My kids start school this week. It’s been a great summer. They’re finally old enough to enjoy a good book for a few hours or to get themselves a bowl of cereal (Ask any mom…this is LIFE CHANGING!). Like so many others, summer movies were also on our activity list during the long break. My kids are into the Marvel movies, so we had to see ALL of them… Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp. Thor: Ragnarok actually came out last year, but they’ve watched it OnDemand at home over and over again….enough times, that even I have started learning some of the lines. There’s a scene in Thor:Ragnarok where Odin says to Thor:
Asgard is not a place. It’s a people.
When I wasn’t shuttling my kids to a camp or movie, one of my favorite pastimes this summer was listening to podcasts and reading. Books always have been and are my safe space – even when they are pushing me into new ways of thinking or understanding. One of the first books I cracked open this summer was Brene Brown’s latest, Braving the Wilderness. And, ‘wilderness’ is certainly an apt term to describe the state of my spiritual life.
The Catholic Church.
The unholy matrimony of Trump + Evangelicals
Scandals coupled with the ongoing evangelical allegiance to The President plus the deafening silence of so many (notice, I said many – not all!) faith communities has rocked my confidence in the church….an institution that has been a lifelong pillar in my life. This summer, I couldn’t go to church on Sundays (partly because of lingering PTSD after my church did a summer at the movies series last year, which included a whole sermon on Beauty and the Beast the same weekend as Charlottesville). But, more than a particular series – it was a particular feeling that the excercise, even if it just going through the motions, had become too painful.
Filling that void and bringing much peace and insight have been a new genre of Christian authors that I’d never known till now, namely Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Rohr – two figures from more liturgical traditions. I won’t even try to summarize the countless ways in which they’ve expanded my understanding faith. In her book, An Altar in the World, there’s a line in the chapter about the Practice of Encountering Others where she says:
The church was not a place but a people.
For generations, God balked at the idea of a temple or a king. And, yet today it seems we’ve forgotten why. Instead, we build-up modern cathedrals and celebrity pastors. All the while, we do give lip service to loving the poor and helping the oppressed, but we dare not utter a word against the systems and structures that perpetuate injustice.
Thankfully, while my faith in organized religion has been at rock-bottom, my confidence in the good work of community organizations partnering with school districts or local leaders is actually growing everyday. That’s not to say I’m not daily dismayed by national or even state politicians or corporate leaders, but I am really happy to report that impactful work is happening at the local, grassroots level. For me, in this season of spiritual wandering and wilderness, my work with Community Equity Collaborative has taken on new significance, as we are in both word and deed, helping the oppressed and feeding the poor. It is faith in action. It is Micah 6:8 lived.
Brene says this in Braving the Wilderness:
Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness – an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous it is breathtaking, a place a sought as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred space you will ever stand.
I haven’t written many blog posts lately. There are no words yet for my wandering. Between the magnitude of what I am sorting in my soul and the pure insanity of what’s happening in the world – I just cannot distill it all into a post. But, there are others who can and do. There are my new BFF’s – the great thinkers of the liturgical world, like Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Rohr, that I’d highly recommend to anyone. There are my longtime favorites, like Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans. And, there’s a fantastic and spirit-filled community of writers and leaders of color who are speaking so powerfully into this moment in history. Check out Austin Channing Brown or Soong-Chan Rah or Michael Eric Dyson or Bryan Stevenson or Eugene Cho or Lisa Sharon Harper.
Go read these people. Wrestle with your faith. And then….
Meet me in the margins. We are a people, much more than we are a place. And, if there is any prevailing theme to the Bible, it is that God’s heart is with the hurting and oppressed. The evidence of our faith, of who we are as God’s people is in the fruits, pure and simple. It is bringing love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to the world, especially those who need it most. This is not only the message of the gospel but the place where God is showing up most visibly in my life. And, so, I’m going to officially push the pause button on my blogging.
This might be the last post. Ever. Or not.
Who knows where the wilderness will lead you or the spirit will act?
I started this blog because I wanted to chronicle my journey to live out the Micah 6:8 command to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. I opted for a blog instead of a diary because I wanted the kind of accountability that comes from making a public promise or statement of intention. No slight intended towards those who write or blog, speak or publish via podcast – but the world has enough people talking about these issues and not enough actually DOING something about it. For the foreseeable future, I know God wants me to focus on:
a) being still, listening for His voice as I walk through the wilderness
b) walking through the doors God has opened for Community Equity Collaborative, where we work to dismantle unjust systems and promote greater opportunity and equity through community partnerships.
A Toast + A Prayer
Wine Country has been ravaged by a brutal fire season. My family decided to drive a couple of hours north for a week in Napa this summer. We love that region and wanted to support the areas that have been devastated – both by the physical destruction as well as the financial losses. I brought along a big stack of books on racism, social justice, faith….the usual! Sitting by the pool, it hit me: I have a social justice blog called, Over Coffee and Wine. I mean, seriously!!!! The irony of my *privilege pastimes* as an umbrella for *social justice conversations* hit me like a ton of bricks. God opened my eyes to the gulf between where I am and where His heart is when I lay claim to His gospel or the Micah 6:8 words. Not that God isn’t in wineries and cafes! But, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and actually step into the margins….that’s where His people are and His heart’s always been. Time to light these words on fire and live them out.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let HIM shine…let HIM shine, let HIM shine.
Here are my favorite books & Podcasts of the summer
Dear Evan Hanson and John Oliver, thank you for saving my Easter.
Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand, You can reach, reach out your hand…
It’s the story of tonight and the story of practically everyday since November 8th, 2016. It’s an ache that has ebbed and flowed but could never be fully shaken. The death of what I once knew as my country and my church has shaken me to the core and forever changed me. These posts are where I chronicle my Micah 6:8 Journey. These posts are where I process. To say that there’s been A LOT of *processing* in the last year-plus would be the understatement of the century. Writing helps me sort the myriad of thoughts and feelings.
Confession: as cathartic as writing has been, there have been many more moments when I don’t feel strong enough to stand or write or do anything.
I Gave Up Donald Trump
A year ago, I gave up Donald Trump for Lent. No, it wasn’t a joke. It was a serious and deliberate effort to manage my election-induced anxiety and create space for God to remind me of the hope and promise of Easter Sunday. I first got the idea after reading Diana Butler Bass’s article in the Washington Post. It was an effort to actually understand a well established and Biblically based tradition that I’d somehow ignored during my evangelical years. This year, though… my spirit is too weary for a program or plan – just sitting with my dog and listening to Found Tonight on repeat. I need a new practice, a different kind of fasting as I find “myself craving a God who would meet me in lament and silence and darkness,” as Sarah Bessey puts it.
I can’t blame Donald Trump entirely for the craziness of recent weeks. Just over a month ago, my husband had a heart attack. One minute, we’re walking around town while our boys are at karate. The next minute (okay, 90 minutes), he’s being wheeled into the Cath Lab at Stanford Hospital.
By most measures, he was healthy. Cholesterol, weight, blood pressure – all within normal limits. Diet and exercise – decent. He’d even done a stress test about a year prior and he passed with flying colors. Every test he and/or the doctors had done pointed to a healthy heart.
But he was wrong. They were wrong. They had the wrong tests and measurements. And ,that wrongness nearly killed him. You see, most of us can pass stress tests, even run marathons and live life without much difficulty – until the blockage is more than 70%.
My husband likes to say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Something had to change. His very survival required it. For weeks, he poured over stacks of books, reading everything about cardiac health. One gut-wrenching realization: this *new* information was there ALL ALONG. Literally. Two of the most impactful books he read had been sitting on our bookshelves for YEARS – untouched. I guess they waiting for a time when life slowed down or we made a New Year’s resolution to ‘eat healthier’. Or, as proved to be the case, we were *truly* motivated to change.
As Oprah likes to say, ‘When you know better, you do better.’ And, we were ready to ‘do better’ by making major changes. We wanted to not only prevent further heart disease but also reverse it by prioritizing diet, exercise…even mental health. In a nutshell, we needed to decide this mattered.
The American Church (especially, white, evangelical) has some serious health issues, including heart ones. We’ve forgotten to love what He loves or let our heart be broken by what breaks His. We’re addicted to power clothed pseudo religiosity and we’ve turned faith communities for serving the world into legalistic clans that serve ourselves. And, we’ve done it without a guilty conscience by using the wrong measurements and taking the wrong tests.
For decades, Americans surveyed have described Christians as ‘judgmental’ or ‘hypocritical’ – a far cry any of the nine ‘fruits of the spirits’ Paul lists in Galatians when saying how we will be known. Instead, we see “misogynistic,” “colonial,” and “white supremacist” added more recently to the list. Put simply, we are better at preaching about love than actually doing it – especially when it comes to loving the least.
Newsflash: the world isn’t fooled.
Don’t get me started on continued support for Donald Trump, even as the onslaught of Cabinet resignations, porn-star lawsuits and Mueller indictments continue at an alarming rate. It shouldn’t be shocking that the latest Pew reports indicate Americans have warmed up to every religious group EXCEPT evangelicals.
Hybels & Zuckerberg
The *usual suspects* on the far right are not the only ones who have made mistakes. For progressive believers seeking change, our credibility is on the line if we do not advocate for truth and justice – no matter what. It’s not easy, but it’s essential.
Case in point: Bill Hybels and Mark Zuckerberg. In just the last two days, these two leaders, have both come under intense scrutiny in the face of serious accusations of gross misjudgments.
Facebook is facing tough questions related to the Cambridge Analytica debacle. While I never thought Facebook was perfect, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit some pride living in Silicon Valley, residing in the very town where Facebook has its headquarters. This is undoubtably the biggest ‘hit’ that Facebook (and its founder!) has taken since its founding.
In the same way that Facebook revolutionized social media, so did Willow Creek blaze a trail for churches around the globe. I spent my young adult years at Willow, discovering a faith that put faith into action. I mention or quote Bill Hybels in at least four of my blog posts. He was a pastor that I respected and saw as an example for leaders around the globe. I was shocked when I read that for many years, he’d been the subject of investigations into sexual abuse/harassment.
I was even more heartbroken when I read an email from Willow to friends/members (I’m still on their distribution list). Its content and tone denigrated those who had brought the accusations and/or had pushed for more thorough inquiries (which included, my current pastor, John Ortberg). In the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, my stomach turned as I saw pastor protection elevated above pursuing truth and affirming victims. I thought of the sexual assault and abuse victims I know and love.
There can be no sacred cows (or golden calf’s). No exceptions if we are serious about the Micah 6:8 life; truth and humility are essential to justice.
How Are YOU?
Equity and justice have become central themes over the last year plus, with my holy discontent manifesting as work with Community Equity Collaborative. (Interesting things happen when you study white privilege and racism….). Our three focus areas are:
Encouraging equity in education by promoting greater early childhood/preschool access
Creating career pathways for early childhood educators
Increasing family engagement at K-12 schools through PTO/PTA Roundtables, along with other resources that facilitate greater diversity and inclusion.
At our latest Roundtable, PTO reps sat around tables, brainstorming ways to recruit more leaders through a more inclusive process. We talked about the steady decline in volunteerism and the challenge in recruiting new leaders. Maybe folks are overwhelmed and tired. Maybe some moms have gone back to work. Maybe volunteers who helped in the past are now burnt out. Then, a leader from a predominantly Hispanic school spoke up.
At my school, we make a point of asking parents, ‘How are you?’. We want them to know we care more about how they’re *actually doing* than trying to sign them up for our project or ask them to do something.
We all just sat there. It was as if she’d simultaneously revealed the most profound yet blatantly obvious mindset flaw…. We’re all just marching towards glorious goals without pausing to reflect on the gap between our best intentions versus our actual impact.
In a room where most of the representatives came from wealthy and/or white communities, I was reminded of how much we gain when we are intentional about building a bigger table where people/relationships prevail above programs or privilege.
So, church – do you ask? Are you opening your eyes to our *actual impact* as opposed to our pretty programs and best intentions? Do you connect with marginalized people or communities and ask them how they are? I didn’t ask whether a black person sings in your choir or you’ve created a special Spanish-language advertisement to your Easter Sunday service or collected an offering last month for your favorite Christian charity. I asked if you’re getting out of the pews and to the people, with an authentic interest in finding out when you get there – how are they doing?
March for our lives
My little boy marched.
I hadn’t made a big deal about the #NationalWalkout. He’s ten. He loves Legos and Star Wars. But, on the morning of the Walkout, I made a last-minute decision to mention the walkout to him, in case it became the topic of conversation or even action at school. Our drive to school is short, but it only took him a few seconds to decide how he felt – he wanted to join. I was honestly surprised, so I hastily said I’d let his teacher know. As soon as I got back home, I sent her a note and she replied back to me that if he wanted to participate in the Walkout, he’d need to go to the middle school. I quickly changed out of the plaid pajamas I’d driven him to school in (Lord, may I never need to get out of the car during school commutes!) and into my yoga gear (standard issue mom uniform). I printed a picture of my grandmother, with the words #NeverForget, then ran out the door.
Soon, my son and I were joining hundreds of middle schoolers, marching around the school campus. He didn’t need instructions. There are moments when opportunity and purpose converge in such a way that instinct naturally takes over. And, this was one of those moments for him. He held up high the picture of his great-grandmother. He was evidence of pain and horror that had rippled through the generations, from the Easter Sunday when she was murdered over 60 years ago – to this moment, as he marched in the rain. At the end of the march, students read prepared speeches and poems. They said the names of Parkland students killed, followed by a moment of silence. I could see it in his eyes; a fire was lit.
These kids….they ARE making a difference. They ARE changing the world. #NeverAgain #Enough
So, my bacon loving, steak eating husband made a bold decision to become a vegan. The evidence for improving his cardiac wellness and overall health with better nutrition was undeniable. It’s not a miracle cure or a guarantee – but it’s the right choice, in light of all he now knows. The rest of us joined him. It wasn’t just an act of solidarity but rather of sanity. How could we not? Now we knew! We not only realized that the old tests and measurements had been wrong but also that there was a better way.
Lenten sacrifices are intended to grow compassion, not simply be a reluctant exercise in giving up chocolate or swearing. The fact that I didn’t have a program did not mean that He did not have a plan. Last year, He met me in the spaces I carved out for Him, by eschewing my daily doses of political satire and news. This year, He’s showing up EVEN in the midst of the madness, teaching me that Jesus is more interested in changing my spiritual diet (and measurements!) 365 days a year than He is a token gesture for forty. He’s reminding me that it doesn’t matter if I ace my own test but fail in every aspect by which He measures faith.
I can almost picture God up in heaven, chuckling at my misguided attempts to jump through so many hoops, check so many boxes. Easter is the ultimate new covenant. It’s not the day for ham dinners or egg hunts or fancy dresses. And so, our family is remaking Easter, not just with vegan recipes but with new practices and different measurements.
Maybe we need a redefinition of ‘right’
Bill Hybels always said that there’s nothing like the local church when the local church it works right. I agree. (Still!)
Maybe ‘right’ looks less like mega churches with celebrity pastors and more like my friend who worked quietly behind the limelight to bring kids affected by gun violence in Chicago together with the Parkland kids so that together they could march this weekend in DC. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like the fancy programs we do on Sunday morning and more like the people we serve in our communities Monday through Friday. Maybe ‘right’ looks less ‘blessing the blessed’ and more like advocating for the poor or marginalized. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like sleek videos and hip worship leaders and more like true allyship with POC or LGBTQ communities. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like upgrades to our own infrastructure (whether a new sanctuary building or fancy remodel) and more like support for more just systems in our communities, whether that’s clean water in Flint or early childhood education for kids across America. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like building shoebox campaigns and more like campaigning for investments in education and livable wages for teachers across America. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like vinyl wall decals in our Pinterest worthy-kitchen and more like teaching our kids about white privilege and systemic racism. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like a pro-life platform that is obsessed with my uterus and more like a people who are willing to stand with the thousands of kids marching through the streets today, begging that they not be slaughtered with military assault weapons. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like fancy Easter outfits and more like books that teach us about love in all its forms (thank you, Marlon Bundo and John Oliver). Maybe ‘right’ looks less like a Tesla and more like a donkey.
My boys want a Tesla. The Tesla Roadster, to be precise. (Unless we win the lottery, we’re not getting it!) But, you can’t fault my boys for wanting one. Tesla’s abound in Menlo Park. And, they’re pretty cool. I’ll admit. But, the biggest problem with the church right now is that we have become vehicles for power and privilege and we think that by slapping a ‘blessed’ or ‘grateful’ decal on the back, the world will recognize our good intentions and forget our impact. The world’s not stupid.
The world sees the true fruits of our efforts, the impact of our power and privilege. And, while they might be okay with our Jesus, they’re less impressed with us.
This Sunday, we remember the day that Jesus, Son of God, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, only days later to wash the feet of His disciples before carrying a cross to Calvary. We wear the cross, but do we carry it? Do we wash the feet? Instead of just waving palm branches for a moment this Sunday, would we take the time to also remember what Jesus did so long ago AFTER he rode that donkey? He cleared the temple courts. It’s telling that the bookends of His ministry have Jesus teaching us that His house is not a place for power and privilege or profit but a place for prayer and for His purposes.
As we begin Holy Week, it is clear I am flunking lent. By conventional standards, I’ve failed the test. All my good intentions for reading a Lenten devotional or joining #40 acts or picking something to ‘give up’ have fallen by the wayside. And, then I remember….”for all have sinned and fallen short…” No amount of good works or best efforts could ever help us ‘pass the test’ or bridge the gap between ourselves and a holy God…for 40 days or 365, let alone a lifetime….which is why He so loved the world that He sent His only Son.
Jesus held the first March For Our Lives; one man carried a cross up a hill to save all our lives, and in so doing, bridged that gap.
Maybe *this* IS Lent.
To nobler heights
My grandmother was Valedictorian of her high school graduating class. Her commencement speech was titled, To Nobler Heights.
Tonight as we pause at this worthy goal, our hearts are gladdened for we feel we have accomplished something worth while on our march thus far…Our hopes like towering falcons aim at objects in airy heights, for we realize that upon, the youth of today, rests that great responsibility as citizens of tomorrow. As we look forward into the future we see great and noble heights that we may attain if we but climb steadfastly onward. We know not how much time we are given and must constantly move onward if we would not fall back. To those who are older and perhaps great than we, it may possibly seem that our progress is slow and our achievement nothing. But we are not discouraged, for we desire above everything else to climb upward; to give our lives in service to humanity, and thus in a measure repay the world and our Master for what has been done for us.
As Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt’s song Found Tonight begins…
We may not yet have reached our glory, but I will gladly join the fight….and when our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.
To nobler heights! Let’s be broken, together. Let’s be stronger, together. Let’s be better, together.
This is the march for our lives.
This is the march for her life.
For God so loved the world that He marched first, so that you could be found.
Why is the sky blue? Why do pigs like mud? Are unicorns real? Why do chickens lay eggs? Why can’t I have ALL the Legos at the toy store?
Any parent will tell you that it’s a magical milestone when a child begins stringing together words and you can have *actual* conversations. Over time, those actual conversations turn to torture when they just won’t SHUT UP. (Hey, no judging until you’ve spent YEARS discussing the finer points of garbage trucks and diggers followed by YEARS discussing Star Wars!) Or, how about when the questions seem pointless? Like when my boys discuss the pros and cons of having eyes on hands and mouths on stomachs OR what if the universe got sucked into a black hole? What would happen? I’m not sure what happens if we all get sucked into a black hole (I’m a Liberal Arts and Sciences person but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it’s not good) but I know what happens these days after about 10 minutes of these kinds of conversations….I exit the conversation. I tell them I’m busy. I direct them to go play somewhere else. I get off their rollercoaster of endless ideas and possibilities.
Eventually, kids stop asking ‘why’. My eldest will officially enter the teenage years in a couple of months. Now and then, she asks her dad and I a ‘why’ question, but not as often as before. She’s learned how to google! And, more significantly, she’s keen to gather inputs from sources other than mom and dad. I’m currently reading Untangled by Lisa Damour, in my attempt to prepare for the teenage years ahead. Lisa writes about the immense significance that teenage girls associate to being part of a tribe, to feeling like they belong.
A tribe can be a beautiful, wonderful thing. On the flip side, we hear the world ‘tribalism’ thrown around a lot these days, as folks try to unpack the reasons behind why our world seems so painfully divided. It was only lasted a moment, but a brief encounter highlighting these divisions has stuck with me. As much as I’ve wanted to erase this singular dark spot from my otherwise pleasant Christmas holiday – I can’t. Nor can I shake my strange desire to go back to that moment and tell him THE WHY.
It was our last full day in Pismo. I was taking my boys down to the tide pools at the beach just in front of our hotel. As we walked down the path to the stairs leading to the beach, I noticed three girls playing happily on the lawn. We turned the corner and began our descent down a steep staircase down the cliff to the sands below. Boys being boys, mine raced ahead. I tried to keep up, yelling to them every few seconds to SLOW DOWN and BE CAREFUL. As we made our way down the stairs a gentleman behind me said, ‘They look like healthy kids with a lot energy!’. Wanting to be polite yet eager to catch-up to my boys, I replied, ‘maybe they have too much energy!’. The man then continued with words that still haunt me.
Well, better that than to be overweight like those Hispanic girls back there. Did you see them? They must have weighed 150 lbs each. I can’t help but notice the difference between those girls and your boys.
I didn’t know how to respond. So, I ran ahead, saying nothing. Catching up to my boys, I put a smile on my face, hiding the tangled mix of thought and emotion as I processed what just happened.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve gone back to that moment over and over again. There were a thousand things I wanted to say, starting with the most important point that the girls on the lawn were beautiful and in no way deserving of such horrible insults. Period. Then, in addition to the things I’d say, there were the questions I’d ask… I’d ask him why he felt it was okay to say something like that to me? I’d question his assumption that we were somehow of the same tribe. I’d ask him whether he had considered for a second why these girls were slightly bigger than my boys?
One of the most frustrating facets of this story is that this man never stopped to consider THE WHY before opening his mouth to the stranger in front of him (me). These moments seem harmless enough, but they’re not. They are the micro-aggressions perpetuate bias and injustice.
Going back to the story…. Were the girls bigger than my boys? Yes. But, the man’s words and tone suggested that it was because of their race that they were overweight compared to my boys. They weren’t just girls….they were ‘Hispanic girls’. And, to make the comment that much more insulting, he grossly exaggerated their weight. The message was clear, though. My ‘white boys’ (as he saw them) were good. And, these Hispanic girls were not.
The problem with prejudice is that it usually steals just enough partial truth to perpetuate a total lie. You see, Hispanic children ARE more likely to be obese than white children. According to a SPECIAL REPORT on RACIAL AND ETHNIC DISPARITIES IN OBESITY, 22.4 percent of Latino children ages 2 to 19 are obese, compared with 14.3 percent of White children.5 More than 38.9 percent of Latino children are overweight or obese, compared with 28.5 percent of White children. This is the truth. But, this is not the whole story.
The Hispanic Kids
The reason why Hispanic children are a greater risk is due to the following:
Poverty, lack of access to affordable healthy food
Barriers due to language, culture or immigration status
Higher exposure to marketing of less nutritious foods
Limited access to safe spaces to be physically active
Being a policy wonk, I could go on and on with statistics on implications of these statistics or the strategies for change. But, I won’t. That’s not the point. The point is that if we want to have a conversation about weight then we should talk be talking about broken systems, racism and privilege.
So many of the problems facing us today persist – not because we don’t have answers. It’s because we lack the compassion and/or curiosity to ask the questions.
And, it’s not just the man on the stairs.
Women of Color
Evidence of bias and injustice abounds. Another heartbreaking example is that of women of color who die in childbirth at an alarming rate. Researchers have finally begun to ask WHY. The answer isn’t as simple as poverty or lack of access to care. Serena Williams, one of the most famous tennis stars on the globe (and surely one of the most fit people on the planet!) recently made news with news of how she nearly died after childbirth. She’s not alone.
A recent ProPublica investigation chronicles the story of another mother, Shalon, who died tragically at the age of 36, due to complications following childbirth. Shalon was an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, holding two masters degrees and a dual subject PhD. When she, a healthy, well-educated black woman died unexpectedly after childbirth, her colleagues were compelled to dig deeper into THE WHY.
WHY is it that African-American mothers die in New York City at a rate 12 times that of Caucasian mothers? This trend continues, even for more well-off African American mothers, with one study showing that black, college educated mothers were more likely to suffer from severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school. The answers are complicated, but the underlying theme is racism.It’s not just the individual encounters with our health care system. It is the cumulative byproduct of a lifetime of injustice that manifests in the most tragic of physiological ways. As Fleda Mask Johnson, an Atlanta researcher who studies this explains:
It’s chronic stress that just happens all the time — there is never a period where there’s rest from it. It’s everywhere; it’s in the air; it’s just affecting everything.
And, that everything includes childbirth. Michael Lu, a longtime disparities researcher and former head of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration compares the chronic stress of being a black woman in America to gunning the engine of a car…..perpetually. As he puts it, “sooner or later you’re going to wear out the engine.”
There are plenty of other examples of injustice towards African-American women, such as the wage gap (where they suffer from a double whammy of both racial and gender discrimination). But, the story….the WHY…. behind black women dying at alarming rates – regardless of education, geography, income, health, you name it…..is the very real pain and harm caused by racism and injustice that persists in both people and systems.
For many, education is viewed as the great equalizer. Get an education and you can do anything! With this mindset, it then becomes easy to judge others. If only they’d applied themselves more in school….then, they could have gotten a good job, blah, blah, blah. Sure, we’ll admit that some schools are better than others (that’s why we work so hard to get our own kids into certain districts!). But, we cling to this vague notion of the American Dream that assumes most folks have access to decent schools. This is where the WHY is again useful. If it’s really so simple, WHY don’t more people just follow that recipe?
Just a few days ago, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, released a 150-page report, titled “Public Education Funding Inequity: In An Era Of Increasing Concentration Of Poverty and Resegregation.” I’ll save you the trouble of reading all 150 pages. The main message is that America’s education system is failing its most vulnerable students due to:
Neighborhood schools that remain deeply segregated
Too many students lacking access to skilled teachers, rigorous courses, and
Inequitable school funding.
One particularly scathing line reads:
American public schooling is, and has been, profoundly unequal in the opportunity delivered to students, the dollars spent to educate students, and the determinations of which students are educated together.
So, WHY isn’t education a simple solution for those that are struggling? Because America’s most vulnerable kids don’t get to go to the same schools I went to or my kids go to….not anything close. Just to add one more layer to this…. Let’s just say for a minute that there’s a girl or a boy out there determined to overcome all the obstacles, regardless of where the live or the quality of their school. How easy is it *really* to get out of poverty? MIT economist Peter Temin’s research shows that escaping poverty requires almost 20 years with nearly NOTHING going wrong.
The Shithole Places
I could write for days and days of my disgust in seeing Trump’s vile characterization of entire continents and countries. It’s not wrong on so many levels. But, here’s another inconvenient truth: many Americans (most of whom would never admit it) are shocked by the vulgarity but not by the comparison itself. Admit it. We easily and often think of Haiti and/or Africa as places plagued by poverty, corruption, etc. At a certain level, this is true. But, again, one must ask WHY. For anyone willing to merely scratch the surface of history, the answer becomes painfully and abundantly clear.
Haiti was long a French colony that helped fuel the French Empire/Europe, providing 2/3 of the sugar and coffee consumed. When Haiti pursued its own path to independence, it spent nearly all of the 19th century trying to pay the $150 million gold francs French landowners demanded for freedom, in addition to being punished by American and European powers that refused to trade with them. While we didn’t do trade with them, we did loan them money (to pay the $150M in French debt), though in 1914 President Wilson had the US Marines empty the Haitian gold reserve. This led to years of occupation and unrest across Central American and the Caribbean. You get the picture…. This history isn’t new, though I owe this more succinct account to the January 11th tweets by author and journalist Jonathan Katz, who has spent time living and reporting from Haiti.
He concluded his thoughts on Haiti this way, as he speculated how anyone could justify such comparisons between Norway and Africa or Haiti.
You could write a similar story about Africa and the devastating impact of colonial rule combined with the slave trade. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots between the theft of people and land over many centuries with the challenges today. But, it does take a curiosity to learn and a heart of compassion to act.
The Bold and Humble
Confession: I’m still have a lot to learn on my Micah 6:8 Journey. You’d think that after 18 months of studying racism and privilege, I’d have had a reply for the man walking behind me down to beach. These everyday encounters are just one of the places where we may begin dismantling the many layers of bias, ignorance and indifference…. No matter how awkward or hard, it is time to call it what it is and sit with the discomfort. As Roxanne Gay wrote in yesterday’s New York Times,
This is a painful, uncomfortable moment. Instead of trying to get past this moment, we should sit with it, wrap ourselves in the sorrow, distress and humiliation of it.
And then, rather than resign to despair, we must let our holy discontent fuel our fight. Bit by bit we must call racism out and destroy it. It is not easy, but we stand in a moment where we must be both bold and humble. We must step-out of our silos and tribes, stand-up to injustice and fight for what’s right. At the same time, we must never stop asking questions and humbly listening to answers. THE WHY matters because people matter.
On Monday, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If we are to truly honor his legacy, we cannot be silent, or, as he put it, remain “neutral in times of great moral conflict”. Fast forward to today – you cannot endorse or even ignore Trump’s ‘shithole’ comments on Thursday and then try to be an ally to the cause of justice and equality the following Monday. Speaking further to the dangers of neutrality, holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “neutrality ALWAYS favors the oppressor.” Intuitively, we all know that oppression and injustice is wrong. Let’s have the curiosity and compassion to actually do something about it. Echoing the brave women in the #MeToo fight, TIME’S UP! NOW is the time to do that something.
NOW is the time to get back on the rollercoaster of endless possibilities. NOW is the time to ask WHY and understand better. NOW is the time to seek what Oprah called the ‘absolute truth’ rejecting partial truths or fabrications. NOW is the time to listen to our kids (who will one day stop asking), as well as those with completely different perspectives, be they across town or around the globe. NOW is the time for faith leaders to categorically condemn bigotry and racism, as well as the perpetrators of it. NOW is the time to dream for, what my grandmother called, ‘Nobler Heights’. We do this primarily because it is the right thing to do. And, we do this so that when we are old and our grandchildren are asking us unending questions, they will never ask us why we said or did nothing in moments like these.
Christmas Confession: I completely dropped the ball on our Advent Calendar/House and Elf On the Shelf. Yesterday, it dawned on me that there were only two weeks (eek!) until Christmas. In that moment, I knew there was no clever way out of this tardiness. Of course, my children would eagerly accept candy anytime – Advent House or not. But, some of the magic had been lost by not starting on December 1st. And so, the Advent House sits empty and our elves remain in the cabinet where I hide them each year (the drawer with tax filings and mortgage docs).
Death and Taxes
There’s a saying, that the two things you can be sure of in life are DEATH and TAXES. As, I stood, looking at those two elves shoved between our tax folders, God nudged my heart. Now, you need to know that I’m not one of those people who thinks Santa is bad, elves are evil and my children need to grow-up in an evangelical bubble (quite the contrary, actually). I love all of the stories and traditions of this season. But, this year….as much as I wanted to play the perfect mom with Pinterest inspired Advent treats and Instagram worthy pics of our elves….my heart just wasn’t in it. It’s as if God was telling me to let this tradition die in the tax files, believing He had something better.
So, I closed the drawer and walked out to the kitchen. Rather than surrender any more time to shame or worry, I went over to the table where my kids were eating their breakfast cereal and spit it all out. I told them that if they hadn’t noticed, the elves hadn’t yet come this year and that was probably because:
a) the elves didn’t get any help this year from mommy or daddy and
b) the reason they need help is because they’re not real.
I waited for the sky to fall or tears to well…. Instead, they calmly said, “Yeah, we know…the elves aren’t real.” Another added, “I’ve seen them on Amazon! You just order them!” As I breathed a sigh of relief, I remembered an idea that a friend had shared. I pushed aside the twinge of guilt that I was again two weeks late and made my pitch for a new Christmas tradition:
Hey, so my friend does this thing where every time someone in the family receives or witnesses an act of kindness, they write it down on a little piece of paper and put it into a box under the tree marked for Jesus. Then, on Christmas morning, before we open any of our presents, we open the box for Jesus and read all of the notes, remembering that the greatest gift is that of love….remembering what Jesus gave us and our call to love one another.
I waited. They weren’t gonna like it. I just knew it. But, I was wrong. All three kids nodded and said, “that sounds like a good idea.” My daughter even volunteered to make the box after she got home from school. And, she did. We are only one day in, but already the kids are filling the box with notes. This feels like Advent.
For the second year in a row, my heart is all out of whack this holiday season. The evidence goes beyond discarded elves and empty houses. Yet another example is this year’s family Christmas card. As I scrolled through Shutterfly designs, everything felt wrong.
Jingle All the Way.
Oh What Fun.
I couldn’t do it.
It’s not that my life was void of joy, but everything was NOT merry. I could not plaster over the pain and frustration of the last twelve months (Exhibit A: Roy Moore could well be elected to the US Senate today…don’t get me started!). I couldn’t even bring myself to pick a simple, ‘Merry Christmas’ greeting, as that simple phrase has been hijacked for political gains.
In the end, I went with LOVE.
It is the reason He came. It is the reason we celebrate. It is the real reason for the season. I truly believe that God sent His son, born in a manger and crucified on a cross – not so that we could see ‘Merry Christmas’ on our Starbucks cups or a cheap nativity set outside city hall but so that we could offer a cup of hot coffee to the homeless or shelter to the refugee or educational equity to low-income and at risk kids.
A Weary World
Today, I had the privilege of speaking to the Mothers Together group at Menlo Church. I shared the journey of the last year plus to make my faith real…. to not just say the right words but to do the work of loving one another, especially ‘the least’, which Matthew 25 defines as those that are hungry, naked, imprisoned or vulnerable. At the end of my talk, I read them this recent Jen Hatmaker post on Facebook.
Advent also reminds us that most people missed Jesus because they were looking for him in the bright, shiny lights of power, politics, and revolution. But Jesus came as the Light of the World, and light was made for darkness, but nobody was looking there – no one was looking for a manger; they were looking for a throne.
Don’t miss this: it’s not that most of Israel wasn’t looking for him…they ALL were…it is that they didn’t recognize the way he came. It is in your dark night of the soul the Light of the World can be seen most clearly. Seek him. Look for him. Ask for eyes to see. Let your soul direct its attention to the manger of your story…not the palace.
He might not be found in the bright shiny light of expectations but in the humble, gritty places we didn’t bargain for.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Jesus is literally everything.
Indeed, He is. I am still processing what that means and how it fits into my Micah 6:8 journey….to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. It feels particularly relevant this Christmas, as I let old traditions die so that new ones can emerge. And, that’s usually how these things work….you have to make room. And, similarly, we will find Him this Advent season, if we look for him in the mangers and margins.
Sandi Patty. Larnelle Harris. Gaither Vocal Band. These were the household names for me growing up. I was raised on a music diet that consisted primarily of Christian music with a bit of classical thrown in on the side. Sandi Patty was my favorite. I knew every word to every song. To this day, I still believe she has the voice of an angel. Duets, like those with Wayne Watson, sounded like music from heaven. Truly.
Though it has been YEARS, I can still hear one of their most famous songs, Another Time Another Place, play in my head. The main refrain begins, So, I’m waiting for another time and another place, Where all my hopes and dreams will be captured. These lyrics remind me of the verse in Revelation, where it says that He will wipe away every tear, that there will be no more sorrow, no more pain. I love that verse because it speaks to the brokenness that we all carry plus God’s redemption promise.
At my church, we’re doing this series called, Upside Down, looking at the most famous sermon ever given – the Sermon on the Mount. Embedded in that sermon is the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus commands us to pray that Up There Come Down Here. It turns out, the work of the cross continues, in and through broken people like you and me. Till we get to that other time and place, there is work to do.
So what is that work?
In August, I wrote about what I’d learned in my year-long journey of trying to *actually* live out the Micah 6:8 verse. Option B was more about the process than the outcomes. So, here I want to expand on the WHAT….what do justice, mercy and love look like? I am still learning, myself! But, these are the doors God has opened.
Community Equity Collaborative
In May, a few of us met over a cup of coffee to talk about what we could do to promote social justice in our community. At a Starbucks in Menlo Park, Community Equity Collaborative was born.
Who are we?
We launch, support and connect initiatives across the San Francisco Peninsula that promote educational equity, especially in the area of early learning.
While we believe that charity is a cheap substitute for justice, an opportunity to distribute 7,000 pairs of toddler shoes kinda fell into our lap, providing a great platform for connecting with the early childhood education community in our area.
What do we do?
Some examples of the work we’re doing now:
Assist faith-based organizations in assessing their site for preschool and connect these organizations with early learning operators.
Create career pathways into early learning, collaborating with Able Works and Canada College with integrated teacher/student mentoring and individualized coaching.
Support local school districts that have or are building early learning programs.
I intended all summer to write about Community Equity Collaborative. I’m just now doing it because we have been busy, which is a good thing – God is actually using us! Who knew!?! And, it is confirming for me that the Micah 6:8 work precedes the writing, not vice versa. It is as if God keep telling me, “just do the work, I’ll give you the story.” And, stories He is providing!!!!
Domestic Worker Oral History Project
Very little research or reporting is done on domestic workers. They are this essential ingredient, helping us take care of our little ones and keep our homes in order (especially in the high-paced, over-achieving region of Silicon Valley). Yet, we know so little about their *actual* lives. Simone Weil, says, “Attention is the purest and rarest form of generosity.” We have decided it was time to shine a light on these women….to stop and just listen to their stories.
So, what exactly are we doing?
I, along with a partner from Community Equity Collaborative, decided to personally organize and fund the gathering of stories from Bay Area women.
We partnered with Able Works, as many of their clients are formerly or presently in the domestic worker field.
How are we doing it?
We identified someone who these woman would trust and are having her interview the women, using a set of questions we designed, the answers to which are recorded, transcribed and then translated (if needed).
In total, she will have sat down with ten women, and from what we’ve already seen – the stories are amazing, as they paint pictures of both great tragedy and triumph.
Why are we doing this?
Well, for starters, we believe in a God who always seeks out the marginalized and disadvantaged.
Second, we believe in the power of story. It is easy to be indifferent when you don’t know.
Our hope and prayer is that these stories will create a foundation for greater understanding and compassion for domestic workers.
What will we do with these stories?
There will definitely be a blog post!!!!
We will also work with partners, like Able Works, to share these stories though local news outlets and organizations, so that others can learn from these women.
This week, I was back at Life Moves in Palo Alto, serving lunch. Those two hours, serving the homeless, never cease to soften my heart. Here are two stories from Monday that have stuck with me.
PB Guy: We always try to smile and engage in friendly banter as clients move through the food line. One elderly gentleman began trying to tell us something, in Spanish. A handful of us were trying to translate what he was saying. We finally figured out he was telling us that when he eats peanut butter, it gets stuck in his intestines. (Okay….thanks for sharing.) We naturally jumped into problem solving mode….now that we understood, how could we help….what should we do….what did he want? Turns out, nothing. He didn’t want anything, other than for us to know. Later, as we were cleaning up, this same guy starts coming to us with paper-towels, pointing at the towel. Again, it took us a moment to figure out what he wanted. Finally, we figured it out – he wanted us to put some of our cleaning spray on the towels so he could help. I drove home, thinking about the PB Guy – he just wanted to be known. He wanted to help.
Late Girl: Around the same time that the PB Guy was helping us clean-up and stack the chairs, a young lady came running in, asking if it was too late to eat. She explained that the buses were late today and she was really hungry. Quickly, we began gathering bits and pieces…..an apple here, a handful of crackers there. We began stacking it all on a plate. She looked over at a huge tray of pasta. “Can I have some of that?” Those of us serving looked at one another, our hearts breaking. We explained that this tray had not been opened. If we did open it and serve her, we would have to throw out the rest of the entire tray. In the end, we were able to give her a plate that was stacked pretty high with different items we could take from the refrigerator or pantry. I will remember the Late Girl, her eyes filled with longing.
I return to Life Moves, not just because my faith requires that I am loving the least, but because my heart is the life that needs to move – more than any other. If those of us with power and privilege learn how to see PB Guy and Late Girl with the eyes of Jesus, we will see Up There come Down Here.
These ladies are my soul sisters. We read. We cry. We organize. We pray. We celebrate. We talk….a lot. They are my people. I am reading Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Anan. He writes about how Micah 6:8 kingdom work is a long run – there are no easy solutions or short-cuts. I’m in this for the long haul, but in the same way that Aaron helped Moses hold his arms heavenward during the battle against the Amalekites, so we all need folks who come alongside us. I need these ladies to hold my heart and lift my hands, as we put our heads together for how we can do the same for others. WE are better together and we know the same is true for the rest of the world.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
There are my *real* girlfriends and then there are my fantasy BFF’s…..the gutsy, progressive female Christian writers I do not know for real but they mean the world to me and they keep me sane during this not-so-sane season. Sarah Bessey recently tweeted, “I’m fired up and burned out at the same time.”
That is where I am right now. Part of me is so weary but the other part of me remains mobilized and ready to fight. As Cory Booker just recently said, “The opposite of justice isn’t injustice, it’s indifference, it’s inaction.” So I’ll be damned if I go back. This past year or so has been my Damascus Road. Now that the scales are gone, there’s no retreating or surrendering to the numbness, even as the onslaught is unending.
DACA. Charlottesville. North Korea. Puerto Rico. Las Vegas. Weinstein. Earthquakes. Floods. Fire.
Disaster, both natural and manmade, have become a daily reality.
Today, it isn’t just my heart but my literal home that is being burned out. For the fourth day, Northern California, where I live, is on fire. Thousands of acres have been burned. Nearly thirty lives have been lost (that’s surely going to go up). Again, our schools are forced to shelter-in-place. Wineries, like Stag Leap, where I have wandered through the vineyards and tasted Cabernet’s with my husband, are completely destroyed. While we are about 100 miles from the front lines, the smoke is heavy across the Peninsula. You see the ash in the sky and your lungs instinctively tighten. The feeling that it’s hard to breath….It seems oddly familiar.
Church, the world is going up in flames and it’s waiting to see whether or not we give a damn. Too many of us have allowed religion to morph into sanctified indifference enabled by privilege. But, once you take the mask off. Once you open your eyes to the Syrian refugee and the young black man and the Latina domestic worker and Puerto Rican still without power….even if you’re not in the midst of the fire, you still see and smell the smoke. You still can’t breath.
“I can’t breathe.”
Eric Garner’s last words have become the mantra for many protesting injustice. There’s a line in the oldie, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, “When your heart’s on fire, you must realize smoke gets in your eyes.” If you go anywhere near the fire, if you take a stand against power and privilege, if you intend to actually get into the trenches and love the least, smoke will get in your eyes. That is just a fact. What’s also true, is that anyone seeking God will find Him in the margins. He is in the middle of the fire, and he calls us to join Him there.
In a couple of weeks, I’m crossing another item off my Forty-for-Forty list, attending a Lecrae concert in San Francisco. Since November, I just can’t turn on Christian radio. Happy worship songs play and chipper DJ’s banter with nary a mention of those desperate for a gospel that is good news. They sing of love and grace, but where is the fruit? Their silence reminds me of a people who voted overwhelmingly for Trump, take offense at athletes taking a knee but not at police brutality, value life in the womb but not enough to support commonsense gun control, pray for Texas but say nothing of Puerto Rico and I could go on and on. On days when my chest feels tight and I can’t breathe, I crank up Lecrae. One song called, Fuego, includes these lines:
I know this life it comes with pain But it’s through our pain we win though Could be made like Him so treat these streets like flint bro Cause our God can spark up the dark In the hearts of the hardest departed let’s go
Treat every night like it’s the last night Like it’s the last time you get no other chances Get your torches high let’s set ablaze the sky Passion’s a fire bright and we’ll be burning forever Set the world on fire let’s set the world on fire
The world’s on fire. I can’t breathe. But, then, but then…. Up There comes Down Here. John the Baptist says in Matthew:
I baptize you withwater for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Long before Metallica (I now listen to more than just Christian worship and Classical), it was Shakespeare who coined the phrase, “Fight fire with fire.” It means basically that – fight as your opponent fights. In the Kingdom, we too fight fire with fire. But, fire from above is nothing like that of earth. In Christ’s upside down kingdom, the weak are strong, the first are last, there is no hunger, nobody ever receives a cancer diagnosis, justice prevails, the poor are blessed and love always wins. When flames of holy fire come from Up There to Down Here, we taste shalom and see slivers of heaven.
This is not only the promise of eternity, it is His command to the church today. And, the whole point of the gospel is that this is the time, this is the place. Therefore, I am not waiting. Give us this day, bring your kingdom Up There to Down Here for I am here, fired up and burned out. Use me. Let’s set the world ablaze.
My fortieth birthday is in two weeks. Am I freaking out? Absolutely not. Since I was in high school, I have felt like a forty-year old in my head. Stick me in a coffee shop with the Sunday New York Times or a hefty historical biography and I’m on cloud nine. That was me at 18 and that’s me today…. Still, for whatever reason, it’s an American tradition to make a big deal out of 40th birthdays. So, deal me in.
A few weeks before my 39th birthday, I sent my youngest child off to kindergarten. I called it my Grand Emancipation. In the months since then, I’ve been on a journey to figure out who the hell I am (when I’m not wiping runny noses and going to Mommy and Me music class) and what on earth God wants me to do with my life (I think it’s more than Pinterest inspired chore-charts for my kids and a full BSF schedule for me). I wasn’t one of those moms with a lot of extra help during those years in the trenches, so these have truly been transformative months.
I have learned, for example, that my Micah 6:8 journey is indeed the path that God wants me on….that my faith is best expressed in a life built around love, justice and mercy – particularly to those who need it most. Living with a Trump president. Coming to terms with my own white privilege. Confronting a faith that has been complicit in the face of racism and injustice. These months of wrestling have not been easy. But, questioning (and sometimes discarding) old ideas has been both healthy and liberating. The more I learn, the more confident I am that this – the path of God-inspired social justice – is the right direction.
So, in the midst of all this heavy soul-searching, I’m launching my Forty for Forty campaign. Put simply – it is a list of forty fun activities or treats that I’m proactively pursing in celebration of this milestone birthday. Is it super cheesy? Absolutely. Is the nerd in me totally psyched? You bet. Am I done with justice? No way.
What the hell do I like?
A few days ago, I started making my list. I whizzed through the first 10-15 items. Then, I started running out of ideas. Crap. What the hell do I like to do? Has it been that long since I’ve let loose and had fun? Confession: You know you’ve not engaged in extensive ‘self care’ when you’re struggling to think of more than a dozen things you enjoy doing. As silly as this exercise is, I AM learning a thing or two about myself in the process.
Realizing I needed some inspiration, I googled….’forty things to do for fortieth birthday’. I had no idea whether the internet would come to my rescue or not. Sure enough, there were tons of websites, blogs and even entire books! I doubt that my list (which we will get to eventually!) will appeal to many, but can I just say to Estee Stanley at MyDomaine, you lost me at #4 on your list: Take care of your friends’ kids for the day. Are you serious? That idea is even worse than my daughter’s suggestion that I run a marathon. To both of these, I say, I’m trying to treat myself – not punish myself!
So, back to the drawing board. I clicked on another link, this one for Best Life. Is that a men’s magazine? I’m not even sure, but I needed ideas….ANY ideas that did not include killing myself with exercise or going insane watching other people’s kids (remember, I’m just barely out of the mommy trenches – maybe the idea will appeal more for my 50th….maybe).
As you can see, we barely got past #4 this time, when the dudes at Best Life tossed out ubering a private plane as a legit suggestion. I’m sorry…does that idea come with a winning lottery ticket? And, if I may: THIS, friends, is a perfect example of the aspirational privilege of white men. Anyways, back to the list….
Suffice to say I clicked through many blogs and articles, finding little inspiration. I had no choice but to simply think about what brings ME joy. So, here is what I came up with.
Dayna’s Forty for Forty List
Eat a Mademoiselle Colette Chocolate Croissant
Have a nice birthday dinner with husband
Have tea or coffee with friends
Schedule a lunch date with a good friend
Get nails done
Take a long walk with friends
Go to a coffee shop, order a grande cappuccino and then just sit and read the Sunday New York Times or a historical biography
Treat myself to Tinpot ice-cream
Listen to live music
Eat Mexican food (Can you ever have too much chips and guac? Seriously.)
Visit an art gallery or museum
Get my hair done – maybe even try a new style
Plan a spa day/get a massage
Watch one of my favorite movies
Spend an entire day in PJ’s
Get a realllllly good, dense chocolate cake – like a flourless chocolate cake
Look through all my photo books
Buy a new lip gloss
Go to the movie theater while the kids are at school
Drink a really good red wine
Take a bubble bath
Enjoy my favorite Asian dishes
Eat Chicago style pizza
Spend an entire afternoon reading
Drink a root beer float
Enjoy a super long Skype chat with my Irish BFF
Go to a bookstore without a ‘to buy’ or ‘to do’ list – just look at books (maybe buy a few)
Yelp ‘best eggs Benedict’ and then go eat it
Give myself permission to do NO CLEANING on my birthday
Try a new food
Update my will (I know, it sounds morbid but it’s truly reassuring to know your life, family, estate, etc., are in order)
Reassess and possibly change where I give my time and money
Take a family photo (okay, like the will, not so high up on the ‘fun factor’ but still something that’s worth it in the long-haul)
Make plans to see friends who live further away
Write down blessings
Create a bucket list – things I want to do in my next 40 years
Take time from all the spa days and indulgences to go to the homeless shelter, remembering that I am always so happy when I spend time there
Spend a weekend away with my hubby
Write a birthday blog post
Sure It’s Grand
In the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Abraham Lincoln changed the federal legal status via executive order of more than 3 million enslaved people in the designated areas of the South from slave to free. For many abolitionists it was cause for “grand emancipation jubilee.” Frederick Douglass even called it a ‘death blow’ to the slaveholding rebellion. But, the devil is in the details, which headlines and tweets often miss. And, a quick review of our Civil War unit from American History class reminds us that ‘grand’ is far from ‘complete’ or ‘total’. In fact, the 1963 Proclamation applied only to the 10 states still rebelling – it did not cover nearly half a million slaves in border states. Other states under Union control, namely, Tennessee, as well as most of Virginia, West Virginia and Louisiana were exempted. Though African-Americans gained the constitutional right to vote in 1870 via the 15th Amendment, the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, allowed Southern states to effectively disenfranchise black voters. Thus, it wasn’t until 1965 – just 12 years before I was born – for full participation to be guaranteed with passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
So, what the hell is a civil war history lesson doing in the middle of my otherwise lighthearted blog post about my 40th birthday? Well, once a history buff, always a history buff. That’s why I love to use witty phrases like ‘Grand Emancipation’ – which connect my life to fascinating historical topics. But, here’s the problem: this last year of studying racism and bias has taught me that it’s only through the lens of my white privilege that I can casually employ euphemisms like, ‘Grand Emancipation’ to describe my transition from ‘stay at home suburban mom’ to ‘still stay at home suburban mom….with more time’.
If you are one of the millions of African-Americans in our country, not only is it highly probable that you remember FINALLY getting the right to vote, just 52 years ago, but it is almost certain that you still live with the remnants of America’s ‘original sin’ which lives on in the form of daily encounters with racism, bias and privilege.
Who’s Rescuing Who?
Yesterday, I finished a book titled, Rescuing Jesus, How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism. And, it is true…..the margins are where revival will happen. The trenches are where the holy ghost is alive and well. And, it is in loving the least that we are most likely to see God at work. In the pages of books written by an Asian woman and in the lyrics of rap songs sung by a black man, I am rediscovering Jesus and with it, a whole new view of the gospel. One of my favorite songs to blast in my minivan, as I run around town, is Tell the World.
Now, I’mma tell the world, tell the world, tell ’em I’mma tell it everywhere I go Tell the world, tell ’em Yeah, I’m a billboard Tell the world, tell ’em And I’m broadcastin’ like a radio Tell the world, you ought to know I’m brand new
I’ve been thinking a lot about that….. What does my billboard say? What does my life say about my faith? There is indeed much about me that is largely the same – from that 18 year old me in the senior portrait, to the nearly 40 year old me now. I still love history and coffee shops. I still love chocolate and root beer floats. I still love Ralph Lauren (I know, I know, so very preppy but I now also have a Black Lives Matter hoodie – progress!).
The line from Tell the World, I’m brand new, references a verse in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that says: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Folks who knew me back in high school probably would have described me as ‘nice’. God, I hope that’s largely still true. But, what’s also true is that (to borrow a phrase from Lynne Hybels) nice girls don’t change the world. And, nice is not a spiritual gift or heavenly calling. And, in my next 40 years, I pray God would continue remaking me. I want to be the kind of person who not only knows the past history of racism but is presently working to tear down organizations and institutions that perpetuate systemic injustice. I want to ruthlessly look at my own attitudes and assumptions, figuring out both where my privilege gives me a platform for helping others, as well as where I can learn from the oppressed and marginalized.
American culture offers a tradition 40th birthday celebrations that includes everything from private airplane rides to big birthday bashes to running marathons or watching your friends’ kids (well, according to one blog). Americans weren’t the first to give special attention to the number 40. As I wrote in my Lent post, 40 has special significance in the Bible, occurring 146 times and generally referring to periods of trial or testing. Another confession: I think eating my favorite foods and hanging out with my favorite people sounds much more appealing! But, I also know that a life limited to superficial niceness is no life at all. So, if trial and testing mean leaning more intentionally into the life God created me for – I say, bring it! Forty, here I come….holding my ‘Micah 6:8 Mission’ in one hand and my cheesy ‘Forty for Forty’ list in the other.
With this blog post now published, I’ve officially crossed off an item from the list. And, my husband justifiably argued for the inclusion of our SF weekend (last month) on the Forty for Forty list – it was pretty awesome. You can read a bit about that weekend away, along with some other reflections on Year One of my Micah 6:8 life, here.
I recently returned from a family trip to Mendocino, a small town on the northern coast of California. It was lovely in all the ways you’d expect: unspoiled, rugged, breathtakingly beautiful…and, for our family, the added bonus of super-cool temperatures. Sun-worshippers, we are not! Anyways, part of the charm was its remoteness. We quickly realized *how* remote when we discovered our cottage had no wifi or cell coverage. I had no choice but to turn off Facebook and Twitter, focusing instead on the stack of books I’d thrown into the minivan.
I’m probably the LAST person in Silicon Valley to read Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. Friends had told me that it was quite good, and since she lives down the street and has kids in class with mine, I added it to my vacation reading pile – which is otherwise dominated by social justice books (these days, at least!). On a foggy Mendocino morning, I cracked it open, reading about her journey after losing her husband suddenly in 2015. Into her own personal narrative, she integrates research and lessons learned in facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy. In the midst of her grief, a good friend told her….
“Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”
Post-Eden: Option B
Church, we are living in the era of Option B, Biblically speaking. This broken and hurting world is NOT as God created it nor is it the way He wants it. Option A was Eden. This side of heaven, there will never be full shalom. But, that in no way means that we are meant to circle the wagons around our holy huddle and wait for the rapture. We are called to bring ‘up there’ to ‘down here’. The other book I read in Mendocino, was Love Mercy, by Lisa Samson. Given that Micah 6:8 has become my own mantra, I was keen to dive into the personal story of another believer trying to put this verse into practice. She writes about the moment God met her on the pages of Isaiah 58, solidifying her conviction that she was to orient her life around loving the least. She shares:
God keeps sending me this message because I keep doing a half-baked job of following. Expend your life on behalf of the poor? Expend means to be be worn-out, dried up, caved-in, broken-down, melted, sapped, burned & tattered.
I read that and paused. I am on the same journey, but what will it cost me? What is it going to ultimately lead me to? It still don’t fully know. But, I am more convinced than ever that it is time for a revival of love, mercy and justice. It is indeed time for the church to kick the shit out of Option B.
So, part of the reason Mendocino sounded great is that I did NOT have to worry about being ‘swimsuit ready’ come June. With temps in the 50’s and 60’s, I stayed mostly in jeans and sweatshirts. No matter where you spend your summer, I can assure you that most moms out there watched the hilarious video by Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley, “I Swimsuit Season So Hard.” It went viral, in part, because all women can identify with the crazy expectations modern life throws our way. And, let’s be honest, when you’re juggling ALL that and then someone wants to give you a lecture being ‘worn-out, dried up, caved in, broken-down, melted, sapped, burned and tattered’ for the poor…..I mean, seriously. It. Is. Too. Much.
But, faith doesn’t always make sense. Jesus makes these outlandish claims, like we are to lose our lives in order to find them. But, how do you do that and still pay your bills and raise your kids? What ‘exactly’ are moms meant to lose? Tell me. This chica needs details. I read these amazing books and blogs by the likes of Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans. It looks and sounds so good, but how do you make it happen, a truly missional family and life? Do we go to Africa? Foster kids? Work in the inner city? Must everything we eat, drink and wear be fair trade? What happens if I suck at composting and my kids don’t want to donate their birthday money to charity? Seriously. Where do you draw the line? What does it all mean for a regular family, like ours, just trying to get from one day to the next? How do you make sure you’re stumbling forward in the right direction?
Don’t ask me for answers.
The “control-freak, Type-A, hoping to impress you” version of me would love to unveil my journey as a roadmap that others could follow. But, all I have is my story…a messy one, at that.
Exhibit A: In my last post, I shared how God opened doors for me to donate my car (I truly thought life and faith were all falling neatly into place.) Would you believe that my brand new car was recalled!?!?! As in…I CAN’T DRIVE IT!!!! For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been driving around a rental while my new minivan sits in the driveway. That was not Option A!
But, even in these headaches especially in the headaches, God is teaching me. It seems faith falling into place does not equate to life going smoothly.
I’m not sure my messes and lessons will be helpful. But, I’m nonetheless going to walk through some of the lessons God has taught me since I began my journey, nearly one year ago, to *actually* live a Micah 6:8 life.
For the less ‘wordy’ types….here’s a diagram. But, suffice to say that those who truly love me and/or God will read to the end. (JK)
Sorry, white, evangelical, upper-middle class American church – you’re not being persecuted. On the contrary, you’re privileged beyond what you fully realize (Note: central to understanding privilege is acknowledging our own blindness to it). The full extent of that privilege in my own life – born out of my race, nationality, education, income, etc., is what I’ve come to more fully understand and appreciate these last few months.
Research shows that people like me credit ourselves for fortunes, rather than factors outside our control. This hindsight bias, as economics professor Robert Frank explains in his book, Success and Luck, Good Fortune and The Myth of Meritocracy, describes our tendency to think, after the fact, that an event was predictable even when it wasn’t. A similar myth pervades much of Christianity, most blatant with proponents of the Prosperity Gospel. Even Christians who don’t ardently propagate such dogma, still outwardly praise God, while inwardly crediting ourselves. Naturally, we then rationalize stinginess with the rest of the world, citing laziness or bad decisions or immorality, etc., as the explanation for their misfortune. If we get the credit for successes, they conversely deserve the blame for failures. (Or so the logic goes.)
If Americans are good at either not seeing or not caring about suffering at home, they are even more indifferent to the injustices beyond our borders. Folks, concepts, such as manifest destiny, are not Biblical. Americans are not *entitled* to some material global hegemony or economic prosperity or made sacred by our mere desire to justify our excesses at the expense of or in the face of other’s need and suffering. Our brothers and sisters of every tribe and nation carry equal weight with our Father, and so too must they with us.
Remember high school? I’m turning 40 in a few weeks. My boys (ages 6 and 9) declared the other day in the car, that they did not believe I was EVER a kid. Precious, huh?!? Contrary to their belief, I can remember being young. Books were my BFF’s. I remember reading Emerson and Thoreau, finding an inner resonance and harmony between these great transcendentalist thinkers, my adolescent desire for independence and my sincere patriotic belief in American exceptionalism. I saw no conflict between these ideas and my faith, and there is a good reason for that.
The ‘American’ Christian mentality has made subtle but significant shifts overtime, elevating individualism far above the collective. (Note: the worth of an individual should not to be confused with Individualism as an ideology.) Even as Jesus came so that we might enter into an individual relationship with Him via the Holy Spirit, we recognize that Jesus came to save us all.
“For God so loved the WHOLE world, that He gave us only Son…”.
While we are saved individually, we are called collectively. Christ said we will be known by the love we have for one another, not for ourselves (John 13:35). Even the personhood of God testifies to a harmonious duality of One God in Three Persons.
So too must we look for a similar balance between the individual and the collective in our own faith. Sadly, individualism as an ideology within the church has facilitated an unholy indifference to entire communities, from people of color to immigrants to even the poor (and many more). I include the poor because I know most Christians bristle at the suggestion that they or their church don’t care about the poor. What church hasn’t organized a charity drive or two? The problem is that even as WASPY types publicly profess regret and even compassion, they privately support (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) the institutions and systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice.
This is not who we are. In Matthew 22:38-39, Jesus clarifies the essence of faith:
This is the first and greatest commandment (Love God).And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
To the natural follow-up question of ‘Who Is My Neighbor’ Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, which paints a picture of God’s heart for the oppressed, marginalized and forgotten. These days, we look a lot more like the Priest and the Levi than we do the Good Samaritan. The Bible is explicit in its call to love the least, calling out women, children, migrants, the poor, etc.
Sadly, American Evangelicals are quicker to wag a finger at individual failings than offer a hand to marginalized communities. By our own doing, we have projected ourselves into the public square, with our moral majorities and our compassionate conservatism. And, now that we are married into these often unholy alliances, we cannot wash our hands. To the vast majority of America and the rest of the world, being an evangelical means protecting our individual interests above the needs of the communities where we live.
Even before #45 (who has taken indifference to a whole new level), evangelicals consistently backed policies and politicians that too often help themselves at the expense of those already at a power disadvantage. To that end, Beth Moore recently tweeted:
“We keep empowering the powerful/equipping the equipped/saving the saved/feeding the full/helping the helped and we wonder why we’re unfulfilled.”
Even worse, we not only excuse, but as Judy Wu Dominick calls it, we Christianize our pagan practices. God help us. Thankfully, He does. And, writing about the alternative faith mindset and practice, author Erin Straza advocates what she calls a ‘Comfort Detox‘ (which also happens to be the title of her book. She writes:
“There is too much to do and too much brokenness in this world for any of God’s people to sit idle, amused by life pursuits that benefit only ourselves.”
A church that gives a damn about a world, cares more about meeting the need than counting the cost, loving the broken rather than admonishing the sinner….and, in the midst of it – seeing our OWN need and our own brokenness.
“If your theology prevents you from changing your mind when confronted with the immense suffering it causes, your theology is your God.” – Rachel Cohen
At the end of the day, the gospel is inherently about reconciliation of ALL things….not the well-behaved, polished or polite….but, the ‘as far as the East is from the West’ Redeemer of ALL.
Crap. This is rubber hitting the road. It isn’t easy. But, discipleship is key to spiritual wellness. And, in the same way that physical wellness requires effort (do those damn planks and try to like kale) – so does this effort require carving out space from our crazy lives. We all want a magic wand, to make the problems go away or to create more time. But, sometimes what we need is not a magic wand but an eraser. We have to let go of something else in order to make space for new practices and mindsets.
I love to read. And, there is a growing library of literature on justice and/or faith. Truth be told, much of it’s been there for a looooong time (starting with my favorite, Old and New Testament scriptures!). But, once we find our bubbles, it’s astonishing how little we see outside. Even if you’re not ready to physically step into the margins, you can begin your journey as I did, with a book. I started with white, female Christian authors – women not that different from myself. But, overtime, I’ve found some of the most moving and perspective shifting lessons to be from people NOT like me…..people of color or people with a completely different life story and experience. So, even if you don’t pick a book off of my ‘Favorites’ List – please break your bubble and look beyond your own clan or comfort zone.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
The Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Favorite Folks to Follow – Twitter & Facebook
Some of these categories overlap but they nonetheless provide some categorization. And, this is also the tip of the iceberg! This is a large and growing community, that I was blind to till a couple years ago. It’s been like pulling back the curtain and discovering an entirely new universe.
Faith and Justice: Jim Wallis/Sojourners, Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, DL Mayfield, Eugene Cho, Sarah Bessey, Laura Ortberg Turner, Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, Judy Wu Dominick, Red Letter Christians, Jonathan Merritt, Jonathan Martin, Joy Beth Smith, Lisa Sharon Harper, Katelyn Beaty, Mihee Kim-Kort, Jenny Yang, ACLU, Preemptive Love Coalition.
POC: TruthsTable, SafetyPinBox, Efrem Smith, Deray McKesson, Shaun King, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Terri Givens, Austin Channing, LaTasha Morrison, Trevor Noah, Charles Blow, April D Ryan, Charles Blow, Bryan Stevenson.
Rescuing Jesus by Deborah Jian Lee
Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart
Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield
Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter McNeil
Comfort Detox by Erin Straza
The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper
God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Annan
Wake Up White by Debby Irving
Sheryl Sandberg writes about the value of journaling, in her book, Option B. I’ve never been good at journaling. I start a journal, write for a few days, and soon completely forget about it, as To Do Lists and Cranky Kids overshadow the empty pages. I began blogging because it was a way to hold myself publicly accountable to this journey.
There’s a Japanese proverb that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. Folks who go out on a limb, usually take a beating. #JenHatmaker It takes guts to call out injustice or speak truth to those with power or privilege. If you see someone taking a risk, say ‘thank you’. We need to be allies who stand first and foremost with those in the margins. And, next, we need to be allies to those who are advocating for others, be it a pastor teaching to his white congregation about racism and privilege or the young reporter writing in the wealthy town’s local newspaper about persistent poverty of neighbors next-door. And, as recent months have demonstrated during the current health care debate – your voice makes a difference. Call. Write. Tweet. We cannot afford to be silent.
It doesn’t feel like I’ve made much progress, but God help me – I was so blind, with so much to learn. And, thankfully, it’s been a year of wrestling and questioning and painful growing. Much of it began with a crazy invitation to a handful of girlfriends,
“Hey, would you be willing to meet regularly to study racism and white privilege with me?”
Amazingly, even though they’re all super busy moms with 101 things to do – they all said YES. And, so began a journey that has been broken and transformed all of us.
At the beginning of this journey, roughly one year ago, I honestly didn’t know where God wanted me or what I was supposed to do. But, I could not stand before God and attest for my life, given the delta between what I KNEW the Bible taught about loving the least and what I was actually DOING about it. I needed to take going OUT into the world as seriously as took going to church each Sunday. I needed to take listen to the stories of marginalized or oppressed people as often as I listen to Christian radio (if not more!). I needed to get my head OUT of the books and blogs and INTO the margins I claimed to care so much about. It was time to check my Savior Complex at the door, and just humbly GO. Like the scales that fell from Saul’s eyes, once I walked through the door, there was no turning back….I could see with painful clarity the pain and suffering of so many. While many questions remain and I still feel woefully inadequate, God keeps calling ME back to a few groups.
WHO: People of Color, the Poor/Homeless, Immigrants, Children WHAT: Education, Social Justice and Anti-Poverty Service Organizations WHERE: Bay Area HOW: Launch Community Equity Collaborative, Continue volunteering with Life Moves and Live Able
As a busy mom, trying to ferry kids to appointments and activities, it is easy to fall into ‘paralysis by analysis’. Seriously, there is a lot brokenness out there. Where do you start? How do you decide what issues to pursue or partners to work with? Here’s how I’ve made my choices:
Read books, read your local paper, drive to the other side of town. Identify the areas of greatest need in your community. Here are categories frequently mentioned in the Bible that you can use as a lens when looking at your own community:
I loved the way Nish Weiseth put it in a recent tweet:
“Regardless of your theology, when there’s pain (ESPECIALLY in the margins) that’s always where the church should go first. Always”
The margins are holy places.
Charity is a cheap substitute for justice, and God knows, many well intentioned charities have done more harm than good (Check out, When Helping Hurts). Pick organizations that are not only alleviating present needs but also working to knock down barriers and create better opportunities for future wellness. For your sake and the sake of the folks you’re trying to help, be smart in picking partners.
What places are either my community or my church turning a blind eye too? How can I help fill that gap? Frankly, Evangelicals are largely MIA from the margins (POC, immigrants and LGBTQ folks are more common targets than recipients, recently!), so I highly recommend going with a humble heart, ready to listen, learn and help there. And, here’s the crazy thing about the least….even if we have to leave our usual church activities in order to love the least, the margins are where we find Jesus. As Jonathan Martin puts it,
“Theology that cuts you off from the messy reality of human experience ultimately alienates you from Christ, too.”
Looking back on my life, I’m struck by how desperately I’ve tried to sanitize my life when I actually should have been leaning into the mess of myself and others, for at the foot of the cross, we are all broken.
What can I actually do? What days of the week or times of the day work for me? For me, with young kids and a husband who works long hours in Silicon Valley, my availability is while my kids at school. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I want to find new rhythms of life that can become my life-song for many years to come.
A few days ago, I saw Hamilton with my husband in San Francisco. Brilliant show at the beautiful and historic Orpheum Theater….which happens to be located in what can best be called, a ‘gritty’ part of town. Even my sincere desire to see worthiness in the homeless who encamp nearby, with their needles openly littering the ground and the stench of old urine hanging in the air – does not inoculate me to the deeply engrained norms of my lifelong privilege. If this blog sounds preachy, know that I preach to myself first and foremost. I still fall into my old ways of thinking, but I catch myself….I pivot. Bit by bit….that’s the only way.
There’s a refrain in Hamilton that is often repeated: “No, I’m not going to give away my shot.” And, this is the line that reverberates in my mind….I cannot give away my one shot at a Micah 6:8 life…for myself and for my family. I’m leaning that God isn’t asking me for the answers – just willingness to follow, one day at a time.
I’ve matured in my posture to Thoreau, since those high school days long ago. Though, there is much that still resonates, including this quote from Walden:
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
We cannot say we value and love others and yet be unwilling to make significant exchanges to their end. Loving the least means taking your shot and kicking the shit out of Option B, no matter the cost. Ditch the bracelet. Pick up the cross.
I think God needs a two-by-four when dealing with me. His fingerprints are all over my life, but He’s gotta regularly “hit me over the head” with the blatant obviousness of His presence in my life. One way He’s done this, is with dates. Now, before I go any further – I’m not a theologian, but even I know that this isn’t the only way God speaks….even to me! But, God has managed to show up on significant days in my life, with a conviction or a provision or an experience that point to Him. And, I have begun to slowly realize, that God is not only alerting me to the places where He’s at work in my life, but He’s doing it in such a way that I will forever remember the exact time and place when God showed up.
The first time I noticed a connection between a possible message from God and significant date, was about 5 years ago, in 2012, when my husband and I were feeling a tug to move from the San Francisco South Bay to another community up the peninsula. Reason? We wanted to be closer to our church. It was a short commute on Sunday mornings but it could take over an hour (one way) during the work-week. I didn’t want to live in an evangelical bubble or holy huddle, but I did want an ecosystem that facilitated regular connections (on days other than just Sunday!) and overlaps between our our various circles….of neighbors, schoolmates church friends, etc. We wanted to be part of a fabric that included threads of friendship, outreach, service, worship, etc.
That August, I lost a beloved uncle to Leukemia. This heartbreaking loss was a wake-up call: we needed authentic community, one that would come around us during tough times. My husband was from Singapore. I was from Chicago. We had no family in California. We’d have to build a community of friends. And, we believed our faith community was a natural place to start.
A month later, in late September (my birthday weekend), our pastor John Ortberg, gave a talk called the Divine Go. It was based upon the story in Genesis, of Abram leaving Ur to follow God’s command to go to Canaan. Sitting in church, it hit me – we need to move to Menlo. I sobbed through most of that sermon. I am sure that most folks sitting around me thought I was nuts. But, I just knew.
You might be wondering, ‘why didn’t you just move churches?’. Good question! We tried visiting several churches closer to our home. They were fine, but we could not shake an inner unrest. So, we called a realtor and moved forward, praying God would open doors – if this was indeed the path He wanted us to take. In December, we learned of a house coming on the market, and jumped at the opportunity to put in an offer – not thinking we had any chance of actually getting the house. For those outside of the Bay Area, we live in what is unquestionably a seller’s market. Many had tried to prepare us for what surely would be a long process, where we’d likely put in a dozen or more offers before finally landing something. But, amazingly, on December 19th – the same day we submitted our offer, we got a call that our offer had been accepted. December 19th also happens to be my middle child’s birthday. A few weeks later, we closed on my father’s birthday. A few months later, we closed escrow on our South Bay home AND submitted our renovation plans to the city (the new house needed some updating) ALL on my daughter’s birthday. A couple of weeks later, Jay’s father passed away suddenly. In provision, we saw God’s hand at work, allowing the pieces to fall into place more perfectly than we could ever orchestrate. In loss, we saw confirmation that we desperately needed community.
I have repeatedly confessed here, that my husband and I are Type A Control Freaks. Making this move defied all logic….it was not the decision that our well-designed spreadsheets or financial advisers recommended. But, our hearts knew what our minds couldn’t explain: we needed to go. I am learning, that often, we have to trust God before we can hear God. And, I think this move was a lot more about God taking us on a journey of trusting Him, than it was Him needing us to change our geography in order to do life with Him. He used dates, to make it abundantly clear that He was the one setting our path. John ended his Divine Go sermon, saying, “All around the Bay Area, up there is coming down here….God still says Go. And, when you say ‘yes’ you become part of something magnificent.”
We moved because we wanted to strengthen our relationship with God and His people. And, sure enough, I found natural landing pads within the Mothers Together ministry at our church. It was great! I made friends, used my gifts, served. (Confession: I loved the well-heeled mama’s, many with impressive resumes and lives. Many remain dear friends.) But, after a couple of years, I started feeling this tug again….as if God wanted me to make another move. This time, it was a heart move – not a geographic relocation. As I have written here, God led me to a group that serves lunch to the homeless. (Interestingly, the same gal who gave me advice when we made our move, was the one who invited me to serve lunch at the shelter). The rest, as they say, is history.
In my head, I’d long known that faith wasn’t meant to be just for me or my own circle – it needed to fuel an outward activism for the world around me. But, that head knowledge hadn’t really translated into meaningful engagement or love for the least….if I’m being totally honest. (Thank goodness for the two-by-fours!) God kept hitting me over the head…..with books, with people, with fresh eyes to the Bible itself…..you name it…..the arrows all pointed to a Micah 6:8 mission. And, while it’s not always easy or pretty, that journey to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly led me to the ‘something magnificent.’
Matthew 25 is a two-by-four kind of verse…. Jesus says: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ If you want a ‘with God’ life….if you want to see up there come down here, you gotta open your eyes to the people and places that Jesus points to repeatedly….the poor, widow, orphan, foreigner/outcast, sick and oppressed.
In my last blog post, I shared how God moved my heart during Lent. Long story short, we decided to donate my car to a charity, Able Works, in East Palo Alto. There were other spiritual lessons, but this decision was the most tangible. Still, I felt so spiritually clumsy. Here, I knew that God was asking me to literally and figuratively surrender. Yet, with every twist and turn, in the days while we waited for everything to fall into place – I’d find myself falling back into Control Freak mode.
Exhibit A: In March, we ordered a minivan through a nearby dealer. Unfortunately, the delivery date kept slipping. Not surprisingly, I panicked over whether we’d stick to our original donation date (and have no car) OR disappoint everyone at Able Works by asking to push out the date. Then, one week ago, we got the call that the new car had arrived. We rejoiced for a few hours, till they called back to say they couldn’t find the car on the lot….I cried. What the hell was going on!?!? FINALLY, they found the car and said we could come pick it up. So, last weekend, we did.
On Sunday, it occurred to me that our slipping date was not only a pretty clever test of my faith BUT it also put the timing for getting our new car – right on Mother’s Day. It was as if God was again weaving a tale, in such a way that I’d always remember His faithfulness in watching the pieces fall into place just in time.
In Surrender, I wrote: Why, if I truly wanted love, mercy and humility to be real in my life, would I go indulge in a new car?The short answer is: it wasn’t just about what I needed…..it’s about what someone else needed. And, finally the day came when we got to give our car away.
Initially, I didn’t realize that I’d be meeting the recipient. I’ve done enough reading on the problematic ‘savior complex’ of so many well intended Christians (check out When Helping Hurts or Overrated for more info!), that I preferred to just hand the keys to the charity and let them pass the vehicle to their chosen recipient. But, that wasn’t the way the process worked: we were to all go to the DMV together so that the title could be simultaneously transferred from me to the charity and from them to the recipient.
When the morning came, my stomach was doing somersaults. I so wanted this to be a moment of surrender….not just of a car, but of control…..that God would be present as my path and the path of this mom crossed. As we waited our turn at the DMV, we chatted. It turned out, she had a 6-year-old – just like me. And, she had a daughter, turning 12 years old this weekend – just like me. More fingerprints. Finally, it was our turn, and in a few minutes, the papers were all signed and we were walking out to the parking lot.
When she saw the car, she started crying. All I could do was hug her. After pointing out a few of the car’s features, it was time to hand over the keys and be on my way. A good friend was with me, since I needed a ride home! She took a few pictures, which was good. It wasn’t till I got home and sat in my kitchen, that I could truly process those moments. On the one hand, it felt as though that DMV parking lot had become holy ground….at least for a few moments. Up there had come down here, and I was overjoyed to have been part of it. On the other hand, it felt so normal…..as if, this were the way life was supposed to be.
On earth….as it is in heaven
When Jesus taught us how to pray, one of the key elements of the Lord’s Prayer was to ask that Up There come Down Here…..that bits of heaven would come into the broken places on earth. Of course, full and final redemption won’t come in this life. But, the Bible is pretty clear on our duty to love others (especially, ‘the least’) in this life. As I’ve clumsily walked down this Micah 6:8 path, I’ve become convinced that loving the least isn’t something we do to get EXTRA CREDIT in heaven – it is THE ticket to heaven…..it is ESSENTIAL to faith. If you keep reading Matthew 25 (which I cited above) you’ll get to a part where it talks about separating the sheep from the goats. Don’t be a goat. Wanna know how: feed the hungry, shelter the stranger, give to the needy, help the sick, show compassion to the prisoner….love the least. It is impossible to love God and yet be indifferent to what He loves.
Lighting For Literacy
I was struggling to reconcile my feelings, as I sat at my kitchen table, staring at the pictures my friend had taken at the DMV. I opened up Facebook and saw this post by a South Bay friend named Jessica, writing soon after her return from Mexico, where they delivered and installed solar lights in impoverished communities.
When we got home, a waitress in LA heard our story and said “you must feel so good about yourselves”. We all just kind of looked at her and didn’t know what to say. I mean, ya we felt good, but not necessarily because of our actions. The people of Colonet gave us as much as we gave them in love, friendship, gratitude, and life perspective.
Her father, Doug McNeil, started a group called Lighting for Literacy. In just a few years, they’ve done amazing work, empowering Bay Area youth to create a sustainable, renewable solar technology that provides opportunities for literacy and education around the globe. It is truly amazing what they’ve accomplished (they’ve even been recognized a few times by the White House!). But, at same time, I get what she’s saying….doing this kind of work shouldn’t be the exception, it should be the rule. Heck, it IS the rule – if you call yourself a Christ-follower.
The ‘Actual’ Divine Go
So, as it turns out, God called us closer to church, so that He could send us out into the world. Walking with God often creates this clash of the ordinary with the extraordinary. We see His fingerprints and we marvel at His provision. And, as amazing as it is – it also feels incredibly normal….like this is ‘as it should be’. The Jews have a word for this: SHALOM. The word embodies many meanings, but often refers to peace, restoration, wholeness and and prosperity. The ‘with God’ life is simultaneously magnificent and messy. But, if you dare to do it – you experience shalom…..bits of Up There come Down Here.
I’ve frequently referenced my Pentecostal upbringing. Back then, we talked a lot about the Holy Spirit, the gift given to early church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). We talked less about the way those who received His Spirit lived. Just a few verses later, in Acts 2:44-45, it says of the early church that they, “were together and had everything in common.They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” God’s temple is now in us. And, our most beautiful worship isn’t in a sanctuary with lights and videos – it’s is when our life-song is one of outrageous, magnificent, messy love for the world around us. As 1 Corinthians 13:1 puts it: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Don’t be a goat or a cymbal. Do Go. These are the things God is teaching me. His fingerprints are most noticeable in the places that move me closer to the least. And, while it truly doesn’t matter the day or the place that God calls – the point, is that He calls. God shows up. Those two-by-four encounters with dates pointed to His blessed assurance. This is my story. This is my song. Praising my savior, all the day long. The glory divine, is that in magnificent and yet mundane ways, God comes. So, we GO.
It wasn’t perfect. But, it was good. By perfect, I mean, I didn’t succeed in sticking with the 40 Acts. However, those 40 Acts….the daily emails and Instgram reminders of folks around the globe making Lent personal and real in their lives, inspired a journey in my own.
I Fired Donald Trump
In my last blog post, I shared my commitment to ‘give up Donald Trump’ for Lent. I was inspired by Diana Butler Bass, who wrote in the Washington Post on Ash Wednesday, about how her mind had been ‘politically colonized’ by Trump. She vowed to reclaim her mental geography during the 40 days leading up to Easter. I took the pledge with her…..and, it worked.
Trump had become my gateway drug to a daily overdose of worry and stress. During Lent, I permitted myself to still read the news. But, guided by my new abstention, I steered clear of anything that was solely about Trump. It wasn’t easy! Yet, as the days passed, I could feel my anxiety level going down. Mind you, I was absolutely not falling into a mindset of ‘God’s in control, therefore, I don’t need to do anything’. Rather, to go back to the mental geography analogy – I had to create ‘real estate’ for God to come in and show me where and how He wanted me to respond to the world around. It was a little hard to do that, when my mind perpetually horrified over Trump’s latest executive order or offensive tweet. It didn’t take me long to find answers to the HOW and WHERE. God definitely had a few nobler alternatives to Trump.
More often than a booming voice from heaven, the voice of God typically comes as a gentle prompting or ‘still small voice’, as 1 Kings describes it (when God spoke to Elijah). I could fire Trump but I couldn’t fire myself from the job of being a mom. Even as I created space for God, during the 40 days of Lent, I was still doing mundane mommy stuff, like shuttling my kids to their countless activists, playdates, doctor appointments, birthday parties, etc. In the midst of shuttling little people, I began to get frustrated with my car – more than I ever had in times prior. Something had to change.
We purchased our Volvo XC90 in 2007, WHEN THERE WAS ONLY ONE CHILD. Now, there are THREE cherubs riding along. And, not just three tinies….there are kids who steal and actually fit into MY clothes (not saying which one, but there’s only one girl…..). When we bought the Volvo, I was convinced those three rows would suffice for as long as the car ran. But, talk to my poor mother, who endured a few road trips with us, and she will tell you that rows two and three are as bad or worse as an economy seat on United. Even quick trips around town seem long enough for WWIII to break out in the rows behind me. Still, while I have long suspected that we’d one day need to trade our medium-sized SUV for a mini-van, 2017 was NOT the year our spreadsheet said we should make a change.
Why is any of this rambling relevant? I had a perfectly good, low-mileage vehicle – it worked, even if we were all about to kill each other. Why, if I truly wanted love, mercy and humility to be real in my life, would I go indulge in a new car?The short answer is: it wasn’t just about what I needed…..it’s about what someone else needed.
Here’s the long answer…..
God bless Bill Hybels. Truly. I remember vividly, being an adolescent Chicago-girl going into Willow Creek for the first time. I’d grown up in the Pentecostal church, where faith manifested itself as a list of rules and standards blended with charismatic worship. This place was almost other-wordly to me; it was a complete 180 degree shift in what I’d known.
Exhibit A: we left the Pentecostal church because we were no longer welcome. My mom was getting a divorce, and that was a sin. I always tell the story, with the emphasis on my mom. But, a friend recently pointed out to me that the injury was also to my brother and me…we were part of the collateral damage, stemming from this kind of dogma. On the flip side, here was Willow Creek. Not only was there a support community for folks going through divorce, but instead of showing you the door, they’d give you a car. Literally. They had a cars ministry, where donated cars would get fixed up and distributed to single moms from the community in need. WOW!
My mom didn’t need a car. But, we DID need compassion and a safe space to sort out our ‘next-steps’, after losing our church, house and father/husband. Willow Creek gave us that. And, many years later, my mom was able to donate her car.
Since then, I’ve dreamed of donating a car. Maybe it is because of this personal history. Maybe it is because of the shrieks of joy when an Oprah audience hears those fabled words, “YOU get a car and YOU get a car….”. Maybe it is because of my growing heartache for those who’d been dealt a really rough hand. To give someone a car….it seems so tangible. It’s a vehicle. IT TAKES YOU PLACES. Literally, and figuratively.
The last few months, I’ve been connecting with an organization in East Palo Alto, called Able Works. They equip individuals with financial education, life skills and assets that enable one to live free from oppression and poverty. On a whim, I asked they whether they ever took vehicle donations. It’s not on their website, so I suspected they probably did not. But, that ‘still, small voice’ was unrelenting. ASK. So, I did. And, they DO. And, better yet – they don’t just sell them at auction via a 3rd party – they actually allocate them to people from our community in need. In fact, they had a woman in their LiveAble program, who desperately needed and had been praying for a car. It’s hard to win an argument with the Holy Spirit. This pretty much sealed the deal, in my heart, at least.
I still had to persuade my husband. But, here’s the crazy part. Even though we’re both Type-A Control Freaks…..even though ‘The Plan’ had not included a new car anytime soon (let alone the donation of our old car), my husband and I both felt an odd (for us!) peace, as we quickly switched course. In the span of just a few days (which is faster than we ever make major decisions!) we signed on the dotted line for a new minivan and committed to the gifting of our old car. Looking back, it makes complete sense (especially, with the multiple road trips we plan to take this summer with our 3 kids + 1 dog!). But, before Lent, we had no such plans. And, I’m not sure my constant fretting over Trump would have ever facilitated such a decision process…..actually, scratch that – I am sure, it wouldn’t.
Lent was messy. On Day 1, I confidently created a spreadsheet for tracking my #40Acts…..I only got to day 5 or 6. Pathetic. Right? By my old standards, yes. Lent is about confession. So, here is my mine: the ‘Over Achiever’ me was already planning on day 2, the Easter blog post where I’d share my beautiful #40Acts spreadsheet. No wonder, God derailed my grand plans after just a couple days!They were my plans – not His. But, in those early days, God planted seeds for my ‘No Trump’ rule, which opened the door for our car donation.
Still, it didn’t happen overnight. As the days and weeks passed, the blogger in me struggled…. I had nothing to say, nothing to write. Everything was a jumble in my head. There were so many moving parts and lingering question marks. It didn’t fit into a neat, pretty package that I could easily translate into a coherent blog post. That’s my ugly truth. Even as I wholeheartedly build my life around justice, mercy and humility – I perpetually trip over myself. No wonder, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, we must die DAILY to our sins. God wasn’t looking for 40 entries on my little spreadsheet.
In the midst of my mess, Jen Hatmaker posted a quote from her upcoming book, Of Mess and Moxie,
You are not required to save the world, or anyone for that matter, with your art. It isn’t valuable only if it rescues or raises money or makes an enormous impact. It can be simply for the love of it. That is not frivolous or selfish in the slightest. If the only person it saves is you, that’s enough.
Whoa. That quote was like a life-preserver, thrown into a sea of doubt and confusion. I remembered that I started blogging, as a way to have public accountability for my personal spiritual journey. Period. It wasn’t about how often I posted or how many hits I got or even whether my writing opened doors down the road. It was about making faith real, for my family and for me. God put me in this world for a reason, to go OUT to the least, and live a Micah 6:8 life. But….I must look UP….often. Soon after this quote, Jen published a brutally honest blog post – her first in many months. She wrote,
This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ.
The Old Me put the cart before the horse. I wanted the blog post script that I could reverse engineer from a list or some sort superficial spiritual practice. But, here’s the thing: I don’t think my blog is very high up on God’s priority list – especially, if it becomes a vehicle of the Christian Machine. My soul, however, is.God had called me to lean into Lent, which meant embracing some soul-level messiness. CS Lewis taught that, if you want to live in God’s image, then you have to live a truthful existence. It turns out, the only way to truly experience God’s love is to bring my own story and brokenness into the light.
So, here’s where things stand now. We are STILL WAITING for the new minivan. I haven’t yet donated my car – it still sits in my garage. (Hopefully, that will change in the next couple weeks!). But…. The Me that felt I should say nothing till the whole thing was a done deal, and I could present my complete journey as a pretty package….that ME lost. The Me that felt anxious over the weeks going by with nothing to write about, opted to ‘be still’ in the silence. God had graciously entered my mess, and answered my HOW (create space for God) & WHERE (give a car to Able Works) Lent Prayer. God reminded me that the death and brokenness of Good Friday always precedes beauty and provision of Resurrection Sunday.
Remember that? Easter Bunny. Cross. Lilies. Peeps. Ring any bells?
Funny, how fast we move on. I’m sure a professional ‘blog consultant’ would say that there’s no sense writing about Easter, a whopping week after the holiday has come and gone. But, see, that’s the problem. Easter isn’t a holiday. It’s everything.
Easter is not only the cornerstone of Christian faith, it’s also the day, over 60 years ago, that my grandmother was murdered. Every year, when I celebrate a Risen Savior, I remember a lost mother and grandmother, a women I never knew, yet desperately miss. If ever there were a motivation to find beauty in the broken, this has been it. I’ve wanted my life to somehow bring meaning, inspiration and purpose out of her death. Parts of my life look neat and tidy. But, many parts are a big mess. Sometimes, you lose someone you love, waaaaay too soon. Sometimes, marriages end and dads disappear. Sometimes, the doctor confirms your worst fear, and you join the cancer club. Sometimes, ‘religion and politics’ clash in ways that are messy and painful to untangle or understand. Sometimes, life reminds us, ‘why Easter’.
This post wasn’t intended to be an ‘Ode to Jen Hatmaker’. But, the words from her last blog cut to my core, on so many levels.
I believe in the resurrection, so I know it will come. It always does. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. The cross taught us that. You can’t have anything more dead than a three-day old dead body, and yet we serve a risen Savior. New life is always possible evidently, well past the moment it makes sense to still hope for it. The empty tomb taught us that. I have enough faith to live a Friday and Saturday existence right now without fear that Sunday won’t come. It will come. I am nearly certain the way it will look will surprise me; I’m watching for the angel on the tombstone.
Every. Single. Time.
Every time I read that paragraph, I cry. That’s why I had to share the whole freakin’ thing. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. He did it once, so that we can claim it over and over and over again…..like, when your Grandma is taken on Easter Sunday. God still wins.
Redemption is defined as the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. Only God can do that. But, now He has extra help. I believe that my Grandma watches over me….that her spirit is no longer where her tombstone sits, but that she is in heaven, with Jesus. Now, she is one of the angels. And, over sixty years later, her story propels me to nobler heights.
Daily, we die. That’s surrender. Some days, it’s Donald Trump. Other days (if you’re crazy planners with detailed financial spreadsheets, like my husband and me), it’s a car. Sometimes, the Trumps and the cars remind you of that verse in Romans:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
Indeed, when we pause long enough to stop tripping over ourselves, God shows up in the most unexpected ways. That’s the most concrete thing I can say. This story isn’t finished, but I’m trying to let it be God’s story – not mine. I’m trying to let the lessons of Lent and significance of Easter seep into the deepest parts of me. It’s the only way to write the next chapter in my Micah 6:8 life.
No joke, I could employ someone nearly full-time JUST to deal with my family’s health issues. It’s not that we’re a super sick bunch! But, it all adds up! My daughter, who broke her ankle in three places, right after Christmas, is STILL in an orthopedic boot and needing regular trips to the specialist. This same lovely child, also has ear issues, so has been making near weekly trips to the ENT. Just this morning, she asked me at the breakfast table, if I could make her an appointment with the Pediatrician, to freeze off a plantar wart. (Side-note: am I the only mom who’s given up eating breakfast on school days? Just give me my STRONG coffee, so I can be half awake to drive you to school. I’ll eat when I get you little monsters, I mean loves, to school.). Anyways, my middle child is at the orthodontist almost weekly, these days. Thank God for my youngest, who has zero health issues….well, that we’ve noticed. That kid has learned out of necessity, how to ‘go with the flow’.
This is the first year that my three kids have been at school ALL day, so you would think that I’d have tons of time as a stay at home mom. Think again. Life is still crazy, whether it’s with these never-ending doctor and dentist visits, in addition to the usual assortment of after school activities. Every mom, whether she works in or out of the home, can tell you that the BUCK STOPS WITH US, when it comes to family life. When you learn that cute kid who came over yesterday has lice, guess who does 20 loads on the sanitary cycle THAT DAY? MOM. When you need someone to take you to the doctor to get that wart frozen off, who takes you? MOM.
This is not intended to be a slight to men. My husband is an amazing cook. From the first day my kids entered this world, he’s been the designated nail clipper. (I’ll never forget him showing up at the hospital with about 3 baby clippers, not sure which one would be best for our little bundle – we all remember how sharp yet how delicate those tiny fingers nails can be!). He helps around the house and he’s an excellent provider. But, at any given moment, it’s MOM who carries the insanely long ‘to do’ list related to the people they love. We never stop running, for there is always someone or something to catch.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. What is lent? Not too long ago, I could not have told you. As I’ve written here, I grew up Pentecostal. We did not follow a liturgical calendar. Heck, we doubted Catholics were true Christians, and were probably not going to heaven, since they weren’t ‘born again’, as we were. I’ve come a long way since then! These days, whether it’s the writings of Nadia Boltz-Weber or the latest statements from Pope Francis, I’ve found my brothers and sisters from the Catholic and Episcopal faiths to be some of the most inspiring and faith-filled figures in Christianity today. Yet, the Liturgical Calendar eludes me.
Since it was never my practice to eat fish on Fridays or celebrate Lent, I’ve often given myself a ‘free pass’ on these traditions, even as I’ve attended a Presbyterian church for the last 10 years, where services for Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday (among others) are offered. But, as I pursue a deeper, more authentic faith, I have to ask myself, ‘why not’? Why not practice Lent?
What is Lent?
Part of the reason I didn’t practice Lent, is because I didn’t understand it. Ignorance isn’t always bliss – often, it’s just ignorance. And, this is also true in faith. So, here’s the answer: Lent is an annual season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays to Easter. I love the way Katelyn Beaty describes it, with what it is NOT, in her recent Christianity Today article:
Lent is not about making ourselves miserable for its own sake, inflicting pain for sins committed throughout the year….The crazy and wonderful news is that, in Christ, we have been declared fit before God….A Lenten observance without this knowledge can easily reinforce common Protestant critiques (and caricatures) of Catholic or Catholic-ish rituals.
Beaty goes on, quoting Puritan theologian, John Owen, to explain what Lent IS:
Lent can become a practice in calling Christians to mortification instead of believing. It goes without saying, anyone who chooses to observe Lent must do so in a way that puts front and center “the power of God and the mystery of the gospel.”
Now, I understand lent to be a season for remembering, in word and deed, the primary pillars of the gospel. One of the pillars I hold most dear, is grace. But, grace can so easily be cheapened when we skip confession. Confession is at the heart of today, Ash Wednesday. Nadia Boltz-Weber explains this first day of lent:
Once a year, on a Wednesday, we mix ashes with oil. We light candles and confess to one another and to God that we have sinned by what we have done and what we have left undone. We tell the truth. Then we smear the ashes on our foreheads and together acknowledge the single reality upon which every Catholic and Protestant, believer and atheist, scientist and mystic can agree: “Remember that you are dust and to dust and to dust you will return.” It’s the only thing we know for sure: we will die.
Truth showed up big time, over a recent cup of coffee at Mademoiselle Colette. We were supposed to be having a ‘happy birthday’ luncheon. But, somehow, we ended up talking about death. We talked about our own mortality and that of people we love…about what really matters and whether we’re living our lives and raising our families in ways that align with our core beliefs and values. And, I don’t mean this in the way Christians often interpret *values* or *morality*…that I don’t swear or drink too much alcohol or skip church….I mean it more in the, do I pray for those that offend me (Donald Trump) or do I give sacrificially to those in need (even those of a different religion, like Muslim refugees) or am I willing to see my comfortable life get turned upside down for the sake of justice and mercy (to advocate for the undocumented or fight racism)? Lately, I’m leaning into the prickly places.
I intentionally said ‘lean’ and not ‘jump’. I am not jumping into these things. Control freaks, like me, rarely jump. But, I am leaning. Serving lunch to the homeless has been one of the ways I’m trying to ‘lean into’ loving the least. But, let’s be clear – God’s still got a lot of work to do in me. Here’s an embarrassing example. The homeless shelter has asked that volunteers, like me, fill out a bunch of forms. I mean…A BUNCH. I’ve still not finished my Live Scan (background check) or the TB test, because, honestly, it’s inconvenient. I’ve not had time. This weekend, I was running through my mental checklist for the week, and remembered these two items for the shelter, which I STILL need to do. And, there was this moment, when my thoughts went to that dark place….“they’re JUST homeless people….why must I do so much for THEM….I don’t even do that much to volunteer at school!!!!!”
Not pretty, I know.
But, sometimes we need to see the truth in ourselves. In the next moment, God quietly and gently reminded me of just how much He loves them (the homeless who come to the shelter). He reminded me of the posts I’ve written, where I waxed eloquent on the immeasurable worth of each one of us, and how God’s gospel, over and over again, is one of love for the least….for that is where God’s heart is. He reminded me of the truth I know, but so often forget.
Who needs Lent? Me.
So, how to practice lent when you don’t have any traditions, and you REALLY don’t want to give up chocolate, coffee or wine for 4o days? Well, a couple of days ago, the same friend who invited me to the shelter, posted a link on Facebook to a movement centered around Lent, called 40 Acts of Generosity. She asked folks to join her. Confession (yes, another one): my first thought was, I’m too busy, and I really don’t want to fail. Not only am I a control freak, but I’m also a perfectionist. If I’m going to sign-up, I want to get an A, goddamnit. But, today, God tugged at my heart with a tenderness I don’t deserve. He nudged me to go back to the link, and just check it out. As I watched the video, I realized that this was the kind of thing I was saying I wanted to build my life and faith around….now, here was a chance to bridge the ‘knowing/doing’ gap….to turn my words into action. So, I’ve signed up!
A Different Denial
In writing this post, I stumbled upon an article published today in the Washington Post, titled, Seriously, I am giving up Donald Trump for Lent. Here’s how. Reading it, I knew – this is something I need to do. Diana Butler Bass writes, “In recent years, more of my friends have taken something distracting out of their life to add a practice that is more life-giving.” She explains WHY Donald Trump, confessing, “For the past three months, I had gone to bed thinking about the president and often woke up in the morning doing the same. I realized my soul had been politically colonized, and that it was taking huge effort to think and talk about other things with family and friends.”
When I read this, I immediately thought of the wise words a friend, who recently told me it was okay, even as you seek God’s guidance on where He wants you in the world, to pull away for a time. She encouraged me to simply draw near to God, that maybe my life and present pursuit were starving me of His love. I know, I know, I know….this sounds like typical ‘Christianese Speak’. But, I assure you , it was not; she read my heart and offered me an invitation to let God find me in the midst of a difficult faith season. Lately, I question why evangelicals are silent when the world is hurting or how I can best to navigate conversations with my own pastors about what the role of the church should be, etc. or if my ‘best yes’ is in partnering with community organizations, rather than the usual ‘church service projects’???? As I grapple with these questions, and more, she gave me two great questions to ponder:
Lord, who are you?
Where are you?
Another dear friend, who loves me like a sister, unilaterally decided that the two of us would do an NT Wright study of Romans. And, can I just insert here, that while I hate what’s happening in our country and the suffering across the globe, I cannot deny the way God has rallied the most dear friends during these difficult times? I’m not sure we would have bonded the way we have, if we weren’t collectively heartbroken for the same things. Anyways, back to the study…. we are just beginning, but this season of Lent is surely a time for shifting my gaze away from the words….countless tweets and articles… things that are not life-giving… to digging deep into the Word. I am reminded so clearly of WHO God is and WHERE He is.
To go back to ‘Giving up Trump’…. I like the way Diana offers a nuanced approach to this abstinence. Lord knows, a political junkie like me might not survive a complete severing with all current events ties. She explains:
Politics is about finding new connections between people and working for the common good. If I stop fretting over a single individual, I can be more engaged in creating a community where love of neighbor matters. That is the purpose of Lent: giving up distraction and finding space for what gives life.
This sounds like Lent, to me. It is what my soul needs for a season. In 41 days, I will return. God did not make me to perpetually put my head in the sand. But, today, I will make space for God’s love to lean into me.
Come as you are party
I will start with confession, and then move to a place of surrender to the power of God’s love and mystery of the gospel. Out of that, I pray there’s a sincere outpouring of generosity. I’m gonna give the 40 Acts my best shot. Another confession: I’m sure to miss a few days. But, I’m trying to be okay with the fact that this isn’t about ticking boxes – it’s about cultivating discipleship and practicing love. It’s about remembering that God actually loves me. As Anne Lamott tweeted on All Things Considered (for my fellow NPR lovers): “God loves us absolutely unconditionally as is. It’s a come as you are Party.” God takes us, plantar warts, and all. When we’re ready to stop running, He’s ready to catch us. The cross, which is what Lent prepares us for, is God catching us – now, and forever.