An evening of storytelling with Nancy Corson Carter

By Melissa Gamble

The Never Quite Ending War book coverOn Wednesday, June 27th, I attended a reading by Nancy Carson Carter on her new book,  The Never-Quite Ending War: A WWII GI Daughter’s Stories. Nancy illuminated stories of her family, both those that are her own and others that have passed down to her. Many of the stories she shared with us were typical childhood experiences and family memories that shaped her understanding of self, community, and family. However, these stories were all told with a lens that Nancy has developed years after her childhood. After years of learning, study, research and stories shared, Corson Carter has come to understand her childhood and family dynamics through the everlasting imprint of World War II.

Corson Carter spoke candidly about how the War followed her father for the rest of his life and as such, it stayed with her family too. Her father joined the military because “nobody in the Corson family fought in World War I, so I have to go, there’s honor to uphold”. She recounted the various ways patriarchal culture structured her father’s entrance into the War and parenting of his children, all of whom were girls. For example, the family’s desperation for a son manifested in her Father’s embarrassment and anger. A constant question that Nancy poses to the reader is, “What if I had been a son?” It is this question that permeated much of Nancy’s discussion on patriarchy, the War and how it was commonplace for men who had come back from World War II to “not talk about the war.” She wondered if her father would have shared more about the War with sons, had he had any.

The author’s storytelling relies heavily on visuals and poetry. She narrated her story with a photo board that contained newspaper clippings, photographs, maps and printed articles. It was a replica of the bulletin board she used in her writing process to connect her family’s story with broader narratives of the War. Additionally, she gave the audience great insight into the ways in which she utilizes haikus, letters to her dad, maps, and photographs in her book as a medium of connection and intimacy between the War, her father (who passed away in 1996) and her family experiences. Perhaps, it is in these visuals and poems that one can best communicate longing and  desires for understanding home, belonging and personhood.

Ultimately, Nancy reminds us that war never ends, as the aftermath is consequential and has everlasting effects for those who go to war, those who are victims of war, those who have loved ones in war, those who stay at home, and generations that come after its “formal ending.” Wars are never just events, but rather worlds that continue to shape the personal, the political and the relational. We are still haunted in the aftermath of our wars. As such, Nancy ensures that we remember that healing is intimate, and peace is too.

Meet the Intern: Melissa Gamble

image of three women, left to right: Melissa Gamble, Rebecca Welper, and Meghan Florian

Left to right: Melissa Gamble, Rebecca Welper, Meghan Florian

We’re excited that Duke Divinity student Melissa Gamble is joining us as an intern this summer. She’s helping with various projects around the office, including planning for the Homegrown: NC Women’s Preaching Festival this fall and collaborating on programming around LGBTQ spirituality.

Here’s a quick Q&A to get to know her a little better:

Where did you grow up?
Riverside, CA

Last book you read?
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a neurosurgeon because I was obsessed with the show “E.R.”

What made you want to enter ministry?
One of the reasons I chose to enter ministry was the alternative ways of engagement in the Spirit by folks in my communities in California and in New York (where I was in between undergrad and divinity school). Being involved in queer/trans communities of color both inside Christianity and outside of its purview has radically changed how I understand myself, ministry and the expression of spirituality in places considered outside of sacred space. In other words, I decided to enter ministry because ultimately “I found God in myself & I loved her/ I loved her fiercely” (Ntozake Shange), and I desire a world where we may all say that we have found God in ourselves – and mean it.

What would you do if you were invisible for a day?
I would do absolutely nothing.

Favorite classes at Duke Divinity?
Introduction to Christian Theology by Dr. J Kameron Carter and How Blackness Thinks by Dr. J Kameron Carter and Joseph Winters

What’s the last place you traveled to?
New Orleans

When you’re not interning at RCWMS, what are you up to?
I’m mostly biking, reading, playing the violin, dancing wherever, and scheming ways to end the world as we know it (thank you, Frantz Fanon).

What’s next after you graduate?
I am planning on pursuing a PhD in African American Religions.

Art-Party and Fundraiser for Bryant Holsenbeck’s Book, “The Last Straw”

By Andrea Davis

When people are gathered for an art party, one may imagine paint, canvases, and brushes, or at least some paper and scissors. Since Bryant Holsenbeck was involved, something would be repurposed. But, despite official assurances that the artist herself would be there to guide and assist, I never thought all present would have the opportunity to create her or his own Bryant-style creature!

Sunday, April 22, 2018, was a delightful Spring afternoon and the sunlight and gentle breezes beckoned folks out of their homes and into RCWMS to create whimsical critters and to raise funds to send Bryant’s book to press. Those first on the scene may have been daunted by the pile of textile scraps and the neighboring stash of yarn and string in a rainbow of colors, but Bryant was quick to show people how to begin to shape a creature. She demonstrated how to tuck and wrap the pieces and to look to see whether you might have the start of bunny ears, a mermaid tail, or part of an elephant. If your now-forming fairy needed the turquoise scrap to sparkle, simply stuff less showy fabric inside. Regardless, everyone was taught that the key was to wrap the yarn tightly as one worked. A gaggle of critters took form as friends and new acquaintances chatted, some discussing the tip sheet Bryant provided with ideas to reduce waste.

Bryant became skilled at reducing waste when she began a journey in 2009 to avoid single-use plastics. This dovetails with her work as an environmental artist and The Last Straw transforms her blog into a book. Several thousand of the $5000 needed to bring this to realization was raised at this event, and you too can help bring this challenging and inspiring piece to print.

Changing the Race Dance

Photo Credit: Smita Misra

by J Zirbel [No pronouns, simply J]

I have learned from my participation in “Changing the Race Dance” that I can keep moving in love and wisdom, working to unravel and loosen the hold racism has on me. This workshop, led by visiting Artist-Scholars Soyinka Rahim and Cynthia Winton-Henry on Apr 20-21, was presented as a part of Interplay’s Body Based Methods + Performance Forms and co-sponsored by RCWMS.  

As a white, transgender/gender non-conforming (T/GNC) person of Bohemian and German descent, paying attention to how I may move in the world in less harmful ways can bring liberation, respectful interconnection and joyful engagement to me and to us all.

Before participating in “Changing the Race Dance,” I wondered, how I can discern what harm is really happening to my body, harm that I may be passing on to others? I feel that we as people move through emotionally charged, hot button issues throughout the day due to experiences of oppression in our daily lives. How do I release the pain and follow the wisdom inside of me for healing and for renewal for me and for those I have harmed?

Photo Credit: Smita Misra

In the workshop we practiced large, expansive, free flowing movements of play. I learned to follow my body’s lead, bringing inter-connected integrity into the dance, freeing my body from staid, tight, self-enclosing, routine movements. Before this workshop, I hadn’t questioned nearly enough what I assumed others expected, or actually anticipated, from me.

The joy of moving more freely in being me is seeping through my body from the inside out as I practice the dance I am learning. I am amazed at what I had been missing, what harm I was causing while I was paying attention to following the myth of ‘the way things are.’   

In the face of the reparation and honoring of grief required by the racist oppression in which I have taken part, that which I might feel too much to bear, I have learned that I can keep moving. The rhythm is inside of me, it is the life-giving love that fills me and binds me through the energy of love to all people and all things. In Soyinka Rahim’s words, “BIBO” (Breathe In, Breathe Out) Love.

I have learned from my participation in “Changing the Race Dance” that I can keep moving in love and wisdom, working to unravel and loosen the hold racism has on my ability to live for racial equity and transformation. The dance goes on.

 

Labyrinths

by Meghan Florian

labyrinth photo by BJ Fusaro

Photo: BJ Fusaro

I wasn’t familiar with labyrinths until I started an internship at the Resource Center back in 2009. One of my duties during that year was helping Jeanette Stokes haul our large canvas labyrinth around to different spaces in North Carolina and set it up for people to walk. A few weeks ago, for the first time, I was on my own, in charge of directing a team of volunteers in how to unfold and prepare the labyrinth for walkers in Duke Chapel. I’d helped with this task numerous times but found myself wondering if I’d forget some vital detail. As we started to unroll the large strips of canvas and sort out which went where, it all came back to me. Unroll, velcro, brush off, lay out signs, say a prayer…each step followed the others, a prayerful practice, preparing a space to hold whatever people might bring to the labyrinth the next day.

I have a busy mind, and practices that center me, that help me settle into my body, have been vital for me in recent years. Walking the labyrinth has been one such practice. The splits and turns of the paths in my head are numerous, but the labyrinth has one path to its center. If I put one foot in front of the other, eventually I will reach it.

Once I reach the center, I am often hesitant to leave. I like to have a good long sit. Sometimes it becomes a space for joy, other times it offers the freedom to crack all the way open, to grieve. Sometimes it’s simply quiet. Once I begin the second half of the journey, the path outward, I know I have to reenter the world where paths are not so consistent.

That’s the beauty in continuing to set up the labyrinth year after year, place after place. I can’t stay in that nurturing center forever, but I can return when I need to. The sacred space the labyrinth opens up remains, even as the labyrinth is transported from place to place, people to people, a shared source of peace.

This year we rented out our two smaller labyrinths to a record number of churches during Lent and Holy Week. Contact meghanrcwms@gmail.com to inquire about renting a labyrinth for any season or occasion. I’m glad to be part of sharing and spreading this prayerful practice around the state of North Carolina. I hope the ripple effects continue throughout the year.

Meghan Florian is the Communications Director at RCWMS.

The Language and Practice of Self-Care

by Solita A. Denard

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in March, Mothers, Sisters and Daughters gathered in a circle for an event sponsored by RCWMS: “The Ministry of Black Women’s Self-Care.” Despite the chilly weather conditions and with myriad personal arrangements made to ensure our attendance, we responded to the invitation. Like a call to prayer, the call to pay deep attention to our individual health and well-being was heard and responded to. As we assembled, the collective awareness of our need to intentionally create space for this conversation was clear. It may have been the beginning of an answer to silent prayers, inward whispers and muted screams. On this day and for this moment we had chosen ourselves first. As each woman gracefully entered the building, I was warmed by her smile, grace, and courage.

Kimberly Gaubault (McCrae), the lead facilitator for our session, began by asking each woman to take a moment to define herself for herself. Who am I? How do I define the I who is me apart from the labels, roles and characteristics that others have applied to my personhood? Including our parents. We discussed the negative cultural stereotypes that prevail within our communities and society-at-large. As we offered words and examples, I was struck by how easy it was for us to build the long list of myths. Of course it was easy. We are all conscious of the way our world routinely applies general labels to our lives. There were several words on the list that are often used as “positive” attributes to describe women of color, but often result in the misinterpretation of our efforts and can distort our perception of ourselves. One effect that these “myths” can have on personhood is reducing our being just enough so that we fit neatly into any number of small boxes, despite our intelligence, creativity, individuality, and marvelously complex layers. A quote by the prolific poet, Lucille Clifton, was positioned like a crown above the list. It read: “Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.”

Next, we investigated the distinction between the terms “selfish” and “self-full” and noted that the practice of self-full looks different for everyone. Understandably, we have repeatedly confused establishing healthy boundaries in our relationships as being selfish. How many times have we second guessed our “No” and allowed guilt to change our instinctual no into a yes? As women, we often receive no teaching, demonstrations or support employing the life-sustaining gift of being self-full and the practice of using “no” as a complete sentence. Further, it can be confusing when others react negatively when we choose ourselves first.

Finally, we explored our understanding of care-giving vs. care-taking. By now you may have guessed it, they are not the same! When we care-give we offer supplemental support to others and we assist them in healthy ways. On the other hand, care-taking undermines our goals for health when we take on responsibilities that others can and should do for themselves. As Kim simplified for clarity, it is a matter of “giving and taking.” Heads nodded, and we agreed that as women we know how to give. While care-giving can be a demonstration of affection, grace and service, Kim asked us to consider two questions:

  1. What have we taken on that we should not have?
  2. Are we living unsustainably as a result?

Again, she encouraged us to remember that “Light attracts a lot of things (like a porch light at night). You must be discerning about what occupies your space.”

The immediate gifts of our session are: an expanded language, increased self-awareness, and confirmation that more women are seeking to join this path of healing at every intersection of life.

To all of my Mothers, Sisters and Daughters: may we continue to choose life, be whole and live free.

In service and in health,
Solita A. Denard

The Story of Now

by Cathy Hasty

We gathered in the sanctuary of Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church in the middle of Durham. We were a small group of mostly strangers and mostly women drawn by the topic of “The Story of Now,” a connection to RCWMS, and singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer. I met my 22-year-old daughter in Durham as a respite from her work as a nursing student in Greenville, NC. There were a few people younger and many who were older.

In this two-hour workshop, we wove together our individual stories with a common theme, developed language and music that compelled us, and created a group song that speaks to the story of now. I did not learn many details about my fellow sojourners yet we found a rare intimacy in the writing of music together.

We moved quickly from introductions into sharing single-word then one-sentence reflections on what we noticed in the last 24 hours. I relaxed and let my mind wander to the unusual duck we saw at Duke Gardens with its black top hat that reared back before plunging herself under the surface of the dark water where she disappeared, reappearing much farther away than I thought possible. I enjoyed overhearing the others’ reflections, each a vibrant reminder of now.

Carrie introduced songwriting by saying, “A song is a short form and has one main idea, with the lyrics as the story behind, between, underneath the main idea.” As we shared ideas, Carrie invited us to respond with a BING sound to ideas that rang true to our experience. Our main idea became “and that was holy.” From there we landed on, “it caught my eye” and “it caught my breath” and “it caught my heart.” We fleshed out details, which eventually formed the basin out of which the lyrics of the song were chosen. I do not remember whose ideas any of the phrases were; they emerged from the group as if by magic.

To build the musical structure, Carrie played short idea selections and let us choose one of the two instruments she brought. On one guitar, which was bolder and more bass, she presented a few ideas of a cadence, melody and intonations that went with this building storyline. The picking and choosing between ideas was so patient and kind. Carrie had a way of affirming everyone and every idea, while guiding us to choose rhymes and a cadence that built an endearing and beautiful song. She was present to us in a unique and powerful way that brought out the best of us.

We sang the song together two times and later she shared a scratch track with her solo voice. I have played and shared this track many times. As Carrie reminded us during the workshop, “In depression, we live only in the past; in anxiety; we live only in the future. The challenge is to live in the present. The present is living in the impossible.” The entire workshop was a magical experience.

Thank You!

Thank you so much for supporting RCWMS in 2017 during our 40th anniversary year. We set a goal of raising $40,000 in the last three months of the year, and you helped us exceed that goal! We ended up raising $42,460. Thank you!

At our board meeting last week, we had a wonderful conversation about our plans for the year to come. We’re looking forward to “Reading and Writing Mortality,” labyrinth walks, an evening of songwriting with Carrie Newcomer, art and writing retreats in Durham and at the beach, and our 7th annual women’s preaching festival in the fall. And that’s just the beginning! Your contributions make all of these events possible.

We’re especially grateful to those of you who have become monthly sustainers of feminist spirituality and social justice. If you would like to set up recurring monthly donations to RCWMS, this helps tremendously as we budget and plan for upcoming programs.

Happy New Year and thank you for supporting this work!

Cheers,

RCWMS Trustees:
Barbara Anderson
Solita Denard
Jehanne Gheith
Erin Lane
Marcia Rego
Rebeccca Vidra
Karen Ziegler
Cathy Hasty
Molly Williams

Executive Director:
Jeanette Stokes

Circles of Gratitude

On November 29th, forty of Anita McLeod’s dear friends, colleagues, and family members gathered at the King’s Daughters Inn to honor her memory on what would have been her 78th birthday. Randa McNamara and Karen Ziegler sang songs that were special to Anita, and Elizabeth Manley reflected on her time getting to know Anita in the 1980s when they were both nurses. Jeanette Stokes recognized the various circles important to Anita’s life, which were represented by the people gathered. Anita’s husband, Mike McLeod, offered some very moving words that he has allowed us to share below.

I want to thank Jeanette and the Resource Center for this gathering tonight to honor Anita and her legacy of women’s circles. It is my intention to support the Resource Center in continuing her work around conscious aging and intergenerational circles.

This would be Anita’s 78th birthday and she had said to me during her brief illness that she knew her 77th would be “big” but she had no idea it would involve this journey. It has been a heartbreaking journey for me and yet as I go day-by-day through this grief I have brief glimpses of joy and gratitude for the life we had together and all I learned from Anita. Whatever I say in the next few minutes are my responsibility and I do not pretend to say what Anita would say at this moment. As each of you know she would have clear and strong opinions on these topics.

Anita felt circles allowed the creation of a safe container where women could share their experiences and be received and affirmed in the circle and in doing this could discover their own truth, listening to their own inner source of wisdom. For Anita, circles involved levels of vulnerability and the courage to discover who we are meant to be in the face of a culture that promotes living on the surface of life. She felt circles generated an energy that could be given to the center of the circle or taken from the center to the individual, depending on the needs. Circles also led to a sense of belonging.

As most of you know, her first groups centered on menopause as a natural transition and the potential for transformation. It was not a medical issue.

Entering her 60’s she was looking for “the road maps,” going on a vision quest in southwestern Colorado, gathering groups around the topic of conscious aging, to be fully awake to all of who we are, healing wounds around regrets and forgiveness. What parts of ourselves did we leave behind growing up in our families and culture, like assertiveness, enthusiasm, creativity, and sensuality?

Later Anita was involved in end of life issues and intergenerational work like Heron’s Walk involving women’s circles in nature, and later involved in intergenerational writing groups.

A second focus for Anita was the sacredness of nature, including the waters and she went to the woods often to be restored and to seek answers to her questions. As Rilke said to the young poet: “love the questions,” “live the questions.” I would say, living with Anita for 55 years, that she lived her questions.

A third and final emphasis was the importance of courage. We had many conversations over the years around fear and wanting to frame it as our growing edge, to face our uncertainty and walk the path.

Anita combined curiosity and courage. Courage to go on a vision quest in her early 60’s. Courage was choosing open brain surgery to remove the cancer while she was awake communicating with the surgeon rather than just biopsy and radiation alone. She had been told patients in her age group were usually given the conservative treatment. After thinking about her choices over night, she ask Lucy, our granddaughter, to go on a walk with her on the ward, telling her she would not let fear be her guide and would choose open surgery. Courage was there when we had a meeting with the radiation oncologist mid-way through her treatment. Despite what look like excellent surgical results, her cancer rapidly reoccurred. At this point Anita was paralyzed on her left side and had said to me she could not envision a life going forward where she could not walk in the woods, be on the boat or be part of her women’s circles. She told the radiation oncologist she was stopping the treatment, not wanting to risk any loss of her mental function for whatever time that remained.

I will never forget what Anita said the first day after surgery, surrounded by our family, “this journey is about love and not just about me.”

These circles that will continue to gather through the efforts of the Resource Center are in their essence about love and the courage to open our hearts, letting down our protective walls, and willing to be vulnerable. Loving involves vulnerability, and as poet David Whyte says, are you “willing to live, day by day, with the consequences of love and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat”?

The late Angeles Arriens, an anthropologist, borrowed 4 principles from the indigenous cultures she studied. I feel Anita lived these principles, planting her seeds of wisdom.

1. Show up and be present.
2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
3. Speak your truth without blame or judgment.
4. Let go of the outcome. (Walking the path of the warrior, teacher, healer, visionary)

I thank each of you for coming tonight. I want to close with a poem by Pema Chodron:

Genuine Broken Heart

In the middle of the chest, deep, deep inside
Something has broken
And it hurts almost all the time.
Sometimes it gives birth to anxiety, fear and panic.
Sometimes it gives birth to anger, resentment and blame.
Sometimes it gives birth to tears.
This is our kinship with all who have loved truly-
From beginningless time.
You, my dear friend, understand it well.
This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion.
It humbles the Arrogant and softens The Unkind.
This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great
Fearlessness.
It awakens those who prefer to sleep and pierces through
Indifference.
This continual ache of the human heart-
Broken by the loss of all that we hold dear
Is this not a blessing
Which when accepted fully, can be shared with all.

 

Roots & Branches: RCWMS 40th Anniversary Celebration

flowers and "spread love" sign

by Marcy Litle

This year we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of RCWMS. Forty years! Amazing. Born of a spark of imagination, inspired by a conversation between RCWMS founder and leader, Jeanette Stokes, and her mentor, Helen Crotwell, the Resource Center has endured for forty years. Founded to support the small and growing community of women clergy in the South, RCWMS has continued that mission, while also supporting the creative, spiritual, and activist lives of a dynamic and growing community of women and their families.

On October 7th sixty of us gathered at the Scrap Exchange in Durham to mark the occasion with good food, good company, and art-making. The afternoon started with a delicious pot-luck lunch, served on real plates with real napkins and borrowed flatware, to honor our commitment to the environment. After lunch came workshops offered by women who have led various RCWMS programs over the years: participants made shrines with Charron Andrews, protest signs with lizzie mcmanus-dail, and personal icons with Bryant Holsenbeck. We wrote about “what has rooted and unrooted us” under the guidance of Carol Henderson.

We heard brief reflections from long-time friend of RCWMS, Rachael Wooten, RCWMS board members Solita Denard and Barbara Anderson, and Jeanette. And we had a surprise visit from another long-time supporter and current mayoral candidate, Steve Schewel. We participated in a raffle for a beautiful quilt made by RCWMS board member Márcia Rego. Throughout the event, attendees wrote their wishes and appreciations for RCWMS on handmade leaves, which they tied to a tree created by RCWMS artist-in-residence Bryant Holsenbeck. The tree now lives in a corner of the RCWMS office. If you weren’t able to make it to the celebration, you can still stop by and write on a leaf to add to the tree.

The day was a family affair, with feminists ranging in age from 19-months to their eighties. We rounded out the celebration by singing “Happy Birthday” to RCWMS and enjoying cake. Many of us left that evening inspired to keep weaving together feminism and spirituality, and to help RCWMS continue its work for the next 40 years.