Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

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Sandi Patty and Wayne Watson

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 placeWhere 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.

400dpiLogo (1)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.

Life Moves

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.

Better Together

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.

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.

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Wine Country Devastation

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.

Screenshot 2017-10-12 12.16.06“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.

 

Screenshot 2017-10-12 13.47.54In 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 with water 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 with the 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.

 

 

Option B

AD12A6F8-3D36-4510-96E1-70BE77C2EFFCI 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.

Swimsuit Season

Screenshot 2017-07-28 15.36.56So, 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? 

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My TWO minivans (Not Option A)….

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.

Damn.

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)

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Lessons

I’m Privileged

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.

Screenshot 2017-07-28 16.31.46Research 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.

I’m Complicit

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.

 

I’m Called

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.

Resources

Read

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.

Favorite Scriptures

  • Isaiah 58
  • Matthew 25

Favorite Books

  • 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.

Summer Reading

  • 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

Write

For Yourself

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.

For Others

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.

Gather

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.

Go

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:

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Need

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:

hungry/thirsty, strangers/foreigners/immigrants, poor/homeless, sick, prisoners, women/widows, children/orphans.  

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.

Effectiveness

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.

Gaps

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.

Schedule

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.

Last Shot

578E1614-E39C-46AF-82F3-59CAE0B1A170A 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.

Screenshot 2017-07-28 16.07.27There’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.

Farewell, Mr. President

 

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Medal Ceremony

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…..

fullsizerender-3I 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

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Happy Go Lucky Kid

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?

fullsizerender-8Genesis.  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 img_1371creation….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.

Facebook Follies

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:

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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.  

White Privilege

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 thisfullsizerender-11, 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 fullsizerender-10whether 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? 

We Are The Ones

We Are The Ones

tissuesI’ve had to stop wearing mascara.  The tears just won’t stop.  Every time I think I’ve turned a corner, the grief hits me like a ton of bricks.  These last 10+ days have been excruciating.  I’ve written about ‘the day after’.  This time, the day after November 8th broke me.  But, I’m still here.  One of the most encouraging lines I’ve read in recent days, came from Ann Voskamp: “God sees the broken as the best, and He sees the best in the broken, and He calls the wounded to be the world changers.” This, whatever this is….it is not okay.  We may be wounded, but we are not defeated.  For those who are struggling, like me, I offer my rough draft list of ways to begin healing.

FOR YOURSELF

LISTEN AND LEARN

How did we become a nation so divided?  There are many reasons, but one is that we don’t listen well.  Here are books and articles that I’ve either read (and LOVE) or have in recent days learned about, and hope to read soon.  Some provide insights into forgotten communities dotting the the rust belt…others, into the pain of racism that still rages today or to a new posture for the evangelical church in a hurting world.

Books for Adults

As my recent ancestry.com genetic test proves, I am about as white as you can get!  So, to my fellow Caucasians, please consider the books above (or films below) that speak to the pain of bias and discrimination, especially racism.  While there’s no disputing the many forgotten towns where the ‘white working class’ has seen better days, these communities do not hold a monopoly over suffering in America.  The numbers do not lie, and they tell us that Latinos and African Americans remain worse off than the white working class—which is still the “largest demographic bloc in the workforce”—by pretty much every measurable outcome, from home ownership to life expectancy.  Our desire to help those who have been hurt by a broken system should be universal and unbiased.  That is why I also include books that will broaden my own perspective, like Hillbilly Elegy.

Books for Kids

There have been reports of harassment from both sides, in areas not far from me.  Kids are not immune from dinner table conversations or the palpable fear grownups are walking around with.  And, for some kids, the threat of deportation or explicit racism is very real.  Here are some of my favorite books for kids, which are helpful anytime, but especially at times like these.  Teaching our kids to embrace diversity, practice generosity and show compassion should be paramount in parenting.

Movies

This isn’t a complete list, but just new films that have caught my eye and speak powerfully to the issues we’re facing today.  1468522346_loving_social_2-398x398

Bible Studies

Here’s the deal.  A week ago, I wasn’t ready to open my Bible.  I couldn’t.  I felt (and, to a large extent) still feel like a stranger in my own faith, with 81% voting for Trump.  We all have the same life manual, yet we come away with such drastically different conclusions.  But, a dear friend urged me to open Romans.  I did.  And, God met me.  The next day, she said she had already ordered an NT Wright study on Romans for us to do together.  This friend reminds me of Aaron (in the Old Testament), who held up Moses’s arms during the battle with the Amalekites; as long as Moses’s arms were raised, Israel prevailed.  We all need someone to hold up our arms, when we don’t have the strength.

Lauren Daigle

Yesterday, I pulled up my Lauren Daigle playlist.  I love her.  But, for days it was just too how-to-backup-itunes-playlist-1much.  Were you ever so sad that you were afraid of healing?  Part of me was desperate for assurance and another part of me felt like I would be betraying those on the front-lines of suffering.  See, I will be okay.  I’ve never doubted that.  So many others…the LGBTQ community, people of color, the undocumented, Muslims….they will not.

I did not want to pick up the pieces and move ON until I knew where I was moving TO.  

I tapped on my Lauren Daigle playlist and My Revival randomly came on…except, nothing is random with God.  It begins…

I will run and not grow weary
I will walk, I will not faint
I will soar on wings like eagles
Find my rest in your everlasting name
You are my revival
Jesus on you I wait
I’ll lean on your promise
You will renew my strength

I stood in my bathroom, weeping.  And, then, I wiped away the tears and got ready to go to go feed lunch to the homeless.  I was so glad it was Thursday.  I knew that spending time with those who wear their brokenness on the outside, would help me find direction for the brokenness on my inside, which had rendered me so distraught and disoriented.  And, it did.

PAY-UP

the-new-york-times-logo-featuredI have a confession.  I love a good deal.  And, what’s better than free?  Now I know.

For years, I’ve loved getting my news for free via the internet.  I’d even ration my access to New York Times articles (10 a month!) so that I wouldn’t have to pay.  Our new economy is driven by clicks, not quality reporting or truth.  No matter who is in the White House, we need quality news outlets, if we are to be well informed.  Therefore, I plan to start paying for news subscriptions to the institutions I believe are doing some of the best reporting, like NPR/PBS and the New York Times, among others.  On the flip-side, avoid fake news or fake news sources.

FIND A FRIEND

No, not the ones on Facebook.  I am so grateful for the friends who came alongside me in my grief.  Dark days have a way of revealing who your true friends are.   A book.  A coffee.  A pot of split-pea soup.  A morning run.  A bunch of crazy cat videos.  Repeated calls or texts to say, ‘are you okay?’.  These last few days have drenched me in both love and grief.  The folks who made me feel less alone, by confessing that they too were not okay…..

FOR OTHERS

#NOTOKAY

I will be okay.  My heart breaks because there are millions of people in our country who will NOT be okay.  It seems to me, part of faith and loving God is letting your heart be broken for the folks who are not okay.

California has a large Hispanic population.  I decided to lean into that starbuckspain, talking folks who are already seeing their lives turned upside down.  One gal, with tears streaming down her face, told me of how her son cries when she drops him at school, not knowing if she might not pick him up.  A Hispanic gentleman told me, shared how a lady in Starbucks looked at him on November 9th and said, “Make America White Again.”  There are no words….  I know these people well.  They are good, hardworking individuals.  One of them looked at me, and with the greatest sincerity said, “I still believe that America is the greatest country on the planet.”  He loves America.

Though I should be the one wearing the ‘encourager’ hat, they are the ones who have instilled hope in me; they say, “it’s just four years…..it will be hard but we will get through it…..sometimes, things have to get worse before they get better….”  Their personal resilience and collective faith inspires me.  They are the ones who make America great.

If you are looking for a place to start, try talking to the people you already know.  Offer them a safe space to share their story.  We cannot absolve ourselves of the impact, even if our intent was not to do harm.  No matter how you voted, we must come step out of our silos and listen with a desire to learn, not to respond.

WEAR A PIN

pinIn the wake of the election, many started wearing a safety pin.  It’s a way of showing support and solidarity with those who are afraid.  There are lots of opinions on whether this is actually useful.  (Here’s a good assessment.)  But, I’ve decided to continue wearing it for the time-being.  The first reason is somewhat personal.  When my daughter initially saw it and asked what it meant, she immediately suggested that I move the pin where others could see it more easily.  In that moment, it dawned on me that she believed I could be a safe person…she wanted me to be a safe person for others.  If I want her to be brave, I have to be brave.  And, so, I’ve worn it everyday for a week now.  When I put it on, it reminds me to look for opportunities to show kindness.

People holds hands looking at post-election Post-it notes  pasted along a tiled walk at Union Square subway station in New YorkThe pin can be as little or as much as we make it; I am trying to make it step #1 in a long path of aligning myself with those who are scared and worry what the future may hold.  In some cities, thousands have pledged to stand by neighbors who are afraid.  In the case of my friend, I told her to put my number in her son’s backpack and have him call me if ever he needs help.  God help me – I will be the one.  There are so many ways you can make it more than just a pin.  If you are local and you want a safety pin, I have stocked up.  Just ask.

VOLUNTEER

Find an under-resourced school or an organization that helps the homeless.  Sign up to be a Big Brother or Big Sister.  Find local groups fighting sex trafficking.  Here in the Bay Area, some favorites of mine are:

I love the church because it is the body of Christ…the hands and feet of Jesus.  It is where I have focused the bulk of my volunteer hours.  But, I will be honest that I am really struggling in my relationship with organized religion at the moment.  I see some institutions and individuals who aren’t afraid to stand up, who believe the greatest commandment is to love others and who understand that the world is watching.  Young people, like my children, are watching.  I believe the church is OUT there.  Maybe, that is where I should be….

Elizabeth Elliot once said, “Live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord.”  Jesus never took a survey or ran from conflict.  His love was not based upon strategy or maximizing his ROI.  As I pray about the future, I’m personally going to be looking for the people and places where the gospel is being preached and practice without abandon.

GIVE

poverty-incWe are heading into the holiday season, with Thanksgiving just days away.  If ever there was a time to give well, the time is now.  I recently watched the documentary, Poverty, Inc. with my small group.  It reinforces themes from books, including, When Helping Hurts.  Sometimes, our best intentions go awry.  All too often, this is the case with charity.  Our world needs help.  Some of that help is tangible.  Some is not.  But, if you decide to give, take the time to give well.

Here’s a list of organizations that either do charity or rate charities.

If you like sponsorship-type programs, here are alternatives to Samaritan’s Purse (information on why Operation Christmas Child can have unintended consequences):

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS….

puppyIn the midst of the tears, we learned that a breeder we’d followed for a long time had puppies. And, after many years of bribing healthy habits and good behavior out of our kids, we finally felt this was the time.  A few days after Christmas, we’ll bring home a little girl.  We’ve named her Calli.

The good our family hopes to do will require a lot more than a safety pin.  And, I have no doubt the years ahead will be tough; there will be moments when I need to turn off the computer, grab the leash and take this little lady for a walk….while simultaneously spending some time talking to God.  There’s that great verse that says, be still, and know that I am God.  I know that God sits on the throne; my most fervent prayer right now, is that in ways big and small, I can be a reflection of his love on earth.  Fingers crossed, puppy kisses and a wagging tail, will also serve as a tangible reminder of unconditional love.

SECOND CLASS SAINTS

Do we believe that one day in heaven, there will be second class saints or celestial slums? I think most would say NO.  But, if there is an order in heaven, Jesus gives a pretty big clue as to what it looks like, saying that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  We are his church.  We are his hands and feet.  We are here to bring what’s up there down here….to people of all colors, religions, genders, economic status…you name it.  For God so loved the WHOLE WORLD.  How can we possibly justify a rationing of love and kindness, based upon our own bias or greed?  We cannot.  We must not.

To borrow from a Hopi poem, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”  The times is now.mc  We are the ones.  On November 9th, a dear friend and I sat at Mademoiselle Colette, just reeling.  She had brought me a copy of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  I confess that I’ve not very far into it (it hasn’t been my most productive week….), but I absolutely love that this friend wanted to encourage me in my writing.

In the introduction, there’s this great line that so speaks to this moment: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try tobook do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.”  It’s been rather dark for me, these last few days.  But, I have hope.  I believe that dawn WILL come.

I was staring at my “act justly, love mercy, walk humbly” necklace yesterday, complete now with its large safety pin.  The little pearl caught my eye.  I remembered the verse in Matthew 13:46, where Jesus tells the parable of necklace2the merchant who, when he found a pearl, went and sold all that he had to buy it.  Not only did Christ give his all for us, but we in turn are called to emulate this kind of love…to the widow, orphan, foreigner or poor.   Folks, there are pearls all around us.  The question is whether we are the ones who see them as such, believe the broken are indeed the best and will do whatever it takes to love them with reckless abandon.   

 

 

 

 

 

Loving

batman-2Batman Flew

Today, we made it.  On time.  Ready for the Kindergarten Halloween Poetry performance.  After getting my dates mixed up a couple weeks ago, we finally got to see the bats and witches, owls and ghosts recite their lines – full of excitement and glee.  They were adorable.  Today, we managed to get to school sans the tears and drama of our 1st attempt at the poetry morning…the morning when I got it all wrong.  As we walked to school, Nathaniel said, ‘Are you sure it is today?’.  I replied, ‘Yes, I’m sure.  Your teacher sent out a note just last night to remind us of the poetry morning today.’  He continued, ‘but, I feel a little silly in my bat costume.’  I could see him scouting the kids around us, looking for someone else in a costume or any kind reassurance that today would not be a repeat of our prior snafu.  I told him again, how sorry I was, for the morning when I got my dates confused.  I told him mommy had made a mistake, but this time we’d get it right.  He replied: ‘I trust you’.  My heart melted.

giant-meteorThe Day After

In less than two weeks, we will know our President for the next four years.  There will be a November 9th….a day when we begin to pick up the pieces of this political season.  The yard signs will come up, and we will decide how we want to move forward.  I haven’t blogged in a few days….partly because my kids have an early-release schedule this week (translation: I am getting NOTHING done) ….and, partly because like so many others, I’m just weary of the whole thing.  I saw a bumper sticker the other day that I think captures the sentiments of many.  We just want it over.

The day after the election, we will know our next President, but we wont know entirely how this will all play out; we will still have a lot of choices about how we as a nation want to move forward.  I hope we collectively decide that working together is better than fighting it out.  As the saying goes, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  I pray that grownups could show some grace and uphold the worth of others by saying, “I trust you – let’s work this out together”.

Understanding Race in MY LIFE

I’m part of a group of women studying racism and white privilege.  We went into it landscape-1437572064-gettyimages-481592935thinking that we had this issue mostly figured out.  But, I confess that we’ve all been challenged to shift our understanding of both ourselves and this issue.  At our last gathering, something clicked.  I’d never been able to figure out why I, a Caucasian girl from a conservative, Midwestern family, would be so drawn to Asian people and cultures.  Not that it’s wierd, but why?  As a child, many of my best friends were 2nd generation immigrants; their parents migrated from Asia as young Spicesadults, eventually starting families in the Chicago suburbs.  Listening to another woman talk about her faith background, the dots connected in my brain…something clicked.

Holy Rollers

Growing up in the Pentecostal church, we weren’t allowed to wear makeup or jewelry, we couldn’t watch TV, listen to secular music or dance. With my school friends, I pretended to know about shows or musicians, when in truth I was clueless.  Eventually, we did get a TV, but when church friends came over, we told them it was only for watching movies.  Women had to wear skirts and couldn’t cut their hair.  I learned how to style my hair in ways that hid the fact that we’d trimmed my super long, thick locks.  We epitomized a ‘holy huddle’.  The outside world was one you could not trust.  Our church was 45 minutes away, so I only saw church friends on the leaf_on_the_windweekend.  In the days between services, I felt like a leaf blowing in the wind.  I was disconnected, uninformed and fearful.  Nothing felt right.  Nowhere was home.  Even if I epitomized the holy huddle, I wasn’t really in it.

Finding Friends

But, belonging was born out of my friendships with the Asian kids at school.  From their acceptance, grew curiosity.  And, over the decades, I came to love the colors, flavors and history of Asian history and culture.  I was learning to not be afraid.  The kids with roots in a world far away, were helping me find my footing in own backyard.

These days, I believe that the world is wonderfully diverse and inherently fascinating.  Its merits alone, were sufficient to draw me in long ago.  But, till that night, talking about racism and who I am as a white woman, I hadn’t really understood how the broken pieces of my heart had created a space.  The void was filled with kids who looked so different on the outside, but shared a common feeling on the inside.  It now made sense.  These kids, like me, were outsiders.  To be clear, this was not the club of loners and misfits!  None of us were bullied or overtly excluded.  Rather, it was this super-subtle sense of belonging.  We were all disconnected one degree from the world around us, but therein lied the key for connecting with one another.

13939504_1012819652150363_6244638166953430036_nBlack Lives Matter

Jen Hatmaker has written at length about how adopting two children from Ethiopia opened her eyes to the world of racism in our country.  In an RNS article published yesterday, she says, “My son is good to the core. When I think about him being viewed as criminal, dangerous, threatening, in any scenario — driving, walking, changing lanes, hanging around with his friends — I could just come unraveled. It terrifies me. I could cry my eyes out right now.”  I can’t claim to understand the pain and fear that our African American brothers and sisters face.  But, the small taste that I have known, being in a mixed marriage with biracial kids, is enough to make me cry my eyes out with Jen.  

Richard and Mildred

Today, I saw a trailer for a new film called, Loving.  #MoreCrying  It is based upon the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, who are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married.   Over and over, I watch the trailer – it haunts me. 1468522346_loving_social_2-398x398 Folks, interracial marriage was illegal until just 10 years before I was born.  Only one generation separated Richard and Mildred from Dayna and Jay.  So, yes, it’s personal.  And, it’s scary to see the vitriol and hate that has been out on full display of late.  These are not the battles of some bygone era.

#NotSoProgressive

Since coming to California, I’ve enjoyed the relative progressiveness and diversity of cal-stanfordlogoSilicon Valley.  Racism was something other geographies grappled with – but not us.  We, especially here in the shadows of Stanford and Berkeley, knew better; we were smart enough to drive global technology, believe in global warming, love people of all colors or beliefs and, for sure, support investments in things like, education.

Sorry to sound like Trump, but WRONG.  Just like when I thought I knew the date and time of my son’s poetry reading, I was wrong in my assumptions of my own community.  In May, Menlo Park residents rejected proposals to continue vital public school funding (parcel tax).  Now that beloved programs like music, art, languages and more are on the au_mp_marketchopping block, many (especially, parents) are freaking out.  And, rightly so, but it’s been sobering to read comments by those who STILL question whether our schools need to be ‘that great’.  So much for living with the enlightened in the shadows of the Ivy Leagues.

Just a few days ago, our town made it into the New York Times, in an article recounting how a Latino woman (who is a citizen) was told in an upscale market that she should visit the Safeway across town, as this place was for ‘white people’.  Around town, the response afterwards ranged from calls to reject racism to skepticism that such events actually happen in our area.  Even as many have offered their own encounters with racism, there are still a few who worry more for the reputation of our local high-end grocery than for those on the receiving end of such discrimination and injustice.

Reading the online discussions that play-out on Facebook and Nextdoor.com in the days download-2following these incidents, you realize that fear, distrust and a fair bit of incivility lives on…..even in my beloved Bay Area.  Places built on change and innovation, can still struggle to accept ideas and people different from themselves.  My point here isn’t to beat-up on the Bay (because I LOVE California!!!) but rather to just make the point that we ALL have stuff to work on.

Tipping Scales

Part of the reason folks are so riled up this election season, is because those who thought they knew what our country was all about, feel like it is changing.  And, that’s scary.  And, 27161156those who have been pushed to the sidelines for a long time, finally see a fighting chance for greater acceptance or equality.  Whether the battle lines are drawn based upon race, gender, economics, religion, education or some other qualifier – the nation is waiting to see how the scales will tip.  And, trust me – they ARE tipping.  We can’t change that.  But, what we can change is our response.  J.D. Vance, in his new bestselling book, Hillbilly Elegy, says “whenever people

mildred_jeter_and_richard_loving
Mildred and Richard Loving

ask me what I’d most like to change about the white working class, I say, “The feeling that our choices don’t matter.”  This November, we remember that democracy is not a spectator sport; we must be the people.  Whatever our color or creed, our choices DO matter.  Our vote matters.  And, on November 9th, we get another important choice about how we respond.  Regardless who is elected President, there will still be conversations at the grocery store and parcel tax votes.  From our attitude in the car line at school to our mindset at work…it all matters.  What happens at the national level, is often a byproduct of what’s happening at a more micro level in our own communities.

 

read-the-booksGet Over it – Nobody’s Perfect

Brene Brown says in Daring Greatly, that true belonging can only happen we offer “our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.”  Deep within all of us, is a desire to belong.  And, newsflash: the road to belonging is littered with messy, broken people – starting with me.  In his book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg writes, “To accept people is to be for them. It is to recognize that it is a very good thing that these people are alive, and to long for the best for them. It does not, of course, mean to approve of everything they do. It means to continue to want what is best for their souls no matter what they do.”  Guess which people God accepts?  Last time I checked John 3:16, it said, ‘For God so loved the world…’.  That kinda sounds like everyone….on planet earth.

Seriously, Let’s Play Nice

So, here’s the deal: we might not love every person or policy after November 9th.  But, we do have a choice of whether we make space for and accept those who don’t look or pray or love or vote like us.  We may even have to revisit issues we thought we had all figured out; maybe we were wrong.  There’s another great line in Ortberg’s book where he says, 150304-loving-grey-villet-03“Bitterness is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”  Isn’t that the truth!  Too bad most of us stick these sayings on the walls of our home or Facebook profile, but rarely our heart.  The reality is that staying angry won’t help anyone.  Finding belonging by excluding others, won’t do any good.  In the Loving trailer, Mildred says, “I know we have some enemies, but we have some friends too.”  Maybe it’s time that others know they have a friend in us, even if we don’t always agree.  Maybe it’s time to let go of some things and just try to be nice.

#LoveWins

The Bible talks of childlike faith.  This morning, my son and I were running late.  Again.  As we hurried down the street, I slowed my mind enough to bookmark the moment when my son, with every reason to doubt me, said, “I trust you”.  The path to belonging is paved with brokenness, and sealed with forgiveness.  We don’t fall into trust through our perfect performance or constant alignment.  We get there when we let mercy, justice and humility reign.  We get there, when love wins.

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The Love of My Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Am I a racist?

Good question.

How many times have we all seen someone insist one minute that he/she’s NOT a racist and then the next minute they confess to sometimes telling racist jokes.  Or, maybe they feel the need to say that blacks have a real problem with gang violence in their communities .  But, don’t call them a racist!  They mean no harm or they’re just telling it like it is….

CqPn-GCUsAENz4tDid you ever watch the first few weeks of American Idol?  If ever there was proof of our inability to conduct reasonably accurate self-assessments, this is it!  Week after week, the judges listen to countless individuals who are absolutely sure they will be the next super star – when reality is, they suck.  And, this isn’t just a fabrication of reality TV.

In 1999, two researchers from Cornell published the results of their studies on self-assessment.  Their theory became known as the Dunning–Kruger effect: a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.(6)  People tend to overestimate the their skills in everything from logical thinking to empathy.  Even in areas like generosity, we tend to overrate our likelihood to act in selfless ways. (7)

Is there the a solution to our blind-spots?  Dunning says high quality feedback is the best means of increasing our awareness. (8)  In 2003, Dunning and another colleague, Joyce Ehrlinger, published a study showing that our views of ourselves CAN shift with external cues.  While our Facebook posts may not always change the opinions others, we can’t discount the impact of those around us on our perceptions of ourselves. The research also reveals that usually ignorance rather than arrogance, that is the root cause of our skewed view of ourselves.

So, am I a racist?

payton
Walter Payton

I grew up in the Midwest.  My parents were from Indiana.  My father came from a family of farmers.  He used to tell stories about getting up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows.  Faith, family and hard work were values instilled in me from a young age.  While I was born in Indiana, the only years I can remember were in the Chicago suburbs.  And, the first meaningful or personal interaction I recall with an African-American was at the home of famed Chicago Bear, Walter Payton, aka “Sweetness”.  He lived down the road and had kids our age.  A few times, we went over to his house to play.  As I grew older, some of my closest friends were Asian.  They were the children of successful doctors.  For better or worse, color didn’t equate to something negative or bad.  The people I knew, were people of great accomplishment.

 

This kind of exposure was both a blessing and a curse.  It was a blessing because I grew up assuming that color wasn’t a bad thing.  It was a curse because I assumed that if you worked hard enough, you could be like the people I’d known growing up.

Fast forward a few decades….

I’m now married to a Singaporean.  Our kids are half Caucasian/half Chinese.  My experience as the spouse of an Asian immigrant and mother of bi-racial children has given me a TINY glimpse into the way racial bias lives on.  A few years ago, I started reading books, like Just Mercy, that opened my eyes the rampant racism and injustice that still plagues our nation today.

The younger me hadn’t fully understood the depth of fear, the extreme injustice and huge obstacles that make the everyday African-American experience so much more difficult. Their reality was one that made my childhood encounters the exception rather than the rule.  And, while hard work certainly played into it – hard work alone could not begin to remedy the challenges they faced.  Nobody ever said that to make the leap from a hard-working farmer to a small business owner, living in an affluent Chicago suburb wasn’t impossible for a black man….but, was probably 1,000 times more difficult than it was for my white father.  Nobody had to warn me about wearing hoodies or asked me to memorize rules for staying safe, if I were ever stopped by police.  You get the picture.  I recently read a letter published in the Washington Post, from an accomplished Princeton alumni, Lawrence Otis Graham, to his son.  He writes in the wake of his son being called the n-word for the first time; it is a heartbreaking window into their reality.  You see that for all the hard work, accomplishments and efforts to move beyond bigotry, racism lives.  I don’t think the ‘younger me’ fully understood the nuances behind everyday bias.  Even the ‘present me’ hadn’t anticipated the horror of recent police killings of unarmed black-men.

In the last 40 years, roughly my lifetime, the gaps in unemployment, income/wealth and educational attainment have either stayed the same or widened. (9)  One can better understand some of the frustration with police and/or the justice system when you study the statistics behind the African-American experience, such as:

  • The rocky road often begins in adolescence, where black youth face harsher punishments at school.  Outside of school, they are arrested twice as often as white youth, and then go on to represent 67 percent of those committed to public facilities, despite being only 15% of the juvenile population.
  • African-Americans are more likely to be searched during routine traffic stops than whites.  According to a Guardian, the final total of people killed by US police officers in 2015 shows rate of death for young black men was five times higher than white men of the same age (11).
  • Also in 2015, a total of 1,134 people were killed by police.  One in five were unarmed.  Only twenty percent had fired shots of their own before being killed.  Non-white Americans make up less than 38% of the US population, yet almost half of all people killed by police are minorities, more than half of whom are unarmed.
  • 40 percent of those who are incarcerated are black, while being only 13 percent of the overall U.S. population.  According to the Equal Justice Initiative, black men are more than six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.
  • Black males receive longer sentences (20%) than their white non-Hispanic counterparts for similar crimes.
  • All told, the United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500% increase over the last forty years.
downloadThis data is a summary from the Center for American Progress, The Equal Justice Initiative, The Sentencing Project and The Counted, an initiative by The Guardian

Brene Brown says that stories are data with a soul; conversely, these numbers represent lives and communities shattered.  I’ve already said that I’m not a policy expert; I’m also not a statistician, but even a non-numbers person like me can see these figures all point in a consistent direction.  For too long we’ve talked about public safety while undermining the very same.

Take the War on Drugs.  John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s White House adviser, admitted that the whole thing was created as a political tool, with African-Americans and the political left as its targets (12).   Whoops.  Nobody mentioned that *minor detail* during my countless American History and Poli Sci classes.  Sadly, little has changed in the decades since.  According to the Sentencing Project, “sentencing policies of the War on Drugs era resulted in dramatic growth in incarceration for drug offenses. Since its official beginning in the 1980s, the number of Americans incarcerated for drug offenses has skyrocketed from 41,000 in 1980 to nearly a half million in 2014.”  What’s more, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they have higher rate of arrests, according to the Human Rights Watch (13).  We’ve spent billions of dollars ($80B in 2010 alone) and there’s no evidence that we are any safer, all while African-American communities have been decimated.  To be fair, ours is a nation of law and order.  But, the mistakes of individuals do not excuse or explain ineffective public policy, especially when it is so blatant in its  disproportionate harshness towards a particular group.  As they say, two wrongs don’t make a right.

A few months ago, John Ortberg gave a sermon on Esther (14), where he walked through her story and shared how Mordecai persuaded Esther to help save the Jews.  In Esther 4:12 it says, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”.  As a congregation, he challenged us all to seriously consider, that while the troubles of the world might not be our problem, this could be our time.

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Golden Gate Bridge – San Francisco

So, what to do?  I’m serious?  I see the reports, day after day of violence and fear and frustration.  But, it feels another world away.  I live in the Bay Area.  We’re progressives!  We’re not like those other parts of the country, with their racial tensions and prejudice.

 

Not.

Just google racist texts and SFPD.  Okay, fine, fine….but, aside from that, I’m sure we’re doing much better.  Not.  Again.  Here’s another example.  Bay Area tech firms have a diversity problem.  The PBS Newshour recently reported that after nearly 2 years of reporting from major tech firms in Silicon Valley, figures show that companies are still overwhelmingly white and male. (15) Only 7% of employees are black.  Oops.  Maybe we do have a problem that cuts across various socio-economic and geographic layers of the Bay Area.  According to Joelle Emerson, CEO of Paradigm, even in areas like California that talk and supposedly value diversity, we can still struggle with what she calls unconscious bias.

Fabulous….so, we’re back to the world where we don’t really see ourselves as we actually are – even here!  I’d rather take a bullet than join a white supremacy group.  But, maybe I have unconscious biases.  Maybe the violence in Ferguson or Milwaukee isn’t my problem, and Lord knows I couldn’t fix it if I tried!  But, maybe there’s still work to do.  Here.  In my community.  In me.

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My cappuccino – YUM!
So, on Saturday, I gathered over coffee with women I love and trust….women that I know care deeply about this issue.  We met because we knew that to stand silent and do nothing was not an option.  In the end, we decided to commit ourselves to a year of studying white privilege and racial justice while simultaneously looking for opportunities to build bridges with African-American individuals/communities.  The reality is that white people like me are statistically much less likely to talk about racial issues, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center.   (16)  And, while not the only problem – this is part of it.  Our white silence is not helping.

 

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Golf Course Cafe
As I walked away from the meeting, I realized how even this gathering epitomized white privilege. We’d gathered at the Stanford University Golf Course Cafe (Coupa).  Collectively, we hold a long list of degrees from the nation’s most prestigious universities.  There’s at least one, if not two, income earners in our homes.  We are property owners.  The list continues.  Some might wonder, reading all this, if we’ve not just inadvertently created an exclusive all-white group – becoming the very thing we claim to hate.  Good point.  The counter to that, first, is that after centuries of enduring racism, it isn’t the ‘job’ of African-Americans to educate me on their plight – there are plenty of books to that end.  Second, to go back to the Dunning Kruger effect or Emerson’s unconscious bias, I can’t appreciate the challenges of their world until I see the open doors, second chances and resources that have been fundamental to my life story.

 

Robert Frank, an economics professor from Cornell, has a new book called Success and Luck.  In it, he explains what he calls ‘the myth of meritocracy’.  Using his background in economics, he lays out the years of research by social scientists pointing to the role of chance in our lives, and how its impact is much larger on important life outcomes than most people think.  Frank writes, “a growing body of evidence suggests that seeing ourselves as self-made—rather than as talented, hardworking, and lucky—leads us to be less generous and public-spirited.” (17)  It makes sense that if I give myself all the credit for the blessings in my life, like a nice home or college degree, I can more easily give someone else the blame for the misfortune or challenges in theirs. The impacts of this human tendency, while applied to societies at large, is huge.  But, here’s the good news: when you prompt people to recognize their luck and blessedness, it improves every aspect of their lives.

Anyone who has actually made it to the end of this blog post probably feels like they need a cup of coffee….OR….a glass of wine!  Or both!  I certainly hope I’m not a racist, but I likely have certain biases – I’d be crazy not to admit that.  My life has been one of both luck and privilege from the day I was born – period.  And, I’m ready to invest in some serious self-reflection with friends who will hold me accountable and be completely honest with me. My holy discontent necessitates action, in response to the injustice of today plus the hope for a better tomorrow.  And, for the sake of my bi-racial children, I pray that they may be both the enablers and recipients of a more just society.  I like the way Lawrence ended his letter to his son(18):

As we observe each other and think that we have a close understanding of what it means to be black, white, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, rich or poor, we really don’t — and very often we find ourselves gazing at each other through the wrong end of the telescope. We see things that we think are there but really aren’t. And the relevant subtleties linger just outside our view, eluding us.

Racism my not be my problem, but the evidence of injustice is overwhelming – it is time to do whatever I can.  #blacklivesmatter  #forsuchatimeisthis