Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What (not?) to Say When Cancer Comes Close to Home

 A few years ago my friend Rachel*, a vibrant wife and mother of 2 young children in her late 30's, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

 The shock and horror of that diagnosis and at such a young age, took its toll on her family.  I know when I found out it really hit me that for the first time, I was now old enough to have a friend that could God forbid, lose their life from a degenerative disease.

  I spent hours crying and praying for her well being and for the strength to face the surgery, chemotherapy and possibly radiation that she would be exposed to.

 Before our first visit after receiving the news, I was struggling internally for what to say. How could I convey understanding, be supportive, yet without resorting to pity and condescension?  

  But then it came to me! The perfect and most certainly fear reducing response I could share. Words that would surely give her and her family comfort and peace as they navigated through the uncertainty of what was to come.

 The time came. I greeted my good friend with a hug and sincere inquiry on how she was feeling. How were she and her family were coping?  Did they need anything; meals, housecleaning?

  Then, I shared what I just knew would be well received and appreciated..

  I said, “You know Rachel, when I first heard the news of your diagnosis, I was so shocked and scared for you. Cried and prayed for you. But then, I realized and remembered that cancer isn’t the only disease that women your age are stricken with. Yeah, heart disease is actually the number one killer of women. And thousands of women die every year of ovarian, lung, pancreatic, and brain cancer. Too many to name really.”

  I continued, “So, what I’m saying is yes, you are dealing with breast cancer right now and a rare type at that.   But we really need to talk about building  awareness for ALL diseases that kill women, don’t ya think?  I mean, isn’t it just a bit selfish of you to expect me, your family and all your friends to be so focused on your experience when there are so many other illnesses out there that people are suffering from?  Come on Rachel suck it up, accept your diagnosis with some guts and dignity, because ALL DISEASES MATTER..”

 Now, if you are the kind of individual that I would be proud to call friend, I hope and pray with every fiber of my being that you were mortified and disgusted by what you’ve just read.   Do I have a friend that was recently diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer? Yes.  While I admit to exaggerating her story here for effect, I did not actually attempt to bring ‘comfort’ to her by defensively  creating memes  throwing back in her face all the other diseases that women suffer and often die from, smugly listing them one by one.   How do you think that would have made her feel?    

*Rachel is a pseudonym. 


Sunday, June 29, 2014


We'd been talking on the phone a while and I don't even remember how we got on the subject, but I was not happy. My birthday was coming up soon.  He tried his best to be encouraging and to reassure me that I had indeed made valuable accomplishments in my life. But in that state of mind, it was hard for me to hear, hard to accept. All I knew was that I was about to turn 40 and in my mind had not achieved the level of whatever success I thought I should have by that time.  Funny thing is, the birthday that I was on the precipice of during that fateful call with my boyfriend, now husband, was not 40.     I was a couple of days from turning 37.

Yes, I half-jokingly call it a 'breakdown'. And I mean no disrespect to those who have truly struggled with mental illness and challenges along those lines.  But for me that night, my world seemed overwhelming and I was coming to the realization that I was not where I wanted to be in life or where I thought I should be 'by then'. 

Now, this may seem like a pretty depressing post for a woman who celebrated her 50th birthday only a few days ago and had a wonderful time doing so.  
The funny part about that late night conversation with my ever patient boyfriend/husband, is that while I was whining away about how tough I had it, unbeknownst to me, he had planned a wonderful birthday celebration for us at a dinner theatre including a concert with one of my favorite recording artists, Kenny Loggins.  He told me later how helpless and frustrated he was feeling, yet couldn't say anything or else spoil the surprise.

For fun, I asked my husband for his take on that little chat of ours and how he remembered it.  First, he chuckled, shook his head, and then proceeded to break out into: " I'll never....wa wa wa..i'm old...ugghhhhh....I still haven't....!"
You know, kind of like this..

Sure it seems funny now. But believe me, that night it was anything but.

So, contemplating life now at the half century mark, I'd like to believe I've gained some perspective.    Are there still things I want to accomplish?  Yep, tons.  Do I have regrets? Sure.

But I'd like to think I've come to a place of more peace and acceptance with who I am, warts and all.

What about you? Any particular birthdays that threw you into an emotional talespin?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Happy Veganversary to Me! Sort of..

I went vegetarian waaaay back in 1990. My motivations at the time were for health reasons. Two close relatives had died of diabetes complications and from what I learned from my research into nutrition and disease, those who followed a more plant based diet, seemed to have less degenerative diseases and longer lifespans.

Fast forward a few years later, a story I've shared from a previous post, I began to seriously look at the ethical reasons behind not eating animals and animal products.  I don't know if I would have been open to it all those years ago back in the 90's. The horrific treatment of veal calves being the exception.  I had never eaten veal before, so I had no culinary attachment to it  them. Cheese and eggs on the other hand? I think you see where I'm going with this.

So, around the end of 2006, I began to discover the invisible world of the animal rights/vegan movement. Well, invisible to me anyway. I soon learned there were conventions, cookbooks, websites, and podcasts.
 If I had to share the one method that the animals unintentionally worked their way into my heart, I would have to lay that at the feet of several, but mostly two tireless activists and their podcasts.

Today, I want to highlight one. His name is Erik Marcus, creator of the site vegan.com. His podcast (no longer on unfortunately) opened my eyes to the atrocities of animal agribusiness I had previously been so ignorant to.  His passionate conviction, coupled with the many guests he interviewed from across the spectrum of the animal rights community,aided in winning me over in a matter of a few short months. That and his sarcastic dry wit and sense of humor..  :)

Erik's site has recently been updated and relaunched. Tons of fabulous resources and info whether you just have questions about this vegan thing or are a long-term vegan. And all presented in an honest, approachable, non judgemental fashion.

Looking back, when I attempt to pinpoint my exact veganversary or vegan birthdate, it's tough. But, I do know that around this time of year in 2007, somewhere between late April and June, I made the decision to live as compassionately and nonviolently a possible. And for me, that meant choosing to become vegan.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Red What?

So in recent months I've become more informed of the history of Native Americans in this country, especially when it comes to the oppression and lets be honest, genocide perpetrated against them.

One issue that has been getting much attention over the years is the use of Native symbols as mascots for sports teams.  In fact, the first high school I attended in the Midwest had the same mascot as a certain NFL team in Washington State. I was curious to see if the same controversy had touched them and indeed it had. What I found disturbing though, was that there was such an outcry to keep the offensive mascot name, that nearly half of the student body refused to vote in protest when it came time to pick a new mascot. I sit here shaking my head. The arrogance of a group of people who when confronted by the very people that a symbol is claimed to honor,yet refusing to listen to or have any sensitivity towards them whatsoever.

I love this video below released by the National Congress of American Indians. Really gets the point across.
It aired in a shorter form during last night's NBA finals telecast. 

 Newsflash.  If I (or anyone) tell you that a word or symbol you're using to describe me is offensive and hurtful, guess what? It is. And it needs to stop. Now.

Color Blind?

"If you don't see color, then you don't see me."

-Racey from the webseries The Unwritten Rules.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, I've been away from my blog for quite a while. But this issue of 'color-blindness' is one that I've discussed briefly on social media.

Last year, I shared the work of provocative podcast host and author, Tiffany Rae Reed. She is the author of Color blind:A Mixed Girl's Perspective on Biracial Life.  I posted a link to her book on my Facebook wall last Fall right after I read it for the first time.     The response was of course positive.   But, as I suspected it might happen, I did get some pushback suggesting that we all should indeed strive to achieve colorblindness in order to move on from our country's racially charged past.

I admit, for most of my adult life I believed this was desirable as a Black woman. I think I've even used the term to describe myself, believing it proved my truly open and non-prejudicial nature and life.

But, what I didn't realize at the time(until a couple of years ago, seriously..) was that by pursuing this ideal of complete racial harmony and acceptance, I was doing others a disservice by refusing as Racey says to truly see them, color and all.

The profound words of my friend Tiffany and now this character Racey have solidified my rejection of the color blind ideology.

If you've never seen an episode of the Unwritten Rules, which is based on the book of the same name, I highly recommend it.  I suggest starting with the first season and binge viewing(episodes are short, enlightening, and entertaining) all the way through to the current season(3).  Otherwise, check out this month's episode on mistaken identity where Racey delivers the above words that stopped me cold as I walked through my kitchen and invited no small amount of soul-searching.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Long time, no post

Yep, it's been a long time since I last posted anything here. Over a year and a half.
What have you been up to Val?   Well, for those who know me on Facebook, I'm actually pretty active. 
Much of what I've shared as newsworthy links and sometimes outraged posts on my 'wall' could have just as well been fodder for thoughtful blog posts here.

I even got this crazy idea for novel. We'll see how it goes.

 My goal is to now post here at least once a week. I'm toying with the idea of moving my blog over to Wordpress(which I'm completely confused on how to work by the way) and expanding black. female. christian. vegan. to include a Facebook page of the same name, in order to more regularly share and discuss many of the intersecting issues I care about.  

So, here's to blogging again!  Is there something that you used to do more regularly that you've gotten away from yet want to get back to?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Your dog or you

I live on the northern coast of California. So far north, I jokingly call it "southern Oregon".
Before moving here a few years ago, being a southern California girl,(SoCal for short) I had no idea how different the coastline would be from what I was used to.

Apparently, the large number of sea stacks offshore are responsible for causing the waves to break and bounce in ways that create extremely dangerous and unpredictable currents in these super cold waters. It's just not safe to go swimming in the Pacific above San Francisco.

The reason for the mini geology lesson in this post is unfortunately a tragic one.  This past weekend, here on the North Coast, three members of a family lost their lives.
A mom, dad, and 16 year old son drowned in an attempt to save the life of their family dog, who got swept away in the treacherous ocean waters while playfully trying to retrieve a stick. Their dog was ultimately able to swim to safety.  You can read the story here and here.

I was sharing this with a relative out of the area and their response was one of sadness and disbelief.
In addition to that though was their amazement that someone would be so foolish as to put their own life at risk to save an animal.   I tried to explain that many people view their animal companions as part of the family, but the very idea that someone would do this was still incomprehensible to them.

This got me thinking.  I wondered if this presumption about animals and their worth(or lack of it) was fed more so by religious belief or cultural background?  The black community as a whole is not known for fighting for the cause of animal rights.  Some might say that blacks have been fighting too long and too hard for their(our) own civil rights to worry about dogs and cats are treated.

But I'm curious. If you're a non-vegan person of color and/or religious, would you risk your life to save your family pet?  Why or why not?
I especially want to hear from those who are not vegan, because right or wrong, I assume that we who are vegan and/or vegetarian for ethical reasons would indeed risk our own safety for the animals in our care.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A New Evangelical Manifesto, a book review and a confession

Manifesto: A written public declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government.

"If you've never changed your mind about something, you may be dead.."
-Richard Cizik. 

My beliefs have evolved quite a bit over the years.  Ideas or philosophies that I once accepted without question, have been seriously unpacked, deconstructed, reassembled, and expressed in whole new ways.

For instance, I was once a (wait for it..) registered Republican. Now, I suspect that my more conservative readers may have just gasped, assuming that I've now fallen off a moral and philosophical cliff and into the "left-wing abyss."   My more moderate or liberal readers, especially those who know me in person, may be equally mortified learning of my recent conservative past.   While it's true that I am no longer a Republican, neither am I a Democrat.  Both political parties feel too extreme for  me.  I'm an Independent.

Since my gradual changes over the years, I've become more open to different ways of looking at issues than I might have been in the past. 

One of the advantages of this is discovering some awesome books that really challenge my old ways of thinking and present ideas that I believe have helped me to become more compassionate in how I live out my faith.  I must say though, that I am in no way implying that those who hold to one political side or the other are not compassionate, just that this is what I have experienced in my own life

So with all of that, it's been really cool to come across great books like the one I recently had the opportunity to read and review.  It's an anthology entitled A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good, edited by David P. Gushee. 

A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common GoodDavid is one of the founding members of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good (NEP), which mission states:
".. exists to advance human well-being as an expression of our love for Jesus Christ, which is itself a grateful response to his love for us and for a good but suffering world."

I love anthologies. To hear several voices in one volume on a plethora of related topics makes my brain happy.  And this book does not disappoint.

I was only familiar with one of the authors when I began (Brian McLaren), but have now become intrigued with everyone who contributed.  Of course I have my favorites.

The topics dealt with range from alternative ways politically active evangelicals can work towards common ground solutions to less abortion(a departure from the "winner take all" attitude of many from the religious/conservative Right),to reexamining the death penalty, the world's poor, human trafficking, peacemaking, gender issues, and so much more.
Here is the chapter list:

Introduction. David P. Gushee

Section I: A New Kind of Evangelical Christianity…
1. The Church in America Today (Brian McLaren)
2. Where the Church Went Wrong (Steven Martin)
3. A Disenchanted Text: Where Evangelicals Went Wrong with The Bible (Cheryl Bridges Johns)
4. My Journey Toward the “New Evangelicalism” (Richard Cizik)
5. A Theology That “Works” (Paul Markham)
6. God’s Vision for the Church—Kingdom Discipleship (Glen Harold Stassen)
7. Kingdom Community (Steven Martin)

Section II: Leading to Holistic Love of Marginalized Neighbors, such as…
8. Those Trafficked and Commodified (Jennifer Crumpton)
9. Those Suffering Preventable Diseases (Andi Thomas Sullivan)
10. Our Muslim Neighbors (Rick Love)
11. People of All Races (Lisa Sharon Harper )
12. Women (Jennifer Crumpton)
13. Children (Laura Rector)
14. The Dying (Scott Claybrook)
15. The Global Poor (Adam Phillips)

Section III: …And Redemptive Approaches in Public Life
16: Ending the Death Penalty (Timothy W. Floyd)
17: Making Peace (Paul Alexander)
18: Abolishing Nuclear Weapons (Tyler Wigg-Stevenson)
19: Overcoming Global Warming (Jim Ball)
20: Reducing Abortion (Charlie Camosy)
21: Resisting Consumerism (Jennifer Crumpton )
22: Standing Fast Against Torture (David P. Gushee)

I mentioned that I had my favorites.  I want to highlight a couple of them. 
The first is one of the founders of the NEP, Richard Cizik.
His essay entitled My Journey Towards the "New Evangelicalism," caused me to take the longest bunny trail from reading the book than any of the others.  When I read how Richard was encouraged to resign(or fired) from his position as Vice President for Governmental Relations of the National Association of Evangelicals, that was just too intriguing for me not to investigate further.  He got into some trouble for sharing his evolving views on an NPR radio program called "Fresh Air".  It's worth it to ditch my blog for a few minutes to take a listen, trust me.  Here is the first interview from 2008 and when they had him back on in 2010.

In case you don't want to or don't have the time to check out the broadcasts at the moment, I'll give you the shorthand version.  In the first interview, Richard shared how he was working to educate fellow Christians on the impact of climate change, supported civil unions for gays and lesbians, and government funding of contraception to reduce abortions. But the icing on the cake and perhaps the most offensive to his bosses and other conservative leaders, was his admission to voting for then Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 Virginia primary.

The story of the devastating effect his forced resignation had on him and his family is heartbreaking for sure.  But out of that experience was born the NEP, an important voice in the public arena.

The other essay that caused me to happily trail off was by filmmaker Steven Martin.

In his chapter entitled, Where the Church Went Wrong, he shares the premise of the three films he made on the role of the Church during the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany.  While it's true that during the Holocaust, many people of faith rescued and hid Jews at great personal risk.( Corrie Ten Boon comes to mind) And there were even organized resistance movements involving the likes of celebrated martyrs including Sophie Scholl and Deitrich Bonhoeffer.

But what I had no idea of until I read this volume, was that much of the Christian church in Germany at the time leading up to the Nazi takeover,were complicit in the government's making scapegoats out of the Jewish community. And in many cases, actually leading the charge in using theology to "prove" that the Jews were evil and the cause for all that was wrong with their country.
One such individual was Karl Themel, a pastor from Berlin who used his skills in administration and organization to decipher church baptismal records for Nazi advantage.  Themel acquired a special office, with the church's support, and went to work.

   This guy, so convinced he was on the right side of political and spiritual power, actually used what he discovered in church records to find those baptized Christians with Jewish ancestors. Then, turned over this information to the government. Over 2,700 people went to concentration camps as a result.  Pretty evil stuff..

Not a happy-go-lucky chapter. But one of great importance. A warning of the horrors that can arise when the Church is seduced by power instead of obedience to Jesus.

Every chapter has challenging, thought-provoking points to make. But I also found this book to be encouraging. While it does point out many of the Church's mistakes, it also shows a way that Christians can be engaged in a more holistic way with society.  A way that is more loving and nuanced as opposed to simply "black" and white" thinking and what we're against.

As is often the case, the very people I might think need a book like this the most, wouldn't come near it with a ten-foot pole, citing that it's "too liberal" or lacking a true biblical perspective.   
And a few years ago, I might have felt that way as well.   But to those out there with those feelings I say give it a chance. Give these writers a chance. 

And to those who may have turned their backs on Christianity or the Church because it just seemed too bigoted or close-minded, I invite you to investigate what these followers of Jesus have to say about the issues contained here and maybe even discover some common ground.

I suspect that no matter who you are, or what "side" you claim, A New Evangelical Manifesto makes a compelling case, many of them in fact, that will have you pondering for quite a while. I know it did me.

The New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision of the Common Good - part 1, interview with David Gushee on Patheos

The New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision of the Common Good - part 2 interview with Brian McLaren on Patheos

New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
- New Evangelical Manifesto's sponsoring organization

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.