Shiloh the Sea Pancake – A Time for All Ages

Hi friends! My name is Helen. The kiddos here at UUCT call me Mx. Helen, and my pronouns are they/them/theirs. Learning someone’s pronouns and how they identify is so important, it’s just like learning their name!

Just ask my friend Shiloh.

Shiloh is a Sea Pancake.

What’s that? You think Shiloh looks like a Stingray? I can see why you might think that. Allow me to explain.

You see, when Shiloh was born, everyone called them a Stingray. Shiloh’s family and friends and community called them a Stingray, and they called themself a Stingray too.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a Stingray. Other creatures who look like Shiloh are called Stingray. Stingrays are pretty cool!

But you see, Shiloh just never felt like a Stingray.

Shiloh has always felt like a Sea Pancake.

Shiloh says they don’t like to be called a Stingray because their stinger is just one part of their body, not all of who they are. Shiloh also has smooth skin that helps them glide through the water and gills to help them breathe. These things are part of Shiloh’s body, but they don’t have much to do with who they are.

Shiloh likes to play tag, and their favorite kind of music is jazz. Shiloh’s best friend is a seahorse named Lilly, and Shiloh can’t stand how it feels when seaweed brushes against their skin. When Shiloh finds coins at the bottom of the sea that are face-down, they flip them over so that someone else can find them face up for good luck. Shiloh always sleeps with a special cozy toy, and their favorite color is yellow.

Shiloh would much rather be called a Sea Pancake than a Stingray, because “Sea Pancake” just feels more fun, more friendly, and just more like *them.* Being a Sea Pancake makes Shiloh feel good about themself.

When other creatures call Shiloh a Stingray, it makes feel Shiloh sad. It makes Shiloh feel like the other creatures don’t care about what makes them feel happy and good about themself. It makes Shiloh worry that there is something wrong with being a Sea Pancake.

When Shiloh is sad or worried, they talk to their best friend Lilly.

Lilly is a seahorse and has always felt like a seahorse, so Lilly doesn’t always know exactly how Shiloh feels. Lilly does care a lot about her friend Shiloh, though, so she always tries to be a good friend by learning from and listening to Shiloh. When Shiloh is upset, Lilly sometimes feels upset too.

When Shiloh is worried or sad, Lilly tries to remind them that there is nothing wrong with being a Sea Pancake. In fact, Lilly thinks that Sea Pancakes are pretty cool.

Lilly says Sea Pancakes are funny and adorable, and they see the world in a way that nobody else can. They have big smiles and loud giggles that they use to laugh at really silly jokes, which they often make themselves. They are kind and careful and considerate, and they stand up for what is right.

The most special thing about a Sea Pancake is the way that they treat others.

You see, becoming a Sea Pancake isn’t always easy. Others aren’t always nice when they don’t understand something, and often, others don’t understand why someone who was called a Stingray might really be a Sea Pancake. Because Sea Pancakes know this, they take extra care to be kind and compassionate toward others. They care about how others are feeling and make a point to consider how their actions might make others feel. This is the Sea Pancake’s superpower – they treat others as well as they possibly can, and in turn, those around them learn how to treat others well too. This way, Sea Pancakes can change the whole world.

But they can’t do it alone, and they might not always have the energy to explain to other creatures why they deserve to be respected for who they are. That’s why they need allies like Lilly, and like you, too!

So if you see my friend Shiloh, be sure to say hello. Give them a wave or tell them a silly joke. And if you see someone who looks like Shiloh, but you don’t know if they are a Sea Pancake or a Stingray, it’s ok to ask. The easiest way to ask is by introducing yourself first.

“Hi, I’m Asher, and I’m a bunny!”

“Howdy, I’m Henry, and I’m a duck!”

If you give them the chance, a Sea Pancake can teach you a lot about being a great friend! You might even learn something about making the world a kinder place.

The End.

White Supremacy Culture & Burnout in Caring Professions

This post is part of a presentation for my Sustainable and Resilient Spiritual Leadership class at Starr King.

So, what is white supremacy culture?

As poet Guante says in his poem “How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist,”[1] “white supremacy is not a shark – it is the water.” White Supremacy Culture is the culture of oppression that we all live in, which disproportionately benefits white people and puts Black People, Indigenous People, and People of Color at a disadvantage. This system defines whiteness as the default and anything else as the other and centralizes the perspectives and values of white culture.

But wait, we have laws and policies about discrimination and racism. Why are you making this about race?

Well, the fact is that racism is systemic, which means that it’s a lot more than the overt acts of discrimination that we see in the news and in our own lives. This culture of white supremacy is everywhere, and it shows up in our organizations in many ways.[2]

This can mean a sense of urgency (which is often false or exaggerated) and the idea that we must be productive at all times and at any cost. White supremacy culture tells us that perfectionism is the expectation, and mistakes are moral failings rather than opportunities to grow. It also tells us that there is often only one right way to do things, and perpetuates a lot of other either/or thinking. This can lead us to overwork, overperform, and stress ourselves out over being perfect. And it doesn’t leave a lot of room to be human.

In fact, that’s another huge part of how white supremacy culture shows up in our organizations. Have you or someone you’ve worked with ever been accused of being unprofessional for showing emotion at work? What about for having to miss work for being human, like when you’re sick, a family member is sick, or you just really need a mental health day because being human is hard? Turns out, that’s white supremacy culture in action, too. This model devalues our humanity and only values the logical, the rational, and the productive. Moreover, it might decry “teamwork” as a manipulation tactic – accusing someone of letting their team down for taking time off work, but still placing the onus of success on the individual rather than the team. This individualism and depersonalization makes for highly productive capitalist societies – and truly miserable employees.

We cannot dismiss and devalue our needs and emotions and expect to thrive, and we have the research to back that up.

Burnout, especially in caring and helping professions[3],[4] , such as social work, medicine, teaching, and ministry, is rooted in causes such as unsustainable workloads, poor work/life balance, experiencing secondary traumatic stress, and unsupportive work environment[5]. Now of course, some of that just comes with the territory. One of the great honors of those roles is the opportunity to show up for people experiencing incredible hardship or trauma. However, much of the rest is shaped by our culture.

The resounding theme that I saw through the many examples of WSC in organizations is that it shows up as generally devaluing relationships and humanity. When we expect our people, especially our caring professionals, to be highly-educated, highly “professional” and unemotional production machines who give themselves tirelessly to their causes and care more about the bottom line than their health and time with their families, we are choosing to perceive them as a means to an end rather than as human beings with needs and inherent worth and dignity, and we are perpetuating systems of oppression that harm all of us, regardless of race.

As Brene Brown says, “I used to believe that we were thinking, rational people who occasionally feel emotion. We are actually emotional people who occasionally think.” In fact, Brown posits that vulnerability and humanity – all those icky, “unprofessional,” “unproductive” things that are so discouraged in our society – are the key to our success and thriving as human beings.[6]

Rather than dismiss our humanity in favor of productivity and professionalism, we would do better to lean into our messy, emotional natures and make room for that in our work. Our human needs to feel appreciated, connected, and supported are not as easy to calculate as our productivity, but they are more important for our general satisfaction and longevity in our fields. When we center relationships and humanity in our work, we cause a holy disruption to the status quo that allows us to engage in our work more deeply and more passionately, knowing that we are recognized and valued as people, rather than merely as producers. Such disruptions are radical acts of justice and of self-love, which is a radical act of rebellion all its own.

PS – The day after I submitted my presentation, I stumbled on this episode of Brene Brown’s “Unlocking Us” podcast that is specifically about burnout. Check it out here: https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-emily-and-amelia-nagoski-on-burnout-and-how-to-complete-the-stress-cycle/


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbwcXDunxA8&pbjreload=101

[2] https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/white-supremacy-culture-characteristics.html

[3] https://hbr.org/2019/07/when-passion-leads-to-burnout

[4]  https://medium.com/@jardana/centering-wellness-reimagining-justice-care-and-change-making-professions-e7ef05ae766a

[5] https://ada.com/signs-of-burnout/

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

A Prayer for Election Week

Goddess, Spirit, God,
Love of many names,
of no names,
and of names too intimate to speak –
grant us comfort,
for we are all living with fear.

Yes, all of us –
those who whimper,
those who hyperventilate,
those who disengage,
those whose anger and vitriol
betray the terror
lurking beneath our confidence.

May we all rest.

May we surrender
to the beauty of our dreams,
to the power of our highest good,
and to the service
of the highest good of all.

May our dreams manifest change
and our fear be replaced with rest
and an abiding peace
that only You,
though We,
can bring.

May it be so.

Midway

Alternate Title: Leave Room for Jesus

2005

At the Midway Middle School Spring Formal
Pre-pubescent girls wear white t-shirts
Under their sparkly dresses –
Their preachers,
And their mothers,
Afraid that someone might think them immodest.

The bus driver
Pulls over to yell and pray
Every time someone says, “goddamn” –
And scolds me
For sitting next to a high school boy.

I do not wear a white t-shirt
Under my sweet black dress
And my mother’s pearls.

I am a whore

Named so for wearing my favorite skirt
On my first day of school
After I moved from “the city” –
A suburb of a nearby college town.

At Midway,
Folks either live on farm, on the lake, or in a trailer.
There is no in-between.
Of 150 students in the whole school,
140 live in total poverty.

I don’t blame them
For blaming other people for their problems
When they have been left behind too.

It is easier to put on a red hat
Than take on the system that that made it.

I have my first kiss on that dance floor,
With a boy who shared my father’s first name.
He tells me he was going on tour that summer
With a country music star,
The one whose song
He’d written down,
Word for word,
And slipped into my locker.

I choose to believe him,
Even though I know better.

The science teacher barks,
“Leave room for Jesus”
And it echoes in my head
The whole next year –

I think the worst bullying came from the teachers.

Probably
Because I did not raise my hand
When they asked
Who went to church that Sunday,

Probably
Because I raised my hand
And years of honors classes
Fell from my lips –

There were no honors classes at Midway.

In hindsight,
Maybe my thick black eyeliner,
My heathen smile,
My new fascination with justice
Betrayed the queerness in me
That could only lay dormant so long.

I wonder if that was why
They pretended not to see me crying

Or if it was my uncovered shoulders,
My lack of shame,
Or the places I never went
On Sundays.

2017

Whitney was in my seventh grade English class.
She cuts my hair.
She is the only person from Midway
I have ever seen again.

We do not talk about it.

2018

I come out, finally.
To a pastor
At the place
Where I go
On Sundays

The place
Where every single
Goddamn
Is honored
As a prayer.

2020

I remember that 15,000 gay men were sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust.

I think about a video I saw
Of immigrants illegally entering Canada
At a designated checkpoint
And being offered food, water, and an embrace

I think of another video I saw
Of white thread on red hats
Being ripped from the seams
And reconstructed to say,
“Welcome to Canada.”

I think, “I have family there.”

I think, “I lived in the closet for 13 years.
I can do hard things.”

I think,
“The election is next week.
I might have to delete this poem
After it is over,
Bury it
With my Pride flag and my shame –
But it will always exist.”

I wonder if anyone
Is leaving room
For Jesus.

Soul Chatter

Dancing on a moonbeam, They ask,
“What if we go to Earth next?”

They scoff.
“I’ve never known of
A more toxic planet.”

“I’ve heard of two,” they reply.
“And besides, they have Love there.”

“What,” they asked,
An immortal soul bewildered, “is that?”

“It’s this,” they say,
Gesturing to all of the Universe.
“But you feel it.”

“What is feeling?
That sounds terrible.”

“I agree.
But every being who has ever gone
Tells that the Love made it worth the trip.”

“I suppose it’s worth a try.
Let’s go.”

Shamxn

Come listen to the big drums
The heartbeats
Of the cosmos, praying you to live
Weary as you might be.

Dear one,
This healing is your heartbeat
The prayers you bless the world with,
Bless yourself in the process.

There are no ancestors cheering for you.

Rather, they weep
Tears of wisdom,
Knowledge of the path to come
For they have walked it too,
But none ever so thoroughly as you.

You, breaker of patterns,
Collector of found feathers,
Rescuer of cockroaches
And bumblebees,
No creature unworthy.

Chosen one –
They had all been chosen, too.

Come listen to the big drums,
Your heartbeat
Singing from its cage,
Praying you to finish what they started

And bless the world.

The Bird

I anoint a dead bird with holy water
from the memorial garden at the church where I grew up.
Weightless as it is lifeless, it knows not that I drape it with flowers
And say a prayer. I light a candle,
and beseech its spirit to bless other realms with its flight,
Continuing to and transcending its Highest Good.

Yellow is my favorite color, even on its still, soft feathers.

Fall
Means nothing here, in the heat of lingering summer.

Hell
Means nothing here, in tragedy upon tragedy –
Never a calm moment to catch one’s breath.

Death
Means nothing here, in the garden of the church
That doesn’t preach of heaven.

We do not die. We learn
what lessons we came here for.
We reach the Highest Good
We can possibly achieve
And then, we fly
To the next adventure, leaving our bodies
Cold on the path to the front door,
So that other beings can anoint them
With holy water
And prayers
For a Highest Good
That is so much more.