Where We Stand

(Former Semi-Evangelical Facing Post-Trump Choices)

There was a time in my life when I had to make a choice about where I stood on a crucial issue in my community and personal life. It feels like a lifetime ago. I have since faced similar choices — deciding “where I stand now that I know this…now that I have experienced that.” Sometimes I can choose the luxury of not standing, just flowing with and being with what life has been. But the one point in time that defines so many moments for me and especially helps me find clarity in the midst of confusing feelings, thoughts and impressions stands out in the starkness of illumination that only abuse survivors can provide.

At the time, my children were only toddlers and I had one more beautiful child to bring into this mad world. I was sure of so much. I had been raised Republican, evangelical Christian and most of what that entails, with the exception of racism. Or so, I thought. In any case, as I look back, I can see the cloaks falling away from me, the ones that covered my humanity in shame and confusion, the labels and identifiers now wiped away by a love of human, of being human and the divinity found where my skin begins — stripped by life’s more relentless tides, timely connections, brutal truth and a refusal of my own bullshit. No longer evangelical, republican or much else, I sit here viewing where we are as a nation with a Trump presidency on the horizon and it asks me to choose.

And I’m drawn back to that time when I chose to stand with a family member who had survived sexual abuse at the hands of one who was meant to protect her, her husband. The fact that so many in Christendom have believed that a man has every right even if his wife isn’t consenting was not without oppressive effect at that time in my life. (The historical imprint of this toxic belief may well be what has influenced so many white women to vote for Trump. They have become desensitized to their own value.) So, I fell back on pure logic and grace. It was the next phase in my walk out of the confusion created by the dogma of my youth as I asked myself: what is marriage and how is a marriage shaped by actions and how do divorces evolve out of those failed marriages? What are actions of divorce vs. actions of union? I asked myself how much a ceremony makes something real. And how much more real the actions of those involved in the relationship might be, more real than beliefs and more real than stated intent. I asked myself how a broken person could ever truly join with another broken person if the breaking point had to do with capitulating who you are in order to survive authoritarianism. Questions like that gave me no room for pretending. It impacted my own marriage in the process. And in the final analysis I found myself at that place where you ask: “How do I show love to both of these people in my life without betraying the one who was abused?” That question is inevitable when you have shared your life with both people and are faced with the truth. Then ensues questions about love and what love does or doesn’t do and especially Ruth as love and love as Ruth being honest with herself about things like spiritual energy and historical imprints of abuse on family trees. And.

So, the picture of someone standing over a line dominated my thoughts: one foot set on the ground on one side of that line, the other set down on the other side of that line and one hand outstretched, holding the hand of the abused while the other is holding the hand of the abuser. Straddling one truth: someone brutalized another and I’m the connection between them now. Why? What message does this send to the abused? The abuser? There are some mind fucks that just shouldn’t ever occur. But there it is. I realized that there are times when our deepest expression of love for abusers is to refuse their darkness, to turn away from them as a whole organism and silently hold out for their battle with their demons to end well for all of us, banishing the darkness. There are people who dedicate their lives to helping abusers. They invariably discover the abusers have been previously abused. But they don’t rush out to the most recent victim and say “Hey, s/he couldn’t help it…”

I look at this election and the racism, misogyny, climate-denying, xenophobia and bigotry teeming from the underbelly and oozing from every orifice of its history. It reeks. And in the middle of it all, I find my parents voted for Trump and in the ensuing confusion find myself trying to understand why people vote for Trump. Previously, all I could do was knee-jerk react: You choose Trump, you hate and enable hate. But these are my parents. I’ve faced plenty about my past. Why now this? Why did we have to also add this to the strain of our shared history? Where do I go with this? And on Facebook, I find posts of articles that ask us to look at what motivates Trump supporters can be met with intense disagreement by some who passionately loathe Trump. I passionately loathe all that Trump has created with his life and his platform, if you could call it that, a platform. It’s more like a quagmire. Those disagreements catapulted me into days of silence, reading, poring over my own words, posting, deleting posts, blogging, deleting the blog post. It’s tough when you want to speak to the heart of what is critical right now.

Suddenly I’m standing on that line in my mind and I realize that at this point, as had been true way back when, my only choice is to pull my whole being to one side and one side only for now. I am with those who mourn, who need healing and restoration, who see the abuses hurtling down the lines of generation after generation, individual after individual for centuries of oppression and abuse. The only way for me to hold to what I value the most with my life is to turn my back on any attempt to understand why a person would vote for Trump. For. Now.

For now, my questions to those who say they did not mean it as a racist / misogynist / xenophobic / climate-denying choice is this: Why were you comfortable with the associations of racism et. al. if you are not thus? Why is it so easy to ignore and/or dismiss the centuries of suffering of minorities, the marginalized, women and the earth? How much more easily will you be dismissed should this monster decide you have no value? These questions remain when all others have been somewhat answered. I cannot yet find an answer that assuages the sense of the power of this particular association.

To stand over the line and hold the hand of a Trump voter and the hand of those who hurt is to abandon so much of what is precious, vital, essential to our wholeness as individuals and as a people. It is a splitting down the middle and a tearing asunder. Until there are better days, more clarity and more of a sense of change of heart in those who protest the “deplorable” label (without self-examination or attempt to understand the minds of those of us who have a huge issue with enabling an abuser the likes of Trump et. al.), I can’t smooth ruffled feathers when statements about Trump voters are made. Those statements have been earned. I can’t seek to understand something that, at this point, appears insane and not make a liar of myself and a sham of the work to oust oppression. I can’t do that without abandoning my own humanity, my own grief.

(But I am wired to seek that understanding eventually. And it will be part of what I write and post about here, there and everywhere at some point. In fact, I did diverge into a moment of understanding here already, didn’t I?)

While I left the rigor of adhering to Biblical codes aside with a few exceptions, I remember a passage of scripture that resonates to this day: “To everything there is a season…a purpose…under heaven…a time to embrace, a time to refrain from embracing.” The season of standing with those who mourn is upon us here in the US and all over the world. Until the majority can agree that our exceptionalism serves only to rape, maim and destroy value, we must hold together with those here and abroad who know, who are kith and kin of the heartaches and losses created by the violations and brutalities of ignorance, “rightness” and elitism. Our work will be one of supporting and birthing a new way of being with our humanity as a nation and as people refusing the hatred, and ugliness that has landed us where we are today. We pull ourselves together in unity, in reform and in the hope for deeper understanding when the time is right. We stand in love.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

My dad, L.S. Kelly, Jr., was born in the depression years and spent his early childhood in a nation swept up in World War II, a war that makes Memorial Day meaningful to many. He lived in Englewood, NJ at the time. He conveys the times, their import revealing just how different his world was from the one I now know. I read his words from an interview and find myself confronting the visceral impact of a time of upheaval, the imprint on his psyche, his perspective of the U.S. and of the military, of “us” vs. “them” shaped by circumstances more stark in their contrast to what we now live, more surreal in hindsight. No one could point at the term “axis of evil” and shred its hypocrisy because It applied. And it applied thoroughly in the minds of those shaped by the fallout.

Memorial Day

L.S. Kelly, Jr.

In the only way I know how to memorialize a day that has become, to me, less about the idea of a noble U.S. military infrastructure and more about honoring those who bring integrity to a failing ideal, I’m posting my dad’s responses to the interview questions here. His heart comes through the lines he wrote for my son’s A.P. U.S. History class. The clarity of what matters shatters my hesitation to note the day, my frustration with the distortion our military might has become. The day should be noted and we should never forget, no matter our stance on the military-industrial complex, because there was a time…

What can you remember about growing up during WWII?

A feeling of heaviness and fear – dread – during the early years.  The Japanese, Germans and Italians were portrayed in the media as some pretty awful folks. And they did some pretty awful things, which were shown at the movie theater before the main event.  Newsreels were gross.  Life magazine was as graphic as they could get away with.  That changed a whole lot with military successes.

We had rationing of materials and food. Gasoline. Nylon – women went back to silk stockings. The war effort took a lot of stuff off the shelves of the grocery stores.

Cigarettes. We saved cans [-] like vegetables came in. Flattened them and took them to some point where they could be given up for scrap metal. Then came victory gardens.  We had three plots in the back yard one summer, and after that five families that socialized together Kellys, Jim Kellys, DeSaussueres, Whitsons, Stokes, had huge garden in Cresskill, NJ where DeSaussaures lived.

Our next-door neighbor was the block air raid warden. When we had an air raid alert (practice of the system), we hung blankets over the windows, kept the lights down low so as not to disclose the whereabouts of a populated area to enemy bombers. The warden would knock on the door if light was showing around the blanket. He wore a white helmet and acted extremely seriously, as did we all.  Just about everything we did was in the context of national defense.

The doctor who lived across the street was in the army in Europe.  He had a son my age who received packages of souvenirs from his father, actual Wehrmacht uniforms, which he and I dressed up in and paraded around the neighborhood. Once.  AS widow lady around the corner got all upset, and that was the end of my German career.

When the A-bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945, I was 9 years old. We knew nothing could survive that and continue to wage war, and the feeling of relief brought a sense of elation and national pride.  We had fought two wars at the same time and beat the bad guys.  Which they were.

How did it impact you personally?

I got to eat a lot of organ meats, since they were undesirable and carried a lower meat-coupon penalty.  Tuna, chipped beef.

Sometimes we had nightmares:  Go to the movies on Saturday afternoon and come home, to go [to] bed and recall the newsreel. The boy next door was in the navy in the Pacific and we worried about him.

Mrs. Knowles’ 2nd grade class at Franklin School in Englewood, NJ would pray together every morning, the Lord’s prayer, and we’d recite the pledge to the flag and would sing the National Anthem. Often Mrs. Knowles would then have some story or inspirational thing she’d share with us. She had a brother who was a dog-face in France at the time. That means in the Infantry, in the mud.

One morning she held up a quite thick, yet shirt-pocket-sized thing, that turned out to be a book.  It was her brother’s bible. He had been carrying it all the time. We watched as she opened it enough for us to see the hole in it, which still held the kraut bullet that her brother’s bible had stopped, effectively ending its deadly journey toward his heart.

That was the classroom where I broke down one morning when we were singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Boo hoo. Everybody looking at the simple goose crying. I couldn’t tell why. They called my mother, and she couldn’t tell them, either. When I got home, I couldn’t tell her why. I didn’t know. She didn’t know either.  Nobody was gonna ask my Daddy.  Who knows?

Any observations about that time and that war in general?

Nobody even thought about burning a flag. Not a stars n stripes.  It was a time when the nation really seemed to be together about one thing: beating the Axis.

My 80+ year-old dad, who texts his daughters every night when he goes to bed – sending his love, who loves silly humor and growing tomatoes reminds me what shapes the minds of a nation, what lays the foundation for exploitation of fear: the real thing. Not that we have not known terror here in our time, but most of us have no point of reference, no way of knowing what war looks like. And the experiences of a child, his reflections over 70 years later reveal what we hope to never know but to also never forget, even if only for the sake of those who lived it. Here and abroad. Here’s to those who gave. While I may not want us to ever drop another bomb and though it hurts to think of the suffering of Hiroshima, this, too, is true: we must never lose sight of the humanity, the lives given in service.

With the Makers

I’m all done with notional condemnation,
nonsense posing salvation
suggesting pre-birth agendas and all the control
a robot might covet.

Take me to the truth, down to the bone of it.
Marry me to the wonder found in the midst of
all this chaos and randomness daring us all
to make meaning.

I see their meaning made in fear.
The meaning they make
spews the poison in their hearts,
the snare in their aid.

Take me far away from the righteous.
I want to live with the undone and undoing.
I want to dance with the makers and shake
every foundation lost to the mold of stagnation.

Deliver me to love, love in spite of it all,
love because of it all,
love morphing, rolling up sleeves
and shaping this mound of flesh into new and ancient songs.

j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved, 2015

j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved, 2015

Blossoms Unrelenting

we drink of depths in
resonating moonlight’s call,
unknowingly bound
to a love whose song
blossoms unrelenting in
the rise and fall of
our worst stumblings making us
more nimble, bruised but
tender, used for all the best
of thunder’s drumming.
some ancient humming
we refuses all the loss…
and rhythm, rhyme and meter disintegrate
in the flow of all this living undoing structure and hope
making something sturdier, something resonating to the past
to the future
into the now and
grabbing at my heartstrings, yours, plucking away,
strumming and fretting us along our days
with promise bigger than maybes or pinings away
for days yet to be,
just the being here now and
no matter how much I push you away,
refuse the heartache of what might never be,
nothing ever shatters, severs or shames
the feltness of your unfolding against my skin
these blossoms unrelenting pull me in, wrecking
all my walls meant for safety
flooding fields in sunlight, conjuring blooms
hid long from sight, stirred by
our moon’s wondering ministrations.

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

The Peonies Reaching

Make me like the peonies reaching,
ripening and revealing shimmers of light,
born of darkness, from disintegration in a long story’s night
whose tale suggests only seclusion unending and a crushing fate…
until,
until the bursting out upon the day,
until the unfolding from haunts of burial entombing,
until all my songs release fragrance
sweetened by a holy undoing,
whose whispers in moonlight of a sun behind the night
birth soul beyond the doom,
holding sacred sway over a mysterious teaching.

Photo by J. Ruth Kelly, 2015, All Rights Reserved

Photo by J. Ruth Kelly, 2015, All Rights Reserved

Photo by J. Ruth Kelly, 2015, All Rights Reserved

Photo by J. Ruth Kelly, 2015, All Rights Reserved

Juxtapose

juxtaposed sun’s rays
stirring colours under skin
melting winter’s haze…
reach deeply please into corners still
shuddering shock from isolation
set fire to all the lies we tell ourselves against the fears
burn white to red in holy consummation all these contradictions
claiming our clearest songs and muting every proclamation making
love and art from devastation

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

Honesty and Loss

At the risk of being “too serious,” I’m posting this somewhat intense documentary. I had an interesting conversation with my youngest son yesterday about seriousness. It reminds me how much we run from seriousness but also how much we need it in order to be able to be given more fully in our mirth, oddly enough. “Seriousness” is a big, vague word but it refers to taking life seriously, taking feelings seriously, taking experiences of loss seriously, and gain, seriously. Seriousness as a perspective of life or attitude towards one’s own existence juxtaposed against the alternative – humor, light-heartedness. What I find is this: Whatever we run from also holds a piece of our authentic self hostage. The imprisoned bits of self cannot genuinely participate in laughter and sometimes reach desperately out for any and every comedy to salve the haunting fear within, a sort of addictive process requiring perpetual doses of positive or funny or anything but the things we run from within ourselves…so…I’ve found that as I’m bankrupted by some of life’s crueler tides, I’m also opened up to deeper experiences of joy, an unreserved, unguarded unfolding of meaningful and light-hearted appreciation for all that life can be. I have precious little patience with positive mantras divorced from process, divorced from the organic work of finding a truly uplifting perspective via the deeper work of… honesty. I love Mark Pellington’s work as well as David Whyte’s wonderful exposition of so many layers of life’s more serious realities. So, this follows:

Mark Pellington has this to say of the documentary:

“This film was made by me as an exercise in process, to explore my own progress and personal feelings towards loss, grief, and healing. Via this text. My instinct was to be very simple and direct and to understand these words, via catharsis. The conduit was human, the face. The unlying veneer, the carrier of instinct. The face. It evokes the range of emotional expression and human truth of strangers. They all listened to it one time and brought their own inner stories to you the viewer. “

Found here.