The (Not Always So) Great State of Mississippi

24 Nov

I think I’ve said before how I love living in the South. I’m not, however, uncritical of my home state, as I believe holding Mississippi to a higher standard than it is accustomed to meeting is an essential step toward bringing her into the 21st century.

I don’t mind holding someone’s hand and gently walking the road of progress with them, but uuuugh, how I loathe having to drag someone out of the ’50s kicking and screaming. The 1950’s, y’all. Seriously.

When Bill Maher aired a little episode of his show last season in which a Real Time correspondent visited this state, I was so disgusted by their coverage that I promptly canceled my subscription to HBO. (Subsequently I have hooked up my computer to the tv and obtained permission to use a friend’s Dish username and password to access HBO Go, because come on, I’m not gonna miss The Newsroom.) It’s not that I am angry at Maher for exposing the poverty, ignorance, and racism that is so prevalent in this state (as it is in many others as well). What I mind is his bone-headed assertion that those were the people his correspondent met the moment she stepped off the plane. Reeeaaaallly…. because I have lived here my entire life, and I have never once ran into someone with “white power” patches sewn into their shirt. That’s the kind of thing you have to go looking for, even in Mississippi.

But you don’t have to poke around much before you run into something or someone who is just mind-numbingly, astoundingly, brazenly racist. I know there are people and ideas like that in every single state in this nation, and in every country on the planet. Does Mississippi have more than its fair share? I don’t know. This is the only place I’ve ever lived for this long. I am not comparing it to any other place, because I don’t care how hateful people here are in comparison to somewhere else – I care that there is hatred here at all. I do believe in the power of love to conquer hate, just as lightness can drive out the dark … but you have to shine the light first. If people are not ashamed to say things in public, should we be hesitant to repeat them? Is that not being an enabler to a hate-monger?

I want to be clear that I’m not trying to expose this young man simply for others to enjoy an opportunity to belittle or ridicule him and his friends. I just want to have a conversation. I was floored to find this on Facebook. I was floored that people will teach their kids to hate! These are younger people. High school, maybe college. They weren’t born racist. They were taught this. It just blows my mind.

I’m not a fan of Barack Obama. I did not vote for him. (I also did not vote for Mitt Romney.) There are legitimate reasons to withhold one’s support from President Obama. However, to deny that race plays a significant role in the Southern animosity toward our President is willfully ignorant.

How can a person get away with saying something like this and no one even blinks an eye? This has been on this guy’s Facebook page ever since November 7th. I’m not friends with this person. I stumbled onto his profile after he popped up in my “people you may know” section due to our mutual friends. The comments on his status were numerous, but I just wanted to provide a quick synopsis of the conversation:




Well hello, sunshine.

15 Nov

You’ll notice a little house-cleaning has been underway here at TMIForever. That’s because a while back I decided that I would use this lovely readership I’ve built here and this “safe place” we have established here to discuss some taboo, “tmi” subjects: politics and religion.

My good friend Lemmons once said, “Politics and religion are my two favorite subjects. I don’t know what everyone else’s problem is.” That tickled me, and it suits me well, too. I can discuss both and rarely get angry when differences in opinion or philosophy are discovered. I’ve yet to meet a person with whom I agree on everything anyway.

I have, however, become very upset when I feel attacked because of my beliefs. I’ve felt “treed” before, like prey. Remember how Chuck used to get so angry when discussing politics with me that he would fly off the handle and I’d wind up in tears? I’ve never understood the anger some people feel when they encounter diversity. Is it fear? What in the world do y’all think I’m gonna do?? “One day she’s blogging about her Marxist ideas, and the next thing you know she’s setting up an Occupy tent city with her commie pinko queer buddies and planning topless nature walks with her gang of hairy-legged hippy girlfriends.”

Seriously, y’all. I have a good number of regular readers who live outside of the Deep South, many of whom have never even visited here.

Let me tell ya, this is one amazing place. It is beautiful. It’s inspiring. It’s fun. The smells, the sounds… even when you’re alone the nighttime bugs serenade you. There’s always music, some of the best music you’ll ever hear, even if you search the world over twice. The people… there’s nothing like ’em. Colorful, entertaining, industrious… story tellers, too. Man, the story tellers we are so fortunate to have. And the stories … they’re woven in honeysuckle and poured out in drawl so thick it could transform bathroom door graffiti into poetry.

Plus, we have tomatoes in the summer. I know other places do too, but not like ours, vine ripened in the sweltering Mississippi heat and oppressive humidity. They are damn fine.

The South is not a difficult place to live. It’s hard to think of leaving most of the time.

There’s just these two things…
1. Mosquitos
2. Intolerance/Fear

I’m not sure why so many people in the rural South are afraid, and I don’t know exactly what frightens them. I know change is hard for many people, regardless of where they hang their hats, but mercy are Southerners terrified of progress.

It’s weird the progress Southerners fear, too. Like they appear completely fine with a few select food manufacturers monopolizing the market and genetically modifying their meals, pumping them full of chemicals, mimicking natural tastes and selling “food” that kills people via cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity…

But let people of different races start breeding and they’re fanning themselves in a frenzy, wondering why the entire world is oblivious to our final destination when the road is so straight and we’re clearly traversing it in a handbasket.

Still, as a church friend of mine likes to say, “We don’t live in a war zone. How can anyone say it’s ‘hard’ to live here?”

True story… but just because you don’t have a brain tumor doesn’t mean passing a kidney stone isn’t painful. The truth is that living in the Deep South and being different, not sharing the prejudices that have such deep roots in our clay soil, that can be a scary existence sometimes. And a lonely one.

When my mother was a teenager, someone who lived the way I do and voiced opinions that I’ve voiced would have had a brick through her window and a cross on her lawn at best. At worst, she’d have her uppity ass put in her place by being raped and beaten into submission… or killed.

Ann Moody was a young black Mississippian during the Civil Rights Movement. She was born and raised in Mississippi and has some stories that will cause you to lie awake at night, scared despite being over 40 years away from the monsters you fear. She had been working to register black voters in Canton when Dr. King delivered his most famous speech. I remember her stating, (paraphrasing to the best of my recollection), “Martin Luther King getting everybody excited about his dream, his dream… in Canton we were so busy trying to keep from getting killed that we never got a chance to sleep, let alone dream.”

Is it that bad now? NO. Of course not.

The South is slow to change, but cut us a little slack. Have you driven on a country road with us? Listened to us talk? Shoooot, we don’t like rushin’ thangs.

But when it comes to basic human decency and tolerance for diversity, we honestly deserve a cattle prod to our collective rear end.

Beautiful stories are unfolding all around us here in Mississippi. And sad, heartbreaking tales as well.

I’ve been downhearted (baby). I’ve been hurt. And I’ve been ashamed, because I hurt people… or at least, for a moment, I intended to hurt them. I don’t want to use my words against people.

I’m so glad I have this community to which I may return to request support and love. I know I’m safe and embraced here and I hope y’all feel comfortable here too.

We all need a safe haven, especially us spiritual misfits, the religious renegades. This is my place.

Take your shoes off and sit a spell. Cuss if you like. Try not to hurt anyone. Apologize if you fail in that, and try again.

Forgive: Yourself. Me. Each other. It feels good, and Yeshua stressed the importance of forgiveness. Regardless if you’re religious or not, I think we can agree that forgiveness and reconciliation feel good, if nothing else.

Let’s get together and feel alright, amirite?

Seriously, just be kind and you are all welcome here, to experience my journey with me or to offer up your own story. Let’s just try not to hurt each other. I’ve experienced a lot of pain and felt myself the target of a good deal of animosity. I’d like to at least maintain this cyber refuge as my bastion against the hostility directed at not just myself, but everyone who is “othered” and outcast.

Thanks for listening, every one of you. I believe the Divine Spark exists within us all, that it is universal. Namaste y’all.

Oh it was a good day!

19 Mar

I didn’t even have to use my A-K! Sorry, I couldn’t help the Ice Cube reference.

Lately, I have been weighed down with stress and anxiety.

I’ve been struggling to get a grip on my finances. That’s a pretty big worry sometimes, among all my other worries.

The global catastrophes, assaults on peaceful protesters  and systematic stripping away of workers’ rights in my own country have multiplied my distress. You know I’m very passionate about such things, so I get really emotionally affected by the news.

And to top it off, I’ve fallen behind on updating this blog, as well as my other one (God Bless The Grass, about green living and compassionate eating, if you’re interested) and my church’s website (Liberty Universalist). It is so difficult to keep up with my online responsibilities when I’m working with an outdated, slow laptop with an electrical taped cord (required since the battery is shot) and missing keys (noteably the “s” and “d” keys, which are reduced to small rubbery bulbs that must be carefully pressed), but those “responsibilities” are the ones that keep my life sane and balanced. I love writing, and I love you all for reading and responding to me. I need that in my life, so when I neglect it for other duties, I feel both stressed and guilty.

But today I started something that turned my whole thought process around. I started theCouch to 5K program, and the first walk/jog I took was up and down my old driveway. That may sound kinda lame, but it’s rather long and very hilly:

The hills are killer after a few laps!

I have many of you to thank for this! I saw the link to C25K on Amanda’s blog. And my dear friend Lindsey Lemmons is an amazing woman and an amazing runner, and when I expressed to her my desire to start running a few months ago she was very supportive and, as she has helped people train for marathons, said she would help motivate and encourage me along the way. I believe in Lindsey, so her belief in me means a lot. This is a woman who will wake up after a night of drinking and run ten miles! I also channeled my lovely girlfriend Marie while walking, as she has always been an inspiration to me, being so beautiful and strong and athletic. And when I thought a hill was too challenging, I thought about how Dar walks all the time, even though she’s a busy pregnant mom! And I can’t leave Beth out – not only did she inspire me to get in shape, but nearly every “green” change I’ve made was a direct result of Beth’s suggestions. In that respect, she has had more influence on the person I am today than anyone I know. You all helped me through the day. I want to make you girls proud!

As I was writing this I got a really positive and encouraging email from Lindsey, so yay!

Other things happened today that made it a good day. Chris is going to help me pay off the car – AWESOME – and hopefully I’ll have that taken care of by Monday! My friend Scott called and asked if I’d like to go to a movie and out to eat tomorrow and my parents said they’d keep the kids, so I’m happy and excited to be getting out of the house. And my sweet, sweet friend Bonnie made me a Rescue Remedy (a flower essence thing) to help with my nervousness about writing and delivering the sermon. She also loaned me some books to get me started with my own flower-essence-mixing, so I’m excited about that!

My church also decided to pay the registration fees for any of us who want to attend the Universalist Convocation in South Carolina in late May, and Danny said he had some free nights’ hotel stays he will donate, so all it will cost is what it will take to pitch in on gas and a van rental. That’s SO AWESOME, because I would really love to go. The bad thing about it is that if I get a job soon (FINGERS: CROSSED!) then I may not be able to take off the Friday and Monday I would need to take off to go. And if I was able to, Bonnaroo would definitely be out because I couldn’t take off a couple weeks later too (of course I don’t have money for that – Chris was taking me). But I’m trying to focus on the positive – if I get a job that will be more fantastic than anything, but if I don’t or if I just find something part time, I still have a lot to look forward to. If I have to choose between the UU Convocation and Bonnaroo, I’m going to have to go with the Convocation. I’ve thought a lot about that, and as much as I would just DIE to hear the lineup they have this year, I am really passionate about my church and I can’t pass up the opportunity to grow and be of more service to it.

So, that brings me to the sermon. Back when the church asked if I’d volunteer for a couple Sundays this year (our lay minister only comes every other 4th Sunday, and we only have forums on 2nd Sundays – no service at all on 1st and 3rd), I started writing a sermon on reconciling scientific knowledge and religious faith. And I think it’s pretty good, but as this date approached I began getting really, really nervous about it. I remembered my minister in Cordova, Rev. Bill Neely, and how amazing and poetic he was. One thing I always loved about his sermons was that he never failed to personalize it, weave in a personal story or experience. My science/religion sermon sounded more like a college lecture (starting with the two conflicting stories in Genesis and how we don’t take the Bible literally, going through the negative effects of letting someone else define God for you and how neglecting the spiritual aspect of your life can have negative consequences, about balancing both), and I’m not sure how to weave something personal and meaningful into it.

So on my walk/jog today, it hit me: there is SO MUCH going on in my life right now, so much going on in the world right now, that I could talk about maintaining a positive attitude and radiating love, and not letting all the negative news get you down, ya know? Like, how to use your concern for the positive instead of letting it make you hostile or fearful. I struggle with this myself, but I don’t think that should stop me from exploring the topic. I’m actually so much more excited about it now that, during a moment of bravery today, I emailed my friends in Starkville and invited them! (Those would be the ones mentioned in the previous post.) I do hope they’ll come. Not to hear me speak, but because I really think they’d enjoy what we have going on, and if me speaking will get them to check it out, GREAT! I guess it’d also be nice to feel all loved and stuff too, to know they support me and believe in me the way I believe in them.

So I’ll be up all night, sermon-writin’. If anyone has anything they’d like to add or contribute, FEEL FREE! And know that you all mean so much to me. I don’t have a lot of girlfriends in this small town, and this network that we have is what keeps me going, you all keep me going, and I am so very grateful for each and every one of you.

Lindsey, after the sermon on Sunday lets go to the Refuge and talk about God and do yoga. With a bottle of red wine. ;)

The Perfect Sunday

24 Jan

Church service was beautiful yesterday, as usual. I don’t normally video anything during church, only when we have special events, but I thought y’all might enjoy seeing what a normal service is like at Liberty Universalist.

It’s a very small rural church where the most beautiful people you’ll ever meet come to fellowship and support each other on their spiritual journey. Music is always a big part of that.

Because we’re so small, we have a lay minister that only comes once every other month, on the 4th Sunday. On the 4th Sundays of the other months, when she doesn’t come, a member of the congregation conducts the service. Barbara conducted the service yesterday, and it was so lovely. I hope to do half as good of a job when it is my turn (which will be this March – eek!! I’m terribly nervous). We also meet every 2nd Sunday for planning, but next month our 2nd Sundays will turn into an Adult Forum, where we learn about a different topic each month, starting with the history and merger of the Unitarian and Universalist churches.

I will take you through the service blow-by-blow. I taped some of the conversation so I could transcribe it for you, but wouldn’t upload it to youtube because everyone should be able to share in church without worrying that a video of them will be plastered all over the internet. I did, however, upload the music. I hope this gives you a feel for what service is like at my church. I will be working on our church website this week and will update you when I need feedback.

Church opened with song:

We said the Affirmation of Covenant in unison, which is: “Love is the doctrine of this church; the quest for truth is its sacrament, and service is its prayer. To dwell together in peace; to seek knowledge in freedom; to serve humankind, to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine – thus do we covenant with each other and with God.”

We share joys and concerns by lighting candles. Then Barbara read the Story for All Ages, which was a Mark Twain excerpt, a story of a little girl who was asking her mother why God allows, or causes, suffering. Then she talked some about love, agape love, Divine love. It was a beautiful sermon. Some things Barbara said that hit home with me were:

We’re born to love. We need to love. This human need never ends. … Our purpose in live is to embody love, to live love… But don’t be upset with someone who can’t seem to love; we’re born to love, but taught not to. … “Love your neighbor as yourself” – this means you first have to love yourself. Sometimes this can be as hard as staring at the back of your own head.

She spoke of standing on the side of love, which has become a UU movement (see the Standing on the Side of Love site for more information), a movement to harness love’s power to stop oppression.

And Jeannie played an audio clip of one of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s last sermons for us, followed by a Lucinda Williams song. I began crying early in MLK’s sermon and cried throughout the entire thing. I tried not to as that instinctual “Oh God, Brandi, please don’t cry” feeling hit me, but as I was trying to hide my tears I noticed that Jeannie was crying too. I looked out the window the entire time and allowed myself to be emotional. I felt so cleansed afterward. Here’s the clip:

I love that our church is informal enough that if one feels moved to speak or has something to offer, he or she can just speak up and start the discussion. At the end of the sermon a member of the congregation mentioned a transportation commissioner’s political ad in which he stated we need to “take back America”, and then several people expressed sadness and disgust with Alabama Governor Bentley’s statement that only Christians are his brothers and sisters. We talked about how divisive and dangerous that is, and how that is the same rhetoric our country is sharing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We discussed the language of this country, about how we have been steadily moving toward a war rhetoric, and we use conflict-based language with ease now. We talked about how some of our children (my son Nate, for instance) or grandchildren have lived in a world where their country has been at war their entire lives. And how our national discourse has morphed into an incessant war rhetoric – as one person said, “It’s not an initiative to end drug use, it’s a war on drugs. It’s not a campaign to help people out of  poverty, it’s a war on poverty; there’s a war on illiteracy… it’s all conflict-based,” and we briefly mentioned the war, and how contradictory it is to the teachings of Christ, though the main perpetrators of the war talk about ours being a “Christian Nation”.

Then we discussed what to do about it… Danny said that he thought there were more people in this part of the world that feel the way we do about that, but it’s not culturally appropriate to say so. We all expressed our frustration with the fact that it is completely okay for people to insult our beliefs, but not okay to say anything contradictory to theirs because we are the minority. Basically the discussion made each of us feel less alone in our frustration, and that’s one thing our church is always good for – making me feel less alone in this world.

We ended with this song:

I had already written most of this blog when my Plinky prompt for the day came through my email. The prompt was, “Describe your perfect Sunday.” So here it is – every Sunday that I spend with people who love and respect each other, who support each other and each other’s individual spirituality, who try to teach one another and learn from one another – that’s a perfect Sunday. And the amazing music doesn’t hurt!

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