Singing For Our Lives…

“If you are mesmerized by televised stupidity, and don’t get to hear or read stories about your world, you can be fooled into thinking that the world isn’t miraculous– and it is.” –Anne Lamott in Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith

Earlier this winter, Pete Seeger died. Pete was a folk music legend and a protester. The kind of man who sang stories of relentless optimism and agitation….of workers uniting, of Central American Freedom movement struggles, of nonviolent resistance and international disarmament, of caring for the environment, of his love for America and dream for what we could be as a country if we realized our interconnectedness.

Pete’s songs were songs of protest. Songs which refused to get into bed with the status quo. Songs which prophesied of a better way. Pete was prolific songwriter; he believed that folk music was the music of the people and it was meant to be shared and sung together. For him, singing was the way to stand in the moment and say: “here we are, standing here, fully human, fully alive, and demanding better, singing for our lives.”

For me, the space of optimism that Pete held in the face of injustice and oppression was what drew me to him. Much like Lamott’s quote, Pete saw the miracle in life because he was fully engaged in it. I’m afraid sometimes that all of our gadgets fool us into thinking that we are living, but really, we are experiencing a screen at best, and televised stupidity at worst.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to wake up. The old kick-in-the-pants routine. Wake up. Take control. Sing.

The busyness of life can lead to fatigue and a rote routine of daily decompressing by turning on the TV, scrolling through facebook, or watching the latest must-see You Tube video. We can end up consuming so much more than we create and this doesn’t work for the human spirit. It doesn’t ask us to be our best selves. We lose passion and purpose. And sometimes, our voices.

Have we lost the miracle of a sunset? Have we lost the miracle of the complex biochemical processes that must occur for an apple to be digested in our bodies? Have we lost the miracle of living in a community of people who know each others names, stories, and dreams? Have we lost the miracle of helping each other or working for a cause that is greater than ourselves? Have we lost the miracle of eating a fresh tomato from a garden that our hands toiled in? Have we lost the miracle of confessing our joys and concerns to each other? Have we lost the miracle of crying together? Have we lost the miracle of aching for our significant other? Have we lost the miracle of a drenching rain seeping into a scorched earth?

Have we become so disconnected with the earth and each other that we cannot feel anymore?

Being a human is a miracle. But if we forget that, we can one of the most destructive forces ever.

It’s easy to do with all of the notifications to keep up with. Sometimes, it’s easier not to feel, or examine our belief systems thoroughly, or wonder who are best selves really are. It’s easier to consume music than to create it. It’s easier to consume ideas rather than create them. It’s easier to ignore our dissimilar neighbor than to love her. It’s easier to live carelessly than to live consciously. It’s easier to keep tearing down trees as if we own this earth, than it is to plant them and work to help ecosystems thrive. It’s easier to ungraciously read biblical texts than it is to actually research them. It’s easier to criticize than to innovate. Its easier to turn on the TV instead of engaging in vulnerable conversation.

It’s easier, but it’s not better….because we are fooled into thinking that life isn’t miraculous.

And, it is.

Who you gonna be, if you can’t be yourself?

I am writing as I am coming out of a very tiring season of life… one that I have undoubtedly grown in, yet one that has drained me of my usual inspiration and emotional stability. My defenses are down because I don’t have any energy to nurse them. My perfectionism is loving my present state and is seeping in like oil from a marine rig spill. It seeps it and it is thick, impeding my soul from inspiration and joviality.

So perfectionism becomes my norm and not an exception. I am not strong enough to resist societal and personal pressures of perfection from my surroundings. Why am I writing this? Because I think you probably, deep down, can identify. We live in a world of scarcity, which greets us in the morning, telling us we didn’t sleep enough last night, then accompanies us through the day. Not enough. We don’t have enough money. We aren’t put together enough today. We aren’t fitting the cultural gender norms enough (for females: nice, thin, & modest; for males: emotional control, primacy of work, violence, and pursuit of status) . We aren’t thin enough. We aren’t smart enough. We aren’t working hard enough. This line of thinking quickly turns into… ok, well, I should do this more, I should work out more, I should be working at a better paying job because most of my peers my age have surpassed my station, I should be a “better Christian”, I should run to the store because this shirt is so 10 years ago, I should be more interested in this popular hobby, I should have made first team, I should appear to be more invincible, I should act like I care who Justin Beiber is dating, I should be having children right now, I should be prettier so I won’t get bullied, I should be shorter, I should be taller, I should be married by now, I should have the latest iPhone to keep up with the times, I should, I should, I should.

Where am I getting these ideas? Oh my friend… from many, many conversations carefully dancing around the topic of scarcity, without every calling it out for what it is. I’m not going to be silent or sugar coat today. I don’t have the energy to do either. Just enough energy to write my truth.

These “shoulds” take over and honestly, we listen to them, we conform, and we become a shell of who we really are deep down… we become a shadow of who we want to be. And let’s not fool ourselves… the shell looks ok on the outside, but hideous in the inside. It sucks our energy out of us to be someone or something we are not.

Who are you going to be if you can’t be yourself?

Dr. Brene Brown, a vulnerability and shame researcher writes in her latest book, Daring Greatly: “We can’t give people what we don’t have. Who we are matters immeasurably more than what we know or who we want to be.”

I frankly don’t have the energy to compare myself to someone else any longer. I am my best when I love who I am. I am able to help and love and change things when I am at my best. I will not become a shadow. This is me. Accept me or move along.

As I pen this post, I am reminded of some chillingly appropriate lyrics from: “Pick Yer Nose,” by Ani Difranco, a folk music lyrical genius.

How come I can pick my ears
But not my nose
Who made up that rule anyway
How can you say that’s the way it is
That’s just the way it goes
Why don’t you decide for yourself
What you can do
And what you can say

I think shy is boring
I think depressed is too
I think pretty is nice
But I’d rather see something new
All these plastic people
Got their plastic surgery
But we got a big big beautiful
We got it for free
Who you gonna be
If you can’t be yourself
You can’t get it from t.v.
You can’t force it on
Anybody else

‘Cause I’m not going to pretend
That I don’t pick my nose
That’s just the way it is, my friends
That’s just the way it goes
This is who I am
What I do
And what I say
If you like it, let it be
If you don’t, please do the same

I fight with love
I laugh with rage
You gotta live light enough to see the humor
And long enough to see some change

So today, I will celebrate myself for who I am. I will honor all of the parts of me. My gifts, my talents, my body, my smile, my knowledge repertoire, my spirit, my spirituality, my laugh, my passions.

I freely admit I am imperfect, I don’t know everything there is to know about biology, I do not have a huge bank account, I may not have the wittiest response, I do not have the strongest arms or fastest mile run, and I will probably screw up something in the next hour if given the opportunity.

But I can promise you that I will be kind to you, that I will hug you, and I will respect you for who you are. I can promise you I will fight for equality with my hands and my faith. I can promise you when I say I will pray for you that I will. I can promise you that when you speak to me, I will be present and attentive. I can promise you that I will give you dignity. This is me; I am Kate.

So see me. See right through me. And let me be.

I always welcome comments. Even on personal posts like this. Tell me your story… tell me how you pick your nose.

Fully Alive

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive”
― Saint Irenaeus

In a culture where we are all trying to figure this life out… trying to figure out how to live presently, to feel everything we need to feel in this moment, what does St. Irenaeus mean in saying “be fully alive?” Is it reaching a goal? Is it being completely present, in mind, body, and spirit, with the moment you are in? Does it mean that you are doing and living things that fully resonate with you? Does it mean that you are finding beauty even when your circumstances say there is none to be found? Does it mean you are living a life of consciousness and subsequently, activism? Or does it mean a little something different to everyone?

I wonder if God is most glorified when God’s creation is living passionately, with purpose and meaning. Navigating this world of pain, loss, scarcity, and betrayal, it seems like living fully alive is a miracle. Surviving is a miracle. Love is a miracle.

It takes courage to live fully alive. It takes vulnerability to show up. It takes gumption to go into a profession because you love it, not because it brings in sizable paychecks. To live simply when those surrounding you aren’t. To get off of your phone and give someone your full attention. To go down a path that no one else understands, but you know it is the path which resonates with you. It’s the way your intuition is guiding.

How do you care about your brother and sister when it’s all you can do to look out for yourself and your family? When it’s all you can do to survive?

Maybe fully alive means this. That when certainty is evasive and you aren’t promised that you’ll be taken care of… you aren’t promised your health… you aren’t promised your finances… you show up anyway. You show up and you bring a glass of water to your neighbor. You keep painting, keep writing, keep studying, keep singing. You go into ministry even when the church is declining. You say “I love you” first even when you don’t know if the one you are in love with will say it in return. You advocate for equality even though you know people see your actions as heretical. You call your kid who has broken your heart, just to tell her how much you love her. You choose to believe you can do the thing others have said you can’t.

In the ambiguous fear, in the uncertainty, and most of all, in the skepticism,

You show up.

And you breathe the breath of being fully alive. Glory be to God.

Tell me a story of how you showed up.

Sing To Me

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

What is it about music that changes us? How can it take us to another dimension of love and depth of emotion?

Music is that thing that doesn’t necessarily take away our weariness or solve the day’s problems. But when that song comes on, the one that resonates with us, who we are deep down meets who we think we should be and for a few moments, those two entities are the same. Equal. This resonance is essential for our health.

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
― Bob Marley

What is that one song that will take you away? The one that draws you back into beautiful memories and makes you hopeful for such experiences in the future?

“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”
― Emma Goldman

Which song makes you remember the reason you get out of bed each morning? Which one makes you want to change the world?

For me, folk music stirs. Oh it stirs me. Nicknamed “The People’s Music,” folk is full of activism and stories passed down through the generations. Stories of advocacy and culture, stories of social cohesion and historical events, stories full of poetry and metaphor. Many folk songs have no copyright; they are meant to be shared collectively, sung together around tables and fires, creating a dimension between humans which could not be otherwise achieved without the rhythmic notes. It is not commercial music. It is the music of the people. The people protesting. The people hoping. The people praying. The people fighting the government and large corporations. The people unified with decency and love. Folk is Woody Gutherie. Folk is Pete Seeger. Folk is Ani Difranco.

“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances. ”
― Maya Angelou

What is that song that you can let loose to? The one that makes you dance like a fool?

Each of us has a song deep down. We sometimes forget the words and what it sounds like, but it is there. Loving someone deeply means sharing your song with them so they can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words.

What’s your song? And why is it yours? Was it played at your wedding, your graduation, during a difficult or joyful time? Share it with me in the comments section. I’d be totally honored to know.

I will sing with you tonight.

Pieces

In wintertime, amnesia arrives,

she makes it easy to forget,

to forget that spring will come,

that new life is awaiting in dormancy,

that sunshine will return and coat us,

that humans care about each other.

 

In winter, I start to forget faces,

the faces I’ve loved,

eyes that are no longer looking into mine,

hugs that I can’t feel anymore,

voices that I can no longer remember,

and I curse mother amnesia, as I pray,

for returned memories,

a smile,

a piece of advice,

an exhortation,

a song,

a day spent together.

 

And then I remember,

in a moment’s brevity,

that they live within me, in my spirit.

My passions, my battles, my joys, my sorrows,

swirl in me, cultivated by their love.

That song which inspires so,

came from her,

That resilience which sustains long days,

came from him.

 

Pieces of them in me,

I live to honor their memories,

I stand on their shoulders,

their mistakes,

their successes,

their endurance.

 

And as spring greets me, I remember,

the pieces of them in me.


Who are you remembering this winter?

James Taylor, Cranberry Sauce, & the Bengay

Many folks are slowing their lives down this week to remember a few things that they find beautiful and for which they are thankful. It seems like we all need a break. The dust has settled and we are exhausted from a hurricane and a long, emotional presidential election. We need a day where we recall some happiness even if it isn’t quite as vivid today as it might have been in the past.

I was sitting next to a classmate this week and we were discussing Thanksgiving food schedules and family endeavors. After going through a family situation that had left him estranged, he decided that Thanksgiving didn’t do much for him. Rather than bringing him joyful reunions, this time of year was a painful reminder of what he once had. Thankfully, he had plans to spend the holiday with friends who didn’t seem to get the memo that holidays must be spent with blood kin.

The conversation forced me to think about what Thanksgiving really means. It can’t solely mean time spent with relatives because lots of folks, like this friend, don’t have the opportunity to feast with family. It can’t solely mean eating great food because lots of folks don’t have that either and you know, some of us, may actually be allergic to turkey! It can’t solely mean celebrating traditions because new ones are made each year.

No, I suspect the meaning of Thanksgiving cannot be so easily defined. Perhaps at its most basic element, it means just what it says. Thanks giving. Gratitude. A time to reflect on the folks who make our lives beautiful. The ones who stir our souls and make us giddy inside. Many times these folks aren’t blood relatives, but they are, in every way, our family… because family are the folks that surround and love us at our best and at our worst. And celebrating those people today… well… that’s Thanksgiving to me.

As I was cooking a squash casserole yesterday, James Taylor’s classic, “You’ve Got a Friend” came on, the lyrics seemed pretty appropriate:

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am,
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call,
and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend.

So as I celebrate this Thanksgiving with some Bengay on my hip and cranberry sauce between my teeth, I’m a grateful girl for the folks that consistently show me what love and grace look like. Some are related by blood, but most have somehow worked their way past my walls and into my heart.

So a very happy day to you as you read this. May the day live up to everything you define Thanksgiving as. And most of all, may you have a friend today.

Something Unpredictable

Inevitably life comes in seasons. Much like the four seasons that greet us at the door each year, we journey through a sectioned life. Seasons in our lives change. Change perpetuates more change. It’s not all bad… because we need that change to grow. People enter and leave our lives for seasons. And sometimes that’s ok… and sometimes it hurts terribly.

So how do you endure… how do you persist?

First, knowing who you are is key. You have to understand your passions, your personality, your body and then sanction all of the above. Learning to be kind to yourself is a necessity. You have to know that when you are on your knees praying, your voice matters. You matter.

Next, it helps to understand the following helpful (rather painful) lesson. Some people who you have given your heart to and love deeply just can’t give that back to you. Maybe it’s because they don’t have it to give. Maybe they still don’t know who they are. Maybe they are just stretched too thin. Maybe they are fighting a bigger battle than you can compete with. Or maybe you just aren’t their person (Grey’s Anatomy reference). Here’s the thing: you can’t force that relationship… as much as you want it to happen, you have to let them go. As painful as it is, you have to release them.

You have to let them go so they can be. Let them be. And be kind to yourself, knowing you’ve just created more room for the right person for you. Or just room for you to breathe again and keep growing.

Often when you let something go, something that matters greatly, you get it back again. Maybe it’s time to let someone go.

And last, you focus on those people in your life who do not change with the seasons. The ones who will hold you in bed when you are exhausted and the ones who will sit down at the kitchen table after their busy day to hear about yours. The ones who let you double dip. The ones who plop down next to you while you cry or confess your deepest insecurities. The ones who you can call 24/7. The ones who look into your eyes, and without speaking, tell you they’ll love you forever.

The ones who would be crushed if you weren’t in their lives tomorrow.

So thank those people in your life today because it takes a lot of bravery to love you like that.

For an INFP like me, this lesson may be one of the hardest I ever have to learn. But the learning of it, is also the path to freedom and hopefully, on the other side of the cloud, the sun’s just waiting to shine.

Have you had to let people go? How do you show those who love you that you appreciate them?