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“Women so empowered are dangerous”: on living intentionally, learning jobs, and Audre Lorde

So, for those of you who don’t know, I am beginning a year of intentional living and volunteer service in Nashville, TN. Since most of the things that I do seem to involve a bunch of syllables that nobody really understands (nonprofit lyfe???), I’ll define that!

Intentional living:

I am living with four other young female-identifying folks in a cozy little house. In addition to creating rules, guidelines, and best practices for living together in our house, we do the same for how we live our lives. We have established rules for cleaning our physical space as well as for keeping our community healthy and happy. Here are some examples: we have a schedule for who does what job when, but we also have a rule about spending at least one night a week having dinner and fellowshipping with each other. All decisions about when visitors can come, what food we buy with our communal food budget, and when to schedule our mandatory “hanging out” time are based on consensus.

To come up with these rules, we had to individually think about how we live (and how we want to live) and intentionally build a list of foods, practices, and other “do”s and “don’t”s that contribute to us functioning as our best selves. Then we came together as a group and described what was on each of our lists, working on truly hearing each other and understanding what each of us needs and how we can help each other, and our community, grow.

Volunteer service:

You might be wondering what I do while I live in community with these people. Well, I will be doing lots of things.

1. We all work for the center that houses us, this awesome conference- and community center called the Scarritt-Bennett Center, in their Education, Programs and Connections Office. This first four months of the program, I’m working in the garden, helping plan some sustainability efforts for the conference center, planning an interfaith climate vigil, and other things that bring together interfaith work and environmental sustainability.

2. We have non-profit placements! Each of us spends most of the week working for a local Nashville non-profit organization. I am working for an organization called Plant the Seed. Plant the Seed does environmental education through garden work with children in lower-income areas of Nashville. Through working in the garden and learning about the ways that human life is connected to the Earth’s life, kids are empowered to take ownership over their food. We also talk about food as something that has the power to connect people across divides of language, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, and faith. Everyone has the right to access fresh food that they have a connection with historically and culturally, and that they know how to prepare.

Isn’t that cool? Living intentionally and learning about my job(s) has been a ton of fun this week. I even got to help 4-year-olds plant lettuce and radish seeds at a pre-K openhouse on Saturday. How fun is that?!

So the last part: Audre Lorde. If you don’t know who Audre Lorde is, check out this article. Or this one. Or this one. Check out some of her poetry here. After four years at Oberlin College, I’d come across more people talking about her life and her work than her writing assigned to me in class…is that a coincidence, that I never was made to read the “feminist lesbian poet mother warrior”‘s work in my elite liberal art school education? Or did I just not take the right classes? The jury is out on that one. All I know is that she writes life. She writes fire. She writes reality.

In our first seminar this week, we read a section from “The Uses of the Erotic,” one of Lorde’s famous works. One sentence stuck out to me:

“Women so empowered are dangerous.”

Lorde wrote this in the context of an essay about how the sensual, physical reality of community and worth in this country is separated from spirituality and politics. People (particularly those with bodies and identities not conforming to the dominant idealized culture, read: those who are not rich, white, male, educated, etc.) are used to separating their physicality from the other aspects of their life, when really we should be inhabiting our body fully in everything we do.

That’s kinda abstract, right? Think about this: when many people go to work, they get in a car instead of walking; instead of feeling the temperature of the air, the weather of the day, and experiencing the strain of walking on their muscles, we live in an auto-centric culture that divides us from both physical exertion and the elements–and each other. Think about this: most of the food people in the United States eat has been transported quite a distance from the locale where it was grown; the presence of corn-syrup based and sugar-rich products has overwhelmed the presence of garden-fresh food; the amount of processing that many foods go through before they encounter our digestive system is enormous. We have been separated from our food. Think about suburbs. Think about the idea that community life in the United States has been dying. Think about the way that women are looked down on for being “emotional,” are called “crazy,” and have to conform their bodies to others’ expectations. We have been separated from our bodies, from our sensation, from our experiences in the “natural world.” What even IS natural anymore? (Ok, that was a little bit of a rant, thanks for hanging with me.)

Lorde says that people who realize this separation, who see many problems in the world as a product of this separation from the erotic/sensual existence, are dangerous. Women, particularly, who realize that a facet of their existence has been stolen from them by expectations of beauty, jobs, motherhood, and all those things that we stereotype as the feminine…those women are dangerous.

“Women so empowered are dangerous.”

I’ve been coming to realize that here, in the Belle H. Bennett House, we are dangerous. We are subversive in the way that we choose each other as friends and cohabitators in our small community for a year. We are dangerous in the conversations we have, the books we read, the pronouns we use for God. We are dangerous in our matching experience to academic knowledge, and then bringing that to the work we do as we strive to be agents and facilitators of empowerment and community building. We are dangerous because we know how to name the oppressions we and our families (biological and chosen) have experienced and are living in reality every day. We are dangerous because we are so bold as to inquire “why?” as well as “why not?” We are dangerous because we are becoming acquainted with our own power–the power of our bodies, minds, and spirits. We are dangerous because we are speaking our hope for a better world into being and calling on each other to take action. We are dangerous because we can no longer be silent at the oppression of our siblings, no matter what religious identity, sexuality, or geographical location. We can no longer remain bystanders. We can no longer accept our role as complicit in the suffering of the human family, as well as the degradation of the Earth our Mother. We can no longer accept a religion that compartmentalizes our life experiences and answers our desperate pleas with a paternal stare. We are dangerous because we have had enough. We know our power, and we are using it.

 

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Canada, Michigan, and Nashville, Oh My!

WOW. So many transitions!

In the midst of all these transitions, I’ve been making a list of things I wanted to blog about. This post is about the things on that list.

1. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America Summer Peace Camp 2014 (a.k.a. “Peace Camp!”): Imagine a ton of progressive Baptists from California, Texas, Ohio, New York, Ontario, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, North Carolina, Tennessee and a bunch of other locales gathered together at a large Canadian university in the Niagara region, singing and praying and dancing and laughing and worshipping and loving together while doing conference things, attending workshops, sharing meals, riding the Maid of the Mist (in Canada it’s called the Hornblower) at Niagara Falls, and of course, visiting some beautiful organic wineries. Wish you were there, right?

One of the best things about this conference (and there were a lot of best things I could talk about) was the young adult group. The young adults ranged from college aged to folks in divinity school to teachers and people who self-identify as a young adult (and who’s to say what “young” is?!) These folks welcomed me (a non-Baptist first-timer) into one of the official Young Adult Townhouses (read: we stay up late and chat and are goofy ’til the early a.m. and then are late for breakfast and morning worship) and also into their fun and friendly group dynamic. Everyone was willing to share of themselves, discussing spirituality and God and their life, and just simply walking alongside each other in each other’s spiritual journeys. So much love and life and peace in that group. ❤

2. Michigan

So, post-Wild Goose and pre-BPFNA I was mostly hanging around my hometown in mid-Michigan. This was a much-needed rest period. I got to hang out with some awesome friends from high school who are still the hilarious, loving, and supportive folks I remember them to be. Much love was shared!

 

I also got to hang out with my family, boating and watching our favorite tv shows and movies, as well as traveling to Illinois to see my mom’s side of the family for the 4th of July. My cousins and their children are some of the most important people in my life and I value any time I get to see them! Being around my family is an incredibly important part of my life, and I always feel warmed and renewed by their presence.

And because family is not only defined by blood relations, I valued the time to see my best friend, her husband, and her mom more than usual. They are some of the strongest people I know, and whether sharing spaghetti together or going out for drinks or eating pizza on the couch, they are the coolest and definitely part of my family.

I also, importantly, got to sleep in and watch Netflix and do crafts and cook tasty things. Yay.

3. NASHVILLE

Oh my goodness! So, guess what? I moved! To Nashville! The first five days have been amazing. I thought I’d have some separation anxiety (from the Great Lakes, from Michigan, from family, etc.) but it’s going really well. I’m part of an amazing group in the Belle H. Bennett House at the Scarritt-Bennett Center, nestled in midtown Nashville between Vanderbilt University and Music Row. (Yes, THE music row. Celebrities are found running around everywhere, from what I hear. I was pretty sure that I saw the actress who plays Rayna James in the show “Nashville” the other day, and we can see Taylor Swift’s (or TayTay, as I fondly call her) penthouse from our porch. Wut.)

Our house is beautiful. The people inside it are beautiful. The campus of SBC is beautiful. The programs are beautiful. Wow. I’m just amazed at the amazing things going on around here. In the first several days of this fellowship program, we have attended seminars on interfaith relations and Nashville’s role in the civil rights movement (watch “A Force More Powerful”), mapped big events in women’s history, and mapped the trajectory of our own lives and spirituality. It’s been, quite simply, amazing. I am so convinced that I made the right decision as to what program I engage during this year (or two) before going to divinity school. While I know that working for AmeriCorps would have been a wonderful opportunity, and one that I might still do sometime, I am so glad to be living and working alongside a group of young women that hold the same values and ideals as I do. We can (and have) talked about race, sexism, immigration, faith, church, friends, family, life plans, and how we can encourage each other to live the life we want to live. They’re great. I’m blessed.

So, yeah. That’s my list. Since I’m in a listing mood, I’ll give y’all another list:

Things I’m thankful for:

  1. gardens–including the dirt, bugs, sunburns, and weeds they come with
  2. Skype–I’m taking advantage of this a lot! It’s a great way to stay in touch with my loved ones. Sometimes it’s so nice to see someone’s face after a long day.
  3. walking–my housemate Elena and I went on a 3.47 mile walk yesterday, all around our neighborhood and a nearby park. Even though it was 91 degrees, we lasted very well and I felt energized all day.
  4. Oberlin connections–a good friend of mine from Oberlin just moved here to start at Vanderbilt Divinity School in several weeks. It was a blessing to see his face yesterday and know that some good friends are nearby!
  5. church–I love church. And I’m defining church as a community of people that get together and support each other and enjoy fellowshipping with each other. I was invited to a church this morning through some Peace Camp connections, which was so uplifting and inspiring. The service was beautiful and familiar, and I’m super glad I got to go.
  6. Country songs that I know–my house has been exploring the area a bit and has stumbled into some cool venues for country music and dancing. I feel really good when I know the songs–but my country music knowledge is in need of improvement. If you have some favorite singers, send them my way!

Food for thought: What are you thankful for today?