For Our Daughters, and Ourselves

It’s January 20, 2021, the third in a string of significant Wednesdays. This one is historic, though not because extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol like they did two Wednesdays ago on January 6th, or because there was a presidential impeachment which we all watched in real time while pretending to work last Wednesday (i got exactly one thing done that day).

Today is historic, because it’s Inauguration Day. And we just elected a female VP.

Given that we make up over half the population, it’s bonkers to me that not one of our presidents has ever been female. Today, we take a step toward equal represntation as we welcome Kamala Harris as Vice President – the first woman (and woman of color) to ever hold the title.

I cannot contain my excitement.

On the last Inauguration Day I was in Mitchell, South Dakota making a documentary about artists and community change makers here in the OTA region (that’s North DakOTA, South DakOTA, and MinnesOTA, respectively). Christian and I were traveling the tri-state area in a huge, rented white Yukon driven by our executive producer Hugh Weber, each of us sleeping less than 6 hours a night and eating our meals from a cooler in the backseat while staying glued to our screens as we watched a different kind of history unfold.

Four years ago on this day, while we were filming a thoughtful documentary about some extraordinary people making a difference in the world, we watched in awe as a crass reality TV star was sworn in as President of the United States of America.

The film we made is called The Potluck Society, and in summary is about all of us having something to bring to the table. It highlights the true change that can occur by pursuing innovative ideas and creating art that causes people to think. Meeting so many passionate activists and creators was a great experience, though I would not prefer to live in the backseat on the next one, or to drive through North Dakota in the middle of January! It was worth it though, and the stories we told gave me hope.

You can watch clips from the film here!

As we drove through the endless miles of white-frosted fields in the Dakotas over Inauguration week those four years ago, I felt a nauseating sense of doom descend upon me. By January 19th when we made it to Mitchell, I was full of urgency, and despair.

The man who said despicable things about women and immigrants and his opponents, who has multiple rape allegations against him, whose businesses have been centered around lust and greed, and who took out a full page ad calling for the death penalty for five Black teenagers who were later aquitted of all involvement in the central park jogger case of 1989, was now to be our president. It felt like time stood still as he took the oath that morning, after a long and divisive campaign and election. He claimed to be a Christian, moral man, though all evidence of his life pointed to the contrary.

Matthew 7:15-20 New King James Version

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

None of us thought he would actually win.

When he did win, we watched as pastors and church leaders everywhere scrambled to justify the fruit of his life and endorse him. One telling thing for me, was those leaders who did not.

Said in the voice of Kevin’s mom from Home Alone: If John Piper says it’s bad…then it must be really bad.

And on the morning of his inauguration I remember feeling that urgency unlike anything I’ve experienced before, a thrumming in my ears repeating, “this is wrong. this is wrong. this is wrong.”

Everything our nation stands for was at stake. All the work we’ve done to become an inclusive place for all people to worship and practice their religion, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or Athiest; all the work we’ve done to treat immigrants with dignity, to make women’s equality an issue at the forefront, not the backburner, and all the work Trump’s predecessors completed to create plans of progress that involve preserving our country’s most beautiful places, the national parks and sacred native land; all of it was at risk. And I could not shake that queasy feeling as I got dressed for another full day of production, donning the Nasty Woman shirt my friend Nora had given me to show solidarity for a woman who was not my first choice, but an infinitely better choice than Trump.

I also knew it was a bad idea to elect someone with zero applicable experience – he had never served in any position of government before becoming president at age 70. I couldn’t predict what was to come, but I knew it wouldn’t be good.

I had no idea how bad it would be when I walked downstairs to the hotel lobby where we were staying in Mitchell, SD. Wearing that Nasty Woman shirt as I poured waffle batter into the iron on the counter of the continental breakfast buffet, I kept one eye tuned in to the large tv playing the inauguration and the other eye on my phone scrolling for updates on Instagram. After loading up the waffle on my plate with toppings I turned around to see all eyes in the room on me – or rather, on my shirt.

It felt like someone siphoned all the oxygen out of the room, as men in neon construction worker vests and men in grey suits and men at the front desk stared at the words across my chest.

I ran back to my room and changed.

This was the first, but not in any way the last time I would change myself, try to make myself smaller, or invisible really, during the Trump administration.

It is so glorious to know the reign of terror is over.

If you think I’m being dramatic, tell that to my friends who needed to join support groups over the past four years to process new fears about being refugees and immigrants in America. Tell it to my Mexican-Italian daughter, who learned over the past four years that half the country agrees with toxic Trump when he said that her people come from a shithole country. They have to agree, or at least agree that what he says about immigrants is warranted or not really that bad. Either they’re racist, too, or they’re okay with racism.

When Trump said her people are “animals and rapists“, and our religious leaders did not condemn him from the pulpits or distance from him and encourage their congregations to do the same, they sent a clear message that racism is okay. Around the time he said that, my daughter’s bio dad was assaulted in Northeast Minneapolis by skinheads in an attack so brutal, the U.S. Goverment declared it a hate crime and granted him amnesty. Just after the 2017 inauguration, a woman we work with was run off the road for wearing her hijab, the driver of a truck with large Trump stickers yelling horrible indecencies out the window at her as he tried to chase her to death. Yet half the country still believes that Trump did not embolden these violent acts by spreading anti-immigrant rhetoric and intolerance of differences.

Try explaining all of this to your mixed-race child, I dare you. Or, no actually, I don’t. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

I want my daughter to grow up in a country where all people are respected and empowered to succeed, regardless of their religious beliefs, skin color, sexual orientation or socioeconomic background. I was appalled over and over again during the past four years, dumbstruck as to how to explain people who put other people in cages at the US/Mexico border, who instigate travel bans to keep Muslim people out of our country, and who canceled our involvement in a worldwide effort to conserve the planet’s resources for furture generations. How do you explain away such selfishness, ignorance, and greed?

I could not explain it away as simply politics when we heard our president tell racist bullies the Proud Boys to “stand by”, instead of condemning violence incited by white nationalists. I couldn’t explain that as anything but racism not condemned when it should have been. I could not explain how Trump repeatedly made fun of people with disabilites as anything but cruel, like it was cruel of him to start “lock her up!” chants when speaking of our own Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar — as if a GIANT CHUNK of our nation is not comprised of refugees.

As if we were not all, at one point in time, immigrants building on stolen land.

All of this, and so much more, he did and said while professing to know Christ – while riling up an evangelical fanbase that he knew would fall for his act, as long as he claimed to be against abortion. As long as he promised to save the country from the evils of abortion, these good Christian people were ready pawns for him to play.

Newsflash: if any politician WANTED to eradicate aboriton, they would easily be able to do it. But if the republicans succeeded at doing so, how then would they get rural American Christians to vote for them?

Trump has also said he’s never felt the need to say he’s sorry or to repent – two core tenants of walking the Christian walk.

Smells like rotton fruit to me, and yet so many good Americans bought it, brought it home, and served it to their families. You know what happened the last time I ate an expired peach yogurt? I was sick in the bathroom for days. It was shitty, literally speaking. You can’t consume something that’s rotton.

When we see spoiled proverbial fruit in people’s lives after they have claimed a kind of moral superiority and rallied moral people around their causes, we have to inspect the fruit tree. Good tree, good fruit. Bad tree, bad fruit.

For all of this and more, I could not be more thrilled to watch Donald and Melania’s final waltz to Air Force One after exiting the White House for the final time.

I could not be more excited to see him GO, and to welcome change and human decency and kindness, so our country can heal.

Is Joe Biden the solution to all of our problems? Absolutely not. In fact, he was not my first choice or even second. But I believe he is a man aquainted with grief which means he might be the perfect choice to help our country heal from the collective grief we are feeling…on both sides.

I know my conservative friends are mourning what they perceive to be a betrayal of democracy, and they fear an infringment on their future rights. I get it. They fear socialism, because for four years it’s a word Trump has used and his administration has thrown around to slam Democrats and create division. Still, I know it’s a significant fear on the right – that the same democracy that protects other people’s religious rights to worship — or not — could take away their rights as Christians.

It’s an unfounded fear, though, and a belief many of his former supporters are distancing themselves from.

Because when we keep our focus on the actual gospel of Jesus Christ and not on the fear and paranoia being peddled to us, we realize a truth: that creating opportunity for one people group does not take away from another.

To quote Henri J.M. Nouwen from his beautiful book Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World —

“We touch here a great spiritual mystery: To be chosen does not mean that others are rejected. It is very hard to conceive of this in a competitive world such as ours.”

America First. Be Best. Make America Great Again. In comparison to what or who? These competitive statements do more to divide than unify. And to quote our new President during his inauguration speech this morning:

“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward,” — Joe Biden, 46th President of the United States of America

God, go before our leaders today is my refrain. It’s the same prayer I’ve prayed over every presidential inauguration I’ve witnessed…even the one four years ago.

This one just feels more hopeful to me.

“While we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.”

— exerpted from a poem by Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. History who read these moving words during today’s ceremony. You can watch in full length here.

I woke up this morning wearing my pale pink inhale–exhale–inhale–exhale shirt I purchased to wear during election week from my favorite inspirational t-shirt shop. It’s been my comfort object throughout the past three months of voter fraud allegations, unsubstantiated ballot recounts, and baited-breath anticipation for whatever comes next.

I’m so excited to think about the president a normal amount of the time.

Tomorrow we get to work on tangible ways to heal. I’ll finally sign up for Braver Angels, and later I’ll invite people in my community who love Jesus to be a part of a Bridge Building group so we can work together for racial reconcillation. I’ll send an email to my anti-racist book club, reminding them we meet soon (join here!).

But today I am celebrating with the rest of the world as we usher out the end of an error.

I mean, era.

Later tonight I’ll take a walk through my favorite park in the city with my oldest friend and our daughters. We’ve both carried sadness over the heaviness of the past four years, and over the broken relationships we’ve endured; we both want our daughters to inherit a better country than the one they were born into.

We’ll both wear our bright blue “I’m Speaking” hats, made by a friend who wanted to comemorate the powerful words our new VP said when Mike Pence kept cutting her off mid-sentence during the Vice Presidential debate last fall. We’ll wear these hats for our daughters, and for ourselves, to celebrate the day a Black woman becomes the new Vice President.

And today, watching Madam Vice President walk across the platform, taking her place beside Joe Biden in this new administration, I am overcome with joy.

I run and change into my Nasty Woman shirt.

(Photos of me and Lola in this post c/o By Rebecca Studios!)

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