Friday, September 27, 2013

Mary, My Matron

I initially resisted my saint.

Our church was all white people before we came along. However, I have never been made to feel weird or awkward or had someone make "accidentally racist" careless comments to us. However, in some small chit chat during our initial visits, one of the members mentioned that his patron is St. Moses the Black. It was certainly surprising that this oldish, run-of-the-mill, white guy had a Black patron saint. He took that opportunity to tell me that there were lots of African saints in Orthodoxy. I hadn't asked, but looking back on it, I see that he was making sure that my child and I knew that this wasn't just some church that was for white people. We live in the American South and what Dr. Martin Luther King said is still true: "We must face the sad fact that at the eleven o’ clock hour on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America."

Anyway, the man at church walked me around the church, showing all of the African saints on the walls. The first woman he showed me was St. Mary of Egypt. Later, I read more about her. To be quite honest, I wasn't "impressed". She didn't stick out to me. I think that I still had a very superficial view with regards to the saints. When the priest told my child and I we should be thinking about who we wanted to choose, my VanGoghKid went home and looked up the saints celebrated on hir birthday and found hir matron(s) within 5 minutes. They were absolutely perfect for hir. I was pretty astounded. It was like God just dropped them into hir lap and they were ready-made role models with the same career as hir and many similar coincidences in their lives (including curious gender issues).

I did NOT have the same experience. None of the saints from my birthday stood out to me. I looked at lists of saints online. I checked out books from the library. So many people in my church were telling them that they felt as if their saint really chose them. I did not experience that. I was trying so hard and praying about it. As our baptism neared, folks started suggesting saints and again someone mentioned St. Mary of Egypt. But I wanted a saint with a snazzy story, something cool. I cringe now thinking about it, but it's just the truth.

Then, 2 weeks before baptism, I was getting ready for Liturgy. I stepped out of the shower and then she came to mind. It really was like people said. I was almost sure and I was excited to tell my priest that I might have someone in mind. I went to church that morning and who were we commemorating that day? St. Mary of Egypt. I didn't even know anything about some saints having floating days nor did I know that we'd be commemorating her that day. Welp, I don't think she could have made it any clearer that we were going to do this Orthodoxy journey together.

Picture Description: St. Mary is wrapped in a brown cloak she borrowed from St. Zosima. One arm and shoulder remain exposed. Her hair is brown and white and brushes her shoulders. Her skin is golden brown. Her left hand hold the cloak against her body. In her right hand she holds up a wooden cross. A thin halo surrounds her head.

After we chose each other, I began to understand why she was meant to be my saint. The reasons that I'd been uninterested in her were the very same factors why I needed her. In all of her icons, she is very emaciated. Truthfully, so am I. I have struggled to gain more weight, but I'm learning that even with this body I can serve God. In the icons, her hair is prematurely gray. So is mine, thanks to the toll that cancer has taken on my body. She had been an adventurous woman who wanted to see the world. That's totally me. She had never married, though she'd unashamedly enjoyed her sexuality. No judging, y'all, but that's also like me. Also, for over fifteen years, I'd studied Semitic languages and studied North African and Arab cultures. This was where she lived and died.

No other saint that I read about could better understand me and my experiences. Though relatively little is known about her, I realized that her story is far from thin or simple. So, there's my long winded story about how St. Mary of Egypt became my matron saint.


I'd just finished writing this post and it occurred to me that I might have already written this as part of my baptism post. I used the search feature and realized that I didn't actually write a post about my baptism nor have I mentioned anything about the saints. However, I did find this

Our Lady of Africa

and this

Picturing the Feminine Divine

I wrote both of these posts before I'd ever even heard of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Make of that what you will.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chronic Pain

I've shown pictures of my morning dose of 5 different medicines that I have to take to get my day started. Three of them are pain medicines, one is for making sure that I can keep the pain meds down, and the last one is an anti-anxiety drug. That is what I must do EVERY SINGLE DAY, just to be have some semblance of a life, just to be able to eat and move and shower and go shopping. This is what it means to have chronic pain. It's not just achy joints or morning stiffness or sore elbows or whatever folks think we mean when we tell you about it. Pills for breakfast is what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dear God, My Neck Hurts!!

Today, a white intersectional feminist--her name is Xenologer and she's a good example of "doin' it right" with regards to being an ally--passed on a link to an amazing declaration called, "I Don’t Want Tim Wise As An Ally. No Thanks." I decided to post my comment here, because it may make it more likely for other people to see and consider it and that would be a good thing.

This is wonderful and absolutely needed. I just wish that even one critique of Tim Wise would include at least a mention of his horrendous ableism. This man has been marginalizing people with disabilities during all of this and I haven't seen a single prominent blog draw attention to this and how it affects the lives of people of color with disabilities vastly more than the lives of white people. We're being killed by folks who think and talk like this man and even my people, my people of color, whom I love so dearly and support, don't seem to notice or speak up or join us when disability rights activists and advocates are talking about it.

I'm just a minor blogger. The only pay I receive for writing is when I'm editing and improving someone else's work. My name doesn't appear no matter how many sentences and paragraphs that I churn out whenever I can even get a writing job. The most I have to show for all of the writing that I've done for over a decade is a little Blogspot address with my personal experiences and views and some guest posts on mainstream white colonial feminist websites.

So, I don't expect any white people to pay attention when folks like me point out the myriad ways this kind of ableism damages, marginalizes and often kills us. I don't expect that most non-disabled folks would be willing to read an entire article or opinion piece by a person of color with disabilities who has to live on the margins, as sister Gloria Anzaldúa wrote about. However, I ask this with all sincerity and hope. Please, if you're someone with a voice that people listen to, please consider including a mention of this white man's ableism. Hell, if you can't or don't want to do it yourself, I'll write it for you and you can put your name on it for all I care.

We're dying over here and folks don't seem to notice it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

When Your Whiteness Is No Longer Enough

I felt a lot of sympathy for this guy when I first read about how New Zealand was treating him because of his weight. After all, the man was still active enough to work and he had lost weight since entering the country. Yet, New Zealand decided to reject his application to stay in the country. They've compromised a little by allowing him to stay in the country for a year, but making it illegal for him to participate in any publicly funded health care.

I decided to visit the man's blog. His wife explains what has happened to them and the distressful situation they are now facing. After all of that, she adds,

No country loses so many citizens as South Africa has done for no good reason.  After being totally settled we are now expected to sell off what we have to return to a country that has swopped one discriminatory policy for another while the world is congratulating itself on dismantling the former policy while turning a blind eye to what is happening to there. This is our story and most importantly we need help to not get deported on humanitarian grounds while we try and get this sorted.

After participating in the apartheid system in South Africa, where they inflicted themselves on the indigenous people of that country, they've gone to New Zealand. Mind you, this is a country that is already swamped with white settlers overwhelming the indigenous Māori population. They would have people feel sorry for them, because white people have rejected them and are willing to send them back to the mess that they made of the last country they inhabited. Comparing what is happening now to what was happening during Apartheid is just ridiculous. This isn't the first time I've seen white South Africans complaining that they are being discriminated against and it is all because they've lost some of the privileged status they once held.

This white couple is still advantaged over the indigenous people of New Zealand and South Africa. Sure, right now it's probably a lot better to be white in New Zealand than in South Africa, but whose fault is that? Who is to blame? How many countries will these same people be able to come, conquer, and ruin before moving on to other already inhabited places?

Really, until New Zealand does a better job of caring for the Māori, I think I'll find it hard to feel bad for people like this. They know nothing about what it means to need humanitarian asylum. After all, who are they running from? If South Africa is really their home, then they'd simply be returning to their own people. However, it's clear from this quote that they recognize that they didn't belong in South Africa to begin with.

Other white people may be turning a blind eye to what is happening in South Africa. That much is true. But people of color are watching it all unfold. What we see in South Africa is just what one would expect after decades of apartheid policies and laws and treatment. Did white people in South Africans think there would be no consequences for their murderous abuse of the Africans?

South Africa embarrassed the world. They were too aggressive in their enforcement of white privilege. It became a liability to be associated with them. In the end, they were left with the occupied state of Israel as the last of apartheid South Africa's supporters. That is significant all by itself. Anyway, now that the chickens have come home to roost, we have white South Africans behaving like rats off on a sinking ship. Nope. I'm just not feeling bad for this guy, not one bit.

What Happens When Violence Broods

It seems that a defense contractor who was allowed onto a Naval yard in Washington, D.C. decided to kill nearly a dozen people.

This nation was baptized in violence and can only be maintained through violence. This is what happens when you create a system that makes it acceptable to use violence to enact political change. Until the USA acknowledges its paternity, people will continue running around after incidents like this wondering where all of this violence is coming from. That's my opinion, at least.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Food Stamp Furors

Tonight I saw someone making claims about food stamp users. They were saying that they worked at a store and, well, read for yourself:
 I work in a store. you really don't want to know about the cigs and other junk they buy. And when they come in and they have just smoked a joint or they are drunk on a daily basis. They have money for all these things. Then they take cash out of the cash side of EBT and walk across to the wine and spirits shop to buy their next drunk. Spend some time in a store watching this, and you will change your mind
I couldn't believe someone would make such ridiculous assertions. The article was about people receiving food stamps and how a politician in Tennessee wants to limit the kinds of food that they can purchase. It wasn't about any other program. However, to get cash benefits, individuals have to be working a certain amount of hours at a job. So, if we're going to tell working people what they should be able to do with their money, everyone needs to mail their checkbook to me so that I can make a list of approved (and disapproved) future purchases.

I've worked at stores and I've seen just the opposite of what this woman reported. I've seen people come up with all kinds of ingenious ways to create meals cheaper than I'd have ever thought possible. I've seen parents buy regular food for their children but purchase nothing but ramen for themselves for a month so that they'll have enough stamps left over for their kids to have a decent birthday cake. I've seen folks using food stamps to buy expensive cases of Boost and Ensure just to stay alive because they have cancer and they're out of work and those high calorie, sweetened drinks are the only thing they can tolerate while they're in chemotherapy and radiation. I've seen people bringing in competitor's advertisements for price matching so that they can get the best deal possible at the one grocery store they were able to get to. I've seen neighbors pool their hard-earned money to buy a deep freezer they can both use to store food bought in bulk.

No one is more industrious and clever than a truly poor person. If they are able to come in every day (as the person claimed) and buy stuff, it means they must be managing their money pretty damn well. I'm not on food stamps and even I have had times where I couldn't just go to the store and buy enough groceries to get through the month.

Thank God I had a financially comfortable family that wasn't willing to let me and my child starve when I had to cut back my hours at the store because my chemotherapy was making me throw up every where. I didn't even stop working during chemo, because I was too poor for that to even seem like an option.

Imagine being too sick to afford to buy enough food for your family and then, when someone else is nice enough to use their hard-earned money to feed you, you throw it all up. The humiliation and embarrassment is more than many folks will probably ever understand. If my tax dollars can save someone from having to go hungry or if it makes it possible for them to just pig out on junk food while they live out the last couple months of their terminal diagnosis, then I consider it a pretty good damn investment in society.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

War, Rape, and Propaganda

A few weeks ago, I was lunching with an old friend who is a war veteran. He started talking about his service and how he feels about those experiences. He told me that he's always embarrassed when people on the street thank him for his service--that's something I've always done when I see a soldier, by the way. He feels like no one should thank him for the actions he carried out overseas. He feels like the military used him. He recalled an incident during training when they watched a PowerPoint presentation and one slide showed "our" military with a bunch of muscled US soldiers posing for the camera. The next slide showed "their" military and it was a picture of dead bodies strewn on the ground. He was so sickened that he had to leave out. Afterward, he told the presenter that he felt like it was an insult to their intelligence to use that kind of sick propaganda to promote the wars they were being sent to fight.

I didn't even know how to respond to what he said. The things that the military did to him were only slightly better than the things that they had him do to others. I've known this guy since I was in middle school. He served in both the army and the Air Force and was discharged honorably. I trust him and believe him. Though the things he said were terrible, I think that anyone who saw and heard what he said would believe him, too.

After thinking about that conversation over the past couple weeks, I saw this:

U.S. Army Private LaVena  Lynn Johnson, RIP
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Private LaVena Lynn Johnson killed herself on July 19, 2005, eight days before her twentieth birthday. Exactly how did she end her life? She punched herself in the face hard enough to blacken her eyes, break her nose, and knock her front teeth loose. She douched with an acid solution after mutilating her genital area. She poured a combustible liquid on herself and set it afire. She then shot herself in the head. Despite this massive self-inflicted trauma, she somehow managed to drag her then fully clothed body into the tent of a KBR contractor, leaving a trail of blood along the way and set the tent ablaze in a failed attempt to cover up her crimes against herself.
What can anyone say that would excuse or justify what was done to this woman? All I can do is provide an explanation. The US military is a corrupt system. It is incapable of providing justice. There's a part of me that wants to amend that first sentence by saying that the US military is now a corrupt system. After all, like a good American, I was brought up with a certain amount of reverence for the military. The best I can say is that not all soldiers are corrupt. Not all soldiers rape and kill. However, it's necessary to recognize that these rapes are almost always acceptable in militaries where there's prolonged war. In the killing of POC around the world, they're already committing atrocities and having those atrocities excused. Right now, one in three women serving in the military are sexually assaulted by other service members. What happened to Private Johnson is simply another atrocity committed against a POC during wartime. We should expect nothing less, nothing different, in this situation.