Last year I made a holiday EP and offered it through Noisetrade, where you can download it for free. It’s called “Halo in the Frost,” and it’s still there in case you missed it the first time around.
Go to www.noisetrade.com/juliabloom/halo-in-the-frost to download, and happy holidays (and peaceful holi-nights) to you and yours!
One afternoon, more than half my life ago, a high school classmate and I were riding in her family car. Her mother was driving, and now I don’t remember what she said – maybe the radio was on with news about the L.A. riots after the Rodney King story, and she said something about “those people.” But what I do remember, vividly, is my classmate saying to her mom in a half-joking, let’s-humor-this-silly-girl tone, “Quiet, Mom. Julia likes black people.”
Yes, in my terrarium of a Christian school in a lily-white southern Minnesota town, I stood out because I would sometimes speak favorably of black people, or occasionally ask someone not to continue telling a racist joke. But I didn’t really know anyone who wasn’t white. And so, not personally knowing anyone of color, I began to idealize non-white people, to paint their plight with a romantically tragic brush.
In my college years, I got to know a few African-American people, and “black people” went from being a homogenous symbol in my mind to the faces and personalities of everyday people I knew in everyday ways.
When Nathan and I decided to buy our first house, we chose a Craftsman charmer in North Minneapolis, which only a few years before was the central reason why Minneapolis was dubbed “Murderapolis.” We did this because beautiful houses were cheap in this neighborhood, and the sellers of the house introduced us to their neighbors, who actually knew each other and greeted us with a warm welcome.
And, personally, I did it because we, as white people, would be in the minority in this neighborhood, and I wanted to know, to understand; and frankly, because at least subconsciously, I thought this would somehow give me points with whoever was keeping score. In the year before buying our house, Nathan and I had become part of a Bible study that partnered a group from our suburban, mostly-white church with a group from an inner-city, mostly-black church. We studied and discussed racism, and attended services at each others’ churches. I was deep in the throes of white guilt, ashamed to be a part of the problem. At this moment of buying our piece of the American dream, I wanted to duck out of the system that was slowly smothering me; and I felt pretty heroic for doing it.
We lived nearly seven years in that beautiful house, welcomed our daughter into the world, shared it with friends and family and people who needed a place to stay for a while. We joined a church walking distance from our house, a remarkable place that was pretty evenly biracial, where people of all skin tones loved me just as I was – a shy, idealistic, recovering good-girl with a God complex. I was patiently and generously embraced right along with all the other sinners.
Thanks to the unconditional love of my church family, I began to humanize every single person around me – no longer idealizing or demonizing anyone – including myself.
In our years in Minneapolis, I witnessed a shooting through my front window and listened in shock as the police officer who came to question me flippantly broke the news that the victim had died.
I laughed with a young man whose low-riding pants fell down as he strutted the sidewalk in front of our house.
I smiled at a child who smiled back and waved at me, while his mother grabbed his hand, glared at me and spit on the sidewalk.
I rode the city bus or strolled to the grocery store with my baby girl who smiled and babbled at everyone she met, and people generally fussed over and adored her.
I watched through my front window one afternoon as a teenage girl ran behind the house opposite mine, pursued by two boys who jumped out of a car that pulled up; and reached for the phone to dial 911, until I saw her emerge from behind the other side of the house, soaking wet and laughing, the boys brandishing their Super Soakers and laughing too.
I paid down-and-out men who came to the door with a rake or a shovel, and they did good yard work for me.
I joined neighbors at Christmas and went to other people’s doors, where we sang carols.
In short, I lived, and the people around me (mostly) lived, and I didn’t do much to save the world, but I did gain a little understanding.
But only a little. And that’s why I’m writing all this – to emphasize that I can never understand, and if you are white in America, neither can you.
That’s bad news if you think that in order to love someone, you must understand them. But I have never agreed with that idea. Yes, seek understanding – that’s always a good idea. But there are some things you will never completely understand or be able to empathize with in the lives of other people, and racism, for white people in America, is one of those things.
Fill the gap that is left between your understanding of another person and the actual person with love, compassion, open ears and an open heart. I mean, it can’t hurt.
So when black people all over our nation are crying out under the weight of all these latest stories of police brutality, please, white America, zip it. Just close your lips and listen.
We the privileged ones are accustomed to having the last word, getting our point across, being heard. This stuff doesn’t come easily to many of us.
But can’t we just try it?
To borrow from my classmate, “Quiet.”
(Yes, I really did just end this serious post with a silly little rhyming couplet.)
PS – Last week I changed the price of an old song I wrote concerning racism to free, and I changed the licensing to Creative Commons, so that it can be shared, remixed, used to make videos, whatever. It’s called “Only the Fools” and you can find it here.
What if politicians had to actually fight the wars they waged? And what if we honored actual heroes – both military and otherwise – instead of proclaiming anyone in a uniform, and no one out of one, a hero? Good questions from the authors of the following two pieces I came across since writing my Veteran’s Day post.
In this piece, Frederick Buechner asserts that things might be different if the actual people in power, the ones making the decisions that push young soldiers around like pawns, had to fight too.
And here, David Masciotra asks us to reserve our hero worship for actual heroes, within and outside of the military.
Veterans deserve care and respect from their nation’s citizens, and sometimes – many times in recent years, I believe this includes citizens speaking out against the endless wars that produce so many veterans – and flag-draped coffins – in the first place.
I am pro-peace, and pro-veteran.
Veteran’s Day has often felt awkward and ambiguous to me, because I don’t support so much of my nation’s military action. But this old World War II song got stuck in my head last year, and it seemed fitting to make a video for Veteran’s Day this year.
Sifting through thousands of public domain images of veterans throughout America’s warring history, I pushed the politics aside and saw the faces and bodies of humans who have put themselves on the front lines for their people. I don’t always believe in their cause, but then, I expect that they don’t always either – which makes doing their job that much more difficult.
What I do wholeheartedly believe, is that war wounds soldiers. And so, I wanted to sing to them today.
It was my 39th birthday yesterday. And I’m giving you a gift. A free record called Thirty Nine, a sort of faith and doubt memoir told through music.
I imagine these songs to be a sort of conversation, possibly going on in my head, possibly with God (and I think these two ideas are not mutually exclusive).
Here are some virtual liner notes, a little listener’s guide if you like:
“Bridges for Burning” – Some things, we lived through once, and that was plenty, and we can let go of them now. Others are worth holding like treasure, deep in the heart.
“From Your Love” – The euphoria and unshakeable confidence of a young fresh believer. Mostly quoting Paul, from his epistle to the Romans, chapter eight.
“So Good” – More euphoria, gratefulness, love.
“So Easy” – I begin to question myself. Really? Naive little girl, have you given any of this much thought?
“Ask” – Little girl begins to grow up, starts to voice questions that have grown bigger over the years she’s been squelching them.
“Epiphany” – God, never threatened by questions, always seeing to the heart of the matter, sings a not-exactly-soothing lullaby.
“Come Out and Play” – I wonder about this faith, hope and love I’ve staked my life on until now. And even if there is a lover of my soul, am I interested?
“Come Unto Me” – And still, God asks, invites, apparently also unthreatened by the possibility of public rejection and humiliation.
“Demystification” – Enough with the mystery and romance. I demand of God, explain yourself. Just show up.
“89 Degrees” – My world is burned, my heart is drowned. I’m about to turn the corner. Are you still there?
“Dreaming for You” – God sings – I have a dream, and it’s for you. (And I liked the way you started that last song so I’m doing a variation on it.)
“Farewell Fairytale” – I get the last word. Also the first, of the rest of my life. I burn some bridges, and walk on, in the wild wandering Way.
I couldn’t sleep last night. Nathan and I are getting ready to release a new full-length album, one we’ve been working on for, oh, five years or so, and the title we chose for it is Thirty-Nine. The songs are records and reflections from my personal journey through faith and doubt, and our working title was “FaithedOut” or “Faith-Doubt” or – well, we couldn’t figure out how to spell it to make it work without being spoken, mute on an album cover. Faith and doubt, but also faithed out, as in worn out, churched out.
I’m turning thirty-nine this year, this month actually, and we decided, when the guy we hired to master the album asked us for the title last week, to call it Thirty-Nine, partly because of my age, partly because 1939 was a dark time in history (the Great Depression in the United States, Germany invades Poland and begins the second world war), and mainly because of the not-quite-fortiness of it, the almost-there-but-still-slogging feeling of thirty-nine, no milestone, just faded-ness.
That was all rolling around in my head last night, and I knew I wouldn’t sleep until I wrote something and put it to rest. Below is what I wrote. Most of my thirty-nine years have not felt like this, of course, but a considerable portion of my recent years have come closer to a “dark night of the soul.” I share this mostly to introduce some of the sentiment behind our new album title. Yeah, it’s really my wordy and hype-aversive way of starting a “launch” for the new album – coming to you (for free through Noisetrade!) on October 26th.
Thirty-nine is an unholy number. Noah waited forty days and forty nights in the ark while it rained and everything outside drowned. Moses spent forty years in the desert, and only then began his long journey leading Israel to the promised land. Jesus fasted forty days in the wilderness before he started his three years of work that changed the world.
On the thirty-ninth day, in the thirty-ninth year, nothing happened. In the wilderness, in the womb-like tomb-like ark, it was only one more of a long string of the same – wandering, hungry, lonely, in the land of unknowing, a heart forsaking and forsaken.
It’s the second-to-last year, or day, of the long dark nothing. I’ve been keeping count, and I know it, but another year, another wasteland of a day, awaits me after this one. Even as hope begins to germinate. Forty is the pattern I know from my thirty-nine-year history reading Bible stories. I know that after forty has passed, something new begins.
So in the dark, on yet another impenetrable night in year thirty-nine, I feel tiny cracks in my heart. Something new pushing inside. An olive branch and a rainbow, a burning bush, food, water and comforting angels might be in store, on the path up ahead.
The dark still whispers fears in my ears, still tries to dress me down, show me wrinkles and withering and death to all things. But I’m nearly thirty-nine now. I’ve nearly made my peace with the dark, count her among my acquaintances now, need not run.
This next year will be bittersweet. And then, who knows? Who knows?
There now, dark. There, I’ve written it, or something like it, or something anyway. Now may I sleep?