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.

 

 

Fingerprints of God

img_3331I think God needs a two-by-four when dealing with me.  His fingerprints are all over my life, but He’s gotta regularly “hit me over the head” with the blatant obviousness of His presence in my life.  One way He’s done this, is with dates.  Now, before I go any further – I’m not a theologian, but even I know that this isn’t the only way God speaks….even to me!  But, God has managed to show up on significant days in my life, with a conviction or a provision or an experience that point to Him.  And, I have begun to slowly realize, that God is not only alerting me to the places where He’s at work in my life, but He’s doing it in such a way that I will forever remember the exact time and place when God showed up.  

Dates

img_3334The first time I noticed a connection between a possible message from God and significant date, was about 5 years ago, in 2012, when my husband and I were feeling a tug to move from the San Francisco South Bay to another community up the peninsula.  Reason?  We wanted to be closer to our church.  It was a short commute on Sunday mornings but it could take over an hour (one way) during the work-week.  I didn’t want to live in an evangelical bubble or holy huddle, but I did want an ecosystem that facilitated regular connections (on days other than just Sunday!) and overlaps between our our various circles….of neighbors, schoolmates church friends, etc.  We wanted to be part of a fabric that included threads of friendship, outreach, service, worship, etc.

That August, I lost a beloved uncle to Leukemia.  This heartbreaking loss was a wake-up call: we needed authentic community, one that would come around us during tough times.  My husband was from Singapore.  I was from Chicago.  We had no family in California.  We’d have to build a community of friends.  And, we believed our faith community was a natural place to start.

A month later, in late September (my birthday weekend), our pastor John Ortberg, gave a talk called the Divine Go.  It was based upon the story in Genesis, of Abram leaving Ur to follow God’s command to go to Canaan.  Sitting in church, it hit me – we need to move to Menlo.  I sobbed through most of that sermon.  I am sure that most folks sitting around me thought I was nuts.  But, I just knew.

You might be wondering, ‘why didn’t you just move churches?’.  Good question!  We tried visiting several churches closer to our home.  They were fine, but we could not shake an  inner unrest.  So, we called a realtor and moved forward, praying God would open doors – if this was indeed the path He wanted us to take.  In December, we learned of a house coming on the market, and jumped at the opportunity to put in an offer  – not thinking we had any chance of actually getting the house.  For those outside of the Bay Area, we live in what is unquestionably a seller’s market.  Many had tried to prepare us for what surely would be a long process, where we’d likely put in a dozen or more offers before finally landing something.  But, amazingly, on December 19th – the same day we submitted our offer, we got a call that our offer had been accepted.  December 19th also happens to be my middle child’s birthday.  A few weeks later, we closed on my father’s birthday.  A few months later, we closed escrow on our South Bay home AND submitted our renovation plans to the city (the new house needed some updating) ALL on my daughter’s birthday.  A couple of weeks later, Jay’s father passed away suddenly.  In provision, we saw God’s hand at work, allowing  the pieces to fall into place more perfectly than we could ever orchestrate.  In loss, we saw confirmation that we desperately needed community.  

I have repeatedly confessed here, that my husband and I are Type A Control Freaks.  Making this move defied all logic….it was not the decision that our well-designed spreadsheets or financial advisers recommended.  But, our hearts knew what our minds couldn’t explain: we needed to go.  I am learning, that often, we have to trust God before we can hear God.  And, I think this move was a lot more about God taking us on a journey of trusting Him, than it was Him needing us to change our geography in order to do life with Him.  He used dates, to make it abundantly clear that He was the one setting our path.  John ended his Divine Go sermon, saying, “All around the Bay Area, up there is coming down here….God still says Go.  And, when you say ‘yes’ you become part of something magnificent.”

Something Magnificent

We moved because we wanted to strengthen our relationship with God and His people.  And, sure enough, I found natural landing pads within the Mothers Together ministry at our church.  It was great!  I made friends, used my gifts, served.  (Confession: I loved the well-heeled mama’s, many with impressive resumes and lives.  Many remain dear friends.)  But, after a couple of years,  I started feeling this tug again….as if God wanted me to make another move.  This time, it was a heart move – not a geographic relocation.  As I have written here, God led me to a group that serves lunch to the homeless.  (Interestingly, the same gal who gave me advice when we made our move, was the one who invited me to serve lunch at the shelter).  The rest, as they say, is history.

In my head, I’d long known that faith wasn’t meant to be just for me or my own circle – it needed to fuel an outward activism for the world around me.  But, that head knowledge hadn’t really translated into meaningful engagement or love for the least….if I’m being totally honest.  (Thank goodness for the two-by-fours!)  God kept hitting me over the head…..with books, with people, with fresh eyes to the Bible itself…..you name it…..the arrows all pointed to a Micah 6:8 mission.  And, while it’s not always easy or pretty, that journey to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly led me to the ‘something magnificent.’  

Matthew 25 is a two-by-four kind of verse…. Jesus says: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  If you want a ‘with God’ life….if you want to see up there come down here, you gotta open your eyes to the people and places that Jesus points to repeatedly….the poor, widow, orphan, foreigner/outcast, sick and oppressed.  

Cars

Minivan Madness

In my last blog post, I shared how God moved my heart during Lent.  Long story short, we decided to donate my car to a charity, Able Works, in East Palo Alto.  There were other spiritual lessons, but this decision was the most tangible.  Still, I felt so spiritually clumsy.  Here, I knew that God was asking me to literally and figuratively surrender.  Yet, with every twist and turn, in the days while we waited for everything to fall into place – I’d find myself falling back into Control Freak mode.

Exhibit A: In March, we ordered a minivan through a nearby dealer.  Unfortunately, the delivery date kept slipping.  Not surprisingly, I panicked over whether we’d stick to our original donation date (and have no car) OR disappoint everyone at Able Works by asking to push out the date.  Then, one week ago, we got the call that the new car had arrived.  We rejoiced for a few hours, till they called back to say they couldn’t find the car on the lot….I cried.  What the hell was going on!?!?  FINALLY, they found the car and said we could come pick it up.  So, last weekend, we did.

On Sunday, it occurred to me that our slipping date was not only a pretty clever test of my faith BUT it also put the timing for getting our new car – right on Mother’s Day.  It was as if God was again weaving a tale, in such a way that I’d always remember His faithfulness in watching the pieces fall into place just in time.

Donation Day

In Surrender, I wrote: Why, if I truly wanted love, mercy and humility to be real in my life, would I go indulge in a new car? The short answer is: it wasn’t just about what I needed…..it’s about what someone else needed.   And, finally the day came when we got to give our car away.

Initially, I didn’t realize that I’d be meeting the recipient.  I’ve done enough reading on the problematic ‘savior complex’ of so many well intended Christians (check out When Helping Hurts or Overrated for more info!), that I preferred to just hand the keys to the charity and let them pass the vehicle to their chosen recipient.  But, that wasn’t the way the process worked: we were to all go to the DMV together so that the title could be simultaneously transferred from me to the charity and from them to the recipient.

When the morning came, my stomach was doing somersaults.  I so wanted this to be a moment of surrender….not just of a car, but of control…..that God would be present as my path and the path of this mom crossed.  As we waited our turn at the DMV, we chatted.  It turned out, she had a 6-year-old – just like me.  And, she had a daughter, turning 12 years old this weekend – just like me.  More fingerprints.  Finally, it was our turn, and in a few minutes, the papers were all signed and we were walking out to the parking lot.

img_3295-1When she saw the car, she started crying.  All I could do was hug her.  After pointing out a few of the car’s features, it was time to hand over the keys and be on my way.  A good friend was with me, since I needed a ride home!  She took a few pictures, which was good.  It wasn’t till I got home and sat in my kitchen, that I could truly process those moments.  On the one hand, it felt as though that DMV parking lot had become holy ground….at least for a few moments.  Up there had come down here, and I was overjoyed to have been part of it.  On the other hand, it felt so normal…..as if, this were the way life was supposed to be.

On earth….as it is in heaven

When Jesus taught us how to pray, one of the key elements of the Lord’s Prayer was to ask that Up There come Down Here…..that bits of heaven would come into the broken places on earth.  Of course, full and final redemption won’t come in this life.  But, the Bible is pretty clear on our duty to love others (especially, ‘the least’) in this life.  As I’ve clumsily walked down this Micah 6:8 path, I’ve become convinced that loving the least isn’t something we do to get EXTRA CREDIT in heaven – it is THE ticket to heaven…..it is ESSENTIAL to faith.  If you keep reading Matthew 25 (which I cited above) you’ll get to a part where it talks about separating the sheep from the goats.  Don’t be a goat.  Wanna know how: feed the hungry, shelter the stranger, give to the needy, help the sick, show compassion to the prisoner….love the least.  It is impossible to love God and yet be indifferent to what He loves.

Lighting For Literacy

I was struggling to reconcile my feelings, as I sat at my kitchen table, staring at the pictures my friend had taken at the DMV.  I opened up Facebook and saw this post by a South Bay friend named Jessica, writing soon after her return from Mexico, where they delivered and installed solar lights in impoverished communities.

When we got home, a waitress in LA heard our story and said “you must feel so good about yourselves”. We all just kind of looked at her and didn’t know what to say. I mean, ya we felt good, but not necessarily because of our actions. The people of Colonet gave us as much as we gave them in love, friendship, gratitude, and life perspective.

Her father, Doug McNeil, started a group called Lighting for Literacy.  In just a few years, they’ve done amazing work, empowering Bay Area youth to create a sustainable, renewable solar technology that provides opportunities for literacy img_3330and education around the globe.  It is truly amazing what they’ve accomplished (they’ve even been recognized a few times by the White House!).  But, at same time, I get what she’s saying….doing this kind of work shouldn’t be the exception, it should be the rule.  Heck, it IS the rule – if you call yourself a Christ-follower.  

The ‘Actual’ Divine Go

img_3333So, as it turns out, God called us closer to church, so that He could send us out into the world.  Walking with God often creates this clash of the ordinary with the extraordinary.  We see His fingerprints and we marvel at His provision.  And, as amazing as it is – it also feels incredibly normal….like this is ‘as it should be’.  The Jews have a word for this: SHALOM. The word embodies many meanings, but often refers to peace, restorationwholeness and and prosperity.   The ‘with God’ life is simultaneously magnificent and messy.  But, if you dare to do it – you experience shalom…..bits of Up There come Down Here.

I’ve frequently referenced my Pentecostal upbringing.  Back then, we talked a lot about the Holy Spirit, the gift given to early church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38).  We talked less about the way those who received His Spirit lived.  Just a few verses later, in Acts 2:44-45, it says of the early church that they,were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”  God’s temple is now in us.  And, our most beautiful worship isn’t in a sanctuary with lights and videos – it’s is when our life-song is one of outrageous, magnificent, messy love for the world around us.  As 1 Corinthians 13:1 puts it: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”  

Don’t be a goat or a cymbal.  Do Go.  These are the things God is teaching me.  His fingerprints are most noticeable in the places that move me closer to the least.  And, while it truly doesn’t matter the day or the place that God calls – the point, is that He calls.  God shows up.  Those two-by-four encounters with dates pointed to His blessed assurance.  This is my story.  This is my song.  Praising my savior, all the day long.  The glory divine, is that in magnificent and yet mundane ways, God comes.  So, we GO.    

 

 

I’m FOREVER with you: another letter to my kids

I’m FOREVER with you: another letter to my kids

dayna_005Dear Ana, Aaron and Nathaniel:

Oh, my.  We are REALLY sad.  We thought that we would be celebrating the election of the first female president.  Instead, we are wondering what life will be like with President Trump.  Even after a couple days, we are all still a bit numb and shell-shocked.  I don’t think I’ve done much to quell your fears; so, I return to the place where I make sense of and peace with the tangle of thoughts and emotions in my head.  I write.  I write, because today YOU need me.  I write, because tomorrow we ALL must remember the lessons of this election.

IT HURTS

I still choke up, reflecting on that moment when you woke up on Wednesday morning, asked me who won, and learned the news that similarly shocked so many across the country.  You all wanted to know if we were moving to Singapore.  I wanted to say, yes.  We all search for a response that tells the world, ‘this is not okay with me’.  But, instead, with my heart still beating out of my chest and stomach still in knots, I told you we would stay….that we must cling to all that is good, and strive to make our nation even better.  Ana, your fear and tears will haunt me for a long time, in the best possible way.  It was you that motivated me to ‘go public’ with my beliefs, even though they went against the grain of what many in our Christian circles espouse.  And, it is you and your brothers that will fuel me to keep searching for God’s place in this messy life; out of these broken pieces, we will build something.  This is not the end.

MAKE A PLAN 

bidenI showed you guys that funny Joe Biden video clip, where he encourages voters to make a plan to get to the polls.  Well, sadly, our plans didn’t work out…..THIS TIME.  But, there will be another time.  Quick lesson in American government: mid-term elections occur every two years and the next presidential election will be in four.  Let’s make a plan.  

More than half of your generation (well, those that are old enough to vote but still young!), voted for Hillary Clinton.  Many of your values, from the way we take care of our planet to compassion for others regardless of their race, gender or religion, will likely be more commonplace in the years to come.  We had thought that year was this year.  But, we were wrong.  Clearly, there is work still to be done.

They say necessity is the mother of invention.  Well, we need to come up with new plans and new people.  Our nation is hurting.  You can be part of the healing.  As your mother, I am telling you it is more true today than ever before, that God invented (created) you for such a time as this.

WHEN THEY GO LOW, YOU GO HIGH 

103816023-gettyimages-580960452-600x400Ana, you and I watched Michelle Obama give a speech during the Democratic Convention, where she said a line that became a bit of a mantra during the rest of the Clinton campaign: when they go low, you go high.  Well, it’s a good line!  And, we’re gonna keep using it.  And, more than just saying it, we need to do it.  Part of going high means that we need to listen.  It is clear from the election results and exit polling that we are a divided nation…urban vs rural, rich vs poor, young vs old, men vs women, etc.

One of the groups that voted overwhelmingly for Trump was evangelicals.  So, guess what?  We have to be a bridge.  We fall into a category of folks who are strong believers in the Bible AND progressive politics.  Please know that we are not alone, but we ARE in the minority.

Let’s change that….by listening to others and by our fruits.  In Sunday School, you’ve learned about the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  The Bible says, they’ll know us by our fruits – this is what it means to be a Christian.  PERIOD.  More than our church attendance or political affiliation, these are the qualities that define us.  The world is watching, so let’s cultivate those fruits.  To be more specific, we are not moving to Singapore.  We are not giving up.  We are not going to be silent.  We re-double our commitment to the greatest commandment, loving others.

BE LIKE WILLIE

This morning, I put on my black dress and pearls, stuffed a huge wad of Kleenex into my purse and went to the funeral of Willie J Mackey.  I didn’t know Willie well, but when I heard of his passing, I knew I had to go to his service, especially since it was occurring on the very day I was already scheduled to serve lunch at OSC….it’s like God put it on my calendar.  Today, I heard Willie’s story, and it changed me.

Long ago, after 15 years as an account, Willie lost his job.  As the months without a paycheck passed, he used up all of this savings.  When he couldn’t afford to keep his home, he moved into his car.  Eventually, he was forced to sell his car, which left

willie
Willie at the Santa Clara Medical Respite Program

him with nowhere to go but the streets.  The hardship of those years, took a major toll on his health.  Thankfully, he found Hotel de Zink, which provides emergency meals and housing to the homeless, with the hosting rotating through churches throughout the bay area.  Willie also connected with much needed health care resources, which helped him diagnose and treating his diabetes.  So many years without care resulted in what would be the first of many partial foot amputations.  Once Willie found long-term housing through the Opportunity Services Center plus much-needed health assistance, he was able to start an entirely new chapter.

The first time I remember seeing Willie, was at church, where he served for six years as an usher.  To be honest, till today, I just knew him as the guy who was lucky enough to find help from our church, which allowed him to turn his life around. This morning, God hit your mama over the head with a 2×4.  Unsuccessfully, I tried to hide my tears; at one point, someone actually handed me a stack of paper towels.  Kids, I was so ashamed of my false assumptions and pride.  Sitting there, I was saw that Willie had given all of us, far more than what we ever gave him….that he was the one with a life worth emulating, not vice versa.

The courtyard at the Opportunity Services Center where I sat, was packed with people from across the Bay Area.  Some were community leaders.  Some were priests and pastors.  Some were homeless.  All loved Willie.  Speaker after speaker got up to tell their story; it was astonishing, how many considered Willie their right-hand man; he was indispensable to countless organizations.  As it turns out, Willie had been active in the community for years before he lost his job, volunteering with organizations that provided African American youth with STEM programs/scholarships.  Willie had a big heart before hardship came his way.  His personal experience with homelessness merely reoriented his focus and intensified his passion, with most of his involvement in later years focusing on poverty, homelessness and health related organizations.

stepup_logo_horizontalCheck out Willie’s LinkedIn Page.  There, you see the very long list of organizations where Willie served as Board Member, Commissioner, Volunteer and Member/Participant.  It was clear, in listening to people talk about his technical expertise, his compassion for others and unwavering willingness to help – Willie could have easily returned to a paying job, once his life stabilized.  But, he leaned into the very place he’d once shunned.  Shame had once upon a time prevented him from asking for help from those he’d previously worked and volunteered with.  But, eventually, he found purpose and peace in going all over the bay, to advocate for the very community he’d once been so afraid to be associated with.

There is a verse in the Bible that says the first shall be last.  I realized how profoundly true this is, when you look at a life like Willie.  Listening to people speak, I saw the beauty in being last (by our modern, American standards).  I want to be like Willie.  I want you to be like Willie.  Better to surrender your life to service, than to chase promotions or titles.  In your world, as kids, this means that kindness must come before good grades or the extra curricular activities we hope will one day help you get into college.  You must ruthlessly carve out space in your life for the broken.  It may not be easy, but it essential.

It is easy to judge or make assumptions when you don’t take the time to ask someone their story.  Hearing more of Willie’s story broke me in the best possible way today.  For pincamwalker01example, I learned the reason why he often wore an orthopedic boot.  As your mom, I’m embarrassed to admit this, given how much I preach about compassion or not judging others.  But, I confess that when I’d see the boot (month after month, year after year), I’d think, “why doesn’t he get that checked?  Is there some part of his health or recovery he’s not managing well?  Why does someone wear a boot for years?”.

Now I know.  He wore that boot because of his ongoing battle with diabetes, which required multiple partial foot amputations….first the toes, then a bit more….and a bit more.  Some of the ushers he served with, told stories today of how diligent he was in his work as an usher, often staying late to help with one more thing, or straighten one more area.  One lady told of how she could see the pain on his face, but somehow he still had a smile; he refused to stop.  At church or Hotel de Zink or the many other organizations in which he served.   He never gave up.  And, I never knew…

I think that is part of the lesson here.  Everyone has a story.  When folks talked about Willie and the influence he had on organizations that served the homeless, one of the repeated themes was his insistence that clients be part of the conversation.  Even serving, should not be something we do FOR people….it is something we do WITH people.  Ask questions.  Hear the story.  Listen to learn, not to respond.  Remember always that we are all broken, and you never really know who is helping who.

When people talked about Willie, the adjective they used over and over again was GENTLE.  His gentleness did not impede his impact; it facilitated it.  To be sure, there are moments you have to stick up for yourself or others.  But, whatever the circumstances, be kind.  I saw a phrase online today: Make American Kind Again.  Yep.  Let’s.

Kids, the closest you’ll ever get to a cold night without a roof over your head is a campinghomeless-3-750xx7360-4152-0-589 trip.  If Willie can pull himself up, so can you. And, let’s honor Willie and the many others who practice their faith by becoming ‘hands and feet’ by loving others.  If you want to find Jesus, you will find Him when you serve a meal, or help a child or wash feet or stand up for the oppressed or give shelter to folks like Willie.    

Love is not a box you tick.  It is an intentional choice to show up and give with all you’ve got, to the ones who need it most…maybe, sometimes, even the ones you feel deserve it least.  THIS, is what we must do over and over and over and over again.  That is our plan.  

CAVES   

Our pastor, John Ortberg, writes of caves in his book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Gotta Get Out of the Boat.  In it, he recounts the story of how David, when fleeing Saul, took refuge in a cave.  The cave was both a physical and symbolic place of hiding.  He’d been stripped rpi-nqtpd-nottingham-caves-jan-enof all the power, security, wealth and fame and now here he was, fearful for his life.  But, God met David in that cave.  The Bible says, David strengthened himself in the Lord His God.  When we are in the cave, and we fear this is it, it is easy to get discouraged.  But, the phrase that gets repeated more than any other in the Bible is, FEAR NOT.  When Jesus came, the angels called Him, Emmanuel, God with us.  He is the God who meets us in the cave, and strengthens us when we are afraid.  And, when that baby grew up, they nailed Him to a cross and then put Him in a cave.  This was defeat.  This was the end.  Except, it wasn’t.  Because, God does His best work in caves.

Nobody likes the cave.  The cave is dark and scary.  But, that’s where we are right now.  And, we have a choice.  We can surrender to our fears and throw in the towel.  Or, we can look for God in this, remembering that sometimes the moments that seem the worst are actually when God is preparing us for His best work yet.  We can look to the testimony of great men like Willie, as examples for how we will live out our faith going forward.  As Charley Scandlyn said in his remarks during today’s service, Willie helped us to see others the way God sees them.  And, that should be how we move forward….loving others.  Nothing has changed since my last letter: we STILL believe in a God that loves us and everyone else with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

I started this blog because I was trying to figure out how to truly act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  And, a few days ago, my words became a letter to you.  My grief has left me hallowed; but, perhaps now there is space for God to come in even more powerfully than before.  It is true, that no matter who is elected, God is still on the throne.  What is also true, is that we are still on earth.  And, so long as there is breath in our lungs, we will work to bring heaven to earth.  We will open our hearts to hurting and broken, we will defend those without an advocate and we will give to those in need.  In the same way that democracy is not a spectator sport, so faith is requires our daily surrender the commandment to love God and love others.  That’s our plan.

Still love you to the moon and back,

Mom

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello From The Other Side.

There is another side.

To the disenfranchised and disillusioned: not all Christians are finger-wagging, science-denying, ultra-conservative holier-than-thou hypocrites.

To the Christians who read the sentence above and are ready to stop reading, at best..or already have their nasty rebuttal ready, at worst – I’m here to tell you Christians are not a homogeneous, one-size-fits all block.  If you’ve assumed all these years that because you didn’t know anyone who was both passionate about Jesus and yet also a lifelong Democrat (gasp!), well, let me introduce myself….and, an entire community of progressive believers.

WHAT IF YOU DIED TONIGHT?

7-year-old-me
Me, age 7, with my signature Shirley Temple curls.

My journey to the other side began about as far right as you can get.  I grew up attending a Pentecostal church with my family.  I remember lots of loooooong services.  I remember thinking that emotional displays were good, so I’d conjure up the saddest possible thought in my little girl head, so that I could appear as spiritual as the others.  I remember asking my non-Christian friends, ‘if you died tonight, where do you think you’d go?’.  (That’s a nice happy topic for 2nd and 3rd graders to discuss in the middle of a play date).  I don’t remember any teaching or efforts to reach beyond our holy huddle, to help the poor or hurting.  We’d sooner hand you a tract than helping hand.  Not surprisingly, nobody was converted by my best efforts.  The rules forbidding TV, dancing, drinking, secular music, pants for women, makeup for women, jewelry….those didn’t make for a very persuasive sales pitch.

My parents divorced during my teenage years.  My mom was dropped like a hot potato.  Thus began our search for a new church.  We decided that it wouldn’t hurt to try the new mega-church in our backyard, Willow Creek.

THANK YOU WILLOW

I am not sure I would be a Christian today, if it weren’t for Willow Creek.  Instead of condemning those whose marriages are falling apart, they offered support and community.  Instead of preaching fire and brimstone, they talked about love and grace.  Instead of building walls to keep the outside world out, they invited the best thinkers and leaders to come in and share their ideas.  Honestly, I had no framework for faith that included these concepts, until I heard Bill Hybels give his very simple explanation for salvation.  All these years, I thought I was better than other Christians.  Now, I realized I didn’t even understand the fundamentals.  But, watching a church that refurbished donated cars to then give to single-moms or kept food pantries stocked across the Chicagoland…I started to see the scriptures come alive.  In the midst of turmoil and confusion, I met Jesus at Willow Creek.

THANK YOU KANT & RAWLS 

rawls
My own well-loved copy (now sans a cover), given to me by Dr Waite at Butler – I still have it!

About the same time that I was learning a new perspective on faith, I was also getting introduced to the world of history, government/politics and philosophy.  If Willow Creek saved my heart, Debate Team, Model United Nations and Junior State of America saved my mind.  Teens are like sponges and I soaked up as much as I could!  To this day, I still remember two theories that were my ‘go to’ arguments in values (Lincoln Douglas) debate matches.

  • Kant’s Categorical Imperative: act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were universal law. It’s ‘sorta’ like the Golden Rule, but with a concept of universality thrown in. 
  • Rawl’s Theory of Justice: In what he labeled, Justice as Fairness, Rawl’s advocated a principled reconciliation of liberty and equality, to be applied to the basic structure of a well-ordered society.  These notions of justice equalling fairness and liberty requiring equality have stuck with me.  Within the theory of justice, Rawl’s outlines the Original position in which everyone decides principles of justice from behind a veil of ignorance. This “veil” is one that essentially blinds people to all facts about themselves so they cannot tailor principles to their own advantage.

I’m not sure all teens readily dove into the study of deontological moral philosophy.  But, I found them incredibly illuminating; the principles of universality…of justice….of looking at life and others with a posture that questions, ‘what if I could not determine my wealth, intelligence, health, race….?’ – ‘how then might I want others to respond to me?’, were compelling.  These questions led me to a conclusion, that I would always error on the side of fairness and generosity.  These were not just values for Lincoln Douglas debates.  As I studied history, government, politics and international relations – they were principles for understanding the world.  We used to say in the Junior Statesmen Foundation, ‘democracy is not a spectator sport’.  That meant, my opinions could be more than just hot air – they could be the very oxygen upon which our democracy functioned.  And, the more informed and involved, the better we’d all be.

FALSE DICHOTOMY 

Justice and fairness were not just for the secular world.  They were theories that actually dove-tailed with my new understanding of faith.  Centuries before Kant, Rawls and many other philosophers, the pillars of these same tenants had been crafted in the words of the Bible:

  • Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah)
  • Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart. (Zechariah)
  • Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.  (Proverbs)
  • Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.  (Jeremiah)
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  (Romans)
  • He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah)
  • But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John)
  • “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew)

Matthew’s words sound a little like the Categorical Imperative and View of Ignorance.  The plea for justice and mercy that flow from the Old Testament into the New are very much in line with a theory of justice and fairness.  You get the picture.

I do not mean to suggest that all secular ideas support Biblical principles or vice versa.  But, I do think that a posture that sees the outside world as wrong, dangerous and irrelevant is wrong.  To put it more bluntly, the holy huddle mentality is not just a false dichotomy – it is complete bull shit.  The great commission is about going OUT – not turning IN.  And, by the way, that commission was not about creating converts but about cultivating disciples.

HELLO DEMOCRATS

When I was college, I got the chance to go to Clinton’s inauguration.  I remember walking donkey-and-elephant-1around the mall and seeing information on Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes A Village, where she advocates for the well-being of children by encouraging groups to support families and kids.  I watched and listened as Republicans pounced.  During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Republican Party nominee Bob Dole had said: “… with all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.”[6] Well, yes, OF COURSE!  But, not everyone has the privilege of growing up in a upper-middle class home with two parents that are healthy, hold good jobs, etc.  Some of us were growing up in broken homes.  Some of us were growing up the ‘wrong’ skin color and/or with parents in prison.  Some of us were growing up food insecure.  Not everyone got the Norman Rockwell life.  Go back and read those verses.  Go read where Jesus says,”Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  Or, in the chapter prior, “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”  I watched Republicans take low-blow political shots at ideas that were not only good, they were Biblical.  We are called to love and help one another.  It made no sense to me.  How was this the party of Evangelicals?

At this point, I’m sure there are many screaming at their computer (or iPhone), BUT WHAT ABOUT ABORTION!!!!!  This post would turn into a book if I tried to answer fully here.  But, here’s the short answer.  First, pro-life should mean that….a policy of valuing life from the womb to the grave, not JUST the womb.  Yet, too many want to scream about abortion, and then fall silent when it comes to assisting the children or single mothers who need help.  Too many scream about an unwanted pregnancy but do nothing about sex-trafficking or sexual abuse.  Too many scream about teenage mothers but want to cut funding to education programs that help keep kids in school.  Too many will condemn abortion one second and yet defend guns and wars the next second – even though those kill many more.  And, I’m not saying all abortions are good or all wars are bad or that I want to take your guns away.  I’m just saying that there should be some intellectual consistency.  Rob Shenck, a leading Evangelical leader writes in a Washington Post article, I’m an evangelical preacher. You can’t be pro-life and pro-gun:

I won’t be silent on this issue. The Christian gospel should quell our fears and remind us of our Christ-like obligation to love all people, even those who intend us harm. This generous view of the world calls us to demonstrate God’s love toward others, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what religion they practice. Assuming a permanently defensive posture against others, especially when it includes a willingness to kill, is inimical to a life of faith.And, more broadly, Republicans want to get rid of regulations and policies that protect life with safe working environments or fair labor laws, etc, but in the most personal of decisions – they want to stake a claim?  

We can argue till the cows come home and Jesus returns on what the ‘right’ policy is.  My goal here is not to say what I think the political views of others should be; rather, my goal is to share my journey of faith through the landscape of our American experience.  I don’t agree with Democrats on everything.  I don’t agree with Republicans on everything.  But, in picking 1-2 issues upon which our vote hinges, we’ve given politicians free license to legislate on an endless number of issues, and sometimes recklessly opening the doors to war, injustice and greed.  (For those interested in more indepth political analysis, read Where the Right Went Wrong.)  We cannot throw-up our hands, absconding all responsibility.  For me, I vote for justice, equality and compassion.  I vote for helping those in need.  I vote for education.  I vote for taking care of the world God gave us.  I vote for a love that casts the widest net.

THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’S 

There is a God, and I am not it.  In my journey to live out Micah 6:8 (act justly, love mercy and walk humbly), I am reminded that my job is very different from God’s.  There are battles to be fought.  There are judgments to be made.  The Bible has many great exchanges between heaven and earth, but one of my favorites is found in the book of Job.  It is in the midst of this discussion in Job, when God reminds him who laid the earth’s foundations and the seas.  This passage is not only about God reminding Job of His awesome power and sovereignty, it was God reminding Job of His amazing, even un-strategic, irrational love.

As John Ortberg put it in a sermon called, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, he sites this exchange in Job, explaining God is a god of gratuitous goodness.  Why would God water a wasteland where no one lives?  Why would he make an ostrich with wings that don’t fly or delight in the behemoth? Answer: He is good for no reason at all, because He loves to give.  

With that in mind, why should we shower love on the undeserving?  Because, as the Psalmist says, teach me YOUR WAY…the way of gratuitous goodness.  Or, as Jesus commands in Matthew, the greatest commandment is to love God and love others.  God’s way, is that of love that is beyond comprehension.  The Bible is full of many teachings and principles, but it is imperative to not invert the order and priority of God’s commands to us.  There’s this great song by The Afters, called Battles.  A line in it says, Your love is my armor, I fear no evil.

I love that…your LOVE is my ARMOR.

THANK YOU POPE FRANCIS AND JEN HATMAKER

brand_bio_bio-shorts_pope-francis-mini-biography_0_172238_sf_hd_768x432-16x9Thankfully, I’m not alone.  In my journey, I’ve discovered a community of believers who believe in a gospel that leads with grace and mercy includes everyone from Pope Francis and Jen Hatmaker to Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans and Jim Wallis.  And, then some.  Much to my delight, I read that in the Pope’s 2015 Encyclical, he applied the first formulation of the universalizability principle to the issue of consumption:

Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. … To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.[21]

Turns out, the Pope reads Kant too.  Beyond observations on consumption, Saray Bessey writes in Jesus Feminist: “I want to be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable, and among even—or maybe especially—the ones rejected by the Table as not worthy enough or right enough.”  I love the phrase Brandon Hatmaker uses in his new book, A Mile Wide; he beckons us to what he calls a bigger gospel. There are plenty of seats at God’s table, and I suspect that it is not been Jesus’s gospel that’s too small to date – it’s been my own interpretation, born of fear and shame that kept it small and safe.

I AM NOT A HOT POTATO 

Thank God I found a church that didn’t drop the hurting and broken like a hot potato. In Matthew, Jesus says that if he sees the flowers in the field and notices even the sparrow, how much more does he care for us?  He promises a love that never fails, that won’t let go, no matter what.  Everything changes when we open our eyes to the outrageous love of Jesus.  It is a love that is bigger than kings and kingdoms, of politicians and political parties.  It is a love that sees us in our struggles and bridges the gap with grace.  I know a God who makes beauty from ashes, and who delights in my broken hallelujah.

To those who have bristled at most of my words, I’d urge you to re-read the Bible with the lenses of compassion, mercy and justice, to consider whether our present path is actually making a positive impact in the world – in either practical or faith terms.  I’d ask you to truly ponder what love looks like.  To those who have felt alone in a progressive faith, I declare you are not alone.  And, to those who have been skeptical of the church and possibly deeply wounded by it, I would say this:

Some of us believe taking care of our planet means just that.  Some of us believe taking care of the widow and orphan means just that.  Some of us believe that opening our doors to the migrant means that.  Some of us believe in science.  Some of us believe it is okay to not be okay.  Some of us believe that helping the poor or doing justice means just that.  Some of us love mercy.  Some of us believe that loving your enemy or extending goodness for no strategic reason means JUST THAT.

So, what if I died tonight?  I’d say, that I’d choose to bank my eternity on loving Jesus and loving others.  I’ll let God take care of the rest.

 

 

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?

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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