“I’m Not Ready to Make Nice”: Reflections on the Inward Journey

Given for chapel at United Seminary on November 17, 2016 in the wake of the 2016 election.  Three pieces were read before the sermon:


In the spring of 2003 I was enrolled in a course at the University of Minnesota-Duluth called “Deciding What’s News”. Our semester-long assignment was to select a news item to follow over the course of the term. I decided on something that was just surfacing in the news…the invasion of Iraq by the US. Little did I know that I would have more than a lion’s share of coverage to sort through.

Then on March 10, 2003, a news item broke. At a show in England, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks said: “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”[1]bush_shame_and_the_dixie_chicks

Overnight the Dixie Chicks went from being at the top of the musical world to being the most hated band in country music: radio stations refused to play their music; people hosted CD burning parties; the Dixie Chicks were labeled as “un-American” and had their lives threatened: “Shut up and Sing!” cried the mobs. Shut up and sign said my own family when I tried to defend them.

Then, in 2006 the Dixie Chicks released an album Taking the Long Way around, which included the song “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice”, a reflection on their experiences from the last three years.

Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I could

They say time heals everything

But I’m still waiting

I’m through with doubt

There’s nothing left for me to figure out

I’ve paid a price

And I’ll keep paying

I’m not ready to make nice

I’m not ready to back down

I’m still mad as hell and

I don’t have time to go round and round and round

It’s too late to make it right
dixie_chicks
I probably wouldn’t if I could

‘Cause I’m mad as hell

Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

I know you said

Can’t you just get over it

It turned my whole world around

And I kind of like it

I made my bed and I sleep like a baby

With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’

It’s a sad, sad story when a mother will teach her

Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger

And how in the world can the words that I said

Send somebody so over the edge

That they’d write me a letter

Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing

Or my life will be over

I’m not ready to make nice

I’m not ready to back down

I’m still mad as hell and

I don’t have time to go round and round and round

It’s too late to make it right

I probably wouldn’t if I could

‘Cause I’m mad as hell

Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

What it is you think I should

Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I could

They say time heals everything

But I’m still waiting[2]

And this summer, some 10 years after their last album dropped, I had the opportunity to see the Dixie Chicks live in concert at the MN State Fair. That night I joined in with the mass of persons, belting out the songs, with my fist raised in the air, screaming: “I’m not ready to make nice!”


So why this story and what does it mean in connection to the poems and the reflections you heard and the situatedness of this world and this week? Well, here’s the connection: Last Tuesday night as I lay in bed, awaiting the results of the election, my first thought and an “in your bones” sort of knowing swept over me– it’s this…I’m done being nice.

What do I mean by this? Well, here’s the thing… I was raised by a parent who deals with severe mental illness and I survived by paying attention to my surroundings and recognizing when her anger was about to boil over. I flourished by being sweet and nice and invisible. I was dubbed the “perfect child” and was an over-functioning “good girl”. This formation of my self was reinforced by culture and by my church: I sat still, I looked cute and I hid out by being smart.

  • I became this self at the hands of sexism and violence in my faith community;
  • I emerged in the face of being told that no one would ever want to marry me because I was too much of a feminist;
  • I grew up knowing women who were told to stay in abusive marriages because it was God’s will;
  • I came of age in the face of being told that my welfare queen mother would lead to me being pregnant and “loose” by the time I was 15 (I grew up in the Baptist General Conference in a fundamentalist and patriarchal faith context).

I grew up as the good girl…even as I held a secret self inside– a self who was angry at my mother, a self who read her bible and believed that David raped Bathsheba (in 7th grade- try telling your youth pastor that one!), a self who thought that equating God with Hosea and the church as Gomer was problematic (to say the least). Inside I was always fighting for a world in which John 3:16 might actually be realized even as I lived with great self-hatred and doubt.

And in 2003 I had begun to emerge. I had spent the Fall of 2001 at Focus on the Family Institute- which was designed to raise up the next generation of leaders for the far right’s Moral Majority (and their wives)…and I returned to UMD and become a women’s studies minor, determined to figure out what to do with my faith, my sex, and my gender identity. I got away with declaring this minor by saying it was out of a desire to evangelize those godless feminists for “where there’s the most anger there’s the greatest invitation to love”…yet, more truly…this choice was about this God I had loved, this God who I thought hated me because of my gender because he (emphasis on he) believed that one half of the population was subservient to the other—if this God got to live or if I did.

And in 2003 I was emerging a bit and trying on the deviant ideas of women who said that we could name God she (scandal!), of women loving women (oh the lesbanians!), of conversations about the second sex (thank you Simone de Beauvoir!), and of my discovery that I was not alone as I had been told, but I a part of a cloud of witnesses and a long litany of human persons who had long been working and living and dying for equality. This fragile emergence was met by the fall of the Dixie Chicks in the spring of 2003 and I internalized a deep sense of dread for I learned what those who suffer under oppression have long known: if you show up and say your truth- if you take up space you will lose everything. And so I went into hiding. I tried to fit and I tried to become who I thought I needed to be in order to stay alive in my communities.

Still I went to seminary in the fall of 2004, because I could never quite kill my soul and my identities. And in 2006 when the Dixie Chicks released “Not Ready to Make Nice” just as I was also working to make significant change my personal life, I was thrilled but I didn’t know if I actually believed them that they could really “like it”- like their new normal, for how could this be better when they had lost everything?! And yet, their words from the album haunted me and were midwives to my re-emergence: “I opened my mouth and I heard myself” and “Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should”.


Fast forward to the Spring of 2011. I am enrolled in my final course of Seminary here at United with Dr. Carolyn Pressler. And I am cautiously birthing myself. For my final project in I made a music video and performed a spoken word piece. The video shared stats about violence against women and I edited in a segment of the music video “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice”. And on the day I presented my project I, for the first time in my life, let my lips scream (well, speak at least) the words of rage that had been bottled up inside of me. For the first time in my life I yelled out loud at the texts of my tradition, texts that have long been used to oppress and kill and destroy life. And I spoke of my anger and simmering rage. I did so was with great fear, positioned behind the speakers that played my music such that the only one who fully heard my poetry was me. “Come out from behind the speaker next time, Sara,” Dr. Pressler invited, “Come out, come out because we want to hear your voice.”


And this has been my journey- a inward journey a journey of decent– into the terror of no longer being the “nice” and “good one”; a movement into the awareness of knowing that as I showed up in my skin and the fullness of my truths and humanity that those who I had loved and known would turn away in disgust and horror. But as one of my mentors (Dan Jass) reminded me: “People can’t love you if they don’t know who you really are, Sara.” And so I kept on going.


And over these years, I’ve worked to emerge on the scene of my life as a self. I’ve worked to own my story and to speak my voice in the world. I’ve done so haltingly, I’ve done so while trembling, and still, I keep on walking and I keep going deeper and deeper into solidarity with myself and with the vision of a world that I can believe in.

This election broke open something in me, and as I laid there in bed I thought: “I’m done being nice.” What I mean is this: so much of our loving, so much of our identities are shaped and formed through co-dependency. We are tutored to be sleves who present what we believe will keep us loved and safe and welcome. And we distance the parts of ourselves and our truths that are scary…even to ourselves. For how does one face the reality of the violence in our world when they awaken to being transgender? How does one access the trauma of a world that labels all Muslims as terrorists? We have families who we know don’t love who we truly are. How does one face this rejection?

And we who have access to privilege have learned that there exists some vestiges of possibility to remain in the good graces of the power structures if only we live into and claim the benefits of the possibilities of  privilege –in my case, white privilege, identity, and femininity. So in an effort to resist my own pain of knowing that I will be rejected for showing up as I am,  I have often stayed nice, small, and invisible just so that I won’t lose the relationships and privileges that my whiteness, hetero marriage, Christian faith, evangelical pedigree, and cis-gender femininity affords me.

I have carried this with me, and in my quest for love and recognition, I have tried to change my communities; I have worked for years to listen well and meet them where they are at in hopes that they will  embrace me and all of my other neighbors who I have come to love. But the time for this way of living has come to an end; it’s time to be done being nice, and to instead become truly loving by first loving ourselves and being honest about who we are.

So in this season- as we hear words about “guard your heart,” and please hear me- do take care of yourself, I find myself wondering if this phrase is uttered more often than not as a way to keep us safe and tied into patterns of co-dependent identity and privilege? And I wonder what it might look like if we found a new way to be human together through rejecting our co-dependency (our belief that I can fix you and that my identity is affirmed only by those outside of me) and moving instead deeper into the terror- deeper into the fear, and lovingly holding it and ourselves?

What if we were to shepherd our souls and see fear and the terror of knowing as our friends- as invitations into deeper freedom, life, and humanity? What if we moved into our fears around our complex and intersectional identities and moved deeper into owning them, instead of running from them? What I mean by this is that it seems to me that to be a progressive Christian in our time is not accomplished by wringing our hands about the violence coexistent with Christianity in our history and times, but instead we must move more deeply into being Christian and into owning the vision of what we mean when we claim that name as a commitment to justice, equality, and preferential options for the least of these.

For me this movement from co-dependency and into my own soul asks me to face a deeper recognition that I am white and I am privileged- and in so doing this- in moving deeper into my grief about whiteness as ideology that kills people, then and only when I face it can I grieve and move into deeper solidarity with the rest of humanity. For we will never overcome oppression by denying its existence- even as we find it is part of who we are.

And constructively it means that I own my truths and I stand and I live from this place of authentic vulnerability and humanity in the world. It means that I turn toward my neighbor and move into deeper solidarity with them, for I have found my center and I am then able to live freely from this place for I already know I am loved and I am at home in myself. Now of course, such a way of living, of going deeper into ourselves and facing the terror of our own souls- this doesn’t change the world in a sense, but isn’t this always the point? For us who have had our selves and identities formed in co-dependency, we have been tutored to believe that we can change the world, but as Ghandi and Al-Anon reminds (or my spouse who works in addiction treatment)- we can’t change the world, we can only change ourselves and we can only be the change we wish to see. But here’s the amazing thing- that as we live from that place of deep belovedness, courage and authenticity, here we find that the world is changed, for we stand not alone but we stand together as beautiful, human, loving selves who can see each other and work for a world where belovedness is the fundamental reality of our existence.

This is why, my friends, I am done being nice; I am done protecting myself from the knowing of the pain of rejection that happens when I show up. I am done believing that through my presence I can change the world filled with men who think they can objectify me, or hate my neighbors who I have come to love. I am done staying silent in the face of oppression in hopes that I remain accepted by the systems of oppression themselves (as if they actually really ever accept anyone!).

For when I forsake the “being nice” I discover a new way of loving, where I first love myself and live from a center that though riven, is rooted in a love that holds well my own soul and then cares for and stands with others in the work of remaking the world. Here I go into my heart and let myself feel the generations of violence against women and I touch my grief and pain- and here I find a way to live that honors them and honors myself. Here I go into the oppressor that lives in my own skin and history and I lovingly invite her to turn toward her neighbors and stand with them. It is here, as I go into my own soul, that I discover a new freedom that only now helps the Dixie Chicks song make sense to me:

I know you said

Can’t you just get over it

It turned my whole world around

And I kind of like it

Here’s to lives that are livable. Lives that we can actually like- and when it is time, when it is time dear ones, go there, go there into your self, practice radical love and radical listening- surround and hold yourself as enough and as beloved- we are all broken, yes… so love that in yourself and live from there. Come as you are with those fears, those traumas and those joys- and join with us in striving to live out the faiths and the worlds we choose to believe in.

Create by creating from your center. I have learned much of this work from my mentor Hille Haker. Hille was the only female Catholic moral theological in all of Germany when she moved to the US seven years ago… And Hille has taught me that you don’t destroy the patriarchy by following their rules (is this not what Audre Lorde long ago told us: you can’t dismantle the master’s house by using their tools)[3]– no we destroy the houses of oppression by moving deeper into ourselves and believing that we are loved and enough. Your life, your voice, your story is seen and valued and loved. They don’t get to decide for us what the world will be. We will decide this and we will, together create and birth this world anew. So guard your hearts, my friends, but not to prevent yourself from breaking on account of the things you already know in your soul, but guard your heart from letting anything in that makes you betray yourself and your truths.

Go deeper, go into your soul…listen…love…grieve…rage…dream… and rise. Stand. Stand with us. Stand with yourself. Stand with and for the world that you believe in. And together we will make a world in which we all have air enough to breathe.

This is the inward journey into the unknown self that of which O’Donohue says :

It has the dignity of the angelic

That knows you to your roots,

Always awaiting your deeper befriending

To take you beyond the threshold of want,

Where all your diverse strainipngs

Can come to wholesome ease.

It is the heart of you where you already know and possess the truth and possibility. And indeed, guard this fiercely and:

25Let your eyes look straight ahead;

fix your gaze directly before you.

26Give careful thought to the paths for your feet

and be steadfast in all your ways.

27Do not turn to the right or the left;

keep your foot from evil.

This is, indeed, the brave and startling truth of which Maya Angelo writes:

When we come to it

We, this people, on this wayward, floating body

Created on this earth, of this earth

Have the power to fashion for this earth

A climate where every man and every woman

Can live freely without sanctimonious piety

Without crippling fear

When we come to it

We must confess that we are the possible

We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world

That is when, and only when

We come to it.

 

Amen.

 

[1] Read More: Natalie Maines Makes Controversial Comments About Pres. Bush | http://theboot.com/natalie-maines-dixie-chicks-controversy/?trackback=tsmclip

[2] Dixie Chicks “Not Ready to Make Nice.” From Taking the Long Way. Sony. 2006.

[3] http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/lordedismantle.html/

3 thoughts on ““I’m Not Ready to Make Nice”: Reflections on the Inward Journey

  1. We are having simultaneous thoughts about embracing the challenge of being vulnerable as we decide to live our truth. I usually tell myself this, “They never liked me anyway,” before moving on. It still hurts, but that is what I tell myself.

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