The Fragile Ego

This year, I had 2 articles accepted for publication by Guideposts Magazine. The first one, based on Spooked By An Angel, was published in the March/April 2020 edition of Angels on Earth, a sister publication of Guideposts. My second article, based on Christmas Eve in Jail, is in the editing process. It’s slated to be published in a December issue of Guideposts magazine. This makes me happy.

Last year, I had another article accepted for publication by Upper Room, a devotional magazine. I haven’t heard back from Upper Room editors in over 6 months, so I think I’ll submit that article, The White Flower, to Guideposts. Thus far, I have submitted 4 articles to 2 magazines. Three have been accepted for publication. One was declined.

Writing for the blog was more rewarding when I lived in Honduras. It kept me and my readers entertained, as well as keeping others informed about my life and ministry. Now that I live in the states, I struggle to find purpose for my writing. Not only do I want a larger audience, but I want to find a greater purpose in writing.

Writing about my life in Louisiana can be rewarding at times, but the lack of readership annoys me. I barely reach 50 readers, and that’s a good week. Call it vanity if you will, but I sometimes feel like I am writing in an echo chamber. I feel like I am the only voice that I hear in response to my writing. My fragile ego is in need of a hearty backslap or some sort of affirmation.

I know that perseverance is a key to feeling better about writing, whether or not I am recognized by a greater audience. It hasn’t helped that I have started and stopped writing a few times, changed writing platforms and site names a few times. Also, blogging is not as popular as it was 10 years ago. More and more people like short and quick media posts on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Tic Tok.

I appreciate those who take the time to comment here or on Facebook. What can you suggest for writer’s doldrums? How do you, my fellow bloggers, cope with feelings that your writing seems unimportant?

It’s Juneteenth and All is Well

I never knew about the day called Juneteenth when I was growing up. As far as I knew it was June 19. It happens to be my sister’s birthday, but that’s not of national import. I am happy for African Americans who may be celebrating their day of independence today.

For me, this year, Juneteenth means it’s the end of May. Confused? Let me explain. Until this weekend, we have had a most unusual month in Louisiana. The weather has been mild, not oppressively hot and muggy like it usually is in June. It’s been like May, warm in the day, not humid, and cool each evening

Everything in nature has responded in turn to this remarkable stretch of nice weather. In my yard, the rose bushes are full of happy buds, not drooping in indolence and shame due to heat exhaustion. The hydrangeas are blooming merrily, full of white blossoms reaching Amazonian heights. My blueberry tree was overloaded with fruit this year, much to the delight of the birds who consumed much of the harvest. I hear the din of frogs and insects in the twilight of midsummer eve as they rejoice in May days. It’s grand.

I don’t have a vegetable garden, but folks with gardens are enjoying a great harvest. In Louisiana, we don’t have a harvest in late June. Plants (and some people) usually just give up and die about this time of year in the sweltering heat. Not okra. Okra thrives in the summer heat. But, no, it’s not just okra growing in home gardens in late June. There’s still tomatoes and peppers and zucchini and corn being harvested in back yards in Louisiana.

According to the weather guy on TV, this glorious balmy month of May will end sometime on June 20 or 21. That’s this weekend. So Juneteenth is being celebrated in my house as the last day before the awful blast of Louisiana summer begins. I’m happy to celebrate the day because the days and nights of lingering May has been appreciated.

I popped a huge bowl of popcorn. I plan on watching Madam Secretary on Netflix. Why not have a Netflix binge with popcorn? That’s how I plan on commemorating the end of May. Happy Juneteenth, y’all.

Tracing My Roots

i am a fan of the PBS show, Finding Your Roots, which details the search for ancestors of various celebrities and popular media personalities. If you’re not familiar with the show, the host, Henry Louis Gates, Jr, details the ancestry of a guest or two for each show, often highlighting one or two special ancestors and their stories for each featured celebrant.

I have done a bit of digging around my past by talking to my mother, who loves family history. She has a good grasp of the oral history of her family as well as my father’s family. Using Ancestry.com in the past few years, I was able to expand upon what my mom has explained, so that I know more about the past history of my father and mother’s family.

I used the information to produce two books, which were a combination of old photos and stories. One was about my father’s life, with some details of his ancestors, and one of the same for my mom. My next project is to combine the most compelling information from the two books about my ancestors and their lives. I want to pass this information down to the next generation. I don’t have children, so I want to present the books to my nephews and nieces as keepsakes so they can understand the most compelling stories of the past.

Thinking about the show, Finding Your Roots, I plan on focusing on several key stories. The show uses a book about the featured guests family to discuss important family events from the past. A family tree is given to each participant as well. I plan on using this format, too.

My goal is to highlight the most interesting stories from the past. Here are some of the questions I want to answer in my gift to my nieces and nephews:

!. When did my ancestors first come to the United States and why? Where did they settle?

2. Where did they emigrate from and why?

3. Did anyone in my ancestry own slaves? Did they fight in the Civil War?

4. What are some key narratives in my history? Were they heroes or infamous characters in the family?

5. Why are my mother’s and father’s family have so many parallels and shared relations? What cultural forces caused the two families to be closely bound in the past?

Can my readers add any questions you would add to the list? Have you any interesting comments about your own family to add to the comments?

News From Abita Springs

I am tired of bad news broadcasting daily into my home. What about something different? In my little town, there’s news of armadillos, coyotes, pot-bellied pigs and more.

Animals have been out and about. In the daytime, coyotes have been spotted in town, creeping out of the woods. Hide your cats, dogs, and chickens! It’s not safe. Baby armadillos about the size of pickle jars were seen scuttling across the St. Tammany Trace this past week.

A local resident reports the presence of pot-belled pigs in her yard. Who do they belong to? When will the owners retrieve the errant pigs? Will an interloper snatch them up for a Friday night barbecue? If there are updates to this developing story, I will let you know.

The children’s park and the splash pad remain closed as they have for the stay at home orders in the spring. The park will remain closed because of needed repairs. The splash pad is going to re-open most likely in July.

The Abita Springs Trailhead Museum and the Abita Springs Farmer’s Market have re-opened for Sunday visitors. One can buy fruit, veggies, farm-raised eggs and prepared foods from 11-3 each Sunday. Next door to the Museum and Farmer’s Market, the Abita Brew Pub is open with fifty percent capacity per state guidelines. The outdoor seating is quite nice under the large shady oak trees. On Sundays, there’s also live music in the pub’s outdoor space.

undefinedThe Abita Mystery House and UCM (You See ‘Um) Museum remains closed. It’s time to write another post about this eccentric site full of treasures and charms that continues to grow its displays of odd collectibles. I’ll wait until it’s open for new pictures. Until then, content yourself with the photo of the lady alligator who greets guests in the main room of the UCM house. If you can’t wait for my post, and you have access to local public television, WYES of New Orleans, will air a segment on the Abita Mystery house tonight at 7:30 and 11:30.

That’s all the news of the week in Abita Springs. Coyotes and armadillos, markets and museums, all are part and parcel of the news. I hope you enjoyed a small town news respite from the national news of the day.

Five Books/Films to Understand Racism

I think of past movements that brought change in our nation and world. The abolitionist movement, the suffragette movement, the civil rights protest of the 1960s all had naysayers, those who refused to see the importance of the times they lived in. I don’t want this moment to past by without me changing in the process.

As I look at what is happening across the nation, I have been trying to listen and learn. I want to learn and make real changes in my thoughts and actions towards the black experience. There is something profound happening in our country.

Here’s five books and films that I can personally recommend if you want to join me in learning about racism.

  1. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It’s a book and a movie. It’s also the true story of a black man on death row in Alabama. I haven’t finished the book, but I watched the movie. It moved me to tears. The movie is available free for streaming through the month of June on most streaming services.
  2. undefinedWhite Fragility: Why it’s So hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin J. DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson. I haven’t finished reading this book, but I am engaging the text.
  3. undefinedA Lesson Before Dying by Earnest Gaines. It’s a fictional work about racism, imprisonment and justice in the South. This short volume is a modern classic.
  4. undefinedHarriet. A movie available through various streaming services including Amazon Prime. It is the story of Harriet Tubman, the famed heroine of the Underground Railroad. Sometimes we have to understand the past in order to understand the present.
  5. undefinedNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. Again, understanding the past roots of America’s struggle with race can help navigate today’s complexities.
  6. BONUS MOVIE: Get Out. Being white is spooky in this movie. It’s a thriller/horror movie with racial commentary thrown and mixed around. I loved this movie.

The Story of Gumbo and a bit more

The name of this blog is Gumbo Ya Ya. For years, I wrote under a similar name, the Honduras Gumbo. That changed when I left Honduras over 5 years ago.

In parts of Africa, the word, gombo, means okra. And in Angola, specifically, okra, was known as ngumbo. Is gumbo, then, an African dish? Well, yes and no. The slaves who came to Louisiana brought okra with them. They were known to eat a dish of okra and rice. But, we know that the French brought bouillabaisse with them to the New Orleans area. Then, there is the filé, which is dried and ground sassafras leaves, which is used to thicken gumbo. Filé came from the Native Americans who lived in this area.

Where do we get gumbo from exactly? Hard to tell. I would say all these cultures had a part in the dish. It’s a composite dish.

In the same way, we as a multi-ethnic nation. We live in a diverse culture. White, Black, Native American, Latino, Asian, and much more make this a culture that’s dynamic and ever-changing.

At this moment in our nation, I couldn’t write under the title gumbo, which is itself a fusion dish without mentioning our national diversity. I also must mention the ongoing protests in the nation and in some parts of the world, too. I believe these protests are a good sign that white people in particular are being awakened to the plight of our black brothers and sisters.

It is tempting to be cynical, to say that the protests are not going to change anything. It’s tempting to say that the media is capitalizing on the sensational of the moment. Or, we can acknowledge that racism exists, and that we, especially white Americans, can and must change.

What can I do besides post a social media post about race or write a few words on a blog read by a small audience? One thing I will do is be part of the conversation on race. Starting Tuesday evening, I am taking part in a book club that will discuss White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin J DiAngelo.

I refuse to be a cynic. I believe my small efforts can make a difference. If you are interested in being part of a book club with me, let me know. We can start another group using Zoom.

I can’t share a gumbo with you via Zoom, but I can and will invite you to the table of humanity where we all have a seat. We can make a difference. It doesn’t have to end with just a few more days of people in the streets.

Stormy Weather

A storm is brewing in the Gulf. Right now, Cristobal is meandering over land near the Yucatan. It won’t stay there forever. It is forecast to make its way toward the Louisiana coast on Sunday. It’s not likely to be a strong storm. At its worst, forecasters agree it could be a nominal hurricane.

Considering the fragility of our coastline, though, it may be just one more weapon that will be like a battering ram on our area. The boot in the picture above represents what used to be the coast of Louisiana. I couldn’t find a good image on the internet to show what it looks like today, but much of coast of southeastern Louisiana is gone. The land that I grew up on is increasingly being eroded and falling away. Open waters lap at our doorsteps, in some cases, quite literally, as people are forced to move to higher ground.

That’s one reason that I live where I live today. I didn’t see the sense of buying another house in New Orleans, after coming back here after nearly a decade in Honduras. New Orleans is surrounded more and more by open waters rather than protective wetlands, or near my hometown on the bayou where land is lost everyday. At least where I live now, a bit north and east of New Orleans, I don’t have to worry about small storms such as what is being projected for this weekend.

There are other storms. Some of the storms brewing are not tropical at all. There are political and racial storms that are raging now in our country. What do we do with the information we have about racial injustice and protests? Do we, as white Americans, just put up a social media comment in defense of justice and go along our way as if nothing has happened?

I’m guilty of doing that. I just posted a few things about injustice. I felt better. But what if I were really committed to understanding what’s happening in our country? I think I need to seek voices from the black community. I need to listen. There are battering rams of injustice and inequities hitting our nation right now. If not addressed, they will weaken our democracy.

Whenever we have storms in the Gulf, our motto is be prepared. We do what we can to protect our homes, and we ride out the storm as best we can. (Evacuation is still the best choice for large storms). I need a game plan, too, to prepare to understand my black brothers and sisters.

I plan to watch Just Mercy, a film about racial injustice in the penal system. You can rent Just Mercy for free in June through a variety of digital movie services in the US, including Apple TVFandangoNowGoogle PlayAmazon Prime VideoRedbox, the PlayStation Store, VuduMicrosoft, and YouTube. Join me in watching the movie.

I am also part of a book club that will be reading White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. I want this moment in history to count for something. I was only 6 years old in 1969 when the public schools in our school district were integrated. I was too young to have a voice, but I now see what a seminal moment that was for our town. I don’t want to be in denial this time, like my parents were in the 1960s.

In my morning devotions today, from Pray as You Go, the text was from Jesus’ words about the two greatest commandments. The first is to love God. The second is to love our neighbor. If we don’t grapple with social and racial inequities in our nation, I fear more storms are going to hit us. It’s time we met the storms with foresight and prudence.

Pray As You Go

When Louisiana was under a stay at home order, as was most of the United States, I found it easier to pray. After all, there was time, lots of it. There were abundant resources, as my church and other organizations were posting daily live-streaming devotional times of prayer, music and encouragement. Now, Louisiana is opening up in stages as the cases of covid-19 are tapering off. My own life is following suit. I am venturing out, returning to some, but not all, activities.

I am volunteering again at the food bank. My church has begun services in the building, but with limited seating and congregants. Last week, I went to a hair salon for a cut and color. Getting my hair done really helped bring a sense of normalcy to me. Gray hair and long locks are not for me.

With new activity, my near monastic life has been upended. Life is slowly inching back towards normal. But with it, I have less desire to pray. I just want to read a bit in the morning, mainly the news, and be on with my day.

How do I keep the sense of spirituality that I was enjoying in the quiet of quarantine? I’ve hit upon a solution. There’s a website and app called Pray As You Go. It’s a guided meditation from the Jesuits of Britain. There’s a spot of music to start, then a scripture reading, a time of reflection, and then the scripture is read again. The duration is about 5 minutes if you don’t stop the app to pray on your own.

I may have written about this site before. At one time, I used this program to wake to on my phone. It was, and still is, a great way to jump-start a prayer life that feels dormant. I recommend it, even more so, in these trying times with the ongoing racial tensions in the US, the news can be quite unsettling. Take time, if you will, each day to quiet your soul with Pray as You Go. You can find it online or download to your phone at Pray as You Go.

In This Book

Yesterday, President Trump chose to walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church. In the process, lawful, peaceful protestors were gassed and hit with rubber bullets so that Trump could make the short walk to the church. There he held up a Bible upside down and had his photo taken. He didn’t pray, read a Bible verse or speak at all.

I can’t for the life of me understand why he did this. He gained nothing from lifting up a Bible for a prop in front of a church that he doesn’t attend. The whole event smacked of base hypocrisy. He used his power and authority in ways opposed to the Christian faith that I affirm.

I quote from Melissa Florer-Bixler, “In this book are the words of a pregnant, brown, teenage Jew living under military occupation, born into poverty, who said that one day the powerful would one day be cast down from their thrones and the rich sent away empty. This would be the work of God.”

Jesus’ way as detailed in this book, the Bible, was to lift up the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the hopeless. When Jesus gave his disciples a model prayer, what we call the Lord’s prayer, he said, “Let your kingdom come.” The kingdom of God, which is the opposite of this world’s systems’, can break into this current world system if we truly embody the words in this book, the Bible.

Lord, help me to discern correctly in this book what you want from me.

Thoughts on White Privilege

I have seldom thought about the incalculable privileges I enjoy as a white American. Yet, as some of our nation’s cities teeter on the edge of anarchy with rioting, burning and looting spurred by racial strife, I am considering the benefit of being white in America. I’m white. I’m educated. I live in a middle class suburb. I don’t think of it as privilege. It’s just normal.

The closest I can come to identifying with minorities is my experiences living in Mexico and Honduras. In both those cultures, I was the random white person in a sea of brown faces. Sometimes it was a disadvantage to be white although most times it was an advantage.

Being white made me a target for police harassment in both countries.  Driving while white made me a target for corrupt cops who wanted bribes. I have been stopped multiple times by traffic cops while in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Not once was I given a ticket or even had the semblance of one being written up. It was all about hassling a “rich” white person for a bribe.

Fortunately most of the time, being white helped me in Mexico and Honduras. Being white meant I had greater status generally speaking, especially among the poor. The vestiges of colonialism live on in subtle ways south of the border. Being white gave me status and privilege in ways I sometimes saw directly and other times, I know were just indirect from being a citizen of the most powerful and richest nation on earth.

Aside from small inconveniences of being hassled while driving, I haven’t thought much about what it means to be a racial minority. At least until I saw a video this week of a white man kneeling on the neck of a black man on a street in Minneapolis as the life drained from the victim’s body. The black man on the ground said, “I can’t breathe.” Yet, the cop appeared completely casual, looking like he was waiting for a lunch order, perfectly at ease as he squeezed the life out of a man as he knelt on his neck until he died.

It’s time that we, as white Americans, realize the truth that white privilege is real and ingrained in our society. Whites enjoy higher levels of income, higher levels of education, and better heath outcomes. We live longer than our black counterparts. Black people disproportionally fill our prisons and jails. Black persons are less likely to have a high school or college diploma. They disproportionally serve in low wage jobs. They live often in segregated neighborhoods.

When I see on social media the push back from people who resist the slogan, Black Lives Matter by countering with All Lives Matter, I get defensive. Don’t they see that until we can say without objection that Black Lives Matter, we don’t have the privilege of saying All Lives Matter? To me, it’s just another example of asserting white privilege in insisting on saying All Lives Matter rather than Black Lives Matter.

When we say All Lives Matter, aren’t we just affirming the status quo? The status quo is not good enough any longer. First, we must right the wrongs in the black community. Then we can say we are all equal.