Big Questions

Can I be happy?
How can I be happy?
What do I want to do and be in the world?
How do I find peace?
Do I believe in Jesus?

Why?
Why me?
Why am i here?
Why my particular collection of circumstances and neuroses?

How do I live in my body?
How do I live in the world?

Where do I find healing?
What needs healing?

Where is beauty?

How do I trust?

 

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Faithfulness to a leading: the Young Adult Friends’ workshop on racism in our community at PYM Sessions 2017

It’s been almost a year since one of the most powerful movements of the Spirit I’ve ever experienced in my life. It would not be incorrect to call what happened a miracle. Since it happened, I’ve struggled with how to write about. For a long time, I didn’t know how to understand what had happened, and it took me until just recently to understand that it was a story about faithfulness to a leading. Continue reading

The Wedding Ring, a drama in four acts

Ring 2

With thanks to Teya from Theater of Witness, who facilitated my developing this piece.

(Ring placed on the ground in front to the speaker)

Act 1: My grandmother, Martha Josephine Keeler, nee Haeberlin

My grandmother:

  • had an early relationship — a marriage — that fell apart
  • wrote a novel
  • married an intellectual

(speaker puts on wedding ring)

  • had an active spiritual life that some of her loved ones didn’t understand
  • had three kids
  • died when they were in their teens of cancer

(speaker takes a large step forward, takes off the wedding ring and places it on the ground in front of her)

Act 2: My mother, Linda Sanno Keeler

My mother:

  • had several early relationships — including being the “other woman” in an open marriage — that fell apart
  • worshiped her (fallible) father
  • traveled the world
  • married an intellectual

(speaker puts on wedding ring)

  • had two kids
  • wrote a novel
  • died when they were small of cancer

(speaker takes a large step forward, takes off the wedding ring and places it on the ground in front of her)

Act 3: Me, Janaki Rhiannon Spickard Keeler

I:

  • had several early relationships — including being the second partner in a polyamorous arrangement — that fell apart
  • worshiped my (fallible) father
  • wrote five novels
  • traveled (some of) the world
  • have an active spiritual life that some of my loved ones don’t understand
  • married an intellectual

(speaker puts on wedding ring)

(takes a step forward)

  • want kids, even though I’m terrified I’ll leave them due to cancer

(takes a step forward)

  • decided to become unfrozen

(takes a step forward)

  • got serious about getting healthy.  Started treating myself with kindness.  Listened to my body.  Prayed.  Exercised.  Went to more doctors.  Gave myself what I needed to heal because I deserved it.  Started taking myself seriously.  Asked for help.

(takes a step forward, raises hands to the sky)

I open to the miracle of healing!

(takes a step forward)

Act 4: My daughter, Eleanor Sanno Spickard Chiarello

My daughter will:

  • grow up knowing she is safe and loved
  • worship her (fallible) father
  • travel the world, if she wants to
  • write a novel, if she wants to
  • If she decides to get married, her mother will be there.  She will not wear the wedding ring that three generations of women wore before her.  That tradition stops with me.
  • If she decides to have kids, her mother will be right there.  She will never have to watch her die of cancer.

I Have To Do This Myself

I am on the phone with my brother.
The distance between us is vast
           A thousand miles, two thousand?
           Philadelphia to San Antonio
           I could book a trip tonight.

It’s the most words he’s spoken in over a year.
I know
           but still haven’t learned
                     to let the silence settle until he’s ready at last to speak.
He lives in hell and each word is a fight.

The darkness surrounds him.
          He doesn’t know he’s lost because the darkness blinds him.
          He can’t see the road to travel.
Psychiatrists, I tell him.
          Medications. Your brain isn’t working.
“I have to do this myself,” he tells me.

He hasn’t hit rock bottom
Then even that hope will be gone.

Twelve Steps, I whisper, desperate:
          a hypocrite who hasn’t gone to a meeting in a year
          who thanks God every week for partial recovery.

I hang up the phone and cry on my partner’s shoulder.
          “It isn’t fair that I got out of hell and he’s still there.”
My husband nods, strokes my hair.
           He doesn’t understand.
           I hope he never has reason to.
           I got a miracle. I should be grateful, but instead I wonder
                     why my brother didn’t get one too.

Pennsylvania to Texas: the distance between us is vast.
           I could book a flight, be there in twelve hours
                     Show up at his door, call the psychiatrist, take him to a meeting.

I know how this story ends
He’s got to love himself enough to want it.

Instead I cry. I don’t know that my brother will ever love himself enough to pick 
up the phone, book an appointment.
Part of me thinks he will die first, waiting for someone to save him.

Am I crying for him or for me?
           For me. If he dies, I’ll be all alone with the darkness.
           Who will save me?

But I know the answer that the darkness blinds him to.
I will. I will save me.

The distance between us is vast, uncrossable
           Or at least, I can’t cross it.
           I can only wait on the other side
           Hoping against hope
           That he will find his way through the darkness, be released from hell.
“I have to do this myself.”

Hand in Marriage

Fandom: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

Summary: When Igors wed, they give their hands in marriage.

Notes: Written for my sweetie, on the occasion of our marriage. 🙂

 

It used to be that when an Igor and an Igorina got married (or an Igor and an Igor, or an Igorina and an Igorina)*, the custom was that the two would give each other their hearts.

Literally.

A marriage ceremony for Igors was open heart surgery, and often went on for hours as the switch was made. Naturally, the most skilled Igor heart surgeons came to be highly in demand as officiants of weddings.

Of course, open heart surgery is a bit risky, even for Igors. And there was always the danger than an unscrupulous officiant – or bride or groom – would make off with one or both of the hearts. After a high-profile case in Überwald where a jealous third party paid off the officiant to switch his (the third party’s) heart with the bride’s and to leave the groom’s in place, the tradition began to fall out of favor.

Instead, with the rise of DIY weddings, Igors and Igorinas took matters into their own hands, so to speak. They cut out the middleman, and began the new tradition of giving their hand in marriage.

Nowadays, an Igor wedding is still a surgery. Each member of the couple removes their left hand. Working together, they will stitch one hand and then the other onto the respective arms of their loved one. While normally neatness of stitches and regularity of spacing are much prized by the Igors, it is considered a mark of passion to be so distracted by one’s partner’s eyes (occasionally but infrequently also exchanged) that the stitching looks like the work of a novice or child. Indeed, sloppy stitching is often the only sign apparent to outsiders that the Igor in question is married.

As many outsiders do not appreciate this custom, they take the irregular stitching as a sign of inferior skills. For this reason, many of the top Igor surgeons find that their non-emergency practice with other races drops off considerably after marriage. Igors consider this well worth the tradeoff. It is the ultimate act of trust to give up the hand that plays such a prominent part in an Igor’s livelihood.

In spite of the occasional passionate lover who continues to make a literal gift of their heart to their partner, everyone agrees that the new tradition of giving their hand in marriage is much preferable. Igors are a practical race, after all. Hearts can break; hearts can stop. A healing hand can start a stopped heart, can restore hope to a despairing soul, can sew up the wounds left by slings and arrows. A loving touch can overcome years of heartbreak and abuse. Igors know that hands are as powerful instruments of love as hearts are. By giving their hand in marriage, an Igor signals that love is more than just something one feels in their heart. Love is something an Igor does, actively: touching and shaping and uniting and sharing, hand to hand and heart to heart.

 

 

* Natal sex does not always matter to Igors the way it does to humans, especially given the way that physical parts can be easily removed and traded.

Exodus

The monastery was down a fifteen-mile unpaved road off the highway in the high desert.  The road ran along a river and had not been kept in good repair, so it took them a good hour to reach it.  Sophie was grateful to get out of the car and stretch her legs, and grateful too for the winding track up to the monastery building that gave her time to collect her thoughts.

They were here for Vespers, to hear the Gregorian chanting in this tiny backwater church under a sunbleached sky.  Miles from civilization, she figured the monks might need God more than they would if they’d had the distractions of city life.

The others in her party were ministers – not Catholic, but God was something they seemed to have down.  Sophie could count on one hand the number of her encounters with the divine, and none of them had been a particularly Christian God.  Still, she went to silent meditation twice a week with a mostly Christian crowd, and no other religion had held her interest for long, so perhaps by default she could call herself a Christian.

She wandered the compound for a bit, admiring the care that had gone into the architecture.  Once upon a time it would have driven her crazy; why bother to build a place like this when it had no earthly purpose?  But now she appreciated a church that would invest in the spiritual journeys of its acolytes, even if there was nothing in this material realm to show for it.

The bell rang for Vespers and she took her seat inside the chapel, accepting the hymnal offered to her.  The chant today would be from Exodus.

She’d heard CDs of Gregorian chant, but it took her by surprise to see that the hymnal was in English, not Latin.

These monks did not have the polished vocals of people who produced CDs for the laity.  They were much more raw, unpracticed; it was like hearing the tale for the first time.

They sang about a God delivering them from evil.  They thanked their God for his mercy, his kindness…

They thanked their God for killing all the firstborn of Egypt.

Sophie did not sing along.  She sat there in shock, hearing the tale for the first time.  Every single eldest son in the entire land had been slaughtered by the Israelites’ God.  And these monks were praising him.

The habit of obedience was deeply ingrained, and she did not move.  For half an hour, the monks sang their thanks to the God who had murdered thousands to free a few.

She followed her companions back towards the car silently, after, trying not to listen to them talking about how moving the service had been.  She fell further and further behind, walking the white scrubbrush trail by herself.

It wasn’t right.

The breeze whispered warm around her, comforting and fresh, and rustled the leaves as her footsteps slowed.  She looked up at the sky; the sun was near setting in the west but the sky was still a vivid blue.

I can’t worship a God who kills, she realized.  My God wouldn’t do that, she told the sky.  My God is a God of peace.

Somehow, she was not at all surprised when the sky answered back.  All right, God told her.  You don’t have to worship a God who kills.  That’s their God, and you don’t have to believe in their God.

She blinked, surprised.  That’s… allowed? she asked, tentatively.  She was pretty sure she was supposed to struggle, to come to terms with Scripture, not reject it outright.

The sky smiled at her, and the breeze wrapped around her like a hug.  No more words were needed, because she knew what God was trying to tell her: that her own experience of the love permeating the moment was all the Scripture she would ever need.  She could feel the rightness of it sinking into her bones.

Sophie smiled up at the sky.

Thank you.  Thank you.

Then she started making her way up the hill toward the gathered ministers.

The Future is God’s Country

Last spring I’d been struggling with the 3rd step, which is “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” I’d been trying to force the issue and I just couldn’t, and I was ready to give up. So I more or less decided to take the summer off.

I didn’t know this, but Newtown Square Friends Meeting organizes worship in nature on the last Sunday of every month. On the last Sunday of June, we went out to Kirkwood Preserve for meeting for worship. We sat by a stream at sunset and watched the fireflies come out. I felt filled up with Spirit. It was the easiest thing in the world to do the 3rd step and turn my life and will over to the Divine.  A few days later I wrote this poem during Meeting for Worship.

The future is God’s country
I will let God take on the worry about getting it just right.
I will lay down this burden at the feet of the universe
And trust

The future is God’s country
I will grow my faith until when I feel dread mounting in the pit of my stomach
I will remember to hand my plans over to Spirit
To safeguard

The future is God’s country.
I have no control over it.
Let me follow, maybe even humbly, where way opens
Instead of trudging forward resisting all the way.
The first way sounds far less exhausting.

The future is God’s country.
I could never know the right path, even with vast knowledge and wisdom.
But the right path knows me
It signals me with clues and openings.
When I’m particularly dense it waves and calls, “Hey!  Over here.”
Sometimes, when I ignore it, it blocks my wrong steps to protect me.
I get so angry
I don’t know how to trust
That the future is God’s country
And God knows better than I
Where I should go next.

How do I stay in community with someone who has hurt me? Addressing conflict in a Quaker manner

Let’s start with the facts. In 2008, a young man in my meeting attempted to attach himself to me. Realizing quickly the profundity of his emotional neediness and complete lack of boundaries, I took steps to distance and protect myself immediately. He was persistent: texts, calls, emails, and Facebook messages that continued even after I left the meeting specifically to avoid him.

I have been asked, “Did he stalk you?” It’s a harder question to answer than you might think. There were no verbal threats, nor do I think he meant his actions maliciously. But his way of interacting was threatening, and it made me feel profoundly unsafe. Ignoring both my verbal and nonverbal communication, he repeatedly violated every boundary I set with him. He was oblivious to my discomfort, and didn’t seem to understand why it is a major red flag for a woman when a man ignores when she says no.

Avoiding this individual eventually meant leaving Quakerism altogether for me. He was active in Young Adult Friends circles, making them an unsafe space for me. I became a very avid Buddhist for a number of years. Eventually, after some very explicit words, the young man finally left me alone.

Quakerism will out: eventually my spiritual path led me back to Friends. And eventually, I began to hear from other young women who’d had similar run-ins with him. Several had left the Religious Society of Friends as I had; others simply left his meeting. In 2013, a group of us approached Pastoral Care at the meeting we had left. An elder professed sorrow at our stories. Something would be done, we were assured.

The next month, the young man was named clerk of Ministry & Worship. We didn’t hear from Pastoral Care again.

#

Life went on. After a few years I moved away and was sojourning at a new yearly meeting. For the first time, it felt safe to be with other Young Adult Friends, since he wouldn’t be there.

Last year, I attended a YAF conference. I turned around and there he was: my stalker. I tried to act normal. I even managed some normal-sounding small talk with him. All week, I was on guard, ready to go to the conference organizers at the first sign of his pushing the boundaries I’d set several years before.

He didn’t.

Maybe he’d grown up some in the past six years. Maybe we could manage to peacefully coexist. I started to think a lot about what it means to be in community with someone who has hurt me. We are both of us young adults with strong leadings toward service in the Religious Society of Friends; I realized there was no way I’d be able to avoid him. Inevitably, we’ll end up on a committee or board of directors together sometime over the next 40 or 50 years.

I’m a Quaker, and one of my practices is to try and see that of God in other people. I find much to appreciate in him: he has a passion for justice and a concern for carrying Quakerism into the world as a force of healing. But what if I can see that of God in somebody and would still strongly prefer that my former stalker continue to stay far away from me? How can I be in community with someone who makes me feel unsafe?

Quaker meetings deal with this sort of issue all the time. A friend told me about sharing a meeting with her ex-husband. “What does it mean to be in community with someone I have to sue every once in a while for child support?”

For me, the operative question became: How do I address this conflict in a Quaker way?

#

In May of this year, the young man decided to sue his meeting for emotional distress, and for the allegations against him made by me and several other women.

#

Matthew 18 asks us to deal directly with the person we’re having the conflict with. Yet, when you’re dealing with someone who thinks it reasonable to utilize the nuclear option – a $50,000 lawsuit – over this very option, you can understand my hesitancy. I am hesitant even to post this essay, and have resisted doing so for weeks in spite of ever-more-insistent nudges from Spirit.

I tried another one of my practices: I tried to see things from his point of view. He alleges that the meeting handled the matter poorly. A point we can agree on, though for totally opposite reasons! But I do wonder if a better option even exists. I was not part of the meeting anymore. Quakers practice precludes writing people out of the meeting for bad behavior unless it’s a meeting-wide decision, and he’d driven off the people who might have asked the meeting to make that decision. And would it have been the right decision? Doesn’t everybody need a spiritual community? I found another one, and he kept his, and for a time the conflict was muted, even if bad feelings lingered.

If not the meeting, what Quaker body could offer to help work this matter out? There have been calls for stronger eldership across the liberal branches of Quakerism; possibly intervention by skilled elders could have been productive. But I haven’t been at his meeting for years now. For all I know, there are elders there already, and his response to being eldered was to sue.

#

For the first month after the lawsuit, I was angry. He was the one who got to keep the meeting! And now he was suing them??

Next fear set in. He was looking for a new meeting. What if he chose my home meeting? I’m sojourning in another yearly meeting, but I’m still a member of a meeting in his region and it’s my spiritual home. What if he invades my spiritual home? I found myself getting very territorial, gearing myself up for a fight. “I won’t let him!” I declared to a friend.

She cautioned me. In her experience, meetings react badly to anger, and my instinct to fight was hardly Quakerly. When difficult people, particularly those with personality disorders like BPD, join meetings, they stir up a lot of hostility. But from the meeting’s point of view, it’s the angry and upset people who have the problem, not the person causing the hostility. I was reminded of the ways in which white Quakers often demand that Friends of color present their criticism of racism in the Religious Society of Friends without expressing any of their anger about the racism. We dismiss angry people. We equate anger with violence and distance ourselves from the violence.

Feminist friends tell me that I should not feel any obligation to engage equitably in a conflict with someone who has hurt me. They tell me I should leave it alone; there is no way to have an even playing field in the conflict, and I’m liable just to be hurt further.

But still I wonder: what is the Quaker way to address this issue? How do I live in community with this person, now and in the future? Is it possible for the two of us to arrive at a shared Truth when we see the situation from 180-degrees, diametrically opposed positions?

And if there isn’t a Quaker way to address these sorts of conflicts… whither the Religious Society of Friends? This sort of thing is not unique. There are difficult people in every meeting. If we can’t manage to make peace with the difficult people in our meetings, how can we hope that Quakerism will have a lasting impact on the wider world?

The only thing I know to do is to continue to wrestle with the conflict, and continue to seek guidance from Spirit. It’s an unsatisfactory solution.

I am interested in hearing from Friends about how they have come to terms with difficult people in their meetings. What was your journey, either corporately or personally? What has worked for you? Do you have any Light to shine on my particular situation? How do you share community with people who push all your buttons, or have caused you pain?

Misunderstanding Forgiveness

I have been wrestling with forgiveness this week.  To be honest, I have been wrestling with forgiveness for twenty years, but the murders in Charleston this week brought the old tension to the fore.  I too have suffered the loss of a family member by brutal murder, and like the families of the victims in Charleston, I made a choice to forgive.  But I think that there’s a fundamental confusion in the media and in the general consciousness about what forgiveness is and who it’s for.

I’ve watched people celebrate the victims’ family members for having the courage and strength to forgive the man who killed their loved ones.  At the same time, I’ve heard the exhausted calls of activists who are sick of being expected to forgive atrocity after atrocity when nothing changes.  Why should forgiveness make murder okay?  Murder is never okay.  Black Girl Dangerous hits the nail on the head writing about oppressive forgiveness narratives:

I’ve never seen anyone talk about Americans forgiving Al Qaeda for 9/11, but black people are always supposed to forgive, because the taking of our lives isn’t worth holding a grudge, right?

Meanwhile, clueless allies take comfort in black people being able to forgive, and tell others that we [society, ‘uppity’ black people, anyone who talks about racism] need to concentrate on healing.  Implicit in their words is the idea that trying to change the systemic racism that gave rise to this atrocity is contrary to, or detracts from, that healing.  What’s important, these people say, is that the families have forgiven.  Who are we to make a call for change if the families are willing to let go of the pain?

This is a misunderstanding of forgiveness.  Forgiveness isn’t for us.  Forgiveness isn’t even for Dylann Roof.  Forgiveness is for the victims and their families.  It’s a way of both reclaiming and transforming power.

Forgiveness is never required.  Nobody should ever feel pressure to forgive until and unless they’re ready and willing.  There are two things to know about forgiveness.  1) It doesn’t change anything.  2) It changes everything.  It doesn’t change what happened, but it does change you.  It can be the most profound thing a person ever does, and to misinterpret it is to cheapen it.

I was thirteen when my stepsister Rachel was abducted, raped, and stabbed to death.  She was twenty-five.  She had been missing for two days, the door of her apartment left wide open and her cat running free.  The police came to our house late at night to tell us the news.

There is no way to describe the loss of innocence I experienced.  It wasn’t just that I was young; the trauma gripped my parents in the same way.  To know — not just in theory, but closely, intimately — that another human being is capable of such brutality and evil…  It shakes the foundation of your world.  When you watch it on TV, it’s distant; it’s just a story someone else is telling about a stranger you will never know.  When it happens to you, there is no such comforting numbness.  You can’t forget it next week or next month, as we as a nation most certainly will with the Charleston murders.  Twenty years later, I remember Rachel’s death.

And I remember the forgiveness.  It was not serene or merciful on my part.  I bear no resemblance to Mother Theresa.  I didn’t do it because it was the right thing to do.  And perhaps most importantly, I didn’t do it for the man who killed my sister.  It had nothing to do with him; he was just the catalyst.  I forgave him because there was no other choice that would preserve my own humanity.

What I remember is the anger.  I’d never felt hate before.  I’d never felt rage boiling through my veins or dark, violent fantasies of wanting to stick a knife in the man’s gut and make him suffer.  I wanted to cause him as much pain as he had caused us, as much pain as the loss of Rachel would continue to cause for the rest of my life.  The thoughts, the violence in my own self scared the hell out of me.

I lost control for a while there.  I did nothing but react, react, react.  Clearly this man was evil.  I needed to kill him.  Maybe if I could just hurt him enough, I’d feel better.

There was a breaking point.  I was screaming, sobbing, punching everything around me.  My father put me in a martial arts hold so I wouldn’t hurt myself.  He put his arms around me and just held me.

In the middle of that storm of rage and grief, a choice opened up before me.  I could hold onto this bitter black violence that was already rending my soul, or I could let it go.  If I held onto it, I could see it would eat me alive.  It would destroy me.

The choice to forgive the man who murdered my sister was the most selfish choice I’ve ever made.  It was solely about me and my own survival, my own sanity.  Sometimes an evil is just too big to be processed any other way than through forgiveness.

It was also a choice about the kind of world I wanted to believe in.  You see, you can believe that people are evil, or you can believe that people are fundamentally good but they do evil things.  I was raised to be a Quaker.  We believe that there is “that of God” — ie, good — in every person.  By extension, we get the traditional Quaker testimony of equality.  We are all children of God, so we are all deserving of the same rights and respect.  From this, we get the testimony of nonviolence — to attack another person is to attack that of God in them.  The equality testimony has led Quakers to work on prison reform, abolition of slavery, and peacemaking over the centuries.

All of that’s nice in theory.  Ideals are often left it the dust when real life and real violence occur.  How can you look for the God, the good, in someone who has just taken your entire life and childhood away?  How can you call that person anything but evil?

Here’s what I learned that day about the equality testimony that day: it’s not just that everyone has good in them.  We all have evil in us as well.  What I learned that day is that I am capable of murder.  I wanted to murder.  I have darkness on my soul, same as Rachel’s killer does.  It’s a different kind of equality, but it brought me to my choice.

I can believe in a world where there are beings of evil who destroy people’s lives.  That’s a world with no true hope of lasting peace or happiness.  Or I can choose to believe that people are fundamentally good, but they do extremely evil things because of drugs, delusions, or cycles of violence and poverty.  For me, it was an act of faith to choose the latter.  There is no evidence for it.  People will bring up Hitler, or child abuse, or Jeffrey Dahmer when you talk about the fundamental goodness of humanity.  I’m a social worker; I know the evils that people are capable of committing.  But I can decide that the person who commits evil is evil, or I can have faith that they too are a child of God and respond accordingly.  That choice affects who I am and how I act in the world, and I have never had cause to regret it.

Forgiveness is a choice to see the humanity in the other person and respond to that, rather than to the evil they perpetrated.  Forgiveness doesn’t let the perpetrator off the hook, or preclude punishment or incarceration.  The man who raped and murdered Rachel will never be released from prison, and that’s very comforting to me.  Dylann Roof has forfeited his right to be a member of society, but he hasn’t lost his right to be a human being.  The victims’ families recognized that.

Forgiveness was my way of transforming an atrocity, of not letting the person who set out to hurt Rachel and my family “win” by poisoning my soul.  It was a refusal to let him have the power to shake my faith in the goodness of humanity.

Forgiveness doesn’t take the pain away.  There’s still a gaping wound there where your loved one once shone.  A lot of things happened in the years after Rachel’s death.  Our family splintered, as families often do after the death of a child.  Some relationships never recovered; others limp along, still wounded from that time.  We still feel the effects twenty years later.  But sometimes I think how much more painful it would have been if we hadn’t been able to forgive, if we had held onto that pain and rage and let it eat us up.  I think we would have perpetuated the cycle of pain much more than we did.

I remember the sinking feeling in my gut after the planes hit the Twin Towers.  I saw my country going through the loss of innocence I’d gone through five years before, and I knew that we as a nation weren’t going to take the forgiveness route.  Nobody would have asked us to forgive; how can you ask someone to forgive something like that?  We were grieving and we struck out at the nearest convenient target.  We kept striking out, and striking out.  We kept killing people, even civilians, in the name of our pain and revenge.  We took the fight to a whole new country on the most tenuous of evidence.  Thousands of our soldiers died.  After all that, do we feel any better?  Did we gain anything?  I think that we, as a nation, need to learn to forgive.  It’s the only way I know of truly transforming pain.

At the same time, I’m also very aware that white people cannot ask black people, or Native people, or any people we have oppressed, to forgive us.  Forgiveness is something that is offered freely and has very little to do with the perpetrator.  It transforms the person who does the forgiving, and gives them back some of the power that we took from them.

But what I really want people to understand is that forgiveness doesn’t let anyone off the hook.  The people who say “forgive and forget” are the people who are missing the point of the transformative power of forgiveness.  The families of the Charleston victims have done something heroic, something that they should never have had to do.  Let’s honor that by taking it as seriously as they do.