith formation classes and their toddlers and babies in the nursery.)

There’s a little “café” where you can purchase coffee and bagels, etc. You can sit and visit with your fellow parishioners. And then you can partake in the Church Chat.

(This is where my Protestant friends are heaving a sigh of unimpressed, because nurseries and adult Sunday School are everyday, everywhere things to them. But my Catholic friends might well be shocked. “You mean your parish is making a real push for adult faith formation? With BABYSITTING?”)

I know. It’s crazy.

(People who make decisions at parishes: This is a good idea. You should see if you can pull it off too.)

Anyway, before this year I never even considered attending, because: (1) How was I going to get away from all my little kids in order to be there? (2) “Church Chat” is a dorky name. (3) I’m a brat who thinks she has no need for adult faith formation. And (4) How was I going to get away from all my little kids in order to be there?

Fortunately, this year my (1/4) concern was easily dispensed with because my oldest started faith formation classes himself. So my husband and I rearranged our own Sunday schedule. Now we get up early, go to the 8am Mass, and I stay at church for alloftheabove while Brennan and the younger three go home. By the time our oldest and I get back, Daddy has made pancakes. (WIN all around!)

Even more fortunately, my (2/3) concerns were also addressed. This year we’re viewing and discussing Bishop Robert Barron’s “Pivotal Players” in Church Chat – and have you ever seen Bishop Barron’s work? (The people at Word on Fire do an incredible job.) It’s beautiful! So beautiful I got over my snobbery in a flash. I now look forward to Church Chat every week.

Okay – my apologies. That was a very roundabout way of getting to the point of this post. Today is Sunday, and as I said at the beginning of this Everyday Bravery Write 31 Days challenge, each Sunday this month I’ll be posting on the parts of the day’s Mass readings that feel to me like calls to bravery.

This week, the Gospel reading stands out to me:

LK 17:11-19

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”

The thing that jumps out to me from this reading is the nerve of the ten lepers. Have you ever been in the presence of someone who is holy? I was once about 15 feet away from Pope Saint John Paul II and the feeling was just incredible. I swear he radiated holiness. In the years since, the only things I’ve experienced that have felt like that are Eucharistic processions. (That is, a group of people proceeding through a physical space with the Eucharist – the very Body of Christ – held aloft.)

When you are in the presence of someone holy, you feel it. I can hardly imagine what it must have felt like to see Jesus Himself.

And yet, these men approached Him. They called to him from a distance, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” This is no small thing. First, it must have taken great nerve to speak to Jesus at all. And second, to have had the wherewithal to ask Him for his help.

I don’t know about you, but I hate to ask for help. I hate to humble myself to that point. I hate, too, to acknowledge myself as weak and flawed. Yet what else can one do in the very presence of God?

This week and last in Church Chat, we’ve been learning about St. Thomas Aquinas. Last week we saw the portion of the film that told of Christ speaking to the saint from the Cross, telling Thomas he had written well and asking what he would like in return. This week we had a discussion question that asked us how we would answer if Christ asked us that question.

To be honest, I can’t imagine having the nerve to answer at all.

I have a hard time confronting the idea of God, knowledgeable as I am of my weaknesses and wrapped up as I am in the things of this world. It’s so hard for me to make that mental and spiritual leap – away from the mundane, the known – to the divine. I don’t know how I could handle an exchange with God Himself.

St. Thomas Aquinas answered Christ’s question with, “Nothing but you, Lord.” The one leper, the Samaritan, did something similar in returning to thank Jesus for healing him. I’m afraid I might be more like the remaining nine, who moved on without that up-close exchange.

In these few weeks of Church Chat, I have felt an opening – a window into a personal rawness in the presence of God that I haven’t felt for a long time. I want to approach God; I want to seek Truth. As one of my fellow participants put it today, “I’m thirsty.”

I think that approaching/seeking can require great bravery. It’s much more comfortable to sit in our everyday lives, on a level that we’re used to, grappling with the things we’re confronted with day in and day out. It’s hard – frightening, even – to try to move out of our everyday, to grapple instead with personal weaknesses and universal truths.

I hope I can be brave enough.

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This post is the eighth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

 

Snapshot Saturday: State of the 31 (7QT, Vol. 42)

(Everyday Bravery, Day 7)

Oh, no – I’m falling behind! I’m pretty sure that when you do the Write 31 Days challenge you’re supposed to actually, you know, publish a blog post on each of those 31 Days. I’m not too far off from that, but I’m not quite there either. (I missed two days last week, but I actually wrote all seven posts. One was published earlier today and the other will be published on Monday.)

I’ll get there. Or I won’t quite, but I’ll still have done much more blogging than I normally do, and I’ll have learned some good lessons along the way.

At least that’s my hope.

So far I’m having Lots of Dramatic and Gloomy Reactions to undertaking this little experiment, plus a few that aren’t so negative. They’ll probably only be of interest to, like, five of my blogging friends, but I’m going to list them anyway. (Along with a photo, because I’d planned to show you a photo every Saturday and include a story about the bravery I was feeling when it was taken. This Saturday all I feel like writing are the Lots of Dramatic and Gloomy Reactions, so you’re getting a photo of my desk. Just imagine all my angst shoving my bravery right out of that space.)

Oh, and I’m linking up with Kelly for 7 Quick Takes, because my list happens to contain seven items. (Follow the link to check out all the other Quick Takers!)

these-walls-snapshot-saturday-state-of-the-31-1

—1—

I’m tired. I’ve been staying up late nearly every night to write and then getting up early to do the same. So I’ve only been getting five to six (interrupted, because kids) hours a night, and it’s wearing me thin. I need to do something about this before I get sick.

—2—

Few people are reading my posts. I haven’t been getting many views in the past several months because I’ve done so little blogging. Which is fine – that makes complete sense. But I was hoping that with this Write 31 Days project, I could build my numbers back up. I figured I could at least get to where I was a year or so ago and I was super hopeful that I could do better than that. Instead, so far I’ve been getting something like a third of the views I was back then. And I lost several followers on my Facebook page. Which is a big bummer, because . . .

—3—

This is hard work. My mind is constantly ‘on,’ I’m jotting down notes wherever I can, and I’m sneaking up to my desk every chance I get. I push a post into existence, and then once I post it, I feel all angsty until I can determine how it’s received.

—4—

This has been a hard week. Lots of people I love are hurting or anxious or stressed or just dealing with a lot these days. They’ve had hard times of it lately and will continue to for the foreseeable future. I’m here at home, hurting for them. And wishing I could do something more concrete.

—5—

I can be an insufferable know-it-all. I don’t know why this realization (which is always kind of in the back of my mind) has become so prominent to me all of a sudden, but it’s there. It’s there telling me to put my nose down, be quiet, and just leave everybody and everything the heck alone. Hmpf.

—6—

Maybe I should just give up the blog. Maybe I shouldn’t even finish this #write31days thing. Maybe I should just throw in the towel and go clean my house and read to my kids and bake a pie or something. Because this is hard work and life is hard enough already and I’m not getting enough sleep and nobody’s reading what I write anyway.

—7—

But all that drama and doubt aside, I think I’m starting to learn some practical, constructive lessons here. I’m starting to learn to write a little faster, to be a little less of a perfectionist, to take more risks. I’m discerning my most productive times for and methods of writing. I’m learning that I don’t need to step away from social media entirely, but I do need more screen-free periods in my day for peace and productivity. I’m learning to focus more on my writing while I write, more on my house while I do its work, and more on my kids while I’m caring for them.

Those are good lessons. So for now, I’m just going to keep pushing ahead, keep working with what I’m learning. I think good things will come of this project even if those good things don’t include higher viewing stats. And if I get to the end of it and decide I need a blogging break, well then . . . I’ll go bake some pies. November will be a nice month for that anyway.

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This post is the seventh in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

~~~

Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.