This piece was already published – back on September 11, 2015. Yet, it’s still so relevant, I am sharing it again. Edited a bit, but the same sentiment, same message, same hope.
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We build a lot of walls, especially when we are fearful, hateful, angry, and retaliatory.
There are personal walls, our own little “bubbles,” that give us the illusion of safety. Then we have bigger walls. Walls that our governments build. Walls to keep people in and walls to keep people out.
Current walls that come to mind are the Mexican-US Border Wall – you know, the one that Donald Trump loved and his minions chanted about … “Build that wall! Build that wall!” We have the Israeli-West Bank Separation Barrier-which has contributed to a drop of suicide bombings exponentially, but in the meantime, has cut off Palestinian livelihoods and led to the death of many who can’t get through the checkpoints in an emergency. Here in the US, we have “gated communities” – those communities that give a false sense of security to keep the “degenerates” out. No crime inside those walls, right? Right. We also have prison walls to keep people in. The prison industry is thriving here in the US and more walls need to be put up to incarcerate all the “offenders.” And who can forget the razer wire walls built in 2015, to keep Syrian refugees out of places such as Hungary.
A few of years ago, a video from the Civic Center Bart Station in San Francisco went viral – showing a line of people in the station, shooting up and passed out due to drug use. With the tagline on the evening news, “Bart Junkies,” I was interested in the language explaining the video – “Shocking,” and “Unacceptable,” etc. The comment section got to me too, for each and every one illustrated a stereotypical idea of what or who an addict is. The lack of regard for these lives that have been tragically affected by addiction was apparent and the labels, “trash,” “human garbage,” and so many more, illustrated how isolating and harmful addiction is to every human on the planet.
The fact is, we all know an addict of some sort. Whether they are in recovery and have been sober for 1, 5, 10, or 30+ years, or they are still using, we all know an addict. We work with addicts. They are our family members, partners, neighbors, colleagues, and friends. They are faith leaders, government officials, teachers, techies, doctors, bus drivers, performing artists, and flight attendants. They are homeless, living in their cars, on their boats, and they are also living in million-dollar homes. And just like in the video from the Bart Station, they are shooting up, drinking, snorting cocaine, and popping pills. Addiction is addiction. It is no prettier or excessive in a Bart station, than it is in your friend’s or family’s home.
T’was the night before Christmas
And all through the Country
A message was Ringing
Yet no one Care nigh.
The plague has beguiled Us.
The craze has embodied Us.
The holidays are here!
We must not adhere!
Science is fake.
Science speaks nonsense.
T’was the night before Christmas
And all through the world
Weeping surrounds us
As souls tumble in furl.
Souls Who chose not to listen.
Souls who listened
But those around them
Souls who scream for something different
That comes only with death
For many, such breadth. Continue reading “A Christmas Lament by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
My Aunt Sophie passed into another realm last week. Not from COVID, but, from a life well-lived.
At 98, she lived a remarkable life. She wasn’t famous, nor did she ever strive to be, but what she was, was what love should be, can be, and is.
In her 98 years she played trumpet in the high school marching band, she had a mean left hook, and she was a Rosie the Riveter, where she actually worked as a welder on ships being built for WWII in Richmond, CA. More, she was a devoted wife, she was a sister and caretaker, she was an incredible grandmother, and, she was a mother. Not just to her seven children, but to her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, neighborhood kids, and to my sister and me, her nieces. Continue reading “The Legacy of Wisdom by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
There’s a pinnacle moment, I believe, when everyone’s path is laid before them. The funny thing about that, is that we usually don’t see that moment, until many years later. It is then, at that sudden moment of clarity, in that epiphany, that it all comes together.
My former husband was in the United States Air Force and from 1990-1992, we were stationed at RAF Greenham Common, in the United Kingdom. When we first received our orders, not even ten minutes after, other service members started to inform us: “You’re going to where all those crazy ass bitches are.” “You’re gonna have to deal with those dike peaceniks.” “Wait until you get a load of those nasty, dirty women. They live at the base, camp out there, never shower, stop the convoys – they’re disgusting pigs.” Continue reading “From Military Wife to Peacebuilder – Learning from the Greenham Common Peace Women by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
Content Warning: Mention of childhood abuse, abandonment, suicide, trauma and death.
I am a successful product of child abandonment.
Raised in an abusive home, my mother left when I was in 7th grade. From that point on, I spent an excessive amount of time alone, making decisions that a teenager shouldn’t have to make, making my own dinner, and eating that dinner alone, in deafening silence, time and time again. Doing homework sitting on my bed, unsupported, I remember thinking, Why bother … no one cares if I get this done, why should I? – which eventually led to dropping out of high school. It wasn’t until I was an adult and started serious therapy, did I understand how this trauma played into every decision I made. By all accounts and statistics, I should be a non-functioning adult. Although I am a high school drop-out, I am studying for my Doctorate and will graduate next May. Don’t get me wrong, I have idiosyncrasies and the physical aliment I suffer from the most is a volatile digestive system (controlled with a healthy diet) – a norm for kids and adults with abusive backgrounds.
Abandonment Trauma is real and unpleasant, to say the least, and it comes in many forms. I never really understood how it really affected me until my first trip overseas alone. And then the next trip and then the next trip. All would find me sitting in my hotel room upon arrival, terrified. Paralyzed. Unable to think. Confused. Feeling as if I lost someone, or, I was lost. Wanting to go home. Calling my then husband, crying, saying I couldn’t stay. It was scary and confusing, because I didn’t understand why I was so afraid. I had already lived overseas with my husband, so, why were these trips so frightening? Then a therapist finally helped me understand – they asked me what I envisioned when I was in those places – and I suddenly realized my subconscious had me sitting on my bed in silence, all alone, eating dinner – and all that came with that memory. There it was. The association to the horrible, lonely reality of my childhood, was what was driving my fight or flight as an adult. Continue reading “Abandonment Trauma: Facing the Pandemic With My Fists-up by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
We’ve all seen it on Social Media – the hair. Wild hair. Unkempt hair. Grey hair. #Quarantinehairdontcare. Covid19 has changed it all up. No more regular hair appointments and in turn, hair around the world is out of control.
I’ve been fighting my grey hair for a long time. For about 15 years, in fact. I wish I could stick a rolling eye emoji right there, because, how ridiculous is it that I have put, what some say, cancer causing agents on my scalp for 15 years now. The reality is, I am in ministry. As a public facing person, a public theologian, and job(s) where I am continually standing up in front of, many times, men from several different faith and cultural traditions from around the world, I feel that I need to look good. Does that mean grey hair doesn’t look good? I guess it depends on who you ask. Yet, as I am certain we all are, I am always asking myself – Who sets the standards on if a woman looks good or not? Who says grey hair means “old?” If you said, “Men say that!” of course, you are right. But, the reality is, women descend upon each other all the time too. Whether we like to admit it or not, we compete with each other, especially when it comes to how we look. Continue reading “Splitting (Grey) Hairs by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
This indiscriminate killing is not just of black people, but a disproportionate number of those killed, are black and Latino. In fact, according to the Post, “The rate at which black Americans are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white Americans.”
Sons. Brothers. Fathers. Cousins. Husbands. Dads.
Rayshard Scales, 30
David Tylek Atkinson, 24
Finan H. Berhe, 30
Adrian Medearis, 48
Dreasjon Reed, 21
Jah’Sean Iandie Hodge, 21
Qavon Webb, 23
Demontre Bruner, 21
Brent Martin, 32
Shaun Lee Fuhr, 24
Malcom Xavier Ray Williams, 37
Elmer L. Mack, 40
Chase Rosa, 24
Virgill Thrope, 28
Steven Taylor, 33
Derick L. Powe, no age listed
Jasman Washington, 31
Goldie Bellinger, 39
Zyon Romeir Wyche, 19
Joshua Dariandre Ruffin, 17
Dewayne Curtis Lafond, 45
Idris Abus-Salaam, 33
Nathan R. Hodge, 66 Continue reading “They Too Are America by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
Oh, America. We’ve all seen it in the media. Impatient people demonstrating to end the quarantine. Demonstrators claiming that their jobs are just as “essential” as those of nurses and doctors. Demonstrators blocking traffic in front of hospitals. Demonstrators claiming that COVID-19 is a hoax. In all this media frenzy, this picture caught my attention more than any other.
I stared at this picture for quite a while. I tried to find her name. I stared some more. I thought, Wow, how unbelievably heartless. And then I wondered, Is she serious? Can she really feel this way? Could anyone really lack compassion in that magnitude? I stared some more. Then, I wondered…Perhaps she is a “plant.” Perhaps she is intentionally stirring the pot.
You will notice, she is the only one in that group masking her face. She is covered enough to where only those who really know her, might recognize her. She is standing away from the rest of the group. She didn’t speak to the media. Thinking she may be a plant isn’t wishful thinking. For me, it is simply the realization that the antagonism of this pandemic, is alive and well, in every way possible. More, if a pandemic could talk, it would say, Here I am! You’re not escaping me in any way, shape, or form. I am here. Lurking. Continue reading “The Antagonism of a Pandemic – The Sacrifice of Our Lives by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
Never was Katy able to play outside alone without the watchful eyes of us, her parents.
School became an unsafe haven for mass shooter safety drills.
9/11 brought a whole new understanding of how to navigate “the Other.”
Insurmountable wars still rage across her TV screen.
Global climate disasters that require her to have a mask handy in case of choking smoke from fires hundreds of miles away.
And, now, a pandemic. Of all things. A worldwide pandemic that has literally affected every single person on the planet.
Although Katy is an adult now, the last week has left me stunned and asking, what world did I choose to bring her in to? What world did I help create for my adult daughter? And my wider questions – what world are we leaving our children? Will there be a world for those who we await in mind and heart, unborn – just a thought for the future? Continue reading “Mourning What Is by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
For over a year and a half, I’ve worked at an organization in San Francisco called, St. Anthony’s. At first, I was a full time employee and now, part-time.
A well-known entity in the City, St Anthony’s is most recognized for providing meals to those who are hungry – every day, 365 days a year. I work as Volunteer Coordinator on the dining room floor, where I assist in moving approximately 45 volunteers (needed every day), through the dining room in the 3.5 hours we are open, feeding as many people as possible. On average, we provide 2300 meals every day.
Reverend Fred Rogers tells a story about an ongoing conversation he had with his mother, where, she reminds us that there would always be Helpers, on the sidelines, waiting. “Always look for the Helpers,” she’d say. “If you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.
I wrote about my experience working at St. Anthony’s when I first started back in 2018. I still feel the exact same way, but with even more love and appreciation of the work we do, as well as absolute admiration for the dedication of my colleagues, who work endlessly as Helpers.
Karen Leslie Hernandez is a theologian and interfaith activist. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, the Interfaith Observer, and she is the only Christian to have published an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. Some of her past gigs include designing and teaching an Interfaith Dialogue workshop with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, as well as spending three years working with United Religions Initiative, in several different positions. An Over-Achiever, Karen has not one, but two theological master’s degrees – one from Andover Newton Theological School, the other from Boston University School of Theology. She did her BA at Wellesley College, graduating with honors in her major, Peace and Justice Studies, where she wrote her thesis on Al Qaeda and their misuse religion for political gain. Karen currently lives in California, works at two faith based non-profits, teaches workshops throughout the Bay Area, is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree at Claremont School of Theology, and she is also a certified domestic violence advocate.
Content Warning: Story of state violence, use of rape imagery, and racial slurs.
America was born like most nations – invaded, plundered, violently colonized by the diseased, and in turn, decimated the indigenous people of the land.
The foreign people of this land then fought to reclaim the land that wasn’t theirs to begin with. They fought the “enemy,” and drove them out with loads of gunpowder, midnight rides through Boston, and, of course, tea. Boys died fighting for “freedom,” and for their right to this sweet land of liberty. And women died with guns left inside of them. Let freedom ring!
I do believe that I have heard the word impeach more times in the last three years than ever in my lifetime. Perhaps, when Nixon was impeached that word was thrown around often, but I was young, so have a foggy memory of that event. In reality, I doubt it. In fact, we heard about the idea of impeaching Donald Trump even before he wasn’t elected.
In hearing the word impeach so many times the last few years, I, however also pay attention to the words surrounding the notion of impeachment. Libtard. Radical. Evangelical. Crazy. Messiah. Chosen. Hate. Corrupt. Morons. Idiots. Liar. Cunt. Dick. I could do on and on. The vitriol is palpable and the anxiousness toxic. Continue reading “The Impeachment of Us by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
You’re not born yet.
You’re still an idea
I think of you often.
I hope for you.
I wonder what life will be like
When you arrive
Will each breath
Will you have
Places to run?
Trees to climb
Glaciers to marvel
Oceans to explore
Whales to watch
Turtles to hatch.
Will elephants trumpet?
And lions hunt.
Will rain soak?
Will snow fall from the sky
Or will it be ash?
Instead. Continue reading “To My Grandchild by Karen Leslie Hernandez “
On December 15, 2018, at 10:22PM, I received a call and a voicemail from someone I didn’t know. The charming message left for me? “Hello, Karen. You fat, disgusting slob. Go back to your country. I hope your new year’s is great. You fat, disgusting slob. Goodbye.”
What to say?
With just the right amount of racism, misogyny and stereotyping, at first, I was scared. I remember sitting in my apartment, with the lights off thinking that no one should see I was at home – wondering who this person is? Was he close? Did he live in San Francisco? How does he know my name? How did he get my number? Does he know where I live? It completely freaked me out. I listened to the voicemail several times, wondering if I knew this person – perhaps he was someone I angered because I didn’t want to date him – I had no idea.
In the coming days, after a conversation with Verizon and a friend who works with AT&T, I got the caller’s name and some other pertinent information. An 18 year-old kid named Dominic, from Ohio, was the culprit, and after a bit of sleuthing on Facebook, I contacted Dominic’s dad. I left a voicemail at his dad’s work, sent his dad an email with a copy of the voicemail, and I called the Youngstown police – and I never heard back from anyone.
I’d say that the two things that are most pressing on the continued existence of the human race are the utter destruction of our environment and planet, as well as violence.
My week began with the horrible image of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, laying face down in the Rio Grande. I was immediately reminded of little Aylan Kurdi from Syria, who was found dead on a beach in Turkey in 2015, after drowning when his family attempted to escape the war.
Aylan’s family simply needed to get out of Syria, to enable themselves to eat, live in peace, and not die from chemical weapons, or worse, starvation. Oscar, escaping the horrid conditions in his home country, El Salvador, was unable to request asylum on US soil, and instead, died while trying to save his daughter.
Let me tell you, the dating world is a whole different universe. Especially for a woman my age and who do what I do. I am sure many reading this can relate.
Here are some comments I have received from men after they find out what I do:
“I hope you don’t try to convert me.”
“I don’t date girls smarter than me.”
“You are gorgeous, those green eyes! Why can’t you find anyone? Do you not like sex, or something?”
“Do you say, OH GOD! During sex? Has a whole different meaning with you, huh?”
“I’m not sure I can handle dating someone who is getting her Doctor of Ministry. Are you a Pastor? What do you do exactly?”
“I have a problem with religion.”
“You’re sexy for a theologian!”
“You are fiercely independent.”
“Wow, you are confident…”
“You went to Wellesley? Did you become a lesbian when you were there?”
“Are you a feminist?”
No joke. So real, so outrageous and so ridiculous. Although comical over a beer or a glass of wine, in reality, these comments are obviously a reflection on the men who said them to me, rather than on me. I have also encountered some scary dates, but, those are not worth mentioning here, except to say, that while navigating the dating world can be seriously challenging, it also has a treacherous side.
I hear this a lot: “You’re Mexican? You don’t look it?” A friend I have had for over 40 years always says, “I don’t think of you that way.” I am never quite sure how to respond to these opinions. So, here, I muse.
My grandparents on my Dad’s side came over from Mexico in the early 1900’s. My grandfather, Juvenal, was a farmer and rancher for most of his life. Blond haired and blue eyed, his twinkle and staunch demeanor always made me wonder about his story. Unfortunately, I never met my maternal grandmother, Sofia, as she died when my father was 12 years old.
On my mom’s side, my great, great grandparents (Leonardo Romero) came over from Mexico in the 1800’s and helped to settle Tucson. The Romero family has spread far and wide throughout the West, but you can still go to the Romero House in Tucson, where they have art classes and have kept it has a historical landmark.
I am incredibly proud of my heritage – as light skinned and green eyed as I am, I consider myself Mexican American, and I proudly state that. Funny thing is, so many are uncomfortable with it. And, I wonder why.
What are we going to do with this world that’s on fire right now?
I continually ask myself what my role is on this beautiful blue planet – what am I supposed to really do? What am I going to do? What have I done?
I never wallow in my past, but, gosh-darnit, I’m a survivor. Things I suffered in my early years, intermingled with what happened to me in the many years since, have, at times, won. They’ve drowned me, torn me, thrown me, and found me in the fetal position. Yet, here I am. A high school drop-out getting my Doctor of Ministry. A survivor of abuse standing strong as a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. A suicide attempt survivor with an incredible zest for life. I share all this not to brag, but, to remind myself mostly – I am still here. By God’s grace, I am still standing.
Without boring you with too many details, this last year was probably one of the most difficult I have encountered. Ever. Yet, hello! I am here to continue my rage against the machine – remaining at peace with my mouthy, rebellious, sassy self. And, yes, mindful of all that was, is, and will be.
This last month, I’ve found myself doing work on what I call, Compassion to the Why. That is understanding why. Asking why. Getting why. Having compassion, for, why.
Why is this important, you ask? Because getting to the ‘why,’ is imperative to understanding. Almost everything.
Let me give you some examples. I will start big. Afghanistan. After colonization, Afghanistan was working toward a modern world. I’ve noted pictures of women in mini-skirts at Kabul University in 1977, and although the country’s infrastructure was struggling, it was moving along as it should. Then, the Russian invasion in 1979, rebel groups, radical forming factions using faith as their political motives, and the rest is history. We have no guarantee or Crystal Ball as to if Russia had not invaded, of what Afghanistan would be like today, or if the Taliban or Al Qaeda would have formed anyway, but, it is safe to say, it probably would be a very different country all together. Let me also add this about my using Afghanistan as an example. Right after 9/11 and when the US was about to invade the country and begin its assault, I sent out an email with my worries about what that retaliation would mean. An Aunt of mine, through my marriage with my former husband, wrote me back and gave me a litany of excuses as to why we should obliterate this nation, ending with, “… and besides, they aren’t even Christian over there.”
If only my good ol’ Auntie had cared to know why, perhaps, she would have had some compassion.
Many times choices are difficult. Some of the time choices are easy.
I have had a rough year. Probably one of the most difficult yet in my adult life.
I began this year with an offer of a job, where I would have used every bit of my knowledge and education, which included a move to Dallas. That job, due to fear and discrimination, ended as quickly as it started. Now, 12 months later, I am job secure and I still live where I began 2018.
Aside from job security, I have been dealing with a serious incident of verbal abuse, from someone in my family, who should never do to anyone, what they did to me. It has been devastating, debilitating, and incredibly difficult, to say the least.
I have also been thinking about my choices of men. That seems to always be disastrous for me. I do not choose wisely. And I am uncertain as to why.
Last, I have been thinking about my choices of whom to include in my life as friends, and whom I must not include. This particular choice is not easy.
The fact is, I have a choice. We have a choice. Always.
From November 1-7, I attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Canada. With a myriad of religions and spiritual traditions represented, this was my third Parliament. Inspiring people from all over the planet gathered to teach, to listen, to learn, and to grow as human beings. From there, we take that wisdom and knowledge back to our communities and live by example – at least I try.
I was struck this Parliament by two things: That our planet is in peril. Literally. And, Compassion is something that needs to be taught? I am asking, not stating.
Heard of read any of these descriptions recently? I have. A lot.
It seems that now more than ever, communication is breaking down. Name calling and labeling – which many times incites violence – seems to be a norm, especially here in the United States. As a peacebuilder, I’m consistently perplexed about this and I wonder how, or if, this lack of civil communication will shift to a more positive vibe. The air is frenetic with intolerance. The question is, What can we do about it – as individuals and collectively?Continue reading “Listen more. Talk Less. Tread Lightly. By Karen Leslie Hernandez”
In my almost 52 years, I feel as if this is the darkest time we have ever witnessed. I don’t need to name it all here, because we know.
I, like many of us, am struggling.
Struggling to make sense of this rhetoric, this nonsense, this pending (what feels like), governmental, pre-genocidal actions. I can’t pray. I can barely even think straight. This is not because Hillary didn’t win. And no, it’s not because I am a “Libtard.” This is because everything that is morally, ethically and theologically sound, is in absolute chaos. It is as if we are walking through this anarchy that is somehow normalized. This demonization of literally everyone, on all sides, is devastating and so unbelievably terrifying. Continue reading “In These Dark Times, a Bit of Goodness in the World by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
Did you hear that this past Monday? I find this “celebration” confusing. Memorial Day isn’t a celebration, it’s a remembrance. It’s about more than BBQ’s and parades. It’s about honoring those who’ve died while serving our country.
I always struggle with days that celebrate the passing of someone or a group of people, especially Memorial Day. As a former Air Force spouse turned Pacifist, I’ve spent time in conflict zones and with the work I have done with those who’ve lived through conflict, I know that war, and the violence that comes with it, is not something to ever be elevated in any way. I understand that Memorial Day is to honor those who died serving our country, yet, it is celebrated in the strangest of ways. Especially because those who have died in combat, most likely suffered a death we can only imagine, yet, have no real grasp of.
I’ve recently found myself in one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in San Francisco, helping provide over 2000 meals a day to those in need. Let me reiterate that number… 2000+ meals. A day. Not only does this number illustrate the dire need in this city, but, it speaks to the very real problem of food security across all races, ethnicities, genders, and ages.
Leaving my somewhat safe neighborhood in the morning and heading to the Tenderloin can be a bit jarring. As I sit on the bus and descend down into the throngs of people living on the street, urine flowing through the gutters, used needles, feces in corners of buildings, mattresses on the sidewalk, tents lined up along almost every block, overwhelmingly bad smells, yet, sprinkled with families walking their children to school, I’m struck by the demographics. Most people associate the Tenderloin with an African American population. However, over the years, the neighborhood has seen an uptick of refugees from Yemen and Syria, as well as a high Asian and Latino presence, and many more Caucasians as well.
As I walk into a sacred space that feeds hundreds upon hundreds a day, I’m struck by the dichotomy of those who have so much, to those who have so little. It is not as staggering as what I experienced while living in India, but, nonetheless, it’s almost more confounding. This is my city. I was born here, lived in many different places, and I returned back to San Francisco almost five years ago. I continually try to grasp that there are hungry people, right down the road, not even two miles from my apartment.
Note: This piece contains mention of violence, stabbings, shootings and death.
I’ve had a lifetime of wondering Why? Have you?
This last month has left me asking Why? a lot more than usual, especially after the Majory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. As our nation’s young souls watched their friends and teachers gunned down by one of their former classmates, the aftermath of a movement that has risen from this particular shooting, is hopeful. These young adults have had enough with us “adults.” They have had enough of the violence we introduced them. They are done. Can you blame them?
These young people came in to the world 14-18 years ago – in the height of our angry, virulent, post 9/11 world. War in Afghanistan and Iraq. Syria. A Federal Assault Weapons Ban that ended in 2004. Along with being witness to genocides, heightened crime in our cities, violence in the sports arena, the rise of violent video games (how I long for the days of Pac Man), and violent movies at the touch of a screen. How can our children think a single peaceful, non-violent thought, in this incredibly violent world? A world that we have created.