Saturday, August 30, 2008

On Barack's speech at the Democratic National Convention

From the Borgmann Family Blog, following Barack's Speech. My Aunt Peg and Brother in Law, Chris write:

Here I thought I'd go to the group and find all kinds of opinions flying about. Are you all partying somewhere? I was totally impressed. There have been too many times when I've heard just a short speech by Obama where he hesitates too much. He was very strong tonight. He promised a lot and I agree with Chris that much of what he said will be hard to achieve, but we have to dream that, what he wants for America, can happen. It was once a part of our expectations for life in the USA, attested to by some of the "ordinary" people who spoke. And, many of us have achieved what he speaks of, even though we have struggled much of our lives. WE are lucky to be working in jobs that are not determined by factory closings, outsourcing jobs etc. even though our lives are most deffinitely affected by those factors. Waiting to hear from you all.

- Peg

I responded to another e-mail, and completely forgot that I intended to comment on Barack's speech. I think he did a very good job, and like Peg said, I think his vision for America is a good one. I recall one statement that he intends to lower taxes for 95% of the population (woohoo, I know that includes most of us)! I'll be anxious to hear more details about his plans. The next two months are going to be information packed. Derrick, I'll be anxious to hear how your experience was. It looked extremely impressive on tv. I'll be anxious to hear who McCain selects as a running mate later today.


On McCain's Introductory Speech of VP Running Mate Palin...

I went looking for John McCain's words today introducing his running mate... Here's the You Tube version:

I like these words of his a lot. They stand out to me:

"I could only choose one person...I have found the right partner.
Someone to stand up to those who value their privileges over their responsibilities, who put power over principle, who put their interests before your needs..."

The mere acknowledgment of current leadership that has put privilege before the responsibilities to SERVE ALL PEOPLE, is gigantic for my ears, and heart, and is a step into the arena to SEE one of the elephants that's been standing in the room of our country's woes, and our current administration's sad failings....Not being for ALL PEOPLE in its policies...!?!

I hear McCain working to separate himself from the past 8 years of Bush:
[My running mate should be] someone standing up to special interests....and entrenched beauraucracies...failed policies of the past...
Someone who has fought against corruption...
Someone with executive experience...

A running mate who can best help me shake up Washington....

Someone to stand on your side, not in your way...


Now: to listen and assess McCain and Palin's capacity to really SEE and BE at ground level where people are, where not just the wealthy exist, but the poor, the disenfranchised, the middle class, the uninsured...

This is where McCain will want to be in great touch...I hope that he can also see the connectedness of poverty and silenced voices at home, with the poverty and silenced people that are at the heart of terrorism....They are one and the same. What we overlook here, breeds the same kind of terror and perpetuation that exists abroad..

Executive experience?
Fighting corruption?
Shaking up Washington?
Stand on my side?

Questions for my research and watching this next week....
I am not in a place to overlook anything where military policy and continued funding of the war machinery is, but I am trying to meet McCain in St. Paul, my home , with a welcome and loving attitude -- especially as he presents himself as one who wants to stand on my side, and be my president...

Who is Melissa's president? (Who is yours?)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Borgmann Family Blog: One Family's Attempt at Political Discourse

When my cousin Derrick Borgmann stood up in the Norfolk Country Club, in the fall of 2004, to offer his best man toast for my brother Aaron's wedding, something got cracked open in our family. Or something got cracked open in me: I realized I wasn't alone. This 6'7" Scandinavian -looking relative began with a typical comedic narrative around his relationship with my brother and the bride, poking fun at the two, and inspiring a room of sweet and knowing laughter. As he wound up his toast in a culminating blessing for the couple, we smiled and raised our glasses to drink to the newly married lovers. But then Derrick did this kicker-thing. In a room, (of what I perceived to be predominantly Christian, Catholic Conservative Republicans, that I'd been born and raised in, and that I assumed cousin Derrick was a proud and affiliated member of) he concluded his speech with a rousing finger or fist in the air and the words, "Go Kerry!"

I think the room was aghast. I know I was sorta shocked. "Kerry? 'Go Kerry'?" as in 'Go Kerry, John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president, Kerry'?" This was Middle-America: Nebraska-farmer-Family Values-Offut-Air-Force-Base-
Bush-Territory-America. People here vote on two or three issues: what the farm subsidies consist of, how taxes will affect the wealthy and Warren Buffet; and if pro-life candidates might eventually overturn Roe V. Wade. (And we all remember the issues central to the campaign in 2004: the deepest Fear of Terrorism, and getting that bad, bad, bad man out of Iraq: Osama Bin Laden. I mean, Saddam Hussein... This meant a continued deep investment of our dollars in the military infrastructure and local training.) This is all my perception, right?

It's 2004. I live in Minnesota. I am a public school teacher at the time. I have just come back from South Africa. I am reeling with that experience of a country 10 years after Apartheid, and my first hand knowledge of what No Child Left Behind looks like implemented at North High School in Minneapolis. I am examining the roots of poverty and oppression and disease. I am spending significant time praying and breathing and contemplating God's call with a group of Visitation Nuns. I am staunchly Democratic and deeply invested in hope, in faith - in leadership that might shift the trajectory of this country, our presence and reputation in the world. I am completely behind the election of John Kerry. I am thinking I am alone in this desire in the midst of my outrageous and dynamic clan. I realize: I am not!

I think people clap. I think Derrick says, "Go Kerry!" and after the initial "wha?" (his own inspired "shock and awe") I think there is actual clapping. Because what happens, is the Democrats in the room find one another. It's like this mini pep-rally for change in the midst of this wedding reception.

I'm not sure any more of the details. I just know that after that fateful day, political discussions for me became a tad safer to be had with the Borgmanns. And this has made me very, very, very happy.

It's not been all comfort and ease, the ensuing political discourse. But it has been inspiring and educational. And for this former teacher and current contemplative being, there's nothing more satisfying than creating a safe space where people can crack open their convictions, unearth their assumptions, pose questions and take some risks in finding their voice and common ground.

Woohoo! This rocks my world.

Somewhere in the midst of all this talking and political upheaval, our evolving family dynamic and my own personal desire to stay really connected with these rocking people, (especially as we are dispersed beyond the borders of Nebraska): I began a family blog. An email list-serve, really. I was invested in something that might keep us linked, at least online and virtually, and discussing matters central to who we are.

In the course of the past year, this email list-serve has become known as the "Borgmann-Family-blog." And it has been a doozy of a place for the Democrats and Republicans in our family to converge.

We are a dynamic clan, not unlike any other family around the United States, or the globe. As the granddaughter of two sets of grandparents who had a total of 18 children, I will note that our clan is not small. There is a count or rough tally of 64 first cousins that gets tossed around. We live in not only Nebraska, but California, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Arizona, and presently: Libya. We are international and small town. We are catholic and no-longer catholic. Christian and athiest. We are gay and straight. We are predominantly pink-skinned, but partnered with other glorious shades of humanity. We are open-minded and narrow minded. We are funny and sometimes very sad. There is wealth, there is poverty. We have known awesome love-stories, and horrible divorces. Death and birth are as common here as they are in the seasons. Not unlike other families, there is abuse and neglect, addiction and dysfunction. But there is an overwhelming amount of faith and joy and love at the heart of us. We learn over and over again about communication and forgiveness. We sustain ourselves in a lot of riotous laughter. And in many small - and sometimes large- ways, this eeks out in the blog.

What follows is my attempt at sharing some of this electronic discourse. Here we are in the midst of another presidential election, where this is a collective and unified desire to see change in the United States. And here we have one family, not unlike millions of other families, who are trying to find their way and individually and communally discern how to cast their votes. I offer excerpts of this "blog" in upcoming posts, to inspire your own political discourse and possible family and friend musings.

Here's to dialogue and democracy, to family, friends, and the evolving way we communicate and see our desired homes and country's leadership into being!

Check out this blog site at QueenMab Contemplates for these postings. Or simply: STAY TUNED!


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Gift of a Poem: "Things to Think" by Robert Bly

This poem arrived today from my friend Ellen Debe. I love her. It came with this sweet and simple introduction:

I always think of this time of year as 'new' because of school starting. is a New Year's gift for you:

Things to Think

Think in ways you've never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door,
Think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time,
Or that it's been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

~ Robert Bly ~

(Morning Poems)

Critical Response:
I notice....
the direction by the poet, to "think in new ways."
the phone ringing
a large message
The image of a wounded animal
A bear and antlered moose emerging,
a child being carried.
The child is one of my own.
a door knock.
News of being forgiven.
"If you lie down no one will die."

It reminds me of....
The last poem Ellen ever gave me, entitled, "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver.
Oliver's lines, "you do not have to be good....You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."
My friend Marianna, who lives up in the woods by the Snake River with her dogs and cats and horses and knows the intimacy of such creatures in wild landscapes.
Native beliefs around parenting, around family, around our interconnectedness.
The Franciscan, Fr. Richard Rohr, and how he talks about "the great chain of being."
Being wide-awake and encountering my own unborn son.
Leaving teaching.

I feel...
excited about the call.
hungry for Yeats.
scared of blood and the natural and supernatural.
at peace with the possibility of forgiveness.
calm with the largeness of letting go.
achy with the desire for this message.

I wonder....
What Bly knew of Yeats?
If either ever had children?
What part do bears and moose play in his thinking? travels?
What does work look like for most people? What does it look like for you? me? My dad? Barack Obama? McCain? teachers in Afghanistan? teachers and healers and factory workers here?
Who do we think we are keeping alive?
Who do you feel responsible for?
How heavy is carrying a life in our heart or body or spirit or psyche?
What does "lying down" mean for you?
What does forgiveness do to the brain?
What would happen if we all took these instructions on how to think?
Could this poem save someone's life?

I speculate....
That Robert Bly was a teacher who loved nature and knew death and the weight of life and the capacity to work constantly in the name of sustaining something that was already being sustained by something like water and sun and animals and earth.

What do you speculate?

Happy contemplating!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Notes from the Democratic National Convention

Family, Friends,

Here are some notes I have been compiling last night and today. Rough notes! I offer them for any who weren't tuned in...(or even those who were.) :-)

It was amazing watching the convention last night on Public TV. Listening to speeches again, today, rebroadcast on Public Radio, I am inspired all over again.
I just want to note the voices I heard, the stories that came across last night as part of the Opening of the Democratic Convention:

1. Nancy Pelosi, First Female speaker of the House. I so appreciated the video introduction of her, underscoring her move from the "kitchen to congress." The FIRST FEMALE to be Speaker of the House. Amazing.

2. Barack's sister - a half-sister who is a History Teacher. Deep-voiced, well-spoken with her sense of history and people. Wow.

3. President Carter, at 83, Nobel Peace Prize winner, whose intense awareness around POVERTY and the call of this country to care for ALL of its citizens. He was the epitome of a wise elder statesman, Public Servant....He champions the efforts it takes for ALL of us to care and serve....especially in the wake of his first hand experiences of Katrina, and the aftermath in the South.

4. Jesse Jackson, Jr. Who knew!? He was the most rousing, inspiring, prior to the 8pm time slot.

5. Caroline and Ted Kennedy then just walloped me in their appearances -- calling back the dynasty, the legacy of the Kennedys and the invitation of JFK for all to public service, and all coming from this Catholic clan....It inspires critical questions of the largest kind of catholicism and faith in action and how that is present in our political candidates...

6. Michelle's brother - the teacher/ coach who spoke lovingly, proudly, of this sister, and bore witness to their upbringing...

7. Michelle. Wow. Michelle. She could run for office. Yes. A solid, smart woman/wife/mom/leader in her own right.
She and Barack met because she was picked by the law firm to MENTOR HIM!
Ha. Amazing.

Her reflection on her parents, on her dad, on meeting Barack, on her call to public service and to parenting....I loved the image she shared of Barack as dad, bringing their first daughter home 10 years ago, and how he holds the well-being of his children at the center of his ideals....What is best for children? What is best for all of the children in the United States?

8. Tonight, then, Hillary was outstanding. Her essential question:
"Were you in it for me? Or this country?"
A message of Unity! .....And so we keep going!
I loved the Harriet Tubman tale, and words of encouragement toward freedom, emancipation....Yes: "Just keep going!"

It will be really good to balance out this week weighing the messages around unification and goals of the RNC.
I am interested in the way that diversity of voices and the seeming invisible classes has become so visible and audible at the DNC....

I look forward....
Just a tally of the populations represented in VOICE at the DNC thus far:
White women,
Black women,
Mixed Race woman,
Black men,
White men.
Young leaders.
Gay, straight, catholic, muslim, jewish, wealth, working's all been visible...
In appearance alone, this represents this country more so than I've ever seen before in a political convention. This is exciting! This is a new face toward what democracy really looks like, what it aspires to be in this country!!
And the stories....
How many tales of coming up from poverty, and acknowledging the SUPPORT and resources and Hard work it takes?

9. Did anyone catch the Governor of Massachusett's appearance- and his tale? Gov. Patrick. From a Single mom. South side of Chicago. Two bunkbeds, three in his family. A reader. But rotating beds....(reminded me of this brother and sister my parents mentor in Norfolk..) In one generation, went from these conditions, to the governor's house with his wife and daughter? How? Earning a scholarship and being supported to get a good high school and college education....

That support and journey just cannot be overlooked, we all know!
Peace, Questions, Hope, as I take notes...and we all discern our votes,

Sunday, August 24, 2008

American Prayer: The Video

What is your prayer? For this country? For the globe? For the planet? For yourself? Your family? Your community? What do you hope, beyond any fears?

This is one lovely way a group of citizens and artists and activists collectively communicated their prayer: in a music video.

It resonates with me.

I invite you to watch this and offer your own words or song as response.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Africa Discernings: How I Heard God this past week. Part I.

There are subtle and then not so subtle ways that I hear God talking to me. This past week's experiences were no exception -- especially where my heart has been concerned and a desire to return to Africa has persisted.

How do you hear God? Or how do you perceive the Divine at work in your life? Do you believe in a Benevolent Creator? Who among you gets nervous when I ask these questions? Who among you gets calm? What happens to me when I am writing about this stuff? Why do I write this stuff down? If I insert the word "Jah" or "Yahweh" or "Buddha" or "the open heart" or "Love" - does the question resonate more fully?

As someone who was raised Catholic, it's easiest for me to say, "God." But I get that that doesn't read or bode well for some of your spiritual and practical navigations. I respectfully and humbly submit my notes on such matters. I do so with humor and joy and hope, that, as a reader, you might know compassion and joy and hope as well. Yes. I think compassion and joy and hope are helpful things for my spirit, for your spirit, and for those around us who piss us off. It's best if we can have love rather than getting pissed off, don't you think? More love and compassion, less anger and pissiness. I'm just looking for a way through life that is helpful, rather than harmful. Navigating the love and fear and anger is an important thing to figure out, don't you think?

I digress.

Back to how I heard the Big Love talking to me this past week....

It's Sunday, and I'm in Norfolk, Nebraska. I'm at home for my aunt Peg's wedding, and taking an extra day in a long weekend to spend time with my family: my parents, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, my cousins, my aunts and uncles and friends that are in town.

It's good. It's been a long, long seven months since I've been home, and this trip back for a wedding - that has been a long, long time in the making - is well worth it!

Going home is not ever easy for me, as the eldest, unmarried child who travels solo in this rocking family with these rocking parents and rocking siblings and their spouses and significant others. I adore these people, and recognize how profoundly I am loved and cared for by them all, as well as how much I love them all. But often, I'm lonely in this family, and feel like a crazy older sister who is single and has no visible lover, and so by most accounts is on the track to becoming a "cat lady." I don't want to be a cat lady, by the way. (No offense to people with cats.) I want to be the older sister who rocks the casbah in the world by writing and making change and having a hot lover and partner who adores her and makes everyone laugh and inspires significant topics of conversation when he shows up with me.

Yeah. I want to come home with Barack Obama, or some equivalent of a single, young Desmond Tutu -- or even a kind of a Bill Clinton - without the Monica business. (I like leader types. I like especially leader types who love God and have the capacity to balance me out. Yes. I like leader types with scientific minds who like identifying the root causes of unwellness in our world and are seeking ways to heal us. Those with visions of life beyond the borders of the United States also rock.)

Anyway. It's church time. And I'm walking into Sacred Heart with my mom and some semblance or faction of siblings. And my mom says to me,
"Melissa, you are turning 40 this year. It's a significant birthday, a milestone; have you thought about how you want to celebrate this? Your sister is turning 21, also a significant birthday, maybe you want to do something together?"
And I pause for second and then find myself responding,
"I want to go back to Africa. I think I'm supposed to be back in Africa."
Now saying this aloud to my mom is like saying I want to date someone like Bill Clinton. I'm not sure that she really hears me, or can hear me. Like Bill Clinton, Africa --South Africa has it's overwhelming beauty and charm and promise and power. But also like Bill Clinton, South Africa has a kind of tainted image that brings up some kind of pain and scandal. My mom doesn't want to see me off to any place where there is pain and scandal. (That apartheid business was messy, right? And the poverty there ain't no joke. To say nothing of the HIV/ AIDS pandemic. And what my heart has done when it's been on South African soil or in proximity to citizens of the country?! Well it's all taken a gigantic toll on my spirit and psyche that my mom registers. And, ultimately, it all begs for love and attention -- not unlike the messy, screaming-for compassion-and-outrage impeachment circumstances once surrounding President Clinton. Who wants to spend any time dwelling on such things?!)

But my mom says nothing, and this is huge. A gift. And my words just rest there in the air as a kind of uttered dream, and this feels good to my heart. I don't know what I'm saying really in this moment walking into church, just giving voice to this achy space in my body and spirit that wants to speak and honor what God calls me toward....

Africa...South Africa....Kenya...Uganda...Zanzibar...Tanzania...Ghana...

On this Sunday, the scripture and songs are not-so-subtly speaking to me. This is nothing unusual, however. Hearing God's voice in scripture? Please. That's the whole point! This former English teacher takes it all in stride: literature is literature is literature doing it's job reflecting and opening us up to ourselves and our world. What I note, however, is that the Gospel reading from Matthew is being repeated for the third time this week, and that is unusual.
(Per my bus- riding-routine to work, I'm praying with scripture daily via my pda.) Here I am for the third time this week, reading and hearing about Jesus and Peter, as the disciple is being called to walk toward Christ on the water. What's Peter do? He doubts. He second guesses himself and who God is, and he starts to sink.

When I read this passage on the Monday prior, it wasn't lost on me: Do not doubt God's love! When I read it on Tuesday, it was another gigantic reassurance: Do not be afraid! Step forward! Hearing it for the third time this Sunday, I am mildly blown away.
"Mom," I say to her next to me in the pew, "It's the third time this week this gospel has appeared."
And so I cry. Because I know: I have been doubting. I have been sinking. I have felt wildly like Peter in so many ways: believing, but fearing. And it's just not helpful, the fearing part. Because after all, when we doubt, we start to sink. Who needs more sinking? God sure doesn't. We are better off to trust and to receive and believe in love, than doubt in its source.

And then what happens next is the bigger "Wake up, Meliss and Pay Attention" jolt. A guest homilest rises in the pulpit to break open scripture, and his name is Francis, and he's an Oblate of Francis De Sales.

For those who don't know, Francis de Sales is one of the founders of the Visitation Order, and one of the groups of nuns I spend a lot of time with as a "Visitation Companion." He and the co-foundress, Jane de Chantal, are like my spiritual parents. I tune in.

Brother Francis is funny. He tells jokes. He brings comedy to his role in talking about the missionaries in the world. He likens Jesus' walk on this planet with the walk of the missionaries around the country. He talks about the gift of poverty. Of traveling and learning a new language. Of having to build relationships across culture and class and experience...Of having to ask for help. Of walking outside our comfort zones and following God's lead.
I am moved deeply. I am calmed by this man's message. My sister-in- law, Jodi and I exchange knowing glances after his sermon. Jodi's niece, who has just returned from South Africa, has announced her own intentions to become a missionary. Jodi and I pray for this niece and for the voices of concern and doubt and questions that have come forward. We get the ramifications of anyone making such an announcement to family. We pray.

My mom turns to me and says,
"Where do you think this guy is from? Your dad said there was a visiting priest from South Africa who was in church. Does he seem like he's from South Africa?"
I'm thinking "No, this Brother sounds like he's from New Jersey." But I appreciate that my dad is tuning into such things and asking questions....

And then it's time to sing. It's communion time, and the song the congregation is invited to join singing: Be Not Afraid.

And so in our two pews, our family does what we love to do: sings. My mom and I harmonizing, and the words inspiring more crazy emotion.

You shall cross the barren desert,
but you shall not die of thirst.
You shall wander far in safety,
though you do not know the way.

You shall speak your words in foreign lands,
and all will understand,
You shall see the face of God and live.

And I cry. I sing, I cry. I love. I feel it all. I know the desert. I am in the desert. I am wandering. I am safe, but I don't know the way. I want to return to this land where I've known overwhelming love, but I am afraid. I don't understand this call or why it persists, I just know it's here, and won't take a back seat. And so the words pour out as sung, harmonized prayer with my mom, "Be not afraid..."

And then we are done, and the congregation is sitting quietly in our post-communion contemplations, when Brother Francis comes back up to the mic.
"By the way," he says, "For those of you who don't know, that song was written by a Jesuit for a young nun. I'm sorry, a young SISTER, who was returning to Africa, but was nervous and afraid about her call to go."
Really? I mean really? I started laughing. It's like God was hitting me over the head: "Meliss, just in case you missed the message earlier, and you are doubting this desire, this invitation, yourself, me, here's another clue: Get your ass back to Africa! Quit being afraid! This sister was scared, and so are you, but it's okay. Go."

That's what I heard at least. I'm sorry if it offends anyone, too, when I hear God saying the word, "ass." Translation of God can be hard. I could be way off my rocker here. But the continuing coincidences or serendipitous messages reassure me.

I think I exchanged looks with my mom then. A smile. A knowing.

I will go.

Who am I to doubt or be afraid?

By the way, when I spoke to my dad later that day he inquired about the missionary's talk. He had attended the earlier 9am mass by himself and had a different guest speaker. "Did you have the brother from South Africa who sang the end of his homily in Swahili?" he asked me. "It was so awesome. I told your mom that you'd love it."
I appreciate my dad tuning in to such things. He's getting his own message, I think.