My first book review of the new year will be Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. I am rereading it at present… I look forward to writing about his book, writing about him, and writing about the Equal Justice Initiative… I am deeply impressed with all three!
My personal mantra for years has been that it is hard being a bright, open-minded, open-hearted woman in the Deep South. I do believe that. However, over the last few years I have begun empathizing with those that don’t have even that much privilege on which to plan and live. My thoughts have stayed with those that have fought racial prejudice their entire life; that have known only poverty, whether it is financial, educational, or spiritual; and those that suffer the pain of want: want for food, for housing, for education, job opportunities, dignity and respect…
Change in all these areas is the daylight I’m seeking. Bringing these issues to that light… for education, discussion, deliberation, and action… is what Daybreak in Alabama is all about. Alabama is a hard world to live in: and it oftentimes seems it is a world set apart from the rest of our universe.
Truth really is often stranger than fiction, but just as strong is the fact that fiction can often tell the truth clearer and more poignantly than data and facts. Merriam-Webster Online defines poignant as pungently pervasive; painfully affecting the feelings; piercing; deeply affecting; touching; designed to make an impression. Literature, and the characters portrayed therein, can indeed make poignant points and make created reality more real than everyday life for readers.
Why is that?
I think a lot of it is because people feel safe within a fiction story, or within a biography or someone else’s essays or narratives. The reader does not have to look people in the eye, listen to their story, and call that person by any other name than that which has been given by the author. I don’t believe this is a bad thing: I think social ideas and social issues sometimes have to be masked to make them accessible to the masses.
Alabama is abound with wonderful writers, whether they are still living or are deceased. I certainly am a strong proponent of allowing literature, in all its forms, to help make my points for me… so I will be quoting novelists and poets and creative nonfiction writers and songwriters and journalists as I make my points and express my passions! Why wouldn’t I? These great writers have helped me form my own belief system, so why wouldn’t I want to share them with others?
Alabama is a complex state in many ways… being on the very bottom of most good lists and at the very top of most bad lists, especially when it concerns social equity and justice issues. One would think that the people of our state could… and would… join together to try to improve not only our reputation, but the lives of her citizens. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
There are, however, several organizations fighting against inequality and inequity gaining strength in numbers throughout the state. I will be taking a closer look at these organizations in the next few weeks. I want to find out more about each of them to determine which I want to support myself, but also to share their profiles with readers that might be interested as well. These organizations include, but are not limited to, the Equal Justice Initiative, Alabama Arise, Alabama Appleseed, Alabama Possible, and the Etowah Visitation Project. There are other agencies that I will also look into, hoping to produce as complete a roster to share as possible.
Hopefully, looking into the agencies whose goals and purposes are to represent the needs of the most vulnerable Alabama citizens will encourage individuals to learn more about the issues and to learn more about the people themselves… which in turn will encourage all involved to become advocates for themselves and for those who need help. We are lucky that we have caring people comprising the staffs for these organizations, probably many volunteers or members, and the knowledge and passion to further their causes. It’s a beginning… for that we can be grateful.
I hope the old tale that whatever you are doing at the stroke of midnight as the old year turns into the new will be a big part of your coming year is true. If it is, then I will be writing this year… and sipping champagne often to celebrate the fact! I wish us ALL a very happy 2015, and in the spirit of Daybreak in Alabama, I will remind myself and everyone else of Rumi’s challenge printed on the banner above:
There is a morning inside you waiting to burst open into light… Rumi
I’m making a new commitment to this blog… and to writing a book of the same title: Daybreak in Alabama. Please follow my progress in that endeavor at http://www.daybreakinalabamathebookwordpress.com.
Again, happy new year!
When I get to be a composer
I’m gonna write me some music about
Daybreak in Alabama.
And I’m gonna put the purtiest songs in it
Rising up out of the ground like a swamp mist
And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
I’m gonna put some tall, tall trees in it
And the scent of pine needles
And the smell of red clay after rain.
And long red necks
And poppy colored faces
And big brown arms
And the field daisy eyes of black and white black white black people
And I’m gonna put some white hands and black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers
And touching each other as natural as dew
In that dawn of music when
I get to be a composer
And write about daybreak
I grew up in the Christian religion, a Methodist, then United Methodist after the merger. Although in the midst of emotion and the power of the Holy Spirit many times, I have never had a conversion experience: I was simply born into the family of God and have never doubted my place within it. That is why I know that there is one true God, and that however it makes sense at the moment, there is the living Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yes, I believe that Mother can interchange with Father, that Jesus lived and died a real man (who would have listened to a woman at that time?), and that I am filled with the Holy Feminine Spirit.
I take my place as a child of God with confidence, knowing that I am loved and cherished. And as surely as I know that about myself, I am assured that each and every soul has that same distinction. I have always loved the closing of prayers and services here in the Deep South, as preachers proclaim and invite, “Let all God’s children say ‘Amen’!”, and have added my “Amen!” to the chorus always. With every utterance of that agreement, I have seen the faces of my brothers and sisters in my mind’s eye: Man and woman; black and white, yellow, brown and red; educated and illiterate; gay and straight; rich and poor; young and elderly; Jew, Gentile, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, Sikh, Bha’i, Pagan, Wiccan, Free-thinker, Agnostic, Atheist… those with beliefs and those without. ALL God’s children: Amen!
That is why, as I have so often said, it is very hard to be a bright, open-minded, open-hearted woman in the Deep South. Because as much as I believe we are all God’s children, I have to question if that is what the other people joining in, so rousing in their affirmation, also believe? If so, then how do we have so many people here in Alabama ready to go to battle against raising minimum wage for workers and making those wages equal for both women and men? Why is there still the stigma of being any color other than white? Why is education a gift for those who can afford it and not a necessity for the welfare of all individuals, which, in fact, would benefit the State as well? Why do so many here fear allowing people to love who they love and marry those they want? Why do we, as citizens of Alabama, not respect our young and provide for their needs and revere our elderly, ensuring their best interests are met? And why, when we claim to be one of God’s children, can we not accept our brothers and sisters of other faiths as one of our own? Why do so many of our people, who feel they are doing right, trust every word of the Bible as being God-sent, until they are pointed to those two little words that say “Judge not.”?
These questions do not come from one retaliating against a society that has beaten her down. Yes, I have fallen into many statistical categories used to measure social ills: I had a child outside of marriage, but loved just the same; I was a single mother raising a mixed-raced baby; I have been unemployed at times, and am now over-educated, so under-employed; often uninsured; behind on my bills; and have way too many student loans of my own and my daughter’s.
Instead, I prefer to think, I raise these questions because I am white, so already entitled and empowered by that fact alone; I am well-educated, so I can read and hear and see… and think and understand by my own will; I work as hard as anyone I’ve ever known and pride myself in a job well-done, even if my salary and financial security have never demonstrated that fact; I accept my responsibilities and try hard not to complain; and I have raised a child who is proud to be a Christian, an Alabamian, and an American… but who knows as surely as I do that she is just one of ALL of God’s children.
I fear for Alabama… and Alabamians. I am not judging them as a people, or even as individuals, but judging the actions and outcomes that come from people who seem to pick and choose just who and in what instances the Golden Rule of, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” apply. The Alabama Legislature, both the Senate and the House of Representatives, seems intent on presenting an image to their constituents, the nation, and the world, as being the biggest bad-asses there is… just because they can. I’m afraid, however, they are simply coming across as mean-hearted and mean-spirited to all of us paying attention.
I have always begged God for “a calling”, to be told what I am supposed to do and how I am supposed to do it to meet my responsibilities and my will as a Christian child of His/Hers. After taking the course JustFaith for the first time, I realized that I, along with all other believers of Christ’s words, have been given that calling. It comes from Matthew 25:31-46, and says:
When the Son of Man comes in all His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on the throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him and He will separate the people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, and I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?
The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you?”
He will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (NIV)
The Alabama Legislature is now in session in Montgomery. I feel the distinct need to remind them of this calling we all share. Not only is the Golden Rule an important teaching of Christianity, but it is found in most every religion and religious teaching in the world. In looking at what we are commanded to do, it needs to be understood that the giving of charity to meet the immediate needs of those suffering is important, but it is not enough. Charity and direct service to those in need is the easy part, but we need to step up and demand more of ourselves… and a whole lot more of our elected officials.
Until we look closely at and begin to rethink the systemic problems of our state, true change will never happen. As a member of both Alabama Arise! And the Interfaith Mission Service in Huntsville, there are certain issues that have been chosen to push the Legislature to consider this session. And in addition to these, I have personal issues that I support on my own and through other organizations.
Alabama Arise! will have their Legislative Lobbying Day this Thursday: I sure wish I could go, but I can’t. However, I still support them in their efforts to untax groceries; lift the lifetime ban for SNAP benefits for those with a drug-related conviction; death penalty reform; health care expansion under the Affordable Care Act; payday lending reform; and raising the state’s debt collection exemptions to provide greater protection for low-income people.
Issues on the Interfaith Mission Service’s list of concerns include payday lending, death penalty, the safe-haven bill to protect victims of sex and child trafficking from being treated as criminals, untaxing groceries, and affordable housing issues. There are several different bills being discussed concerning these issues, with IMS and Daybreak in Alabama pushing for conversation in the public arena to ensure Alabamians are aware of the problems and potential legislation involved.
I personally support SB99, decriminalizing midwife participation in home births. The bill does not go far enough in allowing women a choice of personal birth plans, but it at least allows attendance of a midwife at a home birth without fear of prosecution. The bill has been unfairly tabled at this point, but will hopefully be moved from that position to allow for bringing the bill to a vote before the legislative session expires.
Although Alabama is known as the Heart of Dixie, I often feel there is very little heart involved in decisions made by our elected officials. I sincerely believe the Alabama Legislature needs to accept the responsibility of being the elected officials of all citizens of the State of Alabama and do what is right and what is needed during this session. They need to search their hearts and look into the eyes of their constituents and remember the admonition of all world religions to treat these, some being the most vulnerable, as they themselves expect and desire to be treated… and hopefully begin the process of systemic change needed in our state. Alabama needs to embrace this change and there needs to be change… and a change of heart… here in the Heart of Dixie.
Remember: It’s daybreak, Alabama… and we need to let our light shine over ALL God’s children here in Alabama the Beautiful, and claim with pride that we are, indeed, the Heart of Dixie!
I applaud all speakers who voiced their passion at the Madison County Legislative Delegation Forum last night in the Huntsville City Council chambers… Many issues were raised and we were challenged, along with our state representatives and senators, to think about these issues and determine what actions we as individuals can (and should) take to encourage the changes needed.
Church of the Nativity hosted a pre-forum meeting for Alabama Arise! to meet with members and supporters… Robyn Hyden did a very good job of introducing the selected issues of ACPP for 2014. About 30 people attended: some members and some new to the group, but all shared their stories and their take on these issues. Everyone later attended the forum and many spoke there as well.
One thing I learned I needed to do is to take each of IMS’s issues and each of Alabama Arise!’s issues and prepare a one-minute “elevator” spiel for each. That way, when someone asks me in passing (or in an elevator) how I feel about an issue, I will be able to answer succinctly and knowledgeably… and after that, I need to work on a three-minute in-depth response. After saying I would speak on abolishing the lifetime ban of SNAP benefits for drug offenders, even after serving their sentences and being released from prison, AND abolishing the tax on groceries, I realized a prepared presentation is much better than one off-the-cuff. Oh, well! All I can do is do a better job next time… so I’m going to prepare!
The Madison County State Legislative Delegation Public Forum is scheduled for Tuesday night, January 7th from 7:00-9:00 pm at the City Council Chambers, 308 Fountain Circle SW, downtown Huntsville. This is an ideal time to come and speak to your elected officials in the State House and to hear what your Madison County neighbors feel are the important issues facing the Legislature as they convene in Montgomery next month. Anyone wishing to speak needs to sign in by 6:30 pm to put your name on the list.
Arise Cititzens’ Policy Project will hold a briefing session before the forum from 5:00-6:00 pm at the Church of the Nativity, 208 Eustis Avenue, SE. Robyn Hyden, North Alabama organizer for ACPP, will present the 2014 priority issues of the organization. These issues are:
- Payday and Auto Title Lending Reform
- Adequate State Budgets
- Tax Reform
- SNAP access
- Healthcare Reform
- Utility Rate Reviews
- Debt Collection Exemptions
Everyone is encouraged to attend the briefing and then attend the forum to support those issues you would like to see the Legislature address during the next session. If you have any questions concerning the ACPP session, call Robyn at (205) 432-9436. Anyone having questions concerning the pubic forum can call the Madison County Legislative office at (256) 539-5441.