getting educated

When I wrote in the last post that we should listen, I was speaking to myself as well as you, dear reader. I know that emotions run high, that we instinctively move into flight or fight responses, that spaces exist when it’s hard to listen. But for many of us, the heightened awareness surrounding Ferguson and Eric Garner  is gone, or at least my Facebook feed is far more interested in discussing the whys and wherefores of the last play by the Seahawks in the 2015 Superbowl than commenting about race relations in the USA. So maybe, just maybe, on this gray afternoon (at least in Washington) we can put on some slippers, grab a cup of tea, and settle into some reading.

When epithets flew I asked a black friend of mine what I could do. Her response?  Simply: “Get educated.” I think it’s sometimes easy to rush headlong into something (anything) that we feel passionate about, whether or not we actually understand the issues. I remember when Darfur hit the news and I sported a green plastic wristband printed with “Safe Darfur”. In a supermarket one day someone asked me about the details of the conflict…and I’m mortified to admit that I had no idea. The bandwagon looked good and people were dying, so, by golly, I jumped. But I would have made a bigger impact, would have been a better ally, had I taken the time and learned what was at hand, why things were at such a tipping point. Sometimes the best action is not to do, but to humbly learn. By sitting to hear someone else’s story we enlarge our own. Later if we have the opportunity to act, we will have ties to another reality not our own. We will, God willing, have the grace to act in someone else’s best interest, and to use the power we have for justice and righteousness.

Friends, we could all use some education. But for those of you that are my brothers and sisters in Christ, I humbly submit that if we are seeking to live as Jesus did, we don’t have an option to turn a blind eye. We are called to love our neighbor as ourself. If we learn about injustice, we must call it out, for we serve a God of justice. If Jesus really did break down the walls dividing Jews and Greeks, males and females, slaves and free and made us all one in Him, we must care about the resurrected barriers that divide us.

Ok, enough sermonizing. I repeat: I’m preaching to myself. Sometimes I need a good kick in the pants. But if for no other reason, because I care about Tioni I’m reading and learning. Won’t you come along?

I get that it’s sometimes hard to know where to start, so I’m linking some articles from folks I respect. I’ve read a chunk of them, but not all. 

Come with me, friends. It’s worth the journey.

can we humble ourselves?

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m a moderate. I’ve yet to find a politician for whom I’m excited to vote, and I’m fairly confident that I frustrate my conservative and liberal friends alike with my extremely mixed views.  I like nuance, dislike soundbites, and nearly always feel there are two sides to every story, both with truth in them. As such, I rarely enter the foray of politics on this blog or elsewhere in internet-land. I generally feel that the best discussions are not held in cyberspace, but in person, in relationship. This is still true. But I’ve come to realize that I live in a virtual age, and that the conversations I’d love to have don’t always come to fruition. More importantly, I’m moved to share some voices that are not always heard.

I want to start with a fact: I will never know with certainty exactly what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. Let me repeat: I will never know with certainty exactly what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. But regardless of what occurred that day, can we take a step back and look at the bigger picture? People are not reacting solely because of the lack of indictment of Officer Wilson. Yes, yes, that’s a part of it. But if we only focus on that, we’ve missed something vital. People are protesting because they see a pattern repeated over and over and over, not just in this generation, but over centuries. It may look different from slavery, than being considered part of a person when counting votes, than having different restaurants or drinking fountains or schools. People are mourning because interactions don’t reflect  equal value. People are angry because their voices are belittled or dismissed.

I’m a white woman. I don’t pretend to understand an experience that is not my own. But what I do know, as a Christian, is that I am called to humility. I am called to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Can we quiet our hearts long enough to listen?

I started this blog post before Thanksgiving. I asked black friends if they’d be willing to write something for this blog. A few said they would. But in the meantime, I’ve read about Eric Garner. I sit here not even sure what to say. I’m sad. All I know is that my voice feels weak, but that maybe, just maybe, if all weak voices band together maybe we can be loud enough to help enact change. God, give us grace, courage, and your heart for justice and for the oppressed. May we reflect Your compassion.

As an introduction, here are a few Facebook posts from some black friends:

My head hurts. My heart hurts. Taking a FB break to get it together. Email, text or call if you need me.

 

If anyone is surprised this evening, you haven’t been paying attention.

 

I’m exhausted.
Right about now I’d be penning an “Open Letter”, but I’m exhausted.

I’m allowed to be sad, I don’t care if he was wearing a hoodie and a mean mug. I don’t care what he did moments before his death. I’m allowed to be pissed off that he is gone. I’m allowed to be worried that my boyfriend doesn’t wear a hat when he drives to avoid the flashing lights, and that my dad avoids certain areas in his nice car because why would he be driving something that swaggy anyway?

I’m exhausted because my little cousins have so much more to fear if they choose to wear a hoodie one night over a button up and boat shoes.

Two years ago I was told I couldn’t be angry about Trayvon Martin and how dare I compare him to Emmett Till, but it’s still death by force and by fear.

I’m exhausted just wrapping my brain around it all.

 

*These are my friends. You are welcome to comment on this post, but only, and I repeat only, if you remain civil. Asking questions, wanting clarification, even disagreeing is fine, but remember that the whole point of this post is to pause and listen, so please consider that before you speak.*

cleaning up the yard

My cat is a killer. About once a month she manages to fell a bird, for the guts or glory, I’m still unclear. But she clearly thrives on her instincts. Then I usually hear from one of my children that there’s a dead bird in the yard and I go to dispose of it.

This time I was really slow. There were two birds awaiting their funeral. When I reached them they were skeletons with a few scattered feathers. There were leg bones, but what got me were the beaks. These dainty beaks bare pecked at my soul. The bones were so narrow, so light. The intricate design was jaw dropping. And suddenly what I was doing was no longer clearing out debris from the front yard, but giving them a proper burial. The mundane made holy.

when you ache discouraged

The impersonal internet struck again. The dreams started about a job, only to be dashed by black and white print: Not Selected. As much as I knew that end was likely (they wanted someone with more availability and I was surprised they brought me in to interview), I was hurt. As much as I knew that it was a rational decision on their end, even if I was great, it felt like personal rejection. Tears formed; tears shed. But worst of all the heaviness settled on me. The heaviness: self-doubt coupled with feeling unworthy topped with a healthy dose of failure. I moved slower and the world felt dark. I avoided people and texted my husband, requesting a virtual hug. The serpent wrapped himself around me and whispered lie upon lie.

Just as I was about to crawl into my self-made hole, I remembered words of hope. Words uttered before true darkness and fear gripped men of old, words promising light in the midst of an unknown future:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

I repeated these words over and over. I wrote them on my mirror. Slowly, and not without a fight, the serpent and heaviness slithered away. It was still a hard day, and there’s still unfulfilled longing. But there’s hope. Better yet, there’s Hope, and that Hope will not disappoint. Amen.

friends and heaven

I’ve seen a glimpse of heaven, although I didn’t realize it at the time. It came via five women, all flesh and blood and broken like me. There were shared memories of vegan food and failed cooking experiments (my twenty-five year old self didn’t realize you couldn’t substitute balsamic vinegar for apple cider vinegar in a recipe), there was laughter and late nights, there were tears, and fears, crosswords, and online dating. There were gospel choirs and ethnically diverse churches, there were bikes on trails (and getting locked out from the house). There were even arguments over the air conditioner and if we should give each other set chores. But most of all, there was love and sharing of heart longings and passions and what-God-was-up-to in our lives. We made space and time to be with one another, and we shared guts and glory. God used each of us to shape us more into His likeness. I got to be part of a slice of heaven for three years.

I moved away to pursue professional dreams, we started getting married and moving out, and the intense shared time faded. The ties that bound us stretched as we entered new stages of life in new geographic locations. It shocks me to say that it’s been almost thirteen years since I left Baltimore. I’ve made good friends since then, but it looks different, especially in Washington. And I’ve found myself unsettled, longing for something deeper, with an intensity that I once knew. More rational people have informed me that “it’s a stage of life thing” and that with young children I can’t hope to equal that again. More patient people have informed that it just.takes.time–and that my free-wheeling days offered me freedom and time that allowed for deep relationships quickly. In my more self-aware moments, I know they are right. But I also can’t quite capitulate. I believe that God can do it, and that He is not limited by my stage of life or my relative lack of free time. It will look different, but I’m convinced it can be rich. So I’m jumping into this pool of people here, because I’ve seen heaven. And it’s glorious.

(On Valentine’s day, it seems especially appropriate for this post, and to send a shout-out to Holly, Laura, Jenna, Kim, and Rachel. Thank you, thank you, girls! Where are we meeting this year?)

contentment and gratefulness

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2014! 2014! January 9th, at that! Like all good folk out there, I’m laying the way for a clean slate. It can be done at any time, but the turning of the calendar pages makes it an easy one now. I’m just settling back into a routine after a wonderful time away for Christmas and New Year’s (whoever said white Christmases were the best needed some southern California sunshine!). So now, in the wake of all those resolutions which may or may not be kept, here are themes I want to explore this year:

contentment and gratefulness

What you might not know about me is that I can be critical. Normally directed at myself, I’ve found it directed in all directions over the last few years. Of course, it was couched with terms like analytical, realistic, discerning, and the like. I wasn’t attempting to tear anything down for no reason. But somewhere along the line it ceased allowing me to move forward and just became negative spewing. I can rationalize much of it away (I was hurt, it was true, I wanted to make it better), but it still wasn’t helpful. Church became a target, so even when something happened that was good, I spoke from a hurt place and negated it. When I caught myself doing that I realized that things had to change; this didn’t feel like me, or the person I wanted to become. As a result I want this year to be filled with contentment. Yes, I can hear you now, “Um, so you’re just going to be content?” Well, kind of. I’m going to choose my perspective, and I’m going to choose gratefulness.

Every night at dinner we go around the table and say our “highs”, our “lows” and any “mistakes” we want to share. We started doing this to force ourselves to reflect on the day a bit, to recognize what we can be grateful for, to know how to pray for each other, to note that all of us make mistakes. Some days it’s super insightful, other days it’s a complete bomb. But we’re in training, disciplining our minds, putting things in perspective. When it is a cruddy day, I will still look for the small thing that was my “high”. Contentment will not be a matter of circumstance for me; it will be an attitude of the mind. Will my eyes be covered with rose-colored glasses? I hope not. Somehow contentment got misconstrued as Pollyanna smiles and sunshine. Choosing contentment shouldn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge challenges, that our hearts won’t break in any number of situations. I’ve noticed one shift already: I find myself extending grace, both to myself and to others. I feel like there’s more freedom in my life now, and I like it.

The hymn “It is well with my soul” comes to mind. I’d forgotten the story behind it until now: Horatio and Anna Spafford had five children. In 1871 their son died and the great Chicago fire destroyed his fortune in real estate investments. In 1873, while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the ship was struck and sunk, killing all four of their girls. Given these tragic circumstances one might expect the Spaffords to be bitter. I have no doubt that they mourned many times over. Yet it was when sailing near where the girls died that Horatio penned “It is well with my soul”. I am humbled; I can choose contentment.

shame and freedom

Garan_Sunrise

Tuesday morning started with tears. They were big, they were ugly, they were accompanied by snot running down my face. It was not a hallmark moment. Here’s the scene: my friend was telling me (via email) how grateful she was to have her world opened wider, to claim the racism of our country’s past (and present), to recognize her own place in that, to be able to offer her kids a different worldview than the one she had while growing up. She spoke of watching gut-wrenching movies, reading gut-wrenching stories, learning gut-wrenching facts, and facing them head-on. My stomach sank, for my experience has not yielded the same hope for the future. We’ve read some of the same things and my response is one of paralysis, not hope. I am horrified by racism and want it to end. I want to be part of change. But when I read about all the pain that continues, pain that I don’t experience because of my own white privilege, I’m so scared of perpetuating it unintentionally that I don’t move forward. I get so worried that I might do, say, think, not understand someone’s perspective that I am caught in my own hamster wheel, running at frantic speeds, staying in one place. And then, if that weren’t enough, I felt ashamed that I had the privilege of “not doing”, that I could go about life and not be forced to deal with racism and my class privilege. The tears began, flowed, and ended up with me sobbing uncontrollably in front of my computer. Even in that moment, I knew that God didn’t work this way, shaming me and holding me hostage from doing what I believe is right. God doesn’t ask for perfection; He asks me to follow Him and do what He calls me to. Sometimes I’ll fail. Sometimes it won’t feel like enough. It may never solve the underlying issues.

That was three days ago. The lump comes back to my throat, but I can swallow now.  A few things have pushed me out of those doldrums. There was a marvelous blog entry here which reminded me both that 1. God works differently in different people (and that seeing Him move in one person’s life is not a reason to demean myself) 2. We choose to see the “burning bushes” around us. My friend reminded me (yet again) that “Comparison is from the pit of hell”. Such true words. The funny thing was that I didn’t feel like I made comparisons (although I did). I was more in grief about how screwed up this world is and how I feel so infinitesimally small, that what I can offer is too little, too flawed. It is. But I’m also studying Galatians with my bible study now, and if there’s anything that’s coming out loud and clear it’s that it’s about Jesus. My efforts won’t achieve salvation, my efforts won’t undue the scars and open wounds of racism. My strength is not sufficient. But God can turn dark to light, God brings hope out of despair, and God is more than enough. And He works through me.

There’s such freedom to enter those dark places, because He already did, and He conquered.