“Ma (間) is a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as …’space’ [or] ‘pause’ … In Japanese, ma, the word for space, suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place, … the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form…
Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements.”
-in the words of Wikipedia
I’m playing with truth morphing into fiction, amusing myself by changing one feature of a true story. And what better source of amusement than my dating life and the sensual moment of tasting sushi for the first time. See which one you like – or believe.
“I want sushiiiiii,” Sean groans with frat boy hunger. “Doesn’t that sound so good?”
He leans in waiting for a response like he always does – that lean draws me in like a curtain in a breeze. I can feel the heat of him even though he’s still a foot or three away.
“I’ve never had sushi,” I say, felling like 10 minutes passed between his comment and my response.
I feel like a girl from a farm town again.
“We are GOing, Megan Kohli.”
Our day-long excursion to the big city lands us in King Sushi. We settle into a dim nook, candle lit with a mystical cast from the green walls. I watch him pour over his menu, his angular strong hands gripping the edges. His forearms are strong and tan with just enough hair to be manly. I trace my eyes up his arm to his tribal tattu that glares at me from his shoulder, unnerving.
When the food comes, the rolls are huge and I wait to see how to tackle it. I watch him lift it with his chop sticks and drop it in his mouth whole. His beautiful teeth gleam against his bronze skin. I pick my own roll up, take a breath and unhinge my jaw, hoping I don’t gag from its size or taste. The squishy rice fills my cheeks, nutty sesame flavor explodes along with cool, salty soy sauce, warm rice, cold fish and the pink zing of ginger. As I chew – barely able to contain the mouthful – new flavors sneak under my tongue and along the back of my throat … ecstasy. He watches.
“I want sushi!” Sean groans with hunger. “Doesn’t that sound good?”
“I’ve never had sushi,” I reply.
Annoyance pinches in my gut. I know stuff. He is way more small town than me.
“We are going, Megan Kohli.”
I submit, reminding myself that open minded women find husbands.
Our day-long excursion lands us in King Sushi. We settle into a dim nook. I watch him pour over his menu. He has soft hands and the green paint casts a sickly tinge on his fair skin. His finger tips are ragged from his teeth. As he peruses the list, his doughy chin thickens and he purses his mouth to the side.
When the food comes, I watch him drop the giant slice of roll down the hatch, whole, and I listen as his lips smack. I take my first taste of sushi. The roll fills my mouth, pressing in every direction. I fight to keep its volume from making me gag, but the flavors are good – nutty, salty, starchy and pickled altogether. He watches and smacks as he chews and grins.
When I was 20, my boss hired a sweet girl who I thought was totally under qualified to be a colleague. I’d worked with her before and she made constant mistakes.
“I don’t get it?” I said.
“She shows up,” my boss replied.
So that’s it? My overzealous, idealist 20-year-old self is insulted! (I now refer to this stage in life as the hungry puppy phase.) I work my tail off and all she has to do is show up? Having worked in quite a few different settings now, I get it. So very few of us show up. Whether it’s daydreaming in a meeting or Facebooking while your sister pours her heart out to you on the phone, we’ve all done it.
The voice we need most is the middle – that’s most of us.
My concern is that, in a pivotal time in our political history, we will stop showing up. And let me tell you, the extreme left and right will not stop showing up. Raise your hand if you fell in the middle on this last election or had a general feeling of, “Meh! I hate these choices.” Regardless of which ring you tossed your vote into, there is work to be done. (Congressional staffers will tell you how rare it is to get a call from the middle.)
Sunday nights are becoming my “get organized” night. As I plug away, trying to figure out what the heck “civic engagement” really means for my own life, I try to set two or three goals a week. Lately this has meant reading up on how to actually be effective. (I donated $5 for the reading up link. Simple and worth it.) Here’s what I learned. It’s best to call or write a hard copy letter to my district office. (I’ve seen how D.C. is on “Madam Secretary” and “House of Cards.” That’s scarrrrry….I don’t wannnna call to there.) Calls, voicemails, and emails to your representatives “contact me” page all get tracked and make a difference when you write them yourself – no forms!
Call or write this to your representatives:
Personal stories carry a lot of leverage.
Politicians need to understand – and convey to others – how things affect people in real ways. I’m relieved by this. I don’t have to be an expert. I can fall right down the middle in my opinion (few bills and political actions do so, don’t worry, you’ll have something to say). And I can send my thoughts in a way that suits my comfort level best. I’ll call when it’s urgent and important. I’m also thinking of going to get some really beautiful cards and one of those nice, juicy pens that’s a pleasure to write with, and then mail it to my district office.
I’m going to keep showing up.
Today, I take back my church and my country: you, my politicians, have done enough.
When I was 17, I was born again. Not in the snake-handling, tongue-speaking, bomb-a-clinic kind of way. In the “I believe in a frontline God, a Creator who stands with me as I face this human experience: joy and loneliness, hunger, pain, heartbreak and exhilaration.” (I mean, like ,so frontline that S/he would come down from that high and mighty place and live here for a little while in a measly little human form with all its rollercoaster of experiences.) After this realization that I believed in a compassionate God , I found an amazing spiritual community. In college, I found other Christians who believed in radical kindness and taking care of the planet and the weak and the poor and “all God’s Creatures, Amen.” I found sisters who kissed me on the head and celebrated my spirit and body as I muddled through society’s contradictory messages to me as a woman. I found men who believed both in God and in my right to be a strong woman (and by the way, being a strong woman did not mean becoming more male). I lived, worked and served side by side with some of the most generous of spirit, time and money.
Then I went out into the world. And the world looked back at me complacently and said, “Oh no, sister, you can’t be a Christian and an environmentalist. And also that’s nice that you’re a feminist, but I think we’ll just stick to our language of Almighty Father, obedience and conformity, okay?” Insert head pat here. Well, actually, in many cases there wasn’t a head pat. It was more of a blank stare.
My disengagement grew as the political system increasingly made Party and Religion synonymous. I didn’t know this was happening. I thought I had just hit a spiritual nomad phase and couldn’t find “my people.” Friends around me assured me that science was the answer. (It is…if the question is “How?” not “Why?”) Some churches told me there was only one way to interpret this incredibly layered Biblical text. (It was not my way; it was their way.) Other churches said “It’s about loving yourself.” Hmmm…not what I was thinking either. I was unsuspecting that these voices were being influenced by the political us and them. Gradually my spiritual community dwindled to a few spare contacts kept alive through social media and occasional telephone calls.
The election on November 9 sparked grieving for me. The grief wasn’t about government policy – big government vs. little government or tax cuts or increases; it was more about character. How had we – conservatives and liberals both – allowed the greatest role model in our country to be a man so devoid of moral character. Many made a difficult voting decision based on policy issues that deeply influence their lives. I struggle, however, that this means we’ve trusted this man to act in our and our children’s best interest rather than his own; I don’t believe that he will. I don’t believe that he’s paying attention to the weak, the poor, the middle class, the marginalized or “all God’s Creatures, Amen.” I struggle that we have given him permission to be our national leader.
In these last months, I thought a lot about this situation and my role within it. I didn’t believe he would win and I sat back. After November 9, I waited and hoped that I would be pleasantly surprised. I hoped that the first weeks in office would show me a man who didn’t walk the party line and provided a much-needed shake up in our political system. I sat back.
As it turns out, these first weeks have been a shake up for sure. The shake up is not one that honors some of the most important foundations of democracy: input from the people, checks and balances, and collective good. I’ve watched this man – and many other politicians on both sides – manipulate the public into seeing the world in black and white. If you aren’t with us, you’re against us. They dictate our affiliations. You can’t be both for women’s rights and a republican; you can’t be a democrat and believe in conservative fiscal approaches; you can’t be republican and disagree with Muslim bans…and you sure as heck can’t be a Christian and a liberal. We’ve all been buying into this divisive dialog for too long.
I’ve absorbed too much of this “either or” outlook. I’m awake to it now. I will not sit back and complacently allow political rhetoric guide my sense of spiritual belonging. Nor will I allow myself and other Christians with a feminist and ecological ethic to feel like we don’t have a seat in the congregation. Nor that I have to pretend to be one or the other – Christian or environmentalist – when I show up for a town hall meeting. I am taking back all belief systems. I refuse to believe that I can’t be a Christian and desire equity. I refuse to believe I can’t be a Christian and have progressive ideas. And more importantly, I refuse to let the political rhetoric convince me that I can’t be both. I’ve let political divisiveness chase me from the Church and separate me from an amazing community of kind, grace-filled people.
I have known many Christians whose behavior is a living testimony to grace and generosity; Christians who are kind – not to convert people to Christ but because kindness is what Christ would’ve done. Christians have been among the bravest people I know – willing to have meaningful conversations with those most different from them. Many Christians I’ve known have refused to accept hunger or poverty or abuse as unavoidable aspects of society. We need to stop letting politicians present Christians as self-righteous and exclusionary. We need to stop letting politicians pitch liberals as godless and selfish. All scientists aren’t atheists; all devoted congregations aren’t haters.
The blessing in this garbage dump of a political situation is that it has called me and many others to action. For me, this means permission to own my spirituality, which means honoring and caring for other humans and the planet. It also means a kick-in-the-ass to step into the conversation that defines the direction of my church and my country. I am done sitting back. I am done letting the rhetoric seep mindlessly into my brain, beliefs and behavior. You do not have to be either or. You can be both and. Define things for yourself but most importantly get into the conversation and stay in; it’s gonna be a long one. Take your seat at the table back – whether it’s in a congregation or a town hall meeting. Politics is not a dirty word; complacency is.
Peace be with you.
**If you’ve found yourself on the fringes because you think you no longer have a place in the church, check out John Pavlovitz. **