The Basement of My Soul: A Prayer of Lament

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As darkness rises, gathers tight and folds in upon itself, growing thick and spreading far, be the Light, the light in my soul for only light can chase back the clutches of darkness that threaten to overtake this land I love, the community I once knew . . . my neighborhood far and near.
I cannot shake this darkness. I did not ask for this.
I did not enslave or trample my way to the top and yet I bear the sin of those who did and today are rising even stronger. Because of the color of my skin I bear their sin.
While they gloat I grieve . . .
. . . my soul is shaken to the core and in that shaking I am undone.
I lie a tiny crumpled ball in the basement of my soul. There I weep, for we have sinned.
We have put on a pedestal those who lie and cheat and steal,
who gladly step on the soul of Your creation laughing the wound away.
We elevate those who break the law on their way to the top
but point our fingers at those who break lesser laws just to survive.
We send them to prison or return them to hell while we gorge ourselves with darkness convincing ourselves it is the light.
On the basement of my soul, I am spent.
Day after day I confess the sins of those who share my race and my skin but not my soul. Forgive, I whisper, and let this madness stop.
I open my eyes in this basement.
Screaming winds rip the roof off of this nation and I see  I am not alone.
Your Light has always been. In me and in others.
We draw closer together, growing stronger.
I remember that darkness makes the light grow stronger.
This cursed, wretched darkness gives courage and bravery
to voices that have never felt heard before.
Out of darkness, hope is born. Justice is birthed anew while we the *doulas believe and nurture, swaddle and grow it.
Light of all light, push back this darkness. Expose the hate for what it is.
Peel back the layers to show the fear and cleanse this land of self preservation.
From the basement of my soul I dance with joy.
I now see a nation of doulas that will never be stopped.
Driving taxis, teaching schools, serving meals, pounding nails, black, white and all glorious shades in between, rich, poor, young, old, in rallies, on knees,
in courtrooms, on buses, in airports, hospitals, and prisons.
In churches, mosques, and synagogues.
One doula gives courage to another and then another and another.
It spreads like a wildfire of light.
Yes! We are the doulas and we stand guard over this birth as if it were our own.
Light is born anew and given wings to deliver a death sentence to this darkness.

Let it be.

Oh God let it be!

~Marita~

*a doula is a woman trained to assist other women during childbirth.

No Matter Where You Are From…

Yard Sign Welcoming NeighborsThis sign graces our front yard. It does a good job of putting our hearts into words. We want our home to be welcoming, especially to those who may not feel so welcome right now.  My friend from Jordan was so excited when she saw it that she had to stop and take a picture. She told her son she couldn’t believe anyone would do that!

Last weekend I took our boys to their first public rally. It was a welcoming rally, and we put our voices together with many other voices from our city to let it be known that we want to be a welcoming city. My oldest carried the sign from our yard and immediately we had a slew of folks asking us where we got it.

A young Afghani woman shared her story about how her father was killed by the Taliban. When grief caused her to pause her story, the crowd filled in the pause with “We are with you!” The irony of it all gripped me. Here was a Muslim woman who herself had lost someone she loved to terrorists, and has come to us for sanctuary. Her father had been part of the resistance against the Taliban, so after he died it was no longer safe for her and her family to remain in Afghanistan. They spent two years in Pakistan before coming to the US, during which time they could not go to school but had to work to support themselves.

We forget that many refugees themselves are victims of terrorism. We also forget that throughout history, and still today, people with our same skin tones and religious affiliations have inflicted unspeakable terror on others.

Enough lines drawn. Enough boxes. We are people.

If you would like a sign to let those around you know that you welcome them, you can buy a one here if you are in NE Ohio. It is also available on here on Amazon.

But then be ready to open your doors. A sign is no good if you aren’t ready to live it.

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Flowers 1I’ve always had a thing for flowers. I remember, as a young girl, sneaking outside early one morning after we had just moved into a new home. I eagerly made my way to the rose bush I had spotted in front of the house and snipped off a tiny bud that was still green. I couldn’t wait any longer and pulled back the outer layers as best I could so I could present this offer of love to my mom. Other mornings would find me out in the grass, picking tiny little violets and admiring the purple weeds across the fence in the cow pasture. Perhaps the best story of all is how my husband, knowing my love for flowers, took some roses off a neighbor’s bush in the hospital compound in Bangladesh after our first son was born. Outside of the compound, besides a random shop or two, were rice paddies for miles and miles. Florists weren’t really a thing there.

In researching for my blog post on Fair Trade On A Shoestring, I came across some startling facts about flowers and told my husband I don’t ever want him to buy me a bouquet from the florist again. Here’s why – according to the International Human Trafficking Institute, most flowers in the US are imported from Columbia and Ecuador. While Columbia recently stopped using child labor, 80% of the workers in the flower industry in Ecuador are children. Their tiny hands are prized for reaching in among the stems. In both places, workers have to put in up to 20 hour days during peak season and are exposed to an insane amount of pesticides because the USDA can turn back an entire shipment of flowers if they find so much as one pest in the shipment. Because these flowers are grown outside the US, they are bathed in pesticides which have been outlawed in the US. This results in diseases and birth defects for the workers behind the blooms we love. Add unfair wages and sexual harassment to the list and the perfect blooms have become like the plastic-pasted-on smile of a cover girl model.

The good  news is that there are alternatives. Fair trade flowers became a thing in 2001 and most come from East African countries, namely Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda. There are also fair trade flower plantations in Ecuador, El Salvador and Sri Lanka. Fair trade standards prohibit the worst pesticides and provide workers with protective gear, training and regular medical checkups. On top of this, fair trade standards endure that children are not employed and that parents earn enough wages to send their children to school. Women are protected, not exploited. In 2013-2014, 33% of the wages were reinvested in education projects. Fair Trade USA has a list of their partners here. Another one I came across is Wonderful World. Their bouquets are gorgeous and Fair Trade Certified. 1-800 Flowers also has a few Fair Trade bouquets available if you search. ProFlowers has a commitment to ethical labor standards. The Bouqs partner with farmers all over the world who practice sustainable eco-friendly farming and minimize waste. When you look at the bouquets on their site, you can see a photo of the farmer who grew the flowers and know exactly where it is coming from.

Another great alternative is to buy local. Slow Flowers is an online directory for American grown flowers. According to Slow Flowers, only 2% of the 224 million roses sold in the US in 2012 were grown here. That’s sad. A good portion of local flower farmers have gone out of business but there are some pretty awesome ones left and I’d love to see them do more than survive! One of my favs is Farmgirl Flowers. Those burlap-wrapped bouquets are some serious eye candy! Lush and Lovely out of Cleveland, OH, offers heart-stopping one of a kind bouquets and subscription services. If you live near a Whole Foods, you can find bouquets that are marked with where they were grown as well. Don’t forget your local farmer’s market as well. The list goes on and on but the choice is up to you. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner but with a little planning you can give a gift that makes the world a better place.

 

Grieving…

GrievingThere is a grief going on. A deep, visceral grief that hangs heavy on my shoulders as I stumble through my days. It hauntingly echos in my soul while I rest in the night. Like a child shrouded in her father’s winter coat, I cannot shake it off if I try. This heaviness surrounds and runs deep within my being. A groaning has found me and I try to give it words so those around me can hear it too but when I groan I meet with arguments as if this were something that we could even begin to solve on paper or in dialog on the internet.

I groan because all around me, world wide, I see fear. Some, running with nothing but the clothes on their backs as their city burns behind them, fear pounding in their legs and screaming in their lungs. Others afraid to run through the pouring rain because an officer who sees his dark skin may in fear draw his weapon and assume he is running from the scene of a crime instead of home from the train station. Women and girls with shaking knees, taking abuse one more night, guttural screams held silent by a stronger fear of exposing the truth. Or fear that causes a father to buy a weapon to keep his family safe but that safety is fleeting, a cruel trick accidentally taking the life of his child who knew no fear but now knows no life. Fear like a monster patrolling our borders and slamming our doors in the faces of those who only come because the fear of staying behind is greater than the fear of a strange country with unwelcoming faces.

Eight generations back, my people came to this land because they wanted to live their faith in a land that was free and safe and kind. My people, who were once considered the left or third wing of the Protestant Reformation, who advocated freedom of conscience and insisted that no government had the right to decide the religion of its people, were weary of being hunted down like animals. Thousands chose death rather than change their faith or violently resist. Heavily taxed because of their faith and discriminated against, they found that owning land was next to impossible. The seller could legally change his mind at any time and take the land back if the buyer were a Mennonite in an early form of institutionalized prejudice. The early 1700s found a thousand of these emigrants a week fleeing Germany for London, where they hoped to find passage to America. Many were so destitute that they arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs, much less money for sea passage. By the fall of 1709, there were 13,000 refugees in London. The British government was overwhelmed and disgusted and began to turn them back. The  persecution of my people is described as bloody and severe.

300 years later I find similar scenes being reenacted. Unfortunately many of my people have forgotten. Once it was our ancestors, helplessly standing as refugees in the streets of London, surrounded by a staring, jeering crowd. All my people wanted was to start over in a new land. When they finally did get that chance, they dug in and worked hard. They were honest. Quiet. Sincere. They changed the face of this land for the better. They taught their children to work, to pray, to be kind and, most of all, to love their enemies and live a life of peace.

How did we get to this crippling state of fear, where descendants of these brave immigrants are voicing their approval of turning back other immigrants, running for their lives? An entire group of people, judged because of the faith or the nation they belong to. Fear takes the actions of a few and shouts vehemently that they are indeed the actions of the many, without giving the many a chance.

My people came here from Switzerland and Germany because they believed that no government should decide the religion of its people. Faith, they believed, is a personal choice.  If the choices of a few within a group make everyone from that group a terrorist, we would all be terrorists. History is ripe with examples of “Christians” who have committed acts of terror and yet we refuse to be labeled as terrorists – so why do we in turn do it with those of other faiths or races?

I would rather risk opening my door to a “possible” terrorist and die in an effort to live a life of love than live in fear behind a closed door while thousands suffer alone.

I understand if you are not at that place. I wasn’t always at this place myself. The thing that changed me was getting to know Muslims that so many are still afraid of. I’ve written much about these experiences and you can read my reflections on 9/11, experienced while living in a Muslim country here.

Today I grieve but I also remember. I honor those who eight generations back, crossed the ocean so I could have a voice in a land of freedom. I honor those who welcomed me when I was a stranger, who called me family even though I represented what they feared most. I honor those who risked becoming my friend even though their extremists say I am the enemy. I honor those who, like me, feel a stirring in their souls, a remembrance that they too were once a radical wing of a reformation. I grieve, but this grief is not the the last word.