Posts by Annie Newman

Radically Liberal Christian. Autism/Girl/Pitbull mom. FarmHER. Incurable maker of things.

Ecclesiastes 05 – The Peace of Acceptance

18 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Remember my post on Chapter Two where I talked about the author’s journey to wisdom?  Today’s chapter is where Qohelet (the author, whom I discuss in Chapter One) solidly establishes a mentality of acceptance –  and manifests the peace and wisdom that brings.  So it seems appropriate to talk about finding and practicing acceptance in our own lives today.  But what a tricky post this is to write, for I am no expert! Acceptance is very much a skill I am still learning, and slowly.  I must admit I feel like a bit of an impostor making it the subject of a blog post.  But perhaps, in writing it, we can all learn together, so I’ll forge ahead.

What acceptance isn’t

Let’s start with talking about what acceptance is not, because I think that has helped most in my journey to practicing acceptance.  Acceptance is not resignation or agreement.  By accepting a situation for what it is, you are not abdicating any of your own power, but rather fully recognizing reality and thwarting denial.  Acceptance is also not wallowing in your feelings forever.  By accepting feelings you may wish to avoid, you acknowledge them and give yourself the freedom to move forward.

Accepting the bad: working through an example

As an example: let’s say you worked really hard to get a promotion and felt confident in your ability to achieve it, only to be passed over for a coworker you feel doesn’t deserve it.  This is a painful situation: disappointment, inadequacy, anger, and frustration are all perfectly normal feelings to have.  It is good to acknowledge (aka, accept) them instead of trying to push them down.  By giving yourself a chance to feel these emotions in a safe, controlled environment (such as over the weekend, or even a handful of weekends, at home with loved ones supporting you) you lessen the risk of them spilling out in a detrimental manner at work.  If there is one part of acceptance I have mastered, it’s having a good cry.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told Chris “I just need to be sad right now,” and then sobbed into my pillow for ten minutes, feeling much better after just giving into that sadness instead of trying to have a stiff upper lip.  Poor Chris, he rolls with it even though I think it still freaks him out.

After accepting your feelings, you can look at the situation critically, accepting the reality of it.  On first blush this sounds like resignation, but it’s really the first step in seeing where your power truly lies.  When you’re able to neutrally observe this newly-promoted coworker, maybe you’ll see that maybe they had skills you didn’t realize, and the boss really knew what they were doing.  This realization can lead to a new mentorship, a productive discussion with the boss, and perhaps a future promotion.  Also possible: you may realize that you work in a dysfunctional environment where cronyism is more at play than rewarding hard work, and you need to either learn to play the game or get out.  It sounds harsh, but realizing something like that is better than resisting reality, or trying to make a reality (like a dysfunctional workplace) bend to your ideal (one where hard work is rewarded) – because that isn’t going to happen and will only lead to further frustration.

Accepting the good – permission to rest

Surprisingly, I think a lot of Americans have just as much trouble practicing acceptance with the good in their lives as the bad, starting with down-time.  Collectively, we resist, mock, or deny rest.  As this pandemic has made painfully apparent, many workers (especially low-wage workers) are expected to show up for work even when sick, and are oftentimes punished – even to the point of firing – if they stay home to take care of themselves.  In more white-collar jobs, it is often a point of pride to be the one coming in early to the office or staying late, the one who has the most meetings or biggest workload.  This nose-to-the-grindstone mentality keeps even those that have the ability to rest (in the form of paid vacation and set office hours) from it.  And my personal example: our three farm employees live with us at the moment, and I still feel the urge to jump up and be productive whenever one of them shows up, because I feel guilty if I’m sitting down in the middle of the day.  I constantly have to remind myself that my work is different from theirs: when they’re slowing down in the evening is when I’m revving up with making dinner and the bedtime routine. But even here do you see how I’m justifying rest with subsequent work?  I seriously thought about deleting these last few sentences, but I’m going to leave them here to demonstrate just how pathological our resistance to rest is, even when it’s readily available to us.  To rest is good and acceptable.  There’s even a commandment about not toiling on the Sabbath.  We need to accept rest into our lives, and create a culture where everyone can access rest, as well.

Accepting the good – not everything has to make money

Now let’s talk about the side hustle! As a mostly stay at home mom I really feel the pressure for the side-hustle.  I work hard, especially now with quarantine: I’m the cook and grocery shopper for the family, and now the teacher and therapist as well as all the other duties that running a household requires, like laundry, bill pay, cleaning, and child-care.  But it is unpaid work, and without that paycheck, I must remind myself that this work, too, has real value.  It’s an uphill battle: my IG feed is littered with sponsored ads for online seminars that promise to “turn your passion into a six-figure enterprise” or how you can “make money during naptime doing what you love,” insidiously implying that I’m not doing enough, and that money is the only acceptable end-goal.  Also, while compliments like “you’re so good at [baking, knitting, writing, drawing, or whatever other hobby you may have], you should start a business!” are, truly, meant as compliments, they show where our collective value lies: not in the enjoyment of the craft, but in the potential cash flow that craft could maybe, possibly, bring.

Now I’m not going to lie, I would be delighted if this blog started generating a little cash for me. I definitely have my Patreon and Venmo accounts set up, should you feel so moved.  But more than anything I write this because it is a way for me to connect and define my faith, and share a message of love that I fear is severely lacking in broader Christianity.  And as for my other hobbies, like quilting or mending?  Those are definitely just for me, and the people I gift things to, because they bring me joy, even without a dollar sign attached to them.

Accepting the good – compliments

Why, when someone gives us a compliment, do we feel the need to downplay it?  Real examples from my own life:

“The house is so clean!” “Thanks, it’s still got a ways to go, but it’s better than it was.”

“Wow, your garden is really coming along!” “Thanks, I’m happy I got the greens in but I still have a lot of work to do.”

“You’re hair is so cute today!” “Thank you, but I really need to get it cut.”

You know the expression there’s a silver lining to every cloud? It’s almost like we need the perverse opposite when someone compliments us: a thunderstorm behind every rainbow.  Why can’t we acknowledge our gifts without sounding boastful?  Why can’t we accept a compliment with just a simple “thank you.”  Some people are certainly better than others at it, but it’s another thing I’m trying to work on.  I want to enjoy my clean house, my garden growing, my good hair days. If we follow the Ecclesiastes call to joy, we begin to see and accept that God wants us to enjoy these things and more, as well.

Practicing acceptance

The first and biggest step to practicing acceptance is practicing mindfulness.  When we are mindful of our feelings and our circumstances, we are better able to react positively to both. When something bad happens, we can treat ourselves kindly instead of compounding any problems through our own resistance.  When something good happens, we can lean into the experience.  And this, I believe, is part of the spiritual maturity God wants for us and from us.  God wants us to be happy.  That doesn’t mean that any sorrow in our lives is evidence of God’s disinterest – bad things do happen.  (Which is another truth Qohelet recognizes throughout Ecclesiastes.)  But we have the formula for deep joy: to eat, to drink, and to find satisfaction in our labor.  If we are mindful and accepting while putting this formula into practice, joy and wisdom are within our grasp.

If you are learning from what you read here, please follow the blog so you don’t miss what’s next.  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  Please also consider supporting the blog through Patreon or Venmo.  Thank you!

Ecclesiastes 04 – Do Not Turn a Blind Eye to Modern Lynchings

I saw the tears of the oppressed—
    and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
    and they have no comforter.
And I declared that the dead,
    who had already died,
are happier than the living,
    who are still alive.
But better than both
    is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
    that is done under the sun.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

There is so much to write about in this chapter, so much I was hoping to share with you today.  But given the recent arrests of Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers, I don’t want us to think our work on that subject is done. We need to sit with some hard truths instead, and I want to share some powerful words from an anonymous source, republished with their permission:

 

Ahmaud Arbery was lynched on February 23, while out jogging on the outskirts of Brunswick, GA. Today, to celebrate what would’ve been his 26th birthday, #IRunWithMaud.

And yes, I said lynched. Maybe some of y’all thought lynchings had gone the way of Jim Crow laws. They have not.

Merriam-Webster defines “lynching” as “to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal approval or permission,” with the following usage example: The accused killer was lynched by an angry mob.

That’s what happened here. The two men arrested for Arbery’s murder, 64-year old Gregory McMichael and his son 34-year old Travis, claimed they believed he was a robbery suspect. That the father was once a police officer doesn’t add support to their claimed justification for stalking and gunning down Arbery; as any student of American history knows, in many if not most lynchings of black people, law enforcement was complicit, either as participants in the lynching or observers who prevented the victim from being saved. And in nearly all instances, accusations of crime, nearly always against whites and nearly always either overblown or entirely baseless, were the predicate for the lynching.

Between 1877 and 1950, only Mississippi saw more lynchings than Georgia. During that time period, 589 people were lynched in Georgia–that we know of. The vast majority were black, and nearly every person complicit in those lynchings was white. Again, many had ties to law enforcement.

Georgia was the scene of some of the most gruesome lynchings on record. Take, for example, the April 23, 1899 lynching of Sam Hose near Newnan, GA. In his remarkable book “At the Hands of Persons Unknown,” Philip Dray reconstructs from contemporary reports the chaotic scene, a festival of death to which crowds of Georgians traveled by horse, by train, and on foot from as far away as Atlanta. Here’s Dray’s description of the lynch mob’s treatment of Hose; those with weak stomachs may want to skip it:

“The torture of the victim lasted almost half an hour. It began when a man stepped forward and very matter-of-factly sliced off Hose’s ears. Then several men grabbed Hose’s arms and held them forward so his fingers could be severed one by one and shown to the crowd. Finally, a blade was passed between his thighs, Hose cried in agony, and a moment later his genitals were held aloft.”

After being so mutilated, Hose was soaked in kerosene and set on fire while still alive. His last words were reportedly “Sweet Jesus.” His charred remains, photos of which survive, were then set upon by the crowd, who fought to wrench free pieces of his body as souvenirs. Civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois, who visited the town soon after the event, was shocked to learn that Hose’s knuckles were for sale at a local grocer’s shop.

Hose’s alleged crime? Murdering his white employer during an argument over wages, and allegedly raping his wife. The rape allegation was added later, when the mob needed justification to deny Hose his right to a fair trial for the killing. Rape and attempted rape would be a frequent justification for lynching over the years.

The Hose lynching wasn’t even the most vile and disturbing one to happen in Georgia. That dishonor would go to either the Mary Turner lynching in Lowndes County, or the Mae Murray Dorsey lynching in Walton County.

On July 25, 1946, Dorsey, her husband, and another couple were stopped by a white mob, beaten, tied to an oak tree near the Moore’s Ford Bridge, and shot numerous times. Dorsey was seven months pregnant at the time. After the smoke had cleared from the shooting, one of the mob cut the fetus from Dorsey’s body.

Somehow that’s not even the most revolting, disturbing lynching of a pregnant woman in Georgia. That would be the Mary Turner lynching. On May 16, 1918, a 25-year old white farmer named Hampton Smith was murdered in Brooks County. Over the following weeks, at least thirteen black citizens were murdered by white mobs seeking revenge for Smith’s death. One of those victims was a man named Hayes Turner, who had threatened Smith after Smith struck Hayes’s wife, Mary.

After her husband was lynched on May 18, 1918, Mary publicly denounced the lynch mob and swore that she would have them arrested for their crime. So the mob came for her next, despite the fact that she was eight months pregnant. Again I’ll rely on the description of the scene given by Philip Dray, based on contemporary reporting and eyewitness interviews–and again I warn those of you with weak stomachs:

“[B]efore a crowd that included women and children,” Dray writes, “Mary was stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground, gave a cry, and was stomped to death.”

Why am I sharing all this gruesome history? Simple. Because what happened to Ahmaud Arbery was the same thing that happened to Sam Hose, and Mary Turner, and Mae Murray Dorsey, and hundreds of other black people in Georgia. Groups of angry white people deemed a black life to have no value, and decided they would end it. Just like the murderers of Hose, Dorsey, and Turner, Arbery’s killers probably figured they’d get away with it. And for a while, they were right; the Glynn County District Attorney directed police officers on the scene not to arrest the McMichaels, even though they believed they had probable cause to do so. 589th verse, same as the first. And Georgia’s not the only state with such a hate-filled history; I’m writing this about a two-hour drive south of where Jesse Washington was tortured, castrated, and slowly roasted to death near Waco City Hall while the mayor and chief of police looked on.

Facts like these are the reason groups had to be formed to remind us white people that black lives do, in fact, matter. Facts like the ones I’ve laid out above are the reason Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid knelt during the National Anthem of a nation where such acts of evil were permitted, and not punished, and where numerous attempts to make lynching a federal crime were defeated. (In fact, one can easily argue that none of the perpetrators of the acts I’ve described above suffered a fraction of the consequences Kaepernick has suffered.) Facts like the ones I’ve laid out above are the reason so many of us need only look to Donald Trump calling the racists who marched on Charlottesville “very fine people” as the final proof, if such were needed, that a racist sits in the White House.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: America has a race problem, and it could end up being the death of us. If you don’t believe me, go read Dray’s book. Go read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” Go read Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped From The Beginning.” Go read Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law.” Go read any collection of writings by Dr. King, or Du Bois, or Wells-Barnett. I could recommend countless books to enlighten y’all who need the enlightening.

Again, America has a race problem, and it could be the death of us. As Kendi points out, it’s not enough for us to not be racist. We need to be anti-racist. That means knowing our history, and understanding where we are now. It means calling lynching by its name when we see it. It means demanding accountability for such awful crimes against humanity. It means understanding why Kaepernick knelt, and understanding that he’s far from alone in his sentiments. And it means standing with people like Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland and the thousands of other black men and women who’ve met violent, early ends for the sole reason that they were black in America.

 

If you have been moved by what you have read, I encourage you to consider donating to support a Legal Aid society near you (this link takes you to the one in DC), which helps those most at-risk in the legal system receive effective representation.  I also encourage you to support the Black voices speaking their truth right now.  There are many, but some that I follow are Rachel Cargle (and the Loveland Foundation), D. Danyelle Thomas of Unfit Christian, and Christena Cleveland – who is included in the upcoming anthology A Measure of Belonging: Writers of Color on the New American South, which can be pre-ordered at the link.  My wonderful husband Chris Newman of @sylvanaquafarms also writes incisive prose about the intersection of race, farming, food, and privilege.  There is a crowdfunding page published by Crowdpac for Ahmaud Arbery’s family, but at the time of publishing they have yet to be personally affiliated with it, so I am watching to see it receives their stamp of approval before donating to it. And as always, God vs. The Patriarchy can be supported via several options at the Support tab, to the left.

Ecclesiastes 03 – Patience; Surrender; and Charity in Action.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

 

Patience and Surrender

Indeed, there is a time for everything.  A right time, a due time, for everything.  But that time is not for us to decide.  As v. 11 says: “we cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  Things may not make sense now, but there is a divine plan at work.

Believing in this divine plan requires two very difficult virtues, some I’ll readily admit I’m not great at: Patience and Surrender. While related, I see them as two distinct practices.  Patience means we wait.  Surrender means we trust.  Putting those two virtues into practice means we must wait for the right time, trusting that God will bring that right time about – even trusting it to happen beyond our lifetime, if need be.

Charity

But patience and surrender do not mean we sit idly by.  There are many beautiful passages in this short chapter, but the one that had the most impact on me was vv. 12-13: “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil — this is the gift of God.” Emphasis my own, because I want to make sure you see the inclusive nature of this language, the action that it calls us to: we are to do good so that everyone may find satisfaction.

Qohelet does not shrink from acknowledging the evil and indifference in the world. “In the place of judgement — wickedness was there, in the place of justice — wickedness was there,” reads v. 16.  He also acknowledges our base natures in vv. 18-19: “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals, the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath, man has no advantage over the animal.”

But even with these allowances to the harsh natural world, Qohelet realizes this: “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked.” Even believing in universal reconciliation as I do, I’d rather be lumped in with the righteous.  In order to be so lumped, it is our God-given duty to not only find enjoyment for ourselves, but to make sure we help others find that enjoyment, too.  I read this passage as a ringing endorsement of global human rights.  Everyone deserves the right to eat, drink, and find fulfillment in their work (which implies a safe working and home environment – otherwise enjoyment would be hard to come by).

A time to act

“Nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.”  This is a verse from chapter eight that I’ve already quoted once and will probably quote again, because I think it is the best summation of the vision Qohelet has for peaceful and prosperous living.  It is a goal that we should all be working towards, for ourselves and everyone living.  The time to act on that goal is now and always, until it is attained.  The time for different tactics may change, but the time for action does not.

So what does that action look like right now?  Now is an excellent time to call your representatives to say you want to see benefits like Medicaid and SNAP extended, small business loans un-fucked, and decarceration explored further.  It’s also an excellent time to buy giftcards from small businesses that may not be open right now but still have bills (or small businesses that are open, like my own Sylvanaqua Farms! Sorry, had to plug),  support creative entreprenuers (like my awesome cousin Abby who went from teaching Pilates classes in NYC to streaming Pilates classes from her childhood home in Connecticut), and make donations to food banks and other social safety net organizations.

But mainly, I think action means staying at home as much as you are able.  I do not begrudge (or envy) anyone who can’t abide by stay-at-home orders due to their jobs, or who may need to hire babysitters to come into their home, or send their kids to the daycares that are starting to re-open because they can’t miss any more work.  I don’t begrudge you patronizing restaurants with curbside pickup because you just can’t make one more meal, or going to Target for your groceries because then you can also pick out some clothes (I know I need to figure out getting my girls new shoes sometime soon) and maybe a little pick-me-up present for yourself.  Because sometimes what is classified as non-essential does, in some cases, actually become essential.  That rather long qualification aside, I’ll add my plea to the millions of others you’ve probably heard: if you can, please stay home.  Those with cancer, the elderly, the newborns, the chronically ill – not to mention the families and loved ones of all the aforementioned people – are relying upon all of us to abide by social distancing and vigilant hand washing so that they can live.  As Qohelet has made clear, we all have the right to eat, drink, and be glad; and we all have the responsibility to make sure everyone has that right, as well.

If you are learning from what you read here, please follow the blog so you don’t miss what’s next.  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  Please also consider supporting the blog through Patreon or Venmo.  Thank you!