Distraction From What Matters

Hi Friends,

I hope spring is finding you (it’s slow here in Denver as we just had over a foot of snow last week). I find that March can be a mix of excitement and new growth, coming out of our winter burrows and stretching towards the sun.

I also find a franticness, a rush to do things, to get things done, to push into high gear as though we’ve been lazy or unproductive during the slower winter months. I notice people driving more erratically or impatiently, our schedules filling up with even more activities, a rush to pack everything in before the school year ends and summer arrives. There’s almost this constant push to get all the things done so we can rest…. but do we ever actually rest?

I’m reading Rest Is Resistance by Tricia Hersey, founder of the Nap Ministry, and it is another significantly impactful book. She rightly points out that rest is a human right and is essential to our survival. She notices the way “grind culture” prevents us from resting and is intrinsically part of the way capitalism and white supremacy keep all of us in a state of oppression and distraction and exhaustion.

Have you noticed how exhausted you feel? How distracted and overwhelmed and BUSY you feel? Why do you feel this way? Take a look at what our society asks of you (especially moms out there, and any caregiving person) and how little support you receive. And if you experience intersections of identity that add layers of oppression, society asks even more of you, just to “keep up” and provides even less support.

BUSY is not a badge of honor. It is a distraction, an effort to divide us, a tool of oppressive systems to keep us from having any time or energy to fight against them. Social media and constant access to technology contribute to the distractions we face, creating distance in our relationships and connections to each other even as it supports the illusion of community. Our news cycle and political shenanigans also serve as distractions, overwhelming us and contributing to a feeling of helplessness.

What would happen if you had a truly vulnerable conversation with another person, face to face, about what each of you care about, are affected by, and want to do something about? What if you made that a priority? What if you made a conscious choice to let go of the things external forces are telling you you have to do and made decisions for yourself based on your values and priorities and said NO more often? What if you made time to take action on the things that matter most to you?

We are surrounded by and inundated by a constant flow of do this, buy this, say this, host like this, live like this, look like this, raise your kids like this — all ostensibly to make our lives better, more comfortable, more satisfying, more successful. Is it working? Do you feel fulfilled? Or do you feel frantic and empty and wanting for something real? Listen to that feeling, to that internal knowing. Somewhere deep down, you know the truth of what you value and need. Block out the noise and rest and LISTEN.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we were less distracted, more connected to our communities, more aware of our basic needs and how to meet them. I understand the pull of productivity as self-worth and I can tell you that there really is a better way. What could we accomplish if we rejected the need to be busy and stood up in the streets, in our neighborhoods, in our state houses, in our schools, and fought for improvements to the things that are harming us?

I can hear that this could sound like “DO MORE!” In fact, we need to do less for a time until we can hear our inner knowing and then use our time and energy differently, more intentionally, so that we can maintain momentum and action for the long-term, taking turns to rest and act, rest and act, collectively. Taking time to heal is an essential component of this.

Jessica Valenti wrote recently about abortion rights:

“Anti-abortion lawmakers and activists are counting on us being too overwhelmed to stop them from normalizing this madness. They know that being sad, angry and exhausted all the time is difficult — if not impossible — to keep up. They figure if they can keep hitting us with horror after horror, the next time we read a story of a woman going septic we’ll respond with a resigned head-shake rather than energized outrage.”

The things happening in our country that are further decreasing our rights and putting more people in grave danger is not normal. Despite the fact that many types of oppression have been around since our founding, and that they regularly put people’s lives in danger on a regular basis, the dangers are increasing and our freedoms are decreasing. We must not accept that this is normal or that there is nothing we can do. We must not give up or turn away, thinking we are too busy or too tired or too small to do anything about it.

Naomi Klein wrote in her book Doppelganger about Jewish re-traumatization vs collective grief,

“Remembering puts the shattered pieces of our selves back together again (re-member-ing); it is a quest for wholeness. At its best, it allows us to be changed and transmuted by grief and loss. But retraumatization is about freezing us in a shattered state; it’s a regime of ritualistic reenactments designed to keep the losses as fresh and painful as possible. Our education did not ask us to probe the parts of ourselves that might be capable of inflicting great harm on others, and to figure out how to resist them. It asked us to be as outraged and indignant at what happened to our ancestors as if it had happened to us — and to stay in that state.”

We must have opportunities to heal, to grieve, to find our way to resistance and solidarity. This requires rest, space, time, and each other. We have more choices than we think we do about how we spend our time, energy, and resources. We will be most effective in our quests for a better world if we are rested, healed, and whole.

Being stuck in a trauma or frantic state can be just as damaging as apathy and resignation. Many of us have experienced a heightened state of vigilance during the pandemic, a state that felt unsustainable (and was) and still we did not feel safe resting or letting go of our need to control and prevent. For our community members who experience layers of oppression, this has been even more constant throughout their lives because of the ways our systems threaten them.

And yet, we must find a path in between, a balance of rest and action, to both survive and to thrive, as we change the systems and refuse to allow oppression to be acceptable. Be reminded of such efforts as Revolutionary Love to inspire and guide you. Shelly Tochluk recently shared,

“Amidst the cancelation of sociology as a requirement in Florida’s university system, there is a call for historians to stand up in solidarity. To my mind, we can all be public historians, shining lights on contemporary societal inequities and their link to our nation’s history. To that end, check out this beautiful example of how we can all do something in our local community to push against the far-right’s highly motivated, organized, and well-funded force, as it tries to force the maintenance of a “colorblind” view of the world.”

There are so many people engaged in this work and we need you to join us. Find your niche, make time to rest, and take action.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.

Inclusion, Belonging, and Genealogy

Hi Friends,

I hope 2024 is treating you well so far. I have spent the last few months really exploring ideas of inclusion and belonging and I have undertaken a lot of family history and genealogy research that has been really revealing for me.

I want to share the training opportunities available from White Awake again with all of you. I did a recent one on genealogy research and it was so great and helpful to understand harm endured, harm caused, and the historical context of these experiences. I also want to reiterate my increasing appreciation for Braver Angels, navigating ways to a less divisive and more inclusive path forward together.

I thought that Michele L. Norris’s reflections on her Race Card Project was brilliant and insightful and painful and all the things. And I want to highlight how Community-Centric Fundraising adjusted their space to better reflect their purpose and who they center as part of their grassroots movement.

Here’s an opportunity to participate in a research study (via Integrated Schools):

“Are you a White mother interested in antiracist parenting?

EmbraceRace is currently seeking volunteers to participate in a research study supporting White antiracist parenting. Please see the description below and fill out the enrollment form if you think you might be eligible and interested, and consider passing this opportunity along to others in your network.

This study is being conducted by Dr. Gail Ferguson and Dr. Melissa Koenig at the University of Minnesota. This is a study for White mothers and White children between the ages of 5 and 8, and it will take place entirely online. CARPE DIEM (Courageous, Antiracist, and Reflective Parenting Efforts: Deepening Intentionality with Each Moment) is a new antiracist parenting intervention for White parents. The goal of the study is to examine how the intervention works and teach us how to best equip and support White parents and their children on their antiracist journeys. This study is for mothers who have an interest in antiracist parenting, whether they have already begun taking steps in this direction or are considering the possibility of taking steps in the future. Moms and kids will each receive e-gift cards of their choice for completing different parts of the study.

If you’re interested in participating in this study, click here to fill out a short enrollment form! You are welcome to email the research team with questions at carpediem@umn.edu.”

I have been learning about and getting more involved in efforts to support unhoused people here in Denver, particularly as it intersects with the influx of migrants to this area. Here’s a recent report for Denver, as a snapshot of the challenges people face. Please stay aware of a Supreme Court case that could heavily affect how houselessness is handled in this country. This issue is so clearly about how we choose to take care of each other and I encourage you to learn about how unhoused people are treated in your area.

I appreciated the feedback after my last post in November. I’d like to share another resource, “What Jewish Voice for Peace Can Teach White People About Anti-Racism” by David Dean. Please stay engaged on ceasefire efforts as well as local efforts in your area around inclusion and belonging for everyone.

I also appreciated the recent update from Anti-Racism Daily (ARD) about the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, particularly in the way it reframed my understanding of who lived where and how the land that is now the United States was acquired over time. It directly relates to my genealogical work, thinking about patterns of immigration, settler colonialism, and historical narratives that leave out key pieces of the truth.

I was so happy to see that Arlington County is working to memorialize the names of the enslaved in that place. I was intrigued by the story about Asheville, NC pursuing reparations work in the face of statewide resistance. If you’re interested in learning more about reparations efforts, there are many, but in the vein of genealogy work, check out Coming to the Table and the work they are doing.

A friend recently asked about resources I have found particularly helpful around the topics of inclusion and belonging. In the last year, I read two that were truly life-changing: See No Stranger by Valarie Kaur and How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong. I am currently reading A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit, which explores the alternate worlds we create during disaster responses, and the ways in which we respond by building community and taking care of each other and how happy that makes us.

As you might have noticed, genealogy has a lot of my attention these days. I have discovered in my research many examples of harm caused: enslavers, settlers, military involvement in the Confederacy and those fighting Indigenous people, and criminal activity. I have also discovered resisters — people fighting oppression, people speaking up for inclusion and belonging, people building community. I am immersed in the greys of humanity — no person is only good or only bad.

In the process of uncovering these stories, I have grappled with how my research intersects with privilege, oppressive systems, and harm caused; I have felt guilt and shame at times and I have grieved and felt pride and gratitude. I am exploring several themes, including how my ancestors parted from their cultures of origin (mine are mostly in England, Scotland, and Germany), how they built wealth over time, and what my role is in reparative work to promote healing and continue this trajectory in future generations.

If you have researched your family (or if you haven’t, but you’re curious), I’d love to chat about how you have engaged with challenging family history and what mysteries still remain to be solved. I find that challenging work like this is best done in community and I’d love to engage with you on this topic. I’m also happy to help with genealogical research. Please reach out to me if you’re interested.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.

Reactions and Responses

Hi Friends,

I have been trying to write about what has been unfolding in the Middle East for a month. I have drafted and edited and asked friends for feedback and edited some more. And during this process, most of you have heard nothing but silence from me, and for that, I apologize. I condemn antisemitism, Islamophobia, dehumanization, and oppression of any kind.

I have been grappling with the frenzy of urgency and the complicity of silence. Harm can be caused by both. The rush to “take a stand” has caused many to pick sides and to feel isolated or divided from their communities. Pain upon pain upon pain. One person I read noted the additional spiritual violence many are experiencing. I want to validate how complicated and confusing many of our feelings are right now.

I have struggled to write this post. (I acknowledge the privileges that I have that allow me space and time and distance from what is happening.) I have wanted to avoid making mistakes. I have been confused about how to talk about a situation in which two systemically impacted groups of people have been positioned against each other, resulting in mutual dehumanization and violence. I have been worried about calls for unwavering loyalty to one group over another to justify violence instead of validating the shared humanity of each and every one of us.

Many of us have been reactive and in pain and seeking unequivocal validation of our sense of threat. Most of us are not skilled in validating someone’s feelings even when we do not agree with those feelings, and so many messages and articles and posts have contributed to binary thinking and people choosing sides. Cycles of dysregulation and spirals of emotions. Division and fear compounded.

Each of us respond to perceived threats in different ways and it is important that we continue to show compassion, love, and curiosity about each other and resist pulling away or turning toward despair, hate, or violence. These moments of panic challenge us to respond rather than react, something that takes practice. I have been reading Valarie Kaur’s See No Stranger and it has been very meaningful as she speaks about the aftermath of 9/11 and the reactions that followed against anyone who could be remotely associated with terrorism. I fear that we are repeating those mistakes.

Recently, public reactions are shifting. Many more people are denouncing violence and are calling for a ceasefire. Many more people are responding with compassion and love and understanding while still holding the line of human rights as a baseline.

I am so grateful for the thoughtful people who have reached out to their communities quickly and with compassion. I have so many examples now of how to hold space for grief, how to express compassion for suffering, and also how to hold the line of the value of all humanity and human rights, ideally bringing people together in the process.

We must resist the forces that seek to divide us from each other. Most of us are harmed by fights for power and dominance by governments/states/organizations that are not motivated by shared humanity. While a power imbalance exists between Israel and Gaza and should be acknowledged, the power imbalance I want to highlight is between those in positions of power who are willing to use violence to harm civilians and the rest of us who want to live our lives in peace and do not hate each other. (Credit to the last paragraphs of Robert Hubbell’s post here.)

If you have also been feeling confused or hesitant or doubtful, I recommend the following resources, action items, etc. There are many roles to play in changemaking. Consider your capacity and preferences and jump in wherever the opportunities present themselves — donating funds, mutual aid, writing to media and elected officials, marching or protesting, educating yourself about the history and context of Israel and Palestine, and amplifying voices that are not reflected in our mainstream news sources. We can hold each other and build our connections with each other because so many forces right now are trying to divide us.

If you want to learn more about how to support Palestinians in particular, here’s a resource document that several people have put together and is being updated frequently. I was given permission to share it with you.

These resources have been helpful to me; maybe they will be for you, too:
- Nicholas Kristoff’s “We Must Not Kill Gazan Children to Try to Protect Israel’s Children
- Iman Jodeh’s “Opinion: Human rights for Palestinians should not be controversial
- The Anti-Racism Daily’s “Recognize state-sanctioned violence” and “Solidarity Isn’t conditional
- Kurt Streeter’s “‘I Love You. I Am Sorry’: One Jew, One Muslim and a Friendship Tested by War” and NewGround’s website
- Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s “a lot of things are true
- Ryan Grim’s “Gaza and the Empathy Gap
- Valarie Kaur’s work, including this quote
- Solutions Not Sides “Avoiding Antisemitic and Islamophobic Hate Speech
If Not Now
Standing Together
Peace Now
Friends Committee on National Legislation
The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
Ali Abu Awwad
The Jerusalem Youth Chorus
Jewish Voice For Peace
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl
There are many more out there.

Please, do not lose hope and do not turn from each other. There are so many examples of people working together for peace and standing in the name of humanity. Find something that you can commit to and keep going. You are not alone.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.