The WHY….

It is a toddler’s favorite word: why.

Why is the sky blue?  Why do pigs like mud?  Are unicorns real? Why do chickens lay eggs?  Why can’t I have ALL the Legos at the toy store?  

Any parent will tell you that it’s a magical milestone when a child begins stringing together words and you can have *actual* conversations.  Over time, those actual conversations turn to torture when they just won’t SHUT UP.  (Hey, no judging until you’ve spent YEARS discussing the finer points of garbage trucks and diggers followed by YEARS discussing Star Wars!) Or, how about when the questions seem pointless?  Like when my boys discuss the pros and cons of having eyes on hands and mouths on stomachs OR what if the universe got sucked into a black hole?  What would happen?  I’m not sure what happens if we all get sucked into a black hole (I’m a Liberal Arts and Sciences person but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it’s not good) but I know what happens these days after about 10 minutes of these kinds of conversations….I exit the conversation.  I tell them I’m busy.  I direct them to go play somewhere else.  I get off their rollercoaster of endless ideas and possibilities.

Eventually, kids stop asking ‘why’.  My eldest will officially enter the teenage years in a couple of months.  Now and then, she asks her dad and I a ‘why’ question, but not as often as before.  She’s learned how to google!  And, more significantly, she’s keen to gather inputs from sources other than mom and dad.   I’m currently reading Untangled by Lisa Damour, in my attempt to prepare for the teenage years ahead.  Lisa writes about the immense significance that teenage girls associate to being part of a tribe, to feeling like they belong.

A tribe can be a beautiful, wonderful thing.  On the flip side, we hear the world ‘tribalism’ thrown around a lot these days, as folks try to unpack the reasons behind why our world seems so painfully divided.  It was only lasted a moment, but a brief encounter highlighting these divisions has stuck with me.  As much as I’ve wanted to erase this singular dark spot from my otherwise pleasant Christmas holiday – I can’t.  Nor can I shake my strange desire to go back to that moment and tell him THE WHY.

The Beach

IMG_0780It was our last full day in Pismo.  I was taking my boys down to the tide pools at the beach just in front of our hotel.  As we walked down the path to the stairs leading to the beach, I noticed three girls playing happily on the lawn.  We turned the corner and began our descent down a steep staircase down the cliff to the sands below.  Boys being boys, mine raced ahead.  I tried to keep up, yelling to them every few seconds to SLOW DOWN and BE CAREFUL.  As we made our way down the stairs a gentleman behind me said, ‘They look like healthy kids with a lot energy!’.  Wanting to be polite yet eager to catch-up to my boys, I replied, ‘maybe they have too much energy!’.  The man then continued with words that still haunt me.

Well, better that than to be overweight like those Hispanic girls back there.  Did you see them?  They must have weighed 150 lbs each.  I can’t help but notice the difference between those girls and your boys. 

I didn’t know how to respond.  So, I ran ahead, saying nothing.  Catching up to my boys, I put a smile on my face, hiding the tangled mix of thought and emotion as I processed what just happened.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve gone back to that moment over and over again.  There were a thousand things I wanted to say, starting with the most important point that the girls on the lawn were beautiful and in no way deserving of such horrible insults.  Period.  Then, in addition to the things I’d say, there were the questions I’d ask…  I’d ask him why he felt it was okay to say something like that to me?  I’d question his assumption that we were somehow of the same tribe.  I’d ask him whether he had considered for a second why these girls were slightly bigger than my boys?

THE WHY.

One of the most frustrating facets of this story is that this man never stopped to consider THE WHY before opening his mouth to the stranger in front of him (me).  These moments seem harmless enough, but they’re not.  They are the micro-aggressions perpetuate bias and injustice.

Going back to the story….  Were the girls bigger than my boys?  Yes.  But, the man’s words and tone suggested that it was because of their race that they were overweight compared to my boys.  They weren’t just girls….they were ‘Hispanic girls’.  And, to make the comment that much more insulting, he grossly exaggerated their weight.  The message was clear, though.  My ‘white boys’ (as he saw them) were good.  And, these Hispanic girls were not.

The problem with prejudice is that it usually steals just enough partial truth to perpetuate a total lie.  You see, Hispanic children ARE more likely to be obese than white children.  According to a SPECIAL REPORT on RACIAL AND ETHNIC DISPARITIES IN OBESITY, 22.4 percent of Latino children ages 2 to 19 are obese, compared with 14.3 percent of White children.5 More than 38.9 percent of Latino children are overweight or obese, compared with 28.5 percent of White children.  This is the truth.  But, this is not the whole story.

The Hispanic Kids

The reason why Hispanic children are a greater risk is due to the following:

  • Poverty, lack of access to affordable healthy food
  • Barriers due to language, culture or immigration status
  • Higher exposure to marketing of less nutritious foods
  • Limited access to safe spaces to be physically active

Being a policy wonk, I could go on and on with statistics on implications of these statistics or the strategies for change.  But, I won’t.  That’s not the point.  The point is that if we want to have a conversation about weight then we should talk be talking about broken systems, racism and privilege.

So many of the problems facing us today persist – not because we don’t have answers.  It’s because we lack the compassion and/or curiosity to ask the questions.

And, it’s not just the man on the stairs.

Women of Color

IMG_0841Evidence of bias and injustice abounds.  Another heartbreaking example is that of women of color who die in childbirth at an alarming rate.  Researchers have finally begun to ask WHY.  The answer isn’t as simple as poverty or lack of access to care.  Serena Williams, one of the most famous tennis stars on the globe (and surely one of the most fit people on the planet!) recently made news with news of how she nearly died after childbirth.  She’s not alone.

A recent ProPublica investigation chronicles the story of another mother, Shalon, who died tragically at the age of 36, due to complications following childbirth.  Shalon was an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, holding two masters degrees and a dual subject PhD.  When she, a healthy, well-educated black woman died unexpectedly after childbirth, her colleagues were compelled to dig deeper into THE WHY.

WHY is it that African-American mothers die in New York City at a rate 12 times that of Caucasian mothers?  This trend continues, even for more well-off African American mothers, with one study showing that black, college educated mothers were more likely to suffer from severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school.  The answers are complicated, but the underlying theme is racism.  It’s not just the individual encounters with our health care system.  It is the cumulative byproduct of a lifetime of injustice that manifests in the most tragic of physiological ways.  As Fleda Mask Johnson, an Atlanta researcher who studies this explains:

It’s chronic stress that just happens all the time — there is never a period where there’s rest from it. It’s everywhere; it’s in the air; it’s just affecting everything.  

And, that everything includes childbirth.  Michael Lu, a longtime disparities researcher and former head of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration compares the chronic stress of being a black woman in America to gunning the engine of a car…..perpetually.  As he puts it, “sooner or later you’re going to wear out the engine.”

There are plenty of other examples of injustice towards African-American women, such as the wage gap (where they suffer from a double whammy of both racial and gender discrimination).  But, the story….the WHY…. behind black women dying at alarming rates – regardless of education, geography, income, health, you name it…..is the very real pain and harm caused by racism and injustice that persists in both people and systems.

The RE-Segregation

Screenshot 2018-01-13 17.11.06For many, education is viewed as the great equalizer.  Get an education and you can do anything!  With this mindset, it then becomes easy to judge others.  If only they’d applied themselves more in school….then, they could have gotten a good job, blah, blah, blah.  Sure, we’ll admit that some schools are better than others (that’s why we work so hard to get our own kids into certain districts!).  But, we cling to this vague notion of the American Dream that assumes most folks have access to decent schools.  This is where the WHY is again useful.  If it’s really so simple, WHY don’t more people just follow that recipe?

Just a few days ago, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, released a 150-page report, titled “Public Education Funding Inequity: In An Era Of Increasing Concentration Of Poverty and Resegregation.”  I’ll save you the trouble of reading all 150 pages.  The main message is that America’s education system is failing its most vulnerable students due to:

  • Neighborhood schools that remain deeply segregated
  • Too many students lacking access to skilled teachers, rigorous courses, and
  • Inequitable school funding.

One particularly scathing line reads:

American public schooling is, and has been, profoundly unequal in the opportunity delivered to students, the dollars spent to educate students, and the determinations of which students are educated together.  

So, WHY isn’t education a simple solution for those that are struggling?  Because America’s most vulnerable kids don’t get to go to the same schools I went to or my kids go to….not anything close.  Just to add one more layer to this….  Let’s just say for a minute that there’s a girl or a boy out there determined to overcome all the obstacles, regardless of where the live or the quality of their school.  How easy is it *really* to get out of poverty?  MIT economist Peter Temin’s research shows that escaping poverty requires almost 20 years with nearly NOTHING going wrong.

The Shithole Places

I could write for days and days of my disgust in seeing Trump’s vile characterization of entire continents and countries.  It’s not wrong on so many levels.  But, here’s another inconvenient truth: many Americans (most of whom would never admit it) are shocked by the vulgarity but not by the comparison itself.  Admit it.  We easily and often think of Haiti and/or Africa as places plagued by poverty, corruption, etc.  At a certain level, this is true.  But, again, one must ask WHY.  For anyone willing to merely scratch the surface of history, the answer becomes painfully and abundantly clear.

Take Haiti.

Haiti was long a French colony that helped fuel the French Empire/Europe, providing 2/3 of the sugar and coffee consumed.  When Haiti pursued its own path to independence, it spent nearly all of the 19th century trying to pay the $150 million gold francs French landowners demanded for freedom, in addition to being punished by American and European powers that refused to trade with them.  While we didn’t do trade with them, we did loan them money (to pay the $150M in French debt), though in 1914 President Wilson had the US Marines empty the Haitian gold reserve.  This led to years of occupation and unrest across Central American and the Caribbean.  You get the picture….  This history isn’t new, though I owe this more succinct account to the January 11th tweets by author and journalist Jonathan Katz, who has spent time living and reporting from Haiti.

He concluded his thoughts on Haiti this way, as he speculated how anyone could justify such comparisons between Norway and Africa or Haiti.

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You could write a similar story about Africa and the devastating impact of colonial rule combined with the slave trade.   It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots between the theft of people and land over many centuries with the challenges today.  But, it does take a curiosity to learn and a heart of compassion to act.

The Bold and Humble

Confession: I’m still have a lot to learn on my Micah 6:8 Journey.  You’d think that after 18 months of studying racism and privilege, I’d have had a reply for the man walking behind me down to beach.  These everyday encounters are just one of the places where we may begin dismantling the many layers of bias, ignorance and indifference….  No matter how awkward or hard, it is time to call it what it is and sit with the discomfort.  As Roxanne Gay wrote in yesterday’s New York Times,

This is a painful, uncomfortable moment.  Instead of trying to get past this moment, we should sit with it, wrap ourselves in the sorrow, distress and humiliation of it.  

And then, rather than resign to despair, we must let our holy discontent fuel our fight.  Bit by bit we must call racism out and destroy it.  It is not easy, but we stand in a moment where we must be both bold and humble.  We must step-out of our silos and tribes, stand-up to injustice and fight for what’s right.   At the same time, we must never stop asking questions and humbly listening to answers.  THE WHY matters because people matter.

fullsizerender-28On Monday, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  If we are to truly honor his legacy, we cannot be silent, or, as he put it, remain “neutral in times of great moral conflict”.  Fast forward to today – you cannot endorse or even ignore Trump’s ‘shithole’ comments on Thursday and then try to be an ally to the cause of justice and equality the following Monday.  Speaking further to the dangers of neutrality, holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “neutrality ALWAYS favors the oppressor.”  Intuitively, we all know that oppression and injustice is wrong.  Let’s have the curiosity and compassion to actually do something about it.  Echoing the brave women in the #MeToo fight, TIME’S UP!  NOW is the time to do that something.

NOW is the time to get back on the rollercoaster of endless possibilities.  NOW is the time to ask WHY and understand better.  NOW is the time to seek what Oprah called the ‘absolute truth’ rejecting partial truths or fabrications.  NOW is the time to listen to our kids (who will one day stop asking), as well as those with completely different perspectives, be they across town or around the globe.  NOW is the time for faith leaders to categorically condemn bigotry and racism, as well as the perpetrators of it.  NOW is the time to dream for, what my grandmother called, ‘Nobler Heights’.  We do this primarily because it is the right thing to do.  And, we do this so that when we are old and our grandchildren are asking us unending questions, they will never ask us why we said or did nothing in moments like these.

 

 

 

 

 

Take Time to Smell the Shit

Take Time to Smell the Shit

img_1699It’s been one month and 4 days since we got our puppy….not like anyone’s counting!  In some ways, it seems like she’s always been part of our family…she’s already got her favorite spot on the couch.  She’s already knows the route to the kids’ school, and she practically sprints there when it’s time to pick up her boys.  It’s been a pretty smooth transition.  That said, this is our first family dog, and there are few things we’re still getting used to.

Case in point: dogs sniffing poop.  Now, really….WHY?  It’s gross!  I can’t even handle my boys delighting in each other’s noisy farts.  Now, I have a dog that wants to smell shit…her own, others, you name it…she wants to smell it.  Finally, yesterday, I had to google….WHY DO DOGS SMELL POOP?

Answer: According to Rover.com, ‘Dogs “see” through their nose. With their acute sense of smell, they distinguish individual components of smell to understand the world around them.  Vetstreet.com adds, “Other dogs who come upon the scent can discern a lot about fellow canines in the neighborhood. With one whiff of urine, a pup can determine how many dogs have been there, how long ago they were in the area.”

Some of you are probably thinking my head as gone to the dogs!  (So sorry for the bad pun!)…..stick with me.  With this new information, I studied my puppy the next time she went out.  I realized that she was less obsessed with smelling poop and more interested in just understanding her world.

How does ANY of this relate to theology?  So glad you asked!

Suffering Sucks 

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The BEST chocolate croissants

Today, I was back at one of my favorite spots, Mademoiselle Colette (they have the best chocolate croissants, but I digress…), eating lunch with a dear friend.  We talked about a recent health scare she’d had, made all the more scary by the growing number of friends and family members we know battling cancer or some other health ailment.

It is alarming, even for those of us who have all the resources to manage these scares – if and when they come.  In confessing our fears, we acknowledged how much more terrifying it would be if we were fleeing a war-torn country, or if we were forced to live even in the shadows (because we didn’t have papers for this country), or if we were a young black man, wondering how to respond to a nation becoming less tolerant, rather than more.   Our suffering matters….it is not easy.  But, in the same breath, we must see those who are suffering just as much, if not more.

David Brooks had a great a great post in the New York Times called, What Suffering Does.  He wrote:

When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

This is true on an individual level and it’s true on a broader scale too.  This is a defining moment for both our country, as well as the church.  I firmly believe that as hard and painful as it may be, we need to not only align ourselves with those who suffer, but we must be willing to suffer ourselves.  The Bible uses the analogy of the ‘refiner’s fire’ – indeed, we can be ‘formed’ into something much closer to the Matthew 25 vision for the church.

img_1775For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

The Bible is very clear about loving the least and speaking up for the vulnerable.  I was encouraged by the Washington Post article listing 500+ pastors, calling on the President and Vice President to support refugees.  Now, we need to not only add to that list, we need to keep showing up in tangible and vocal ways for all those who are suffering.  This call, it is not radical or optional – IT IS BIBLICAL.  As Ann Voskamp tweeted, “The call isn’t: deny your neighbor, take up your comfort and follow your dreams.  It’s, deny your yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.”  That’s the call.

Too Political??

fullsizerender-29Raise your hand….how many of you wish all the political posts on Facebook would go away and we could go back to watching cat videos and indulging in throw-back Thursday pictures of everyone’s cute kids?  ME, ME, ME!!!!!

Hands down!  Those were the days!  Right!?!?   fullsizerender-30I’m not even a cat person and I’d gladly take that over the video of an unarmed black teen getting shot or the image of a toddler refugee washed up on the sands.  We ALL would love to NOT see the suffering and heartache.

But, just because it hurts and it challenges on so many levels, doesn’t mean we can turn our heads.  Just because we don’t see the suffering, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  IT IS.  In response to some of the ‘I’m tired of political posts’ theme, a friend shared this:

I want my friends to understand that “staying out of politics” or being “sick of politics” is privilege in action….Your privilege allows you to live a non-political existence. Your wealth, your race, your abilities, your religion, or your gender allows you to live a life in which you likely will not be a target of bigotry, attacks, deportation, or genocide. You don’t want to get political, you don’t want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake.. It is hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression (aka “get political”). The fighting is tiring. I get it. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and you just want everyone to be nice, please know that people are literally fighting for their lives and safety. You might not see it, but that’s what privilege does.

fullsizerender-28Ignorance is not bliss – it’s just ignorance.  And, to borrow from Bonhoeffer, silence in the face of evil is not just silence – it’s evil.  The white, evangelical church has allowed its privilege to blind its eyes to the suffering of so many around us.  Not surprisingly, we can find truth and guidance from African-American civil rights leader, Ida B Wells: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth on them.”  Or, as Jesus put it in the book of John, ‘the truth will set you free’.  Church, we cannot claim to be leaders or truth tellers in arenas we are too afraid to talk about from the pulpit.  It is not enough to take an offering for refugees or say a prayer of reconciliation on MLK Day.  For such a time as this, we were placed upon the earth, to hear the voice of God, and DO HIS WILL, WHATEVER IT IS!!!!!!

Forget Franklin and Focus

fullsizerender-31I joined twitter a few days ago.  That’s been interesting.  One tweet that caught my attention was from Franklin Graham: “We have to realize that the president’s job is not the same as the job of the church.”  Say, WHAAAAT????

Shane Claiborne had the best response: “No.  It is theological malpractice to say that the president is exempt from the Sermon on the Mount or not accountable to Christ’s commands.”  Reality check….not only is the President accountable, we ALL are accountable.

Similarly, the Atlantic just published the story of Joy Beth Smith, a Focus on the Family employee fired for sharing on her personal blog, her experience with sexual abuse and reactions to Trump’s comments about women.  Joy’s experience has been replicated countless times at churches and Christian organizations around the country.  As another woman shared, “It seems like there is this silencing of evangelical women if we don’t stick with approved talking points.”  Ummm….NOT OKAY.

THIS IS A TIPPING POINT.  This isn’t about politics.  It’s about theology.  It’s about unapologetically loving the least.  This is about crawling into the trenches with those who are suffering, rather than offering token trinkets and words.  This is about resolving to not be goats or cymbals or whitewashed tombs.  

Back to that lunch with my friend at Mademoiselle Colette.  Call it morbid, but we both have been thinking about the day we stand before God and are held to account.  We’ve both wondered, will my reasons for why I didn’t do more suffice?  The short answer: NO.  We both have felt this deep conviction that it is not enough to volunteer periodically in Sunday School or put an extra $20 in the offering basket when there’s a collection for a missions partner or post an MLK quote on January 16th.  It is time to get down in the trenches.  To quote Shane Claiborne again, “all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.  #WhyIResist.”  It is time for the church to resist.  We must lead by loving the least – it is what we should be BEST at! 

So, farewell to the Dobson’s and Franklin’s.  Never again will I send a dime to Samaritan’s Purse or Focus on the Family.  #WeAreNeverEverGettingBackTogether #WWJD  Franklin, you forget the very story, for which your organization is named.  In the story of the Good Samaritan, God praises the foreigner who had compassion on the man attacked by robbers.  The American church has become too much like the Levite and the Priest.  The whole premise of the story was to answer the question, ‘how do I get eternal life?’.  And, the answer was, HAVE MERCY.  This is our template.  This is how we can love the least.  To borrow from Matthew 25….we gotta lot of goats in America right now.

So, seriously… What Would Jesus Do?

fullsizerender-27In my last post, I shared Brene Brown’s comparison between sympathy and empathy.  When we sympathize, we look at the person in a dark hole and say, ‘gosh, that looks tough down there….want a sandwich?’.  When we empathize, we get down in the hole with them.

 

When Jesus came to earth, the angels called him, ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us.  Jesus got into the whole with us.  But, when that baby grew up, he took it one step further.  He said, ‘You know that dark hole that you’re stuck in….I’m gonna take your place.’  Jesus, the son of God, who was without sin, said, ‘I’ve got this’.  Or, as the old hymn puts it, ‘Jesus paid it all.’  He took our place.

Want to know what Jesus would do?  At the very least, we come alongside the hurting and oppressed….we get in the hole with the Syrian refugee and the African-American teen….when possible, we take their place.  I am honestly not sure what taking their place looks like, but I can tell you it looks a hell of a lot different from our posture to date.  And, I’d like to be part of a Christian community that can create safe places where we can talk about what that looks like and then actually go DO IT.

Shit Happens

Dogs smell because it’s how they understand their world.  And, while dogs cannot selectively smell, we humans have gotten pretty good at selectively seeing.  All too often, we decide what we want to see and what we want to avoid.  We have become blind to the poor, the undocumented, the African-American man, the LGBTQ teen, the victims of sexual abuse.  There’s nothing wrong with stopping to smell the roses, but there IS something messed up about acting like you’re in a field of flowers rather than a pile of shit.

fullsizerender-32As Ann Voskamp (who signed the letter in support of refugees) said, “I have felt it—how no one wants anything of anyone but to be honest and real and to trust enough to take off the mask.”  Wearing a mask won’t shield you from the stench of suffering.  So, wake up, church.  Shit happens.  Suffering happens.  Our avoidance won’t make it go away.  But, we CAN use this moment to reorient our faith around loving the least, not just in word but in deed.  If we think history will be unkind to our indifference, how about heaven?  (I suggest re-reading Matthew 25). As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”  #StillShePersisted.

 

This weekend, my church is going to talk about how we as a Christian community respond to everything that is going on in our nation today.  We should all be praying for our pastors, as these are difficult days for them.  But, I know that I, and I alone will one day be held to account….there will be no excuses for what my budget allowed or what my pastor did or did not say or what my view of national security did or did not permit….there will just be ME.  And, so, we are back at Micah 6:8…

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

In this, we persist.

 

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?