Not wired

A couple weeks ago, I took a workshop in my town: Diversity and Inclusivity.  If you've read my About Me page, you know that I am copastor with an African American pastor for a church that is roughly 50/50 white and black people. 

The area I live in, which used to be composed of all (or mostly all) white people, is gradually having more and more people of color move into it. The mayor wished to be proactive and a series of workshops and presentations has been put together for townspeople to participate in, if they so wish. 

About 100-150 of us gathered the second night in the high school's common area.


Not Wired to Perceive Unknown

What did we learn that night? The brain is not wired to perceive the unknown.

Imagine an iceberg.  Above water, we see is human behavior.  Under the water are the structures, systems, thoughts, paradigms, ideas, images, and beliefs that show up by way of behavior.

Researchers used to believe that we could not unlearn the implicit "education" we received in childhood because we are unaware of those influences. 

But recent research suggests we can reshape our unconscious attitudes and beliefs.

How might this work? 

Four Stage Movement to Awareness

There is a four stage movement: 

  1. unconscious incompetence                          4. unconscious competence
  2. conscious incompetence                              3.  conscious competence

During the couple of hours were we together, we were given several different exercises to do. After each exercise we were encourage to find people at different tables, people we didn't know to talk briefly about the exercises with one another.  

What are some of the important take-aways to becoming a more diverse and inclusive community? 

  • stress exacerbates biases
  • are we motivated to learn new information and change
  • are we willing to see others, who are different from us, as individuals (rather than as a uniform group to hate and use as scapegoats)
  • do we work with diverse people as equal members in pursuit of a common goal
  • do we see leaders work with diverse people as equal members
People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.
— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And the final question we were left with for the evening:

What will I commit to do to manage my own unconscious bias?


Pitch Conference 2018 was my very first, ever, conference for writers. Hosted by the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, it had nineteen literary agents attending as well as publicists, small press editors, published authors, and university faculty, and about 170 attendees.   

The Loft's next big conference will be Nov 1-3, 2019 and it will go by a new name, Wordsmith



learnIng sessions

Our keynoter for the morning session was Hannah Tinti, author and editor. She called her session Out of the Slush Pile, which focused on the practical aspects of formatting, submission of manuscripts, and how to celebrate rejections (as well as how to get rid of frustration over rejections!) 

For our working box lunch, literary agents Barbara Poelle and Jennifer Carlson gave us hints on how to pitch and answered many questions from the audience. 

An entertaining evenings session of The Fast and the Queryous was held with a panel of literary agents--Janet Reid (of Query Shark fame), Samantha Fingerhut, and Natanya Wheeler, and editors--Cal Morgan and Caroline Bleeke, letting the audience know when they would quit reading a query letter and why. 


On Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, we had breakout panel choices that each focused on four areas: craft, equity, career, and publishing.

I attended three equity sessions because my story has racially diverse people in it. The titles of the equity sessions I attended:

  • Finding Allies and Community
  • Who, What, When, & Why: Sensitivity Readers
  • #OwnVoices & Writing Outside Your Own Experience

I shared some of the information about these three sessions with my facebook writer group, which is a safe space and we had a good discussion about some of the issues facing white writers who try to create diverse communities within our stories without negative stereotyping or creating more systemic harm for people of color. 

Speaking about diversity can lead to tension. At Pitchfest the character of Cho Chang from the Harry Potter books was brought up. I mentioned this to my writer group. Three resources were pointed out that speak to these issues: a poem by Rachel Rostad, a rebuttal about her interpretation, and her response to that rebuttal

At one of the sessions, a question was asked about the Sioux name for one of the Midwest Native American tribes. Sioux is a name that means little snakes and it was given by the French traders and the Ojibwe tribe to the Dakota tribe. 

One of the issues I've become aware of in my story, after the Friday night query panel and these sessions, is that I'm in danger of having a white hero trope. Not a good thing. Yet, if I went to the other extreme I would have a passive heroine and that's not good either. So I've had to go back to work on my manuscript and check out those particular layers. 

The Pitches

Concurrent with the breakout sessions, pitches were also happening.

Before the Conference, we had received a form to fill out with our literary agent preferences. The Loft staff then assigned us to an agent and a time. 

When it was time for our pitch we were required to be in the area 10 minutes ahead of time as scheduling was tight, 8 minutes per group. 

I took my query letter in for one agent and for the others, I did my pitch. One agent did give me her card to be in touch if I sort out my white hero/passive protagonist issue!  

Networking with other authors

The best part, of course, was the networking with other authors, practicing our pitches on each other, sharing meals together, and exchanging emails to stay in touch. 


Study: classic reads

This year I've been trying to read one book each week across a variety of genres. This past week I read a Toni Morrison book, Sula.

I have people of color in my stories. And I know that I'm woefully short in reading books by diverse authors. I shouldn't be, because Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou are considered classics, right? 

But, when I google classics the top names that come up are white, European, or American. Mostly men--Don Quixote, 1984, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

On one website, there's not a female name mentioned until #10 George Eliot a.k.a. Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880), author of Middlemarch. And #11 lists Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014), the Colombian author of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Out of that list of 99 books, I found more women authors but not until #64 did I encounter another person of color, Sun Tzu (544-496 BC), a Chinese military strategist who wrote The Art of War. Towards the end, a couple of anthologies and short story collections were listed:  Arabian Nights, an anthology of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories, and The Aleph and other short stories by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.  

What makes a classic?  At AbeBooks, their article and video (from 2014) describe a classic as a book: that outlasts time, is historical, is required reading at high school, demonstrates universal themes of life, gets better over time, is colloquial, is educational, and has style.

Perhaps it's time we add other characteristics to our definition of classic literature or at least, to look at themes beyond our customary American and European white-based stories.

What is your definition of classic literature?  


Study: the craft of writing

This week I've looked at Jodi Picoult's most recent novel, Small Great Things. By the way, there are NO SPOILERS in this post.

You noticed my verbs of choice? I have not read the book as a reader. Not yet. I've looked at it. I've studied it. And I will study the book some more. Then I will read it.

I am not able to study a book and read it at the same time. And, to be honest, this is my way of reading the ending first before reading the book as a reader. 

In my own writing, I have been most troubled with saggy middles and the climactic sequence. I wanted to see how Picoult deals with these areas.

And, my other reason for studying this book? The story narrates a polemical topic, which is one of the braids in my story--racism.

Picoult's story tackles this subject in a pointed and obvious manner. She uses the point-of-views of three main characters: two women and a man.

  • The man is a white supremacist whose wife just had a baby.
  • The black woman is a nurse in the labor and delivery unit of the hospital.
  • The white woman is the public defender who takes this case of the nurse against the white supremacist's accusations after his baby dies.

These three characters connect through circumstance and they begin their relationships with one another within the hospital and within the court system. The two women build a relationship when the nurse is appointed a public defender. The public defender becomes aware of how white privilege seeps into our lives.

My story is about a bi-racial family. There is a hospital involved but there's also the complexity of family love, and personality likes and dislikes among the family members. While one scene has a direct confrontation about issues of racism between two women related by marriage, the focus of my story is more on the continuum of racism. (although Picoult also deals with the continuum too) 

My pov character for the 2013 braid* is Addison, a Millennialist who treasures close-knit connections with her brother and four cousins. When the family draws together to deal with a cousin's hospitalization and to support one another, various emotions and issues come forth. 

White writers struggle to get the issues of racism and white privilege right, as evidenced by critiques of their writing. I'm thinking in particular of The Help by Kathryn Stockett and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Will white writers ever get the issue of racism and white privilege right? In our time, I think writers will, mostly, remain clumsy in our attempts but if we are earnest in our writing, it will be well worth the effort. We will create common language and better understanding as we learn. 

Have you read Picoult's book yet?  What are your thoughts? 


*My other braid is from the pov of the WWII East Prussian refugee, Amalie, who is a great-great Tante to Addison and her cousins.

Of Values

Caught in the post-election net and now the latest DAPL incident at Standing Rock, I finally cut myself off Facebook yesterday. So much gone awry and my soul was being sucked dry.

How do we live together, when we are so different? And live together we must. There is no choice. This post-modern time is pluralistic, multi-ethnic, digitalistic.

I have ministered in several churches. There is always that contingent of people who maintain fond reminiscences for the church's past. A past when I was a child, when the pews were full, and Sunday school was bursting.

Now we have a contingent of people in society who want to return to the past.

But was there ever--truly--a hallowed decade? Not for women. Not for people of color. Not for the disabled. Not for certain faith traditions. Not for a gay or lesbian person. Certain white men struggled too but with the other end of the power spectrum, men who were able to see their position of privilege.

Nostalgia haloes our backward longing.

Do we really want to return to the days of Andy Griffith, Leave it to Beaver, Brady Bunch? Or perhaps further back to Gunsmoke and the Wild Wild West?  What?!! And leave behind our water flushing toilets and smartphones?! Not to mention--you did notice, didn't you--the shows depicted, from a male perspective, an all-white or mostly-white world. And that was never true. There have always been people of color in North America.

To live together, as we must do, requires respect.

And . . . curiosity. We love checking out different cultural foods and we incorporate these new foods into our meals.

Why not be curious about people who are different from us? There's so much wisdom and compassion, so much about one another that we actually share in common. We all desire community, safety, an earth that can sustain us. 

A new world, a new era is struggling to be born. When you feel your soul being sucked dry, take time away from the furor of the news, to renew yourself and find courage.

But also, know there will be a time to go back out among the people, make phone calls and share your wisdom. For the future will be shaped by our voices.   


Diversity and Post Election thoughts

I am struggling to understand. I listen to voices who voted for Donald Trump. I listen to voices who voted for Hillary Clinton. 

We are a divided people.

We live in bubbles, insulated within clans that reflect our own thoughts, feelings, perspectives.

Unless a person is part of a minority group.

Because we are all encompassed within the big bubble(s) of institutions and policies that favor particular white people whose parents had money or they were able to climb the ladder provided by the common good (usable roads, tax subsidies, public education, a degree that did not put students $40,000 in debt and land them in retail at minimum wage).

And now that people who were able to get up that ladder have their pot of money, they want to yank that common good (heaven forbid they need to share their pot) away from anyone, poor white but especially people of color, from using it.

There is a rash of racist behavior, of sexist behavior. There are young children who are bullying and youth who are spraying denigrating graffiti at schools. Just stop! 

Why is it ok to devalue people who look different from you/me?

It's not ok. We are all children of God.

And so we have protesters, who want to make sure that they are included, that they are not forgotten in maintaining, keeping, reinstating the common good.

A shared life is messy. Uncomfortable,  A life together may even feel intolerable for some people. It's so hard. It's so impossible.

But diversity is what God gave us, continues to give us. Along with the great gift of compassion.

Use that compassion.

Find someone unlike you. Befriend that person who doesn't look like you, who doesn't act like you.

Maybe even develop a friendship.

Unknown History

I've been scouting pinterest because I have no bookshelf in my living room. And I need a place to put my books out in the public areas of my home, not just hoard them all in my bedroom.

I was over on Janet Reid's blog (a literary agent) today. One of the commenters had written about a rejection she received on her story idea from an editor who had implied she hadn't done her research. But the commenter had; she'd written it from a different point of view that's not often seen. 

It's important to hear different sides of history. I remember dad asking, back in the 1990's when I was in seminary, why do we need to rewrite history books. Because the history I learned in school was only white history. I learned very little about Native Americans and African Americans except from a white point of view.

And think about it. What is the first things colonizers often did and sometimes still do? Forbid use of native languages, burn or bomb or disrespect sacred sites or libraries which hold the history or the heart of native people--whether it's Iraq, Rwanda, the highlanders of Scotland, or the Native or African people of the U.S., etc. 

For the past three years, I have been pastor alongside an African American pastor who brought his small and struggling church with him. I'm learning many things--black people who were inventors, who made important contributions to science or mathematics, or who were movers and shakers. And as we develop relationships of trust, we share stories about our lives and who we are with one another. 

There are so many nuances and shades of gray in our world, so much to learn and so much beauty in our cosmos. Aren't you curious about everything, about people who are different from who you are? 

Diversity and Violence

I am a white woman. And it was a difficult week to preach in a bi-racial faith community. Gun violence is all around us. Taking black men's lives. Taking police officers' lives. When will it end?

Only when we say enough. 

One of my African American clergy colleagues, a young man who has no family of his own but is very close to his sister and her family, shared the story of his two young nephews, who live near a store they can walk to and buy things. Last week they went to that store and an adult told them, he hates black people. It scared them. They are...5 and 9-years-old...I think?

Have we had enough? 

Will we stand up for a child against a bully, particularly an adult bully? Will we reassure that child that they are loved, innocent, and worthy of our protection--regardless of their skin color?

If we are in a public space and we see an adult person of color being bullied, namecalled, yelled at by a white person--will we allow that harrassment to continue and do nothing?

And shooting guns? That is not the answer.

If we do nothing, we allow evil and violence to rise up victorious, scattering all of us, scattering all of our dreams for a better world for the next generation.

It is time. 

If we see a child or an adult person of color being abused in public space, it is time for us to stop standing by silently. It is time to go over to the person being bullied, to talk with them (don't focus on the bully, focus on the victim), to reassure them that they are not alone, that we are here, that we care, we care about them, regardless of their skin color or the way they dress. We care about our world, the culture and the society that we are crafting and creating together. 

All it takes is small intentional acts of kindness. 

Diversity and Fear

In addition to being a writer, I am also a pastor. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, I currently pastor a bi-racial church that affirms the GLBT community.

I returned home last night from a full weekend of church with 300+ people of faith. Our theme was "Diving Deeper: Race, Economics and Faith." Our keynote speaker on Saturday, Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon called us to be "repairers" of the breach (Isaiah 58:12) rather than "residents" of the breach.

Sunday morning we woke up to news of 50 people killed by a gunman. And we prayed for our brothers and sisters who were violently murdered through hatred and fear and anger.

Regardless of how we feel about gun control, it's time to stop judging, stop hating, stop mass murdering people. Now is the time, for any of us who call ourselves a people of faith or a people of compassion, to stop this violence in our land.

And so my heart is heavy after yesterday's news of the killing of 50 people in Orlando, Florida. We live in a universe that contains so much diversity. Yet, there are people who hate and fear that diversity, and seek to eradicate it.

God in your mercy. Hear our prayers.