Archive | August, 2011

The Personal is Political

27 Aug

Feminist Gloria Steinheim coined the phrase “the personal is political” to talk about how our personal issues often reflect deep systemic problems within society. For instance, racial discrimination, which can be felt on an intimate personal level has profound roots in one group of people dominating another often for economic gain. Thus, one may feel the sting of racism on an individual day-to-day basis and also see the long term impact on an entire ethnic/cultural group.

When I was a freshman in women’s studies courses this concept really struck me. I thought much about my own experiences as a woman and how patriarchy, which is a societal issue pierced me to the core, impacting my self-esteem and even life choices. The personal was definitely political. One man’s act of dominance reflected a microcosm of misogyny that still existed at large.

This week while teaching in the D.C. area, I had the opportunity to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial which has not officially opened yet. It was magnificent and reminded me of King’s amazing courage and conviction that justice was not just a personal issue. It was also political. If we care about justice, we need to reach out on both levels. We have to change the system if people are to gain long term freedoms.


This concept doesn’t just apply to racism and sexism. It also applies to mental illness. My mother suffered from alcoholism. This is a personal issue. She also ended up having to serve time in jail for felony DUIs. This also is personal. She drank and drove and had to pay the consequences. But this issue was also political. True, she had to take responsibility for her actions. However, being sentenced to jail did not help her heal from her addiction. Instead, it drove her into a deeper depression and caused her to take her life.

The personal is political…. If our system had more support for those suffering from mental illness and did not criminalize those diagnosed with depression and alcoholism, she might still be alive. If along with a jail sentence, she had also been required to go to rehab, she might still be here.

The personal is political. I teach Mental Health First Aid for many reasons but one of them is because the personal is political.

Last night I dreamt that I was invited to a special dinner at the white house because of something affiliated with Mental Health First Aid, which is sponsored by the National Council for Behavioral Health in Washington, D.C. In the dream, I was able to go to the dinner because hurricane Irene kept me grounded in D.C. and thus I scrambled around shopping for an appropriate dress and shoes to wear to Obama’s house. (Yes, I am an Obama fan). I understand why I dreamt this dream. I’m currently in Washington, D.C. and the hurricane is interfering with my travel plans to get home. And it turns out that the hotel I just checked into this evening is only a few blocks from the capitol. Okay. So, I’m not having dinner with the President but I am pretty close to his house. I get the connections. But on a deeper level, I believe I had the dream because I know that deep personal change comes from systemic change. Likewise, deep personal and spiritual healing creates systemic change.

So I teach Mental Health First Aid because I believe the personal is political.

Stretch Marks

19 Aug

When I was a little girl my mom used to use cocoa butter to smooth away scar lines she had on her arm from a bad burn. I loved the smell of it and later learned that women often use cocoa butter to help avoid developing stretch marks when pregnant.

I’ve never given birth to a physical child. The closest thing I may ever give birth to are creative acts but then the birth of a child is the ultimate creative act (save God creating the universe) so maybe there are corollaries. All I know is that I feel like I’ve been pregnant for the last nine months and just gave birth to something. I don’t know to what exactly; I just know that I am exhausted all of a sudden.

Last summer, I slowed down my pace a little and took some reflective time. I read the Pentateuch while preparing to take an Old Testament class and to travel to Israel and Jordan. Shortly afterwards, I joined the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare in Washington, D.C. as a national trainer for “Mental Health First Aid.” As an independent contractor for the National Council, I began traveling around the country to certify people to teach this course. If I were to reflect on those two things alone, perhaps something spiritual was conceived during that time period. I’m not sure. What I do know is that the last year has consisted of wonderful, constant travel taking me incredible places geographically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve stretched outside my comfort zone on numerous occasions and for that, my risks have been rewarded two-fold.

Perhaps what I’ve birthed is some deeper aspect of myself; some offering I’m beginning to give to the world. And perhaps I’m not barren after all. For now, as autumn hangs in the air, it seems I’m pregnant yet again with something new forming inside of me. And I’ll proudly show my stretch marks…

“Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD. Isaiah 54:1

Walking on Water

6 Aug

The other day I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a number of years. I apologized for looking like a drowned rat when I showed up at our appointed meeting place saying, “If I look like I just got out of the water, I did.” At which point she asked if I’d gone swimming and I said that I’d just gone surfing. As I tried to describe to her the incredible spiritual rush one gets from surfing, she replied, “No, I get it. You’ve got that ‘walking on water’ thing going on. I get it.”

The more I thought about her comment, the more I was struck by its correlation with the Gospel story of Peter walking on water. While surfers look like they are walking on water, there is also a bit of faith required to ride a wave. The ocean can be rough and you can wipe out. It is therefore an act of courage to trust that the wave will carry you with grace.

Point taken, I recently had a bad incident with my board. Well, in actuality two bad incidents with my board. Within the span of a few months, I was hit two different times by my board — in the head. Now, praise God, both times I was more spooked than harmed but these incidents made me seriously question whether I would keep surfing for I value my brain a thousand times more than hanging ten. But God wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easily. Would it be a walk of faith if there was never an edge and the water never rough?

The thing is, bad things happen in life so I’m always on the lookout for that big wave that is going to knock me under and drown me. When I was hit recently by my board what I was most shook up about was the fear that my life, which is so blessed right now couldn’t possibly stay blessed. It was time for a disaster – some awful tragedy to knock my happiness and gratitude down a couple of notches. It seemed there had to be a mishap on the horizon to put me in my place for having a little joy and pleasure in my life.

But this is bullshit because the God I pray to each day “has plans for me – plans for me to prosper.” And yet my faith is so weak. Why would the God who tamed Leviathan not also tame the sea when I’m out there too? Sure, I can take steps to be more careful. A foam board is just as fun as a fiberglass one and much more safe. But why am I so convinced that the God I love and worship doesn’t have my back? Why do I still question that he loves me too?

So as I paddled out today, I realized, I have much to learn about walking on water for with him all things are possible. I think because surfing shows me this in tiny increments, I need to keep surfing for what is faith if life is always easy and we always know the outcome?

I hear Jesus asking me, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:32). I’m not sure God, but I know that I have to keep getting back on the board – in more ways than one.

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