“Do you have my back, Sarah?” – An open letter to President Obama

President Obama meeting with military officials at the Pentagon Official White House photograph by photographer Pete Souza Via whitehouse.gov

President Obama meeting with military officials at the Pentagon // Official White House photograph by photographer Pete Souza // via whitehouse.gov

I have been sending a lot of snail mail recently, and I decided this morning that I was long overdue in sending a letter to the President. After all, he has been sending so much mail – both snail mail and e-mail – to me. It seems almost rude not to write him back. Especially as he keeps asking me questions like, “Do you still have my back?”

It is not like me to not respond to a direct question from a correspondent – even a correspondent who did not actually write, read, or sign the letter that is purportedly from themselves to me (and a few hundred thousand of their other close friends.)

When I write to a politician, I write by hand. I want them (or their intern) to know that, even if they aren’t really taking time for me or most of their other constituents, they are important enough to me to take time over. What follows is a transcript of the handwritten letter that is in this morning’s outgoing mail.


Dear Mr. President:

I wanted you to know why I have been deleting the many e-mails “from” you and your staff asking me questions like, “Do you still have my back?” The answer is, “No, I do not.” In fact, it seems rather cheeky to ask for continued support from people like me who supported you from the beginning because of what appeared to be principled stands on everything from torture to net neutrality to the broad war-making powers claimed for the presidency by G.W. Bush. Even your stands against big money in politics and the over-reach of NSA information gathering have apparently been abandoned. And you have the gall to ask me not to abandon you? Honestly?

Your presidency has been a profound disappointment to me. I understand that you have been hampered by whiny extremists, calling themselves Republicans, who have refused to play ball. I grieve that too many Americans are still too racist to accept anything that you might propose. I celebrate the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and even applaud so-called “Obama-care,” which, while not nearly comprehensive, is still making healthcare affordable for thousands more Americans than before you took office.

But could we stop bombing so many foreign civilians, please? (I say “we” because, as a taxpayer, I am helping to pay to kill people I have no argument with.) Could we stop letting the NSA collect enough material to blackmail every American? (I say “we” because, as a taxpayer, I am paying the NSA to record my e-mails and phone calls and internet searches. What purpose could it serve to spy on someone who mostly makes her living writing Sunday school curriculum and sometimes assisting seminary professors in grading papers? What a waste of my money – especially at a time when school teachers are abandoning my state because they can’t afford to teach here anymore.)

So. Congress has tied your hands. That is indeed a problem. But I can’t say that I am convinced that you would achieve even half of your ambitious 2008 agenda with a solidly liberal Congress. I am not convinced because of the many things you have failed to do that you do have control over – and the many things you have done that you ought not to have done. Like arguing that the powers that Congress gave the President after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 authorized you to go after ISIS as you saw fit without further Congressional approval. This set a precedent for all who will follow you in this job, as I’m sure you are aware.

From our founding, this country has had its way determined far too often by violence and greed. I had ~HOPE~ that you understood this, and were committed to fighting against it. Now I see that we have sown the wind, and will reap the whirlwind. I will continue to vote, but I will no longer look to politicians for ~CHANGE~ This country set its course by genocide, guns, and slavery. As far as I can see, very little has “changed.”

I will continue to pray for you, that the power you have attained will not permanently blind you to what most has power over you. President or no, you are a cog in history’s machinery. As Bob Dylan once observed: “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” I hope that you will pray for yourself, that you might discern in your every decision who it is that you serve.

Your sister in Christ,
Sarah McGiverin

Oct 2014 Obama letter

Asking the wrong questions

Last week, a young woman was slashed in the throat in Queens. Apparently, she had offended her male attacker, by ignoring him when he tried to initiate a conversation.

“But why did she ignore him?” I am hoping you are not asking yourself. But I don’t know why I am bothering to hope that. We live in a nation where the burden of proof is on a woman when a man violently attacks her – she is guilty of her attack until proven innocent (which she couldn’t possibly be – otherwise he wouldn’t have attacked her.) In much the same way that any black man shot in by a white man in this country is guilty of his own death. We don’t blame *all* victims, just certain ones – just women who are victims of men, black men who are victims of white men, civilians who are victims of police officers… power confers immunity to blame, powerlessness confers moral suspicion.

But just in case the question is still bothering you, and just in case you didn’t know, women get to ignore men if they feel like it. Women are people, as much as any man, and have agency, and the right to choose who to speak to and when. Being alone is not the same as being available to and bound to recognize every man in the vicinity who exhibits an interest. Theoretically, anyway.

In practice, a woman is guilty from the moment she steps out the door. If she looks sexy, she is an offense; if she is not dressed for the male gaze, she is an offense. If she is young she is an offense, if she is old she is an offense. Her hair, the shape of her body, the color of her skin – no matter what it is, it is a provocation. And when a male speaks, from a seemingly innocuous, “Hello,” to a catcall of lewd appraisal, she has a choice – will she be guilty of responding, or guilty of not responding? Either can be dangerous. To speak can be viewed as having “encouraged” him, to not speak as “insulting” him (no matter how insulting his speech or gaze may have been.) Insult or encouragement: either is an invitation to sex, to violence, to both. And however the story ends, any injury to herself is only what she had coming to her.

But turning from our every woman to the particular child of God who was critically injured in Queens last week: why did she ignore him? Because she had the right to do so? Because she was afraid to respond – afraid to “encourage” him?

If she hadn’t ignored him, isn’t it possible, even likely that her attacker would have ended up cutting her anyway, that we would now be asking, “Why did she speak to him?” And even if not, do we want to be living in a world where we accept that ignoring a man is reason enough for him to land you in the hospital?

We have been asking the wrong questions for too long. Instead we should be asking, “Why did he think that her ignoring him entitled him to slash her with a blade?” We should wonder, “Why are so many men so emotionally fragile that even a perceived rejection from a woman he doesn’t even know is an invitation to violence?”

I was with my not yet 8 year old daughter when she received her first catcall, just a few weeks ago. A man drove by slowly, and called out, “Nice dress, sweetheart!” in a creepily appraising tone. She was confused, “Did we know him?” No. No we didn’t.

“Why did he call out to me then?” I thought quickly – I didn’t want to prejudice her against men. I’m sure parents of black children would prefer not to have to prejudice their children against police officers, either – but realistically, aren’t we obliged to have “the talk” with our children – to be honest with them about what people most endanger them? I sighed. I knew what I had to do.

“Some men think that they have the right to comment on the appearance or clothing of any girl or woman, whether they know each other or not.” I love the shocked look that comes on my daughter’s face when she encounters such rank injustice. “But! Mommy! That’s not right!” I smiled sadly, “No Bunny, it is not right. It is not right at all. That man needs to keep his opinions to himself. You wore that dress for yourself, not for him.”

Heaven help me. It was only the beginning of a long conversation about how her gender places her in our country and in the world – only the start of me saying to her, “Some men think that they have the right…”

Hat tip to Dr. Anthea Butler, who tweeted the link to this news story this morning.

We share the Jesus bread


Two days ago marked 5 years since I first started blogging here. This is my first post – and still one of my favorites! I hope you like it, too.

Originally posted on Jerusalem to Jericho:

Less than a year ago, our friend Joan handed Brian half a loaf of communion bread after early worship.  When on the drive home from church the little one complained that she was hungry, I handed her a chunk of the bread, telling her that this was very special bread, and that we eat it together with other people, and when we eat it we are reminded of how much Jesus loves us.  After eating her bread, she held out her hand and said, “more Jesus bread, Mama!”  And that is how our family took to calling the consecrated loaf “Jesus bread.”

Leaving aside the debates on whether it is okay for young children to participate in the Lord’s Supper, I am going to take it for granted in this post that, as a United Methodist, I am on firm ground toting my not yet three year old up to…

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