We’re going through a lot of Kleenex these days. First, there was President Obama’s Farewell Address in Chicago. Then, there was the surprise conferment of the Medal of Freedom by Obama to his beloved Vice President, Joe Biden. This morning, I saw a video of Obama visiting a homeless shelter where children were the recipients of Sasha and Malia’s playground set. And, just now, Obama held his final press conference. Cue the tears! THIS WHITE, EVANGELICAL WOMAN IS HEARTBROKEN TO SEE OBAMA GO.
Coffee, wine and then tea…..
I love coffee.
I love wine.
Sadly, you can only drink so much of both. It seems as though even Mother Nature mourns, as it has been an unusually cold and rainy winter in California. And, so, I drink a lot of tea. Last night, I stared at the tag: Comforting Camomile….if only. If only it were so simple. If only the clouds would part, and we’d realize it was all just a bad dream. But, it’s not. And, I’m left to sit with my emotions….to think, and pray and contemplate how I will respond. And, honestly, I still don’t know. That’s partly why I’ve not blogged. What do you say? Some of what we’re going through is unchartered territory; the other part is rooted in conflicts that have festered for decades, even centuries.
The other reason I haven’t blogged is because life happened. My daughter broke her ankle in three places. We got a puppy. My mom was healed.
That last one isn’t a typo or even an exaggeration. Today, my mom celebrates yet another birthday, laughing in the face of a cancer that has threatened her place in this world for over a year. After a lifetime of loving others, the affection has come full circle, as friends and family have become the hands and feet of Jesus, taking her to appointments, bringing meals, saying prayers…..those prayers….they worked. We never thought that ‘remission’ was a word we’d hear, yet it’s the word that the Mayo Clinic doctors gave – it’s a word we now cling to.
Remission isn’t just for cancer. Remission is for sins. I look at the church today, and our divisions are like a cancer. It is a no-brainer that when a loved one is sick, you pray. You gather, you organize, you rally, you contribute – one way or another. But, these days, when our nation is sick and hurting, we seem to be tripping over one-another…sometimes, even making enemies when what we need are allegiances. If only Obama could pardon our pains in his final days; but, the absolution we seek, is one only God can give. And, while I believe strongly that there’s much government could and should do, my deep heartache comes in watching mainstream Christians wish to sweep discords under the rug and just move on.
Don’t Be A Dog
To be fair, I’m tempted to look for my broom too. I’m tempted to sweep this moment and this heartache from my life.
We just got a puppy, Calli. My husband used to say that in his next life, he wanted to come back as our happy go lucky six-year-old. We envy his charmed life.
Then, Calli came….bliss found even higher heights! The whole family is entertained by this pup who wishes for nothing more than to just be with her people. She eats. She plays. She cuddles. She pees and poops. And, that’s about it. Life is good. Now, we joke that we want to come back as Calli. What could be better?
Genesis. Genesis tells us what’s better.
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God had created many marvelous things to fill the heavens and earth; only one was created in His image. Us. Only one creation was made to be like God. As John Ortberg detailed in a sermon at Menlo Church last Sunday, humanity’s very first commandments were essentially to go have sex, to enjoy the delicious fruits and foods and to go innovate, create and rule. We are made in His image. And, from Genesis to Revelation, the most constant themes are of love, grace and mercy…..not legalism or jugmentalism. So, why do we lead with this when we go into the world?
We have a unique opportunity, to be like God. This is a gift given to no other creation….even dogs (man’s best friend). Being ‘like’ God and ‘being God’ are two entirely different things, to be sure. Assuming that our collective calling is to be like Christ, then the proof of this pursuit is the fruits of the spirit, which are: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. As much as a big part of me wants to shrink back into my safe and comfortable life, to make cups of tea, pull my babies and puppy close and just shut out the world – I know that this is to miss out on not just God’s strongest commandments but also His greatest invitation….to be part of something that is worthy, holy and eternal.
I live in Menlo Park….home to Facebook. I love it for the ways I can connect with friends across the globe. I love it for the way I can efficiently share life events with those closest to me. I love that I’ve found women like Sarah Bessey, Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans….all through Facebook. Facebook has its strengths. It also has its weaknesses. We’ve seen this in the last election. We found our silos. And, to our detriment, we’ve dug even deeper trenches.
On Monday, many of us availed ourselves of the feel-good exercise of posting favorite MLK quotes. But, thankfully, women like Rachel Held Evans reminded us of our tainted Christian history:
“Reducing the struggles of the past to conflict between “the Christians” and “the culture” disregards the fact that slavery, Jim Crow, Native American removal, and all sorts of racial and gender inequalities have all flourished in a supposedly Christian culture…It’s easy to comfort ourselves with the thought that Christians of the past were only using religion and Scripture to support their oppression, but in truth those Christians rarely saw it that way. Often the difference between using Scripture to justify injustice and appealing to Scripture to support the truth proves clearest in hindsight. Pride, privilege, and confirmation bias are formidable adversaries on the path to justice, which is why we must familiarize ourselves with past justifications for oppression or inaction lest we make the same mistakes again.”
She spoke to an inconvenient truth that while hard to swallow, resonates because I know it is not a white-washing of history. And, as they say, if we do not study and learn history in its truest form – we are bound to repeat it. This is my great fear, as we head into the next four years. I replied to Rachel’s post and she responded. Here’s our exchange:
So, there you have it.
It might not be an exhaustive list of solutions, but it is definitely a good place to start. And, discussing solutions and paths forward is indeed where the church can and should set an example.
Sadly, without going into details, there were multiple white men who quickly replied to my question, feeling the need to say that Trump isn’t a racist, misogynist, Islamophobe, etc. I was shocked. This is MLK Day. We are exchanging ideas on racial healing. My question never labeled Trump as any of those things. But, it clearly touched a nerve.
The day after MLK Day, a friend sent me these wonderful words written by Richard Rohr:
We see in the Gospels that it’s those on the bottom who tend to follow Jesus: the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, the foreigners. It’s demonstrably those on the inside and the top who crucify him: elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, and Roman occupiers.
Rohr goes on to emphasize the importance of perspective, saying that Western Christians “fail to appreciate liberation theology” thanks to so many years of seeing the Scriptures through the lens of empowered clergy class rather than the marginalized. He reminds us that for the first 300 years after Jesus, Christianity was a religion of the oppressed. And, this isn’t just a historical observation; it’s a reflection of the heart of God. Over and over and over again, Jesus points us to the least. As Dorothy Day puts it, we must live at the bottom.
For several months now, I’ve been meeting with a group of white women, as we study racism and our own white privilege; I recognize my life doesn’t lend itself to truly living with or loving the least. For those who aren’t ready yet for a year-long study, there was a really good article from 2015, circulating yet again on MLK Day. One line in it, where a white woman like myself discusses her own white privilege, says: Acknowledging privilege is not admitting to be a racist.
So, church…..can we grow-up enough to create safe spaces where conversations like the one Rachel recommended can happen? If it can’t happen with us or in our sacred spaces, where do we think it can or will happen? Can we shut-up and listen to learn, not to defend? For, if other spaces do manage to facilitate those dialogues, what does that say of us? Jesus will never be irrelevant but Christians….we can be. Let’s not. For God’s sake!
Meet Katharine, Dorothy and Mary
On Monday, I took my kids to see Hidden Figures. This film introduces us to Katharine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three brilliant African-American women who were not just involved with but essential to the early milestones in our nation’s space program. And, till now, their stories were unknown. But, thanks to Hollywood, we finally get to learn about the obstacles they overcame to work at NASA. Given my lifelong love of history and recent interest in learning about racism and African American heroes, this was a no-brainer.
But, I have a confession: my kids didn’t want to go. I am so embarrassed to admit this, but it’s the truth. In the end, my eldest liked it. My middle child said his favorite part was the end, when the rocket carrying John Glenn is launched. And, my youngest (the happy-go-lucky one), spent most of the movie with his popcorn bucket over his head. I kid you not. (God knows how to keep me humble.) But, I am trusting that after a lifetime of leaning into opportunities to learn, whether that’s walking around Angel Island and learning about the Chinese immigrants who first arrived in America or the ‘hidden figures’ essential to our early days of space exploration, there will be a net gain in deep understanding and true compassion. Reality is that empathy isn’t automatic, which is why it can’t be option in my family. This is a non-negotiable. As Martin Luther King wrote:
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Writer Judy Wu Dominick recently confessed on Facebook, how she’d come full circle from being an Obama detractor and critic to sincere supporter. The turning point: when she switched to a more diverse church, one that was over 50% black. Over time, her perspective and eventually her heart changed. Our bubbles shape us more than we realize.
I have a dream…
Yesterday, I spoke to the Mothers Together group at Menlo Church. It wasn’t my first time holding a microphone. But, it was my first time teaching a large group in a religious setting. All prior coaching and speaking was at universities or in corporate conference rooms and learning centers. This year, I joined the teaching and missions teams, believing these were areas where I needed to stretch (you learn by doing)! One of the passages I studied in preparing for this talk, came from the Book of Esther (credit to John Ortberg for his analysis and teaching on this book). What’s amazing about this story, and what I shared with the ladies, is that the name of God is never uttered in Esther’s story. As John puts it:
The writer (of Esther) wants you to know that even in exile…no Jerusalem, no temple, no Sanhedrin, far from home, surrounded by problems…God is right there. Even though in Esther’s story God’s name is never spoken, God’s heart is never absent. God’s arm is never missing. So don’t you give up. In your position, however important it may or may not look, however likely your success does or does not appear, whether you feel like your mission is going well or terrible, don’t you give up, because it’s God at work, not you.
So this is what I’m clinging to. I’m not giving up. I’m leaning into even those places and spaces that are awkward, even painful. I’m believing miracles still happen but I’m not relying just on religious institutions or Christian forums. Because, honestly, I think vast swaths are becoming holy huddles of privilege, be it economic, racial, educational, etc. And, please know that I lump myself into that group! But, as one mom shared during our Mothers Together gathering, be willing to do the little things….like, go to a playground across the railroad tracks or facilitate play dates with friends who may live on the other side of town. Even though big strides are needed, little steps are far better than backward slides. As the Franciscan prayer Sarah Bessey asks, may we be blessed with the anger, tears and foolishness.
So, my question isn’t whether you posted your favorite MLK quote on Monday….it’s whether you’re still talking about him and honoring his work today….just a few days later. And, will you keep thinking and praying about how we the church can make his dream a reality? Cause, here’s the thing…Dr King’s I Have A Dream speech is laden with inspiration borrowed rhetoric from the New and Old Testament. The dream didn’t originate with Dr King….it originated with God. It’s God’s dream. We know that this is the picture of heaven. Frankly speaking, there will always be brokenness in this world. But, God didn’t stop in Genesis. He had a dream. Why not be part of it now?