Gnat Shit Out of Pepper: Xenophobia vs. I and Thou


Once upon a time, there were the 1970s. Remember that. We were bright and shiny and full of hope and ignorance.

I don’t know how you spent the seventies. I spent it doing something dangerous and stupid. I went out to Boston and had an adventure. The kind of adventure you treasure, but you know that many of your choices were dangerous and stupid. But I treasure the lessons I learned because they were golden.

You don’t talk much about that kind of adventure. Why? Well for one thing, it’s hard to open up and show people just how dumb you were. But that’s just ego. I don’t mind a pratt fall. I don’t mind being wrong either. If I can learn from it or someone else can, that’s part of the process. If you want to make fun of me, we have free speech in this country currently. That may go away under the present situation. I don’t mind that. Mostly I worry about people’s fear.

Most folk have a deep fear of something out of their experience. That’s xenophobia. It’s the fear of anything different from you. Xenophobia brought you Macarthism, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Witch Burning, and the reconstructionist South after the Civil War.

You might say all these things are a long time ago. I would love to say the 70’s eradicated our fear. The last election would prove otherwise.

It’s forty years now, and I need to talk about where I was and what I saw. I read tea leaves in a tea room. And I got to see a spectrum of people that opened my eyes.

I am Christian because of that experience. And I will never read tea leaves again, because it was a wrong path for me. But I learned several things that changed my life in ways nothing else could have.

  • I learned that people have very different gifts and you should never try to judge another’s ability.
  • I learned that people have very different pathways to God, and that is between them and God. I learned I had no way to really impact that short of a good example.
  • I learned to pray for people, particularly for people I can’t control my bad feelings about. They need God to bless them with every good thing to help them on their way.
  • I learned that I could be wrong and that was fine. All I had to do was (gasp) change my mind and do something different.
  • I learned that people that frightened me deeply were frightened too, sometime of the same things, but basically frightened.
  • I’ve learned that anger is fear turned inside out and that the anger feels better for most people because it feels less helpless.
  • I’ve learned that the actions of anger are strictly the response of unreasoned and ignorant fear. Nothing more than that.

I met people who practiced all kinds of different spirituality at the tea room. What I saw taught me the Glory of Christ. But it also showed me the grace of difference. The people who I thought had to be evil, weren’t necessarily. Just different. And their differences didn’t harm or even trouble me after time. Instead sometimes there were things within their practice that challenged and questioned how well I was doing.

I have no words how grateful I am for that experience.

Within the quilt world, where I’ve lived, there’s a community of some of the finest people I’ve ever known. They taught me a lot about acceptance, love, grace, and decency. I own them everything for letting me teach them and for supporting my art. But this has been something I’ve been reluctant to share because they can be insular. And they are subject to the same fears we all are. For that reason, Sight Unseen won’t be on the Thread Magic site. Thread Magic is about fiber art. This is about a series of stories that really don’t connect except that I wrote them both.

I would have said that we had eradicated much of the fear, until this election when we managed to elect a man whose cabinet choices include known and political bigots, racists, and misogynists who act in the political sphere. These aren’t just people who talk about their hate. They act it out politically. They make it law. And the hate I feel (sorry, I do) is shamefully about my fear. I am praying very hard for Republicans right now.

For two years now, I’ve been writing a book about my days in the tea room. My first thought was to hide it under a pen name so I would offend no one. I thought to publish it anonymously.

I learned something about the function of anonymity as well in my quilting days. I received three hate letters in my thirty years of teaching. The thing I found most interesting about an anonymous letter, is no matter how angry the person is, they’ve left you no way to fix what they’re angry about. It’s not about conflict resolution, or telling someone how you feel. Because they don’t know it’s you. It’s straight up attempt to make someone feel bad. And it’s cowardly. Like most cowardly acts, it doesn’t work over well.

So I am putting these stories out in my name. The series is almost ready for publication, but I have several stories out on my web site for you to sample at Sight Unseen. What the Parrot Said, is the story of a Psychic Parrot. A Woman’s Place is about rape culture. I’m exploring what happens when we see others as different and when we understand we are largely the same.

None of these stories are factual. Nor are there real people in them. They are fantasy, but the basis of them is an exploration of I and Thou. I may think you are separate from me. But we breathe the same air, live in the same world, and touch each other in ways that belie separation. You are not thou. I am not either to you. We are of the same stuff.

I didn’t plan these books around this. I’ve written them and suddenly found them in sync with this climate of fear and hate. I’m shocked and appalled that I’ve been writing away on something that was just about to be timely. But then again, I was a reader in a tea room. And if I misused my gifts then, I try to put them in the service of my God now.

With that said, should you feel a need to speculate about whether I am right in my religion, or going to hell or anything of that nature, please pray for me and leave it at that. God and I will sort it out. If you write me hate mail, I will be praying for you. Or you could just ask me for prayers. That’s much nicer.


If you would like to explore this with me, my stories and information about the upcoming series, Sight Unseen is available at my web site.