Sand in Our Minivan
August 6, 2019
I gotta come clean. I don’t know how to consistently be my full, honest self in my writing. I’m a “both/and” advocate yet think if people see all the sides of how I really think, I’ll end up being either/or to them. Either safe or too mouthy. I don’t want to piss off the more ‘conservative’ people I love and respect. I don’t want my ‘progressive’ people to think less of me. [Even though hellooo, no one is thinking more…or less…of me than my own paranoia.]
Another writer admitted how challenging it is for her to write “openly” about faith. She can write about the toughest subjects: poverty, sexuality and the body, whatever injustices America needs truth about. The undersides, the invisible, the controversial. But when it comes to faith, she wants to make sure she’s not perceived as too “churchy.”
She says, “I like to consider myself a thoughtful person, but my entanglement with an institution so heartbreakingly flawed made me question just how smart or forward-thinking I was.” **
Daaaang. That’s just like a Filipina American I know who’s flaring nostrils & scrunching face is texting, dis me.
This author advises to “go to where the silence is.” Hard to do, but if I believe “faith without works is dead,” the work of writing is harder to disavow. It isn’t who I want to be either.
Here are two different writing takes, both true, inside the same me. I contribute to a newsletter of a local women’s leadership collective, Lifestreams. Most of the membership are Christians of a demographic I did not grow up with on the naval base in our working class [read: many shades of brown] town. As different as we are in our lifestyles & politics, I value these women. So much of what happens in this group has sustained me during these difficult years since the Election. [we need more of this overlap in the country & world!]
In “Ekphrasis, May I?” I felt authentic writing about sand grains as Love notes from the creator. I really dig um, digging into scripture as art (also as necessary as digging out scripture as warts). The silence I’m going to here is that of a condemning, unloving voice. God is not made in our image—stuck in a critical spirit of judgment and comparison to each other.
That “us vs. them,” “winners and losers” is a dangerous binary. It’s what Jesus aimed to dismantle. We can and should be hearing love notes all the live long. We should be saying with our actions & words, “I am so happy you are who you are.” It’s about, more than we can “think or imagine,” that “there is always enough” and the good news is none are excluded. It’s “win-win.”
image: from sandgrains.com
“Ekphrasis, May I?”
Okay, ready for your Greek word of the month? The two dollar word you can utter nonchalantly at the next dinner party, or with a walking partner?
[you, raising an eyebrow that pulls up a corner of your lips] “The other day, for my time with God, I did a little ekphrastic journaling.”
[whoever you’re talking to] “Oh, wonderful.”
[same person, nodding] WUT?!
Ekphrasis, “to describe,” comes from ekphrazein, “to recount.” It is an inspired reaction to a work of art. Usually, a person studies or meditates on an engaging piece (a sculpture, a painting, a photograph, a scene) and reacts with their imagination and spirit. Writing and art teachers use this exercise—ekphrastic writing—to have students connect with art, to go beyond it by exploring deeper meanings. It can also cause us to co-create new material out of our imaginations!
We should try it often and with abandon. As a teacher once advised [with my tweaks], “Write drunk [in the spirit!], edit sober [or not at all!] Look at a famous piece of art (like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”) or something in your yard (a bird, a succulent, fresh dirt) or pull up one of your smartphone pictures (a sunset, a silly selfie).
Let yourself look at, interpret, praise, inhabit, confront (!), speak to or speak with this subject. Give yourself into an ecstatic moment. Beyond a little pause in our day, we know this can heal and propels us with vision into our destiny.
Ekphrasis is a lot like when we study scripture. We treat the words of God as pieces of inspired art. The Rhema (the spirit “now” word) behind the Logos (the physical recorded word) connects with us. And if we can open ourselves to what Holy Spirit wants to reveal, we find ourselves in worship with worlds of wonder!
Yesterday, we went to South Mission Beach late afternoon. (Pro-tip: most people are leaving, heat is dissipating, and you only have to apply sunscreen once). We pulled a wagon with boogie boards, snacks, towels, and beach chairs. We thought we’d spend a few hours cooling off, decompressing and chatting with friends before going home to check off more of our Adulting “To do” lists.
The kids kept jumping back in the ocean. We didn’t stop them. We swam, strolled, sat, too. We stayed until 9 p.m., grabbing slices of New York style pizza along the boardwalk, getting home too late for anything “responsible” other than quick showers and bed!
A day like that always reminds me of why we pay the rents we pay here in “Sun Diego” [or “Sandy Ego”!] Grounding myself in the wet sand, jumping through waves, the seaweed braiding itself around me: this is walking into a three dimensional artwork. In between Lifeguard towers 12 and 13, I was reanimated in that very small but profound beach patch.
This morning, I thought of Psalm 139 and how God has tangible, specific thoughts of me that outnumber the grains of sand on the whole planet, not just one lifeguard tower’s span!
“Every single moment you are thinking of me!
How precious and wonderful to consider
that you cherish me constantly in your every thought!
O God, your desires toward me are more
than the grains of sand on every shore!
When I awake each morning, you’re still with me.”
(Psalm 139: 17-18 TPT)
I googled “magnified sand grains” and here, the ekphrastic moment opens. This is an invitation to think about sand itself as divine art.
Look at each of these grains of sand. EACH miniscule grain is a work of art. (I invite you to look up more images. Copy and save one that stuns you. I mean, can you even fathom?!)
image: from sandgrains.com
Since I was at the beach, God’s thoughts started there and kept going. For each complex grain sculpture, one thought. Here’s what I perceived:
I love how you still giggle when you catch a wave.
I love that when you’re exhausted, you pop up and say out loud to no one, “Two more waves” before you stop. I’m the one who suggests, “FIVE more!” and you agree!
This salt water is healing your skin. It stings on the tender places. Keep swimming until the pain stops. Remember how I did that for you in Hawai’i as you recovered from sickness? I’m still doing it.
I love that you bring a book in your backpack even if you never pull it out.
Today, your family is healthy. I celebrate this with you!
Staying present is worth it. It’s really hard for you, I know! I made you!
I really like that you’re the grown up who brings red velvet cookies and pulls them out when everyone is ready for a treat.
Kids have no sense of time. I want you to abandon your sense of time, too.
It’s so good that you’re trying to stay curious. I’ve got so many surprises for you!
Do some ekphrastic writing about what God is thinking of you, this moment, on the stretch between Lifeguard stations 12 & 13. Look closely at each grain of sand, at how intricately it is designed. These are how elaborate God’s thoughts are about, to, and through you. Make a list of thoughts inspired by just five or seven or ten grains. Think in first person, from God to you.
Later, re-read what you record. Maybe write an ekphrastic sand grain thought-list to someone who needs to know how loved they are today.
Try to imagine these thoughts multiplied by SO many more—a number we can’t quantify—each a precise, matchless longing to love you and those around you.
“Every single moment you are thinking of me!
How precious and wonderful to consider
that you cherish me constantly in your every thought!
O God, your desires toward me are more
than the grains of sand on every shore!
When I awake each morning, you’re still with me.”
The second piece, “Minivan Loop,” is from an online poetry class on our different senses. This assignment asked me to “listen.” Hear what comes up and record it. This was in May during a minivan loop that felt more and more treacherous driving over detonated political land & spirit mines.
[metacognition mome’: I’m burying the lede! This is the tougher piece of myself to share!]
I’m going past suburban soundscapes to what is vibrating inside of me. The notes are unmelodious. It’s a crash of cymbals: what I want to do and what I believe I can. I’m choosing to believe, that’s okay, too, for now. The sounds are a start. They’re silencing “white noise.” God, I hope.
image: from Digital Smoke Signals
What I’m not hearing from too many Christian friends:
“We were wrong about Trump.”
I force myself into heart-centered breathing,
CPR on myself, compressions to the chorus,
AH-ah-ah-ah staying alive…staying alive…I count
to eight, slow exhale. What I’m still driving away from
these days: church.
In between school drop-offs, groceries, pick-ups and shuttles,
extra hula dance practice, I stream stand-up comics.
Youtube clips animate their faces, slapstick.
Their names alone, a polyphonic song on full, wide
lips: Fahim Anwar, Anjelah Johnson, Ali Wong,
Hasan Minhaj. The comics invite me: laugh at
our Otherness. “Laughter is buoyancy;
buoyancy, hope.” I join with audience giggles,
howls. We are riotous, ecstatic.
National Public Radio reports: the flu is spreading among Central Americans quarantined in Texan hotels. As soon as they are not contagious, our government will ‘seek’ their asylum in San Diego.
The largest Iraqi war refugee population in the world is here,
our part of east San Diego, in El Cajon, “the box.” I roll rusted
carts alongside Chaldeans in Vine Ripe market, order fresh feta,
marbled halvah—the dense, honey-sweet,
sesame ‘fudge’ for celebrations.
I come from full-storied living rooms, cousins and cousins of
cousins. I visited Uncle Willie, father of 14 kids, in their
relocated, one room four-year-n-counting “temporary”
shelter after Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991. The volcanic
mud flows, lahar, sunk homes in hundreds of barangays,
240,000 families displaced in Mama’s province, Pampanga.
Yet, as we visited, I sensed no poverty
spirit, only felt and heard the joy, relief of family
in their broken English. Ten years later, many of these cousins
immigrated, re-creating homes in California and Colorado.
I unpack groceries into our stainless steel fridge. New ice cubes
clatter into the freezer tray. Still alone, I turn up the audiobook,
Heavy: An American Memoir, hear of a “train” pulled
on a teenage girl while the 11-year old protagonist waits,
confused, in the hallway. The author’s Southern Black
American dialect intensifies the weight of this
truer America. “Fuck.” I blurt. “Shit,” I start crying.
Involuntary utter, a speaking in tongues.
A thing I started to do after the Election: count how many
people can sleep on our floors. I imagine one yoga mat size
equals one refugee. Ten in the living room, another ten
in the family room (more if they are kids). But I don’t invite
seekers in person, don’t offer shelter
from lahar. I count but don’t know how things
add up nowadays. Instead, I fill the gas
tank, ping between audiobooks, Modern Love
podcasts, stand-up comics. I sigh, laugh, cry,
rewind. I pack our seven-seater minivan,
our three bedroom house with discordant,
bustling stories of people trying,
trying to stay alive.
[**the article, “On the Pitfalls and Power of the Religious Essay” by Sonja Livingston is from Literary Hub, Aug.5, 2019]
More Fully Human
May 11, 2019
“What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.” ~Barbara Brown Taylor
I took a lot of weepy walks after the 2016 Election. Looping the beach, our hilly streets, or the Lake, I’d listen to long distance church sermons on my walks. Nature + Exercise + Sermons = Go(o)d. I re-listened to certain sermons 3, 4, and 5 times because the preachers promised I am an overcomer! I am a child of Light! Darkness is destroyed when I walk into the room! I get hyped following these [walking loop] marching orders.
The Sun and The Son. I soaked all of it in. The charismatic Vineyard movement’s theology grew me to love the electric jolt of Holy Spirit zipping through my chest, arms, fingers. Sometimes my buckly knees tumbled me down slain, synapses sparking spiritual. Ecstatic experiences aren’t easy to come by (at least not sober). I crave this charge.
Guess I thought I should listen to sermons. That’s how I took my Jesus vitamins. Since our local church shut down that same November, I had to fill my “clay jar” with familiar “talking head,” “sage on the stage” exhortations.
Soon, I discovered the same pastors I streamed continued to support Trump. I really thought/prayed/begged that “time would tell,” that as all these church leaders witnessed this administration’s unrelenting…everything…it would clarify their vision, and they’d stop explaining away grievous non-Christian [non-ethical, non-legal] behavior, or pointing to “I had a prophetic dream” as a blinding green light. It didn’t happen. Do I have to say how disorienting, how disappointed, how betrayed this made, makes me feel?
This cognitive dissonance offered me a gift of perspective. I turned off. I deleted.
Most of my listening airwaves have instead been filled with resilient student stories on campus & storytelling podcasts like the Moth, This American Life, TED Radio Hour, Modern Love, and lately, Rough Translation. Sprinkled throughout, stand-up comedy clips (Anjelah Johnson does a GOOD Filipino grandma accent! Praise Be!) I’m a part of a leadership collective, Lifestreams. The teaching there is Something More than any church service while resembling parts I miss (worship, intercession, small groups, faith family).
Last weekend, as our family danced and celebrated Hawaiian culture at De Anza Cove, I heard the news of Rachel Held Evans’ death. I went numb. I couldn’t sleep. I read about her impact. She challenged the institution, truth in love. Friends texted and posted.
We went to work. We packed lunches and took our kids to school. More insomnia; I interceded for her babies in the quietest hours. I cried and read more about how she made space at the table for misfits and outcasts. I spaced out.
Along with so many on this planet, I simultaneously believe she’s in paradise as part of a much grander Love story that will ultimately make sense to us all, and, I grieve.
I felt ready to ask for and listen to thoughts on faith again. I can’t return to the Old, to ‘business as usual’ sermons. I wanted recs for progressive Christian podcasts. Friends shared titles representing diverse voices on wondering and wandering.
I’m beginning to listen. I’m not less confused, but I do feel kinship. I’m in the dark, but I’m not consumed by it. I imagine Chris would rub my neck and channel his beloved author, Not all who wander are lost.
I listened to a “For the Love” interview with RHE. She quoted Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest who once left her faith (and, she says, it pursued her). RHE used to rely on these words:
In my head, I know this resurrection power comes out of dark. Yet, my default faith is to resist the dark. Barbara Brown Taylor introduced the idea of “lunar spirituality.” It is very much not the “solar spirituality” I have always found safety in. Y’know, where all the lights are on all the time (even the wasteful artificial incandescents.) Is this why I’m so annoyed that ALL of my children including ALL of my husband leave ALL the lights on?! I do it with my faith!
Why am I afraid of the dark?
I don’t know.
I can’t answer that. Yet. (<==growth mindset, holla!)
Barbara Brown Taylor is known for asking this, too: “What is saving your life today?”
(Urm yes, I downloaded her audio book, Walking in the Dark. She’s hitting bullseyes for me).
I can try to answer this.
For the last two plus years, any time I sit quietly for a minute, I feel my vertebrae stack, slack and settle. My breath throttles, then idles. I press Pause on my body’s kinesthetic jibber jabber. The weightiness behind my eyes gutters, splintering down into my ribs.
It hurts. I start to cry. I don’t know why exactly. I don’t need to. My mind is in the dark. Not my body. It knows.
This is a luxury, this Pause. I can cry every day if I made space for this.
These tears, I think, are my somatic salvation.
On the Enneagram, I’m a 7, the Enthusiast. I am ready for whatever comes next. I’m also prone to being scattered. I’m your Yes, let’s! girl. In college, the “laugh now, cry later” friend. This straddles and kicks at, blurs the lines of what many consider sacred and secular, pretty and potty mouth, adventuresome and aimless. I’ve matured [enuf, so says my counselor] and am a more reliable ‘shoulder to shoulder’ sister. Community covenant keeper—in death, in life, in mystery.
I don’t want to know another way. One of the meanings of my name, Ella, is “all.” Through the decades, I’ve taken it as an invitation. Like Jesus, with Jesus, I am invited to bear witness to all.
For all of this vitality, know what though? I have trouble connecting with my own heart. I get clogged in my head. People might say, “But you’re so full of heart!” It seems so, but it’s a reflection of others. I position myself around those whose hearts I emulate. I desperately want more of my own; I even took a HeartMath course to learn how to breathe and discern from this organ that does, in fact, the most decision-making in our bodies (it’s not our brains! First heart, then guts, and then our brains!)
My friend Stephanie made this alcohol ink heart. A thousand years ago, I drew a similar medical heart as a Valentine’s Day card for my boypren. Steph’s is more authentic IMO because she let her abstract art echo-locate the heart beating. (I was trying to make a guy like me, a lil Hallmark witchcraft.)
Gives me tha-THUMPS tha-THUMPS.
I confess I don’t like the cliché, caricature heart shape unless a kid draws or cuts it out, or it’s 5th graders’ BFFs half-jagged-heart necklaces—one half for me, the other half for you!
Grown-up couples, fingers C-shaped around a setting sun after a marriage proposal? Bubble pink art work on canvases, mugs, event posters? Blech. Phht. Meh. It’s overdone.
Wouldn’t you know, on the way to the parking garage on campus, there are lit’ral heart leaves.
I lost several minutes standing under these. The veins, the blood. Iron-red hearts. Beautiful.
I am learning heart-speak by mimicking others who speak it fluently (like this tree). In language acquisition, it takes 5-7 years to be proficient. Maybe there’s a Rosetta Stone way, but I believe the holiest way to learn is by becoming more fully human. Yes, and. Both, and.
I shared this new-to-me idea with trusted friends: I want to explore this lunar spirituality. Not the despairing dark. This is darkness that is part of a whole day, a whole life, a universe.
Life happens in the dark. We rest, restore. We dream. Roots deepen. A seed cracks open. The womb gestates. The tomb vibrates. We can see stars. Love sings over us. The moon waxes and wanes. The sun will come up, but for now, it’s dark.
This risky idea might be saving my life today.
The People at the Table
April 19, 2019
It’s one of those weeks where on Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. I was all, Whew, TGIF!
That’s the level of Ready-For-Next-Anything-Please I’ve been feeling. Not for any one reason.
This is what I heard God say. I typed it in my iphone, on the “God notes” page: “People. It’s about people. Breaking bread (matzoh!) One word, one bite, one hug, one raised clinked glass, one table, one prayer for freedom. One person inviting another to the same, one table. The table expanding for more to sit.”
[Before you keep reading, and because what a shame to waste a joke–if you’re not aware, Filipinx also call ourselves “pinoy” or “pinay.” Scroll on.]
The gift of exhaustion? Besides hearing voices—Yahweh’s included—I entertain comical, emotional tantrums, Netflix numb before bed. Tell myself it’s okay, you’re okay. I have enormous privilege in this world. I know this (thank God). Write a gratitude list. Then, I get quiet. Fortunately, it fits well with Holy Week. Been listening to the Holy all around.
This will be my 19th Passover Seder. Most years, we host a full house of friends and family. My prep involves shopping and setting the tables; chopping ‘n slow cooking ‘n roasting ‘n souping ‘n stirring. Passover is a bridge to Chris’ Jewish heritage. He thoughtfully prepares the Haggadah (the narrative of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt) with guests’ names as readers. We take time to note who, in this world, especially needs to hear and experience the story of freedom from bondage this year. So many too many.
I love it all, down to the moment we celebrate in light of Jesus as the Passover Lamb. Hybrid story-ing, like our mixed family. Some ask if we’re Messianic Jews. Nahw, closer to non-denom’ Jesus followers who integrate the Story.
This Story is my “favorite holy-day” to get quiet, listen. As I cradle two of the biggest, briskety Costco briskets, a hefty bag of rainbow carrots to roast and swim in matzoh ball soup. As I grip square, concord graped bottles of Manischewitz that evolved on my palette over time, from cough syrup to sacred…syrup ;0) Still checking off the lists in between work, parenting, wife-ing, hula practice.
This weekend is a full-er Reflection: Redemption, Resurrection, Remembrance. (Don’t forget this week’s other RRRRR…..Redaction—a different kind of “set apart,” secular sacred for some. Swiss cheesy Hole-y.)
But I had to get to the real TGIF calendar day. So in class, I got quiet as our English class worked on their timed essay. We had rigorously practiced how to craft this specific rhetorical analysis and play the Ivory Tower transfer test game. Everyone, game day and game faces, ready.
One by one, students turned in their essays, proud and relieved. The young woman who normally raises her hand to share all the answers handed me an incomplete essay.
“Oh. Is this finished?” I asked, calmly confused.
She began to toss a word salad at me. I stared at her fingers pointing up and down the paper, as if directing an army of block printed letters to stand at uh-ten-SHUN! Well-dressed but shell-shocked word soldiers, standing 32 shoulder-to-shoulder lines down a page [i.e. a whole essay with no paragraph breaks]. A sharply dressed but aimless army. Not one following order.
I smelled the alcohol. I pretended I didn’t. Said instead, “If you want to take the rest of class time to add more, you probably should.”
How could I know why she drank at 8 in the morning before class (or why it was evaporating her skin from a soaked night)?
When she tried and couldn’t, I acquiesced, “Okay, turn it in and see what happens. Good thing this is a low stakes practice for the transfer exam.” She nodded, packed her bag, left.
I kept at reading everyone’s essays, snapped back to my seated paradox posture of: how.can.I.better.support. and how.there.will.always.be.essays.ad.infinitum.
“Essay” in college means “hella annoying assignments” for both students and professors. In French, it means, “to try, attempt.”
Also: a trial, a weight.
The last essays I read that day, more word worlds: a young man with cancer; the pregnant teenager forced into homelessness by her outraged parents; another who traveled outside of the country for the first time and told me, “There’s a whole world out there. Knowing this changes everything.”
I tried for an inspired quiet in my Lake walk as I listened to a new-ish podcast, “Rough Translation.” I cried the kind of expanding tears from what a story can do to me. The episode, “War Poems.” (The title alone HOMG!)
I despised History classes in high school. It had a lot to do with rote memorization. It got worse when our 11th grade teacher tried to make me interview my Papa about his experience in the Vietnam War. I refused and gladly accepted the “F.” But Mr. A insisted I complete the assignment because it was a “valuable experience.” By the time he ‘got’ how most of the Filipino kids’ dads were Vietnam Vets, that we were ‘taught’ to leave them alone about That Time & Those Ghosts, I also learned failing an assignment didn’t have power to shame me. All to say, I’m late-blooming to understand how history—world, my own—is “valuable.”
Oh, yeah, why the podcast helped me Listen.
It references General Petraeus, a commander of American forces in Afghanistan during the war against ISIS. About ten years ago, he promoted a “new” tactic: he told American soldiers to build trust among the Afghan people. He advised Americans to take off their sunglasses, connect with the locals, be “a good guest” meaning “drink lots of tea.” RADICAL counterinsurgent strategy: get to know people. Don’t just speak their language. Listen. Speak their culture.
For some American soldiers who took these Listening Orders to heart, it meant learning ancient Afghan poetry as a bridge. An American captain who is fluent in Dari (a common language in Afghanistan) urged the military leaders to learn their poetry. She recited a 13th century Afghan poem on how all of humanity is one family.
She said of her time in Afghanistan, “I have never spoken the first words of those verses to an Afghan and not had them reply with the rest.”
(If anyone listens, there’s some nitty gritty! If you get to the end, you’ll know why I cried.)
For the rest of Not-TGIF days, I asked God more or less, What’s Up with This? The whole thing, the Holy (and Hole-y) thing: how the break up with Church feels good and awful. How I recognize stages of grief, but the nuances are sneaky sabotage. I’m unnerved. Can’t track. I feel like a disordered essay in my body—aimless army. A trial, a weight.
How disappointment surged when an email invited me to support a shiny ministry called, “Once Gay” with [redacted hole-y] testimonies of people who are no longer broken in their gayness (an exercise in confirmation bias). That there’s such a policy, “open but not affirming” for any LGBTQ person who walks through the doors.
What will Easter Sunday look like in these visitors’ eyes? Highly prayed-up & produced services as faithful members are outnumbered by “holiday in” Christians (and curious “pre-” and “post-“believers). Who will invite each other to tea, to the table? Who will say the opening line of, “we are all one family,” get quiet, and listen?
Let me collect my leaky faith-politics and say about myself: I need to do a lot more listening.
Christians call it Good Friday. I wonder if “good grief” came from this version of “good” because Jesus was crucified and buried. It’s only “good grief” because of Sunday’s resurrection. What about Saturday?
The power of Saturday is the Waiting.
This year, the converging calendars will also have us remembering our history of Waiting for freedom. Around several folding tables in our living room, the Seder becomes our Passover war poem. We follow the Haggadah, each person reading from the script.
The most innocent child will ask, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?”
Grown ups—supposedly the ones who know better, who have sat at the table longer, who are more fluent in listening, learning, and speaking the language of humanity—will try to answer.
Haka instead of hymn
March 25, 2019
I walk to class, leaving my pre-planned handouts at Duplicating. There, the shadows of brown and black faces in the hallway, many veiled in hijab.
Over a hundred languages and cultures on our campus. Worlds of words.
“Anyone ever seen or heard of a Haka? In any context?” I start.
A student says he saw it on TV before a Rugby game.
Another says, “I think the Māori people do it?” Yes, the indigenous Polynesians of New Zealand.
“There was the time Jason Momoa did it before the Aquaman premiere. Remember?”
Some smiles. “Yeah, it was kind of like a “flash haka mob” because suddenly these big looking guys in suits were chanting like warriors, including his kids.”
I’m into it. “I saw that! I zoomed in on his 12 year old daughter. Watching a girl stomping, so focused, made me want to yell with her. Then of course I zoomed out to enjoy the whole spectacle.”
“Because Jason Momoa.” Laughter. Eyes light, some roll.
“It’s done to prepare for war, or to commemorate important transitions like a wedding or a death.” A student looks up from his phone. “I just did a quick search, and that’s what it says.”
I calm my voice a pause, ask, “Has everyone heard what happened over the weekend in New Zealand?” A few shake their heads. “Can someone summarize what they know so far?”
Fifty praying Muslims murdered by a white supremacist. A Friday, a time when Muslims and their families pray together. Two mosques. Dozens in the hospital. He’s Australian but went to New Zealand to do this. He wrote a 70-something page manifesto blaming Muslims for everything. [I will not read it or give him or his hate any of the attention he wants.] He praised Donald Trump as a symbol of white supremacy. The man livestreamed his rampage.
I look at my Somali student in hijab sitting against the window. Brown eyes widen then squint. She turns toward the window, starts writing in her notebook.
A cohort of young Latinas in the back are whispering. Sometimes, I have learned, one of them is translating for the others, from English to Spanish.
“As a response to this tragedy, the news has started posting hakas around New Zealand and Australia.” I load news clips onto the computer. “I’d like us to watch two hakas.”
Before I click play, “This one is called Tika Tonu, and it is taught to adolescent boys to prepare them for challenges and the need to persevere in their lives. Some of the words mean, ‘what is right is always right.’”
This haka, a beachside full of barrel-chested, boisterous Australians. Eyes bulge, tongues thrust, muscles twitch and pound. Thunder. The place is called Surfer’s Paradise.
We watch. We swell with silence.
The second haka is by a guy in a baseball cap and hoodie, white tube socks and white workout shoes, one untied. He quietly breaks off of a small group of locals paying homage at the Al Noor mosque site. He uses a walking stick branch and pours his warrior haka out onto the street, a few feet from the police-tape.
He chants and yells towards what we imagine is the mosque. He stomps and beats his chest and thighs, sounds out, KA Ma-teh KA Ma-teh. His open fingers and hands shake. As his chanting subsides, his right hand still quakes at his side. I feel my hands quivering too, as when my whole person joins the stream of prayers for healing over a sick friend.
Paga is the Hebrew word for this type of intercession. To take something violently by force; to strike and hit the mark. It is lightning—both solid and gas, human and supernatural—the same form Jesus took standing on the Mount of Transfiguration. Lightning rod truth.
We sit for a minute. A few students gulp. One wipes their eyes. I ask to move our seats into a circle. I think of surfers who paddle out to sea in memorial of lost ones. Like those at Surfers Paradise. I can tell by body language, we have moved from watching to bearing witness.
“What did these two hakas make you feel? Any observations?”
One student says quietly, into the circle. “It’s an act of solidarity.” Slow nods.
A student who has yet to share out loud this semester raises her hand. Shy eyes and voice, shaky English.
“The group one…it make me feel the…power.” She half sighs, pushing out more words.
“But the one by the man. It feel…different. I can feel the pain.”
Gutting, guttural, the meaning of compassion—to move our intestines.
I’m wiping tears with one hand, the other a fist at my thigh. “This makes me think: what, in our own subcultures, do we do as our form of haka? As signs of solidarity, of putting it all out there with our bodies and emotions?”
I’m asking this of myself. Where is my version of haka? Who can teach me, a hyphenated American, an in-betweener of cultures, a way to stomp and yell as an acceptable response to grief in this space, on this soil?
“If anyone who is Muslim or was raised in a Muslim home would like to share anything, please do.”
Mohammad raises his hand. “It is illegal in Afghanistan, and some parts of Pakistan and India, but there is a type of Muslim leaders who meet and chant some lines together. First quiet. Then they get louder and louder. They use their whole bodies to start yelling until there is chaos. Some of the men end up going to hospital.”
“Is it a form of prayer?” I ask.
Another says thoughtfully, “When I play sports, I put it all out there.” We talk more about this. How sports do unite diverse groups of people. I have felt that in college football stadiums, hugging strangers in the bleachers at the Oakland Coliseum when we watched Rickey Henderson steal his 939th base and break the world record. I recommend A League of Their Own to those who like learning from movies, to see the power of women playing professional baseball in America, a way to unite a country as the men fought in World War II.
A dancer, thick black wavy hair shielding most of her face and neck, pulls one knee up in her seat. I can imagine her tying on dance slippers in that position. Tilting her chin, “I don’t practice the Muslim faith anymore. I was raised that way, but being born right around 9-11, it was too hard being stereotyped all the time.”
She’s choosing her words. “I’m emotional seeing this. In eighteen years, this is the first time I have seen people offer compassion in public to the Muslim community.”
How do we make and share our own “hakas”? What would it mean to us, each other?
I used to think when our amygdalae are triggered, our animal brain responses to threat are only: fight or flight. A scientist corrected me, “Think about any catastrophe. Humans don’t just fight or flee. They also gather.” Many people find each other. We rush together; we go where there is need. We do, don’t we?
Fight, Flight, Flock
The nearest Sunday in 2012 after Trayvon Martin was murdered, a northern California church filled with Berkeley friends showed up, all wearing dark hoodies. A picture on Facebook showed dozens standing in a circle, presumably praying for Trayvon’s family, the neighborhood, our country. Or maybe—probably—it was not the time for [only] words. They stood in that gap. Dilated time. Slow motion animal brains reaching out.
What is right is always right.
The opposite happened at the church I went to that Sunday. No mention, no space or time to dilate. (I know and understand it’s not everyone’s responsibility to wear hoodies or keep current with news or or or. I get it. It still stings.) A sufficient reason I am stepping away from institutionalized church is that these “F” words are treated as that. Too raw, inappropriate, vulgar.
In the pews, animal movements get minimized, sanitized.
Ten months later in the same year, when Sandyhook happened, I went to the nearest Sunday service hoping desperately that this time will be different. They’ll say something. We’ll have corporate prayer. Not everyone could empathize with a young black man being racially profiled, stalked and shot dead. [Politics and Pulpits—sigh] But everyone agrees on the intrinsic tragedy of murdered first grade children.
Again, no mention. Worship music filled the front of chapel. I turned to the sides, to behind, to find anyone. Sharon, a first grade teacher, near me. We held hands and wept. This was church, the holy moment for me.
My animal brain was activated then, as it is by Christchurch. This gut reaction feels right, but it is not given enough room to move, to do enough inside of our bodies, to let our guts decide. In other words, it is not time yet to become rational again.
Not surprisingly, when Christians came to the Māori in the 19th century, the Māori greeted and honored them with hakas. As the missionaries converted the indigenous people, they “suggested” the Māori replace their “pagan” hakas with more appropriate expressions, hymns.
Hymns instead of Hakas. Why not honor haka as hymn?
The Māori Council commissioned a haka for the victims of Christchurch last week. A couple of the lines say:
E oho, kia tika rā (Wake up, be true!)
Ko au, Ko koe, ko koe, ko au, ko tāua e (I am you, you are me, this is us)
If Paga—violent intercession, something Jesus embodied—is too “out there” for the Church, then I can’t count on the nearest Sunday to go There with me. I want to find a flock that will. I want to wake up, be true. To get close to the ground, elemental.
Who will teach one to me? Who will bear witness when my body can’t hold it in?
A helpful BBC article about Haka (where they come from, what they’re for, who can do them, with the full lyrics of the haka written for Christchurch):
Yes, And. Also no
March 9, 2019
We trip-wired back to 1997. There’s this thing called a weblog. Store it in your memory pocket for when we return to 2019 and you see this. If you want to sound more pop, you can abbreev to “blog.” Heard of it, a “blog”? Check the box, yes or no, and pass the note back.
Since the Oughts, I have read & wholesale appreciated blogs from friends. Me though? I had always been ambivalent about me keeping one [insert all reasons in Comic Sans].
Last fall, I joined a wild Rebel, Rebel Memoir Lab. In three measly months, I wrote the first draft of my next memoir. That’s 71,071 words AKA [slides abacus beads carry the one cash register ch-ching] over 275 pages. My first memoir, Itchy Brown Girl Seeks Employment took five years to write. It’s taken me thirteen years parenting to understand that I understand…nothing. As the Rebel instructors Alice & Tanya promised, this Lab provided a “sacred container” & “quantum time.” Shorthand: bonkers productivity.
I learned so much. (Stating the obvs b/c I haven’t yet decided if I’ll have “lifelong learner” tattooed in Sanskrit, Hebrew or Aramaic…erm…I prolly should choose Baybayin since it’s indigenous Filipino.) Unearthed, ongoing learning: this focused writing & publishing is very different from creating in raw form. It’s ultimately JOY-ful (especially because I love the world-changing people I met through it and am convicted story-telling is a calling) but it hasn’t been F-U-N.
In the few months post-quantum leap, I have come to see that I need to write—to create—without the should-n-have-to pressures flogging my brain, swiveling its “think of your target market” neck, crookwagging its finger at me. I do belong in that and will fluff up my yellow gown to do the beautiful beast zumba [hint: I am both Belle & Beast].
I am not created for Either, Or. I want to align with improv, Yes, And.
Right now though, it feels like if I don’t let myself create (stories, art, jokes, questions, food, bitcoin, transparency, connection) I’m choosing “Neither, Nor.”
I don’t want the pressure of writing that is consumable (if it’s imagined, it’s real to my stress sensors). I want to express myself with the confidence of the 90s before Blog Comments sections and doxing were armed, and the Pulpit & Politics Power People given the nuclear codes.
The 2016 Election has led to a lot of unmasking, of pulling off sheep’s costumes to the glint of snarling wolves teeth. Mainly, for me, this duplicitous pack runs in Church (capital “C”). I have broken up with the Church. It’s better for us right now, maybe in the long run if things within it don’t feel safe for a woman of color like me.
I still follow Jesus. Still meet with faith families in homes, on hikes, making art, loving neighbors. Still pray and raise my hands to worship musack.
But no institutional “four walls” for me. It’s like I was rescued from living in a fake Village with my benevolent kidnapper (nods to M. Night Shyamalan). Got symptoms of Stockholm syndrome. I’m in a so-slow-it’s-barely-visible re-entry. I’m trying to detox from any/all of the poison I ingested while being passive in the Church. I’m determined not to “throw the baby out” with the Kool-aid. Tricky reckoning.
Off and on, I feel more ‘off’ than ‘on’.
Like I have an IV drip of Peets coffee jittering through me.
Like I flew back from a magical Platform 9 3/4 trip via London and can’t resolve the jet lag delirium.
Like I’m cry-screaming bloodshot but in a mirror see that my body is swaying hips to hula or teaching class downtown or pouring coconut milk into carrot curry soup.
Like reading astounding words from beloved writer-activists, I defibrillate my arrested heart, raise my fist, then see my own brown knuckles box me about the head and neck.
On the daily, these bursts feel different but have the same truth underneath. Recovery? Reconciliation? Red Dawn <–legit vote
I’m in between, on a bridge, floating above canyons, suspended among valleys. (Does this count as ‘standing in the gap’ too?) I’m trying to get to some destination but not sure where, just know I’m walking away from the last place.
I can already feel myself curating this no-stakes, free-style post. This is really two or three topical posts. Be wary of word count. You didn’t preview what you’ll be posting about. What if mentioning faith stuff so early makes friends feel akward/pity/confusion say they’ll pray for me? Good! I’ll take prayer! This is not a ‘soft landing’. Think of a better way to end this.
Resist! Persist! I’ll pause here and