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Archive for September, 2009

Let me state it for posterity, in unequivocal terms: I H-E-A-R-T Barack Obama. And not in a “you’re-so-sexy-I-wanna-get-with-you” way. In a “You are a capital-L Leader who has vision and wisdom and EMPATHY (you heard me)” way. And I’m not a latecomer, either. I hitched my wagon to this star way back in June ’07, when I bought a deck of Barack Obama playing cards at Politics and Prose in our nation’s capitol:

They're inspiring, but lousy for playing Nerts.

They're inspiring, but lousy for playing Nerts.

And lest this isn’t evidence enough, let the record state that my first bumpersticker said “Obama ’08” and my first, second, third, fourth (etc.) campaign contributions were to “Obama for America” during the primary and general campaigns  (BTW – don’t believe everything you see on The Huffington Post). (Also, to the development staff at the DNC: just because I donated a couple hundred bucks does NOT mean I can pony up $15K for dinner with the prez, regardless of my explosive admiration – but thank you for the invitation).

I even tried to win one of the “have dinner with Barack and other key demographic representatives who might sway the vote of some people like them” (not sure that was the actual name) contests. I wrote this somewhat-contrived sounding (but sincere) piece and shot it off into cyberspace, with nary a reply (I’m not bitter!).

In February of 2000 I spent twelve days in Gjakova, Kosova. I was 28 years old, fresh out of college, working for a fundamentalist Christian humanitarian aid organization, and outside North America for the first time in my life. The devastation was rampant – Gjakova suffered more deaths than any other city in the province – and in the face of their overwhelming losses the people were unfailingly generous, warm and hospitable. Time and again, upon discovering that we were American, people would grasp our hands, kiss us soundly on both cheeks, and thank us for saving them. Photos of President Clinton – against whom I voted twice – were posted everywhere, alongside photos of KLA leader Ramush Haradinaj. The two were the national heroes. While in Kosova, I vacillated continuously between feelings of great pride and great shame. As an American, I was grateful that our government had urged NATO to intervene. And I was troubled by how easy it was for me to stay uninformed, blithely going on with my life while people suffered.

That trip was the genesis of a significant shift in my ideology, theology and politics. I had grown up in a white, middle class Lutheran family in the suburbs of Seattle and became a fundamentalist late in my teens. For the decade following, I was a one-issue voter, paying little attention to the needs of those outside my church. After my trip to Kosova, fundamentalism was a much less comfortable fit. Slowly compassion and a commitment to community replaced self-righteousness and judgment as the expression of my faith.

One of my final acts as a conservative Christian was voting for George W. Bush in November of 2000. While I understand that as a voter in Washington State, I had no influence on the election’s outcome, I look back on that as one of the few things in my life that I regret.

The blessings in my life are too numerous to count. Chief among them is my community. Participating in the lives of my friends and having them participate in mine, contributing to one another’s success and well being is fundamental. I believe that we were designed to live in community at a personal, local and national level; that we have an obligation to give and to receive.

Paradoxically, as my transforming faith urged me to become more engaged in my community, my disillusionment with this administration made me ashamed to be an American. Patriotism became entwined with imperialism in my mind. Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Hurricane Katrina – to me these became signs of the inevitable decline of empire. This administration’s intolerance of opposing viewpoints and rampant fear-mongering eroded my sense of national identity. For the last several years I’ve held a dim view of America’s future.

Senator Obama’s campaign has – dare I say it? – restored my hope. In his speeches and writings, I’ve caught glimpses of the nobility of democracy, and felt moments of pride in the American dream. For the first time in my life, I believe that the ideal of individual sacrifice for the advancement of society is more than a pipe dream – that people desire to work together for the common good. I want to be a part of that vision, to take my place among those working to make this a more perfect union.

Over dinner with the Senator, I would love to discuss his vision for civic engagement – how an alliance of the public, private, nonprofit and citizen sectors can reimagine and reshape education, health care, affordable housing, to name just a few, restoring this country’s future.

Anyway, blah blah blah.

So it was with enormous, heart-bursting gratitude and joy that I watched those electronic, over-produced U.S. maps turn mostly blue all across basic cable on November 4, 2008. And the euphoric feelings ramped up and up through January 20th. I was so proud and moved to witness, alongside lovely, lovely friends including two handsome boys in high chairs, who clapped at all the right places, this historic sight: 

Look at those amazing gams! And by the way, is that Andy Bernard's slightly chubby cousin trailing the first couple?

Look at those amazing gams! And by the way, is that Andy Bernard's slightly chubby cousin trailing the first couple?

And, I’m willing to admit, this sight gave me plenty of warm fuzzies as well:

Goodbye, W.

Goodbye, W.

Not since FDR has an American president inherited such a pile of poo from his predecessor. President Obama has grappled with an enormous economic crisis, two messy wars, a healthcare debacle and our nation’s stinky reputation in his 8+ months in office. (By the time I’d finished eight months at my current job, I finally had the jargon down – but a lot of the concepts still alluded me, and I’m a smart cookie!) And he’s making headway. It’s incremental, painful, not always ideal, but it’s headed in the right direction. And he’s gracious, articulate, frank….

I’m still quite proud of him.

So you can imagine my… irritation? fury? homicidal impulses? when I hear mean-spirited, spiteful, attention-whore JACKASSES on certain cable news programs liken our president to Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot. And my accompanying frustration and disappointment when innocently ignorant people echo these sentiments rather than engage in real debate.

My hat’s off to Barney Frank in this clip.

He’s on the money: it’s impossible to engage in a real conversation, where common ground might be reached, when someone is shouting “Facist! Socialist! Communist!” seemingly never taking a breath. Besides, isn’t it pretty basic knowledge that those three “ists” are not synonymous? Today, I came across the perfect image that expressed my bemusement and inspired this long, long post:

Alas, I can't name the fourth "ism" represented here. Pacifism? Liberalism? Peacism?

Alas, I can't name the fourth "ism" represented here. Pacifism? Liberalism? Peacism?

I say to those who shout and shout: read up a little on history, political ideology, and current issues, and let’s have a real debate. I’m betting we can teach one another a thing or two.

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Last month I had one of the best vacations of my life. I spent a week in Ciudad de Mexico, or Distrito Federal (which, when a friend sent an email wishing me a good trip in the DF, I replied that I was going to Mexico, not the Dominican Republic. Whoopsy.)

And while the food, culture and scenery were all fabulous, what made it such a stellar trip was one of those remarkable women: Megan Elizabeth O’Hanlon Solis. I call her Megs. Or sometimes Weirdo.

Megs and I met in college, and first got to know each other a little bit when she played the doctor in the production of “Shadowlands” that I directed. Megan’s stage presence and terrific timing were crystal clear, and she was incredibly conscientious about showing up on time and knowing her lines. It was a rather small part that she performed with aplomb – except that she couldn’t remember her one piece of business: carrying a chair offstage at the end of her scene.

Megs and I at Teotihuacan. My knowledgeable (and cheap!) tour guide told me that the pyramid behind us was more than a mile away.

Megs and I at Teotihuacan. My knowledgeable (and cheap!) tour guide told me that the pyramid behind us was more than a mile away.

As it was eleven years ago (crikey!), I can only visualize short segments of the rehearsals or performances, but one I do recall is sitting in the seats in Eastvold, stopping the scene after Megan exited, and calling her back onto the stage. “Megan, is there anything you’re forgetting?” I asked. The puzzled look that is now so very familiar appeared on her face. “I don’t think so,” she responded. Classic.

I also remember sitting in those same chairs a night or two later, taking notes during a run through, and writing in six-inch-high letters across the page, “STRIKE THE CHAIR!!!!!!!!!” I’m not sure if she ever did it flawlessly in rehearsal, but I learned during the run of the show that Megs is a pro: not once did she forget during performances.

Megs and I didn’t get really close until after I graduated, wandered in the Oklahoma wilderness, and returned home. My first two months back in Washington were spent living in the Hot Box, a house near PLU that Megan’s mom’s boyfriend owned. “We lived together?!?” Megan asked when the subject came up during my visit. “Yes Megan. It’s when we accidentally set Elvis on fire in the bathroom, remember?”

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I have the best community. It is, by far, the most valuable thing in my life. It’s how I experience God in this world.

And it’s a pretty disparate bunch of people – a conglomeration of my years as a fundamentalist, a college student, a theatre chick, a Catholic poseur (it’s better in Francais), a philanthropy wonk and an online dater, plus my family and book group and a high school friend or two. Collectively they’re really smart, really generous, really ha-larious people.

The guys are stunning: one bought me the very laptop on which I’m composing this post; one sings on Broadway, one tapped me to stage manage his fortieth birthday party, and one stage managed the gathering I had after my dad died. He helped me plan while lying flat on my living room floor, his back having gone out earlier that evening. They make me laugh, make beautiful music, hold me accountable, and live well in the world.

But these women….

I am blessed with a legion of women friends; they are the core of my life. It is going to take many, many posts to do them justice individually and collectively. Tonight, I’d like to start with one of the Jennifers (incidentally, a name that I would bestow on a daughter, since my life has been immeasureably enriched by Jenny, Jen, Jenny and Jen) – the one I’ve known longest.

“Spicy Jenny” (as I distinguish her from four others) has been on my mind a lot this week. We chatted a few days ago for the first time in awhile, and she asked me lots of good questions about my trip to Mexico City (more on that another day), which is typical – she’s terrific at asking after what’s going on in my life, and responding with great enthusiasm. It’s really gratifying to share news and stories with her.

After hearing my tales, she told me about the happenings in her life – in particular, a situation with a long-time friend who has cut her off. There’s a lump forming in my throat and a constriction in my chest even as I write this, thinking about this dear woman’s pain and confusion.

I believe to my core that even when a friendship is coming to an end – and it’s inevitable that some do in everyone’s life – no one deserves to be ignored or abandoned without explanation. Having lost close friends both this way and to unexpected death, I’m willing to say that the cold shoulder is the more devastating situation from which to recover. When it happened to me, it shook my self-confidence and made me second-guess all of my friendships. It was dreadful, one of the most difficult seasons of my life.

So it makes my stomach contract to think of it happening to this lovely woman. The irony is that if I were to pick one attribute of Jenny’s to emulate (there are many), it would be the way she cares for her friends. Jenny fiercely supports the people she loves – throwing parties, writing letters, listening well, and on and on. Jenny is a doula, which sums up the way she lives her life: as a mother to the mothers, a caretaker – the kind of woman that gets invited to the most personal experience in someone’s life – giving birth. I always feel well cared for and highly valued in her presence. She’s one of the significant ways that I experience God.

So I wish I could make it all better. I wish that her friend would snap out of it and call Jenny and apologize RIGHT NOW. But since my wand has not yet arrived, I’ll send my dear Jenny light and grace and peace, and strive to be more like her each day.

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And… scene.

vagina-clown-car-demotivational-poster

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It’s 12:20 AM on Friday morning and I have to be at work later so I SHOULD be in bed, but pooh on that, because I went to a Storm game tonight and when I came home I had to visit with Angie and eat chocolate cake and read my fave blogs and watch Glee. Soon, very soon, I will sleep.

But first, I have something to say.

I read an article in the NYer this week about Mr Isomething, the leader of the Liberal Party in Canada, whose likely to be the next PM. He was in the backseat of a car on the way to Stratford Shakespeare Festival (which the author had the cojones to call the far-and-away best classical company in North America, and my ignorance in this area means I don’t have a leg to stand on in dispute), and made the point that liberty and equality are not easily reconciled.

This got me thinking.

I love many people with whom I don’t agree about many things. Once upon a time I did agree, but no longer. These people, who have treated me so well for many, many years, esteem liberty above all other ideals. Me, I’ve got to go with equality.

American folklore pushes us one direction: “Give me liberty or give me death” is something I’ve known for as long as I can remember. Quotes about equality – I’ve got nothing. Except “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Conservatives embrace liberty as a God-given right, but I can’t see a way to true liberty without first pursuing equality. Whether or not legislation dictates what we can and cannot do, if my neighbor lacks food or shelter or healthcare, neither of us is free.

The American, declarative motto of “in God we trust” is perfectly adequate, a statement with which I agree. But I prefer the French motto: “liberty, equality, fraternity,” in which I see a lifelong pursuit: recognize that we’re one family, treat everyone well, ensuring that each is provided for, and liberty will come to all. This is how I want to live.

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