When We Can’t Hear Our Children’s Cries

I can still see the face of the distraught mother who came to me after I had preached at a church in Nebraska.

            She approached me tentatively; I noticed her, but as I was signing books, I thought maybe she was just trying to wait until the line got a little shorter.

            She was indeed waiting for the line to dwindle – but not because she wanted me to sign a book.

            She wanted to talk to me about her son-who had shared with her that he was a girl. She explained how her nine-year-old child had come to her. She had listened with her ears but also with her eyes. Her child had been crying out for help and support and love for some time, but she had not recognized it or heard it, or seen it for what it was.

            She was not a member of the church at which I had preached. She was Catholic, and said to me, “there’s no way I can talk to any priest about this.”

            At that, she began to sob. I left the book signing and asked the pastor of the church if we could use his office, and once inside, this mother began to share what she had noticed and not understood and how what she felt most bad about was not having been able to hear the cries of her child.

            This was years ago- before people acknowledging their pronouns was common. This mother did not know what to do or how to do it. She only knew that just that morning, her child had told her to begin calling her by the girl’s name she had chosen. And then came the clincher. Her new daughter asked, “Mom, do you still love me?”

            I think about that story all of the time. I honestly did not know who to tell her to talk with. I was not from Nebraska and did not know anyone there. After I got back to Ohio I called the pastor of the church and asked for names of therapists who dealt with issues of sexuality and gender identity – and he sent some names. I shared them with the mother and did not hear from her again. But I think about her and her trans daughter all of the time and wonder how they are doing.

            Parents today are facing challenges that parents in the past did not have to deal with, but to be clear, many children are wrestling and have been wrestling with issues of their sexuality and their gender for a long time. They could not talk about it with their parents because their parents were still controlled by believing what society said was normal and abnormal. Children who dared come out as gay to their parents risked being thrown out of their homes – and many were. They were told that they were an offense to God and that they were going to hell and they believed it. And so they cried, often while living on the streets, because their parents could not deal with their own “stuff.”

            But the increased number of people coming out as trans is presenting parents with a reality that they absolutely cannot handle. Legislatures are passing laws against the trans community. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2022/10/14/anti-trans-bills/) Laws are being passed that prohibit doctors and medical professionals from providing care to transgender children. (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/parents-concerned-as-new-state-laws-restrict-rights-of-transgender-children). (https://www.npr.org/2022/11/28/1138396067/transgender-youth-bills-trans-sports).

            People don’t even want to talk about it but the reality is that transgenderism is real, and children who are grappling with it are too often crying alone and living horribly miserable lives.

            Being Christian is not a place of comfort or help. A recent Pew survey showed that 6 in 10 Christians believe that gender is assigned at birth, while 6 in 10 “nones” disagree. (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/27/views-of-transgender-issues-divide-along-religious-lines/) A vast number of Christians cannot or will not believe that transgenderism is real. They believe that if God wanted a person to be a girl or a boy in life God would have assigned that gender while in the womb.

            But creation isn’t that clean or uncomplicated. Development in the womb is frequently fraught with complications and is imperfect. Babies form with no brains; in the womb, some of them have organs that develop outside of their bodies. Babies are born with no legs, no arms, and some ailments that will allow them minutes of life, if that, after birth. Some boys are born without penises and are raised as girls, though they always consider themselves to be male. (https://www.tampabay.com/archive/2000/05/13/gender-identity-is-determined-in-the-womb-researchers-say/).

            All the science of fetal development notwithstanding, what happens after a baby is born is what parents deal with and many of us, frankly, do not deal well with it. In this society, it takes courage to publicly love and support a child who is gay or who is transgender. At the recent NAACP Image Awards, former NBA star Dwayne Wade and his wife, Gabrielle Union, publicly shared their love and support of their transgender daughter, Zaya as she sat on the front row of the audience.  They dedicated their award to her. (https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/culture/story/gabrielle-union-dwyane-wade-dedicate-naacp-award-daughter-97478568) It was breathtakingly powerful. I am sure Wade would have loved his son to follow in his footsteps and play sports, but there he was, owning and embracing his transgender daughter, letting other parents know that it was not only OK to do that, but necessary. The child born to you is your child, no matter what course his or her life takes.  

            I do not know why I can’t get the Nebraska mother’s face out of my spirit; I do not know why I cannot forget the tears she shed. What I do know, however, is that she was a mother who was desperate to know how to love and support her transgender daughter in a world that would hate her, and I hope and pray that both she and her daughter are thriving and somehow feeling the warm embrace of the God who loves us all.

A candid observation …

America’s slip is showing

            Until 2016, I had confidence that there was such a thing as “the rule of law.” I knew that the law did not protect Black people and has not throughout history, but I had confidence that there were laws that no person, not even the most wealthy, could escape. I would hear the phrase “nobody is above the law” and rest easier. So I of course balked when, after the former president was elected in 2016, Stephen Miller, one of his aides, said on national television that as president, any decision the former president made as concerned national security “will not be questioned.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/13/stephen-millers-audacious-controversial-declaration-trumps-national-security-actions-will-not-be-questioned/) And the former president declared – more than once – that as president, the constitution allowed him to do “whatever I want.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/07/23/trump-falsely-tells-auditorium-full-teens-constitution-gives-him-right-do-whatever-i-want/)

            While the remarks bothered me, I did not put much stock in them. We were told, after all, “a nation of laws,” meaning that “the law” would not allow corrupt politicians to have their way. I believed that our judicial system was set up in such a way as to protect the country, even if that same system did not protect many of the people who comprise the country.

            But I was wrong. The confidence I had in the judicial system as it relates to politicians was misplaced. “The law” actually protects them, much as qualified immunity protects corrupt and violent police officers.

            Former president Richard Nixon felt much the same way. In speaking about some of the things he had done which raised eyebrows and questions, he waved off the questions that he was fielding as defied set law to get his way. “When the president does it,” he said, “it’s not illegal.”( https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/ct-xpm-2014-02-13-sns-201402121600-tms-cthomastq-b-a20140213-20140213-story.html)

            We see people serving in Congress – leading important committees, no less – who have been accused of everything from lying to sexual impropriety to financial crimes – and they do not worry. They know that as members of Congress, they cannot be sued or held responsible for things they say on the House or Senate floor; they are protected under the Speech and Debate Clause in Article 1 of the US Constitution. (https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1021/speech-and-debate-clause) Lawmakers benefit from “Sovereign Immunity,” meaning they cannot be sued while in office. And we have learned that a “sitting president” cannot be indicted while in office for any crimes he or she may have committed. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-russia-indictment-explainer/can-a-sitting-u-s-president-face-criminal-charges-idUSKCN1QF1D3)

            I have frankly been stunned by the shabbiness of this American judicial system. It is maddening and disgusting that politicians – those who make laws and policies for the rest of us – are allowed by law to get away with so much, while the masses of people who live in this country and who elect them too often cannot get justice for their missteps. The inequity between the “haves” and “have nots” in this country is profound, and with all that the country is going through now that its foundational and structural weaknesses are showing. Back in the day when women wore slips to prevent anyone from seeing through her dress and skirt, there were times when the slip would hang below the hemline of the dress, and we would say, “your slip is showing.” It seems that unjust provisions were put into place, and still exist, to prevent Americans from seeing through the fabric of this government. America’s slip is showing.

            I am angry that the institutions that I thought were supposed to make this country better than those countries which they criticized, seem impotent, and powerless, in this march toward authoritarianism. Why hasn’t the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), for instance, called out and taken licenses away from media outlets that have been spreading what has proven to be lies about the 2020 election? I thought there was a standard of honesty that television and radio had to follow. And why did a man who cast a vote in the name of his deceased mother get probation, while a Black woman, on parole, voted after being advised that she could, was sentenced to five years in prison? (https://www.aclu.org/issues/voting-rights/fighting-voter-suppression/crystal-mason-thought-she-had-right-vote-texas) In 2022 the Texas Supreme Court ruled that her case must be revisited, but the issue is what is wrong with a judicial system that would pave the way for such a conviction when the man who openly cast a fraudulent vote was given sentenced to five-year probation? (https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/03/politics/pennsylvania-probation-illegal-ballot-trump-2020/index.html) and another woman who voted in the name of her dead mother avoided jail and was sentenced to two years probation? (https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/arizona/articles/2022-04-29/scottsdale-woman-avoids-jail-for-voting-dead-moms-ballot)

            I should have known. I think I have wanted to believe in the “rightness” of the American judicial system, even though, as a Black woman, I have seen the system destroy the concept of justice and equal protection under the law. From the days of enslavement, Black people have endured a justice system that has, for the most part, refused to impart justice, but for some reason, I wanted and perhaps needed to believe that at least when it came to saving and protecting the government, the American justice system would do all it could to protect the country so many in power say they love.

            What is going on is not an anomaly; the system is working exactly as it was intended to do, protecting the rights of wealthy, white men. (I say that because wealthy Black men have often been called out and arrested when they have tried to do what they have seen their white colleagues do.) (https://money.cnn.com/2016/07/14/news/economy/wealthy-blacks-racial-profiling/index.html) (https://www.phillytrib.com/commentary/michaelcoard/coard-racist-cops-racially-profile-wealthy-black-man-at-home/article_3bd7fc25-79b7-5d2e-9062-2b82232e8de6.html) I think that these wealthy politicians walk around with a smirk, not unlike the smirk I saw on the face of Derek Chauvin as he knelt on the neck of George Floyd, killing him.

            The façade of political superiority is falling down. America’s slip …is showing.

            A candid observation…

Neither Slavery nor Naziism Ended; they Both Evolved and Are Still Evolving

            When the former president began his trek toward the American presidency, his violent and hateful rhetoric was troubling and when I shared with a Facebook friend, a white woman with whom I had had some conversations, I was afraid that what he was saying and doing would result in the end of our democracy, she said, without a pause, “Democracy needs to die.”

            I was shocked and silent. I finally wrote her that I didn’t agree and got off Facebook for the day, and I never talked with her again.

            The fact that there is a move on to end democracy as this country has known it is all the more troubling because there are so many people who adhere to that desire. They say they resent big government – i.e. government that has created policies and programs that help the masses of the people, but they don’t seem to understand that an authoritarian government represents the highest form of big government – where the government controls all aspects of the lives of individual citizens. For some reason, people who are pushing for authoritarianism do not seem to be concerned that some in the government are already stepping on the freedoms Americans have held dear – including being able to teach or read what we want, the right of women to make decisions about their bodies, and even going so far as to intrude on the privacy of young women by asking those who play sports about their menstrual cycles.  Some of our most beloved books have been banned, and more will come. (https://www.nbc4i.com/news/local-news/freedom-to-read-books-on-lgbtq-racism-banned-in-32-states/) (https://www.nbc4i.com/news/local-news/freedom-to-read-books-on-lgbtq-racism-banned-in-32-states/) (https://apnews.com/article/fact-check-desantis-florida-sports-female-athletes-160560972802) (Florida has recently backed away from this plan.)

            Adolph Hitler wanted complete control; he was able to inspire millions of Germans and other Europeans as he blamed Jews for everything that was “wrong,” even if “wrong” was tightly defined by the Germans. As German Jews faced mass murder and sought to come to the United States, this country, sadly, was not as open as we would have believed. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/us-government-turned-away-thousands-jewish-refugees-fearing-they-were-nazi-spies-180957324/)

            From the way history was taught to me, the fact that Hitler did not win his war meant that Hitlerism and Naziism had died along with him. As a child and young student, I believed the Nazi threat was gone.

            But it did not die; it has evolved. We see Swastikas appearing, and we hear angry white people shouting  “Jews will not replace us.” They are serious. Naziism appeals to them and they make no secret that they want “white power,” meaning, they want this country to be inhabited and controlled by white people. Many are unafraid to flash the “white power” symbol, something most recently reported as having been done by George Santos as he took his oath of office to be a US Representative. ( https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2023/01/did-rep-george-santos-flash-the-white-power-symbol-in-the-house-chamber) (https://abcnews.go.com/US/symbols-hate-extremism-display-pro-trump-capitol-siege/story?id=75177671)

            The anti-Semitism that is a core component of Naziism is still very much alive. The former president is said to have slept with a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf at his bedside. (https://abcnews.go.com/US/symbols-hate-extremism-display-pro-trump-capitol-siege/story?id=75177671) Modern-day believers in Naziism are not being subtle about their support of the ideology, much to the chagrin of many.

            But this country decided what it would be at the outset. From our beginning, the primary value was capitalism; enslaving people of African descent had proven to be a cash cow, and the framers were unwilling to let it go. Even after the Emancipation, whites found ways to re-enslave Africans, primarily through the Convict Leasing program, but in later years, through putting Blacks in positions where they could make good money – but make even more money for those owners of football and basketball teams that operate much as plantations did before the Civil War.

            Slavery is yet evolving, as is Naziism. Black and brown people are still working for wages that do not allow them to have quality lives and in essence, be free. We have wanted to believe – and we have touted the narrative that this is the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” but it is neither. The “free and the brave” tend to be a very small group of wealthy, white people who also call themselves “Christian” to give their ideology more validation. Still, nothing that Naziism or enslavement stands for has anything to do with what was taught in the Gospel.

            Though it is troubling to see elected officials willing to stomp over and dismantle American freedoms, and in fact dismantle the government, it is not a new thing. Those who have adhered to racism and sexism and are anti-democracy have walked into this country and served in its government from our beginning. They, like my Facebook friend, do not want democracy. They don’t want the masses to have liberty and justice, they don’t want everyone to vote, including Black and Brown people, students, and women.

            This country may never have been a democracy; it feels as though it never was in practice, but only in verbiage. Both slavery and Naziism are still evolving. Patriarchy and sexism are still evolving. Those in power are working to keep the evolution going. We are not “united,” nor were we meant to be.

            That truth works to the detriment of far too many in these dis-United States of America.

A candid observation …

What Happened to “Family Values?”

            As I watch the shenanigans being played by the Republican party, I find myself asking over and over, “what values does the GOP stand for?”

            There are two behaviors going on simultaneously, that are being displayed by the MAGA Republicans and the so-called conservative, traditional Republicans.

            The MAGAs are continuing to spread their truth – which includes “The Big Lie” about the 2020 election having been stolen, and the traditional Republicans are being silent about what is going on and are therefore complicit.

            As I was growing up, I heard nothing if not about the commitment to “family values” supported by the GOP. I never looked into what those values were, but I supposed they were much like the values my parents supported, including being honest, studying hard, being supportive of others and helping those less fortunate, getting married, and going to church, among other things. 

            The conservative “Focus on the Family” initiative (https://www.focusonthefamily.com) pushed their pro-life stance and supported prayer in schools. There were definitely some “values” with which I did not agree, but the core belief that keeping families healthy and whole was not different from the beliefs held by Democrats.

            But now, MAGA adults are either participating in or being silent about such behavior as stalking parents of children who were murdered at Sandy Hook. As the call to ban assault weapons grows in light of continued mass shootings, some Congresspersons have taken off their US flag pins and replaced them with AR-47 pins. (https://time.com/6253690/ar-15-pins-congress/)  

            Some have created Christmas cards showing their families all holding assault weapons. (https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/christmas-card-guns-lauren-boebert-thomas-massie-start-new-culture-ncna1285709)

            Members of the MAGA wing of the GOP are pushing for books to be banned, and are working to make it impossible for women who are in need of abortions to get them (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/republicans-block-bill-protecting-women-travel-states-abortion-rcna38301)  and have even gone so far as to allow smoking in the Congressional chamber. (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/smoking-capitol-house-republican-majority-b2261232.html) .

            So, what “family values” are we talking about? And if other GOP members do not agree with what is being said and done, why are they so silent about it? Their silence indicates complicity and it is sickening to observe.

            I keep wondering, as they talk about ending Social Security and Medicare how they can be so unconcerned about the plight of people who have worked all their lives and depend on Social Security to live out the remainder of their lives. I wonder if they even think about the elderly people who need both Social Security and Medicare to have quality of life. My most basic question is, “What about the old people? What are your “values” as concerns them?” And I cannot understand why they have so little regard for the lives of children born into poverty. Medicaid enables poor children to get necessary medical care – as we as their parents – but these Republicans – who loudly say they are “pro-life” – seem not to care.

            To add flavor to the cake they are making, they do all of this under the name of Jesus the Christ, and I keep wondering whose Christ do they honor? Certainly not the Jesus of the Bible, who taught love, community, and justice for all. Some actually say that support of social justice is anti-Biblical. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCDEjDs3Gr4 ).

            All of this is disturbing on its own, but the fact that those in the GOP who do not agree are silent is even more disturbing. Where or what are their values? Why are they allowing this to go on, apparently mumbling behind the scenes but being silent in public? (https://people.com/politics/gop-lawmakers-privately-expressed-outrage-over-trump-after-jan-6-book/)

            What I have come to believe is that the values they espoused were never the values I had. The family values to which they adhere do not include the lessons and principles of Jesus. The values they hold dear include oppression of the very “least of these” that Jesus taught us all to receive and care for. They are either participants in the abrogation of the rights of. all people, or silent as racism, sexism, Xenophobia, homophobia, poverty, and destitution guide their behavior.

            MAGA Republicans and traditional GOP politicians are really no different because if one cannot speak up and speak out against injustice, it means that they fear the loss of power and control more than they value the lessons of Christianity.

            I guess “family values” aren’t the same for all of us after all.

A candid observation …

When We Stop Deceiving Ourselves



            The trembling in my soul that began leading up to the observance of the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr has not yet stopped. I shuddered at the thought of hearing people who hated and still hate what Dr. King did to dismantle the capitalistic, white supremacist system that caused and still causes so many people to suffer offer flowery words of tribute. For what purpose? Only to bolster their objectives of continued racial oppression. by twisting and manipulating a few words that he said. 

            Were he alive today, they would be attacking him. As it is, though Dr. King was murdered in 1968 it wasn’t until 1983 that Congress approved a holiday in his honor and it took three more years for the holiday actually to be celebrated. 

            We live in a society that thrives on deception. The powers that be from the very beginning created a myth of American exceptionalism. They decided from the beginning that some people were more worthy than others, and they wrote those beliefs into the Constitution. This country was never meant to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave;” too many people were excluded from human and humane treatment from the beginning. 

            The deception with which this country was founded, and the deception that continues to be an identifiable element of our society can make one tremble with rage. Do the people in power know they are being deceptive? And if they do, do they care? Howard Thurman, though, makes an observation about deception – saying that it is “perhaps the oldest of all the techniques by which the weak have protected themselves against the strong.” The disinherited have survived by practicing deception, i.e. acting like everything is OK when that is far from the truth. The words of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “We Wear the Mask” comes to mind: 

We wear the mask that grins and lies, 

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes 

This debt we pay to human guile; 

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,  

And mouth with myriad subtleties. 

Why should the world be over-wise 

In counting all our tears and sighs? 

Nay, let them only see us, while  

We wear the mask. 

We smile, but O great Christ our cries 

To thee from tortured souls arise. 

We sing, but oh the clay is vile 

Beneath our feet and long the mile; 

But let the world dream otherwise, 

We wear the mask! 

            If Thurman’s observation is accurate that deception is that which the weak use to survive, then we have to lift up the possibility that this country, which has touted and boasted about its strength, is actually very weak. It has created a narrative that has enabled it to survive against nations, principles, and ideas that are much stronger than anyone cares to admit. 

            But on an individual level, we deceive ourselves if we do not admit to ourselves that this entire debacle called Americanism grieves us to our souls. It causes us to tremble. Every time we have to swallow our pain and anger because of one more assault, we tremble. We dare not show it for fear of being castigated, fired, or worse, but it is inside of us. Thurman says that the “question of deception is not academic, but profoundly ethical and spiritual, going to the very heart of all human relations. For it raises the issue of honesty, integrity, and the consequences thereof over against duplicity and deception and the attendant consequences.” 

            We must admit and own the trembling within us. We must not fall prey to the narrative presented by the deceptive American society and government that criticizes the anger that the disinherited rightfully feel. This American government is not good for “the least of these,” and Thurman says we cannot continue to call a lie the truth.” He writes, “the penalty of deception is to become a deception.” That is not acceptable. We cannot be in true relationship with God – who is Truth – if we submit to a deceptive narrative that was created to steal our joy, our hope, and our faith. Thurman says, “sincerity in human relations is equal to sincerity to God.” 

            I got through the day by refusing to listen to any of the “tributes” to Dr. King that were offered by people who are actively trying to destroy everything he and other Civil Rights leaders did. They are not only trying to destroy what he and the Movement accomplished; they are also trying to dismantle and destroy the entire country.

It may be that it will not only be Black people will be wearing masks to hide their pain at what is going on in this country because the attack on liberty, constitutional rights, honesty, integrity, and principles will affect a lot of people. Were Dr. King alive, he would be mortified.

As well we should all be.

A candid observation …a