Option B

AD12A6F8-3D36-4510-96E1-70BE77C2EFFCI recently returned from a family trip to Mendocino, a small town on the northern coast of California.  It was lovely in all the ways you’d expect: unspoiled, rugged, breathtakingly beautiful…and, for our family, the added bonus of super-cool temperatures.  Sun-worshippers, we are not!  Anyways, part of the charm was its remoteness.  We quickly realized *how* remote when we discovered our cottage had no wifi or cell coverage.  I had no choice but to turn off Facebook and Twitter, focusing instead on the stack of books I’d thrown into the minivan.

I’m probably the LAST person in Silicon Valley to read Option B by Sheryl Sandberg.  Friends had told me that it was quite good, and since she lives down the street and has kids in class with mine, I added it to my vacation reading pile – which is otherwise dominated by social justice books (these days, at least!).   On a foggy Mendocino morning, I cracked it open, reading about her journey after losing her husband suddenly in 2015.  Into her own personal narrative, she integrates research and lessons learned in facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy.  In the midst of her grief, a good friend told her….

“Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Post-Eden: Option B

Church, we are living in the era of Option B, Biblically speaking.  This broken and hurting world is NOT as God created it nor is it the way He wants it.  Option A was Eden.  This side of heaven, there will never be full shalom.  But, that in no way means that we are meant to circle the wagons around our holy huddle and wait for the rapture.  We are called to bring ‘up there’ to ‘down here’.  The other book I read in Mendocino, was Love Mercy, by Lisa Samson.  Given that Micah 6:8 has become my own mantra, I was keen to dive into the personal story of another believer trying to put this verse into practice.  She writes about the moment God met her on the pages of Isaiah 58, solidifying her conviction that she was to orient her life around loving the least.  She shares:

God keeps sending me this message because I keep doing a half-baked job of following.  Expend your life on behalf of the poor?  Expend means to be be worn-out, dried up, caved-in, broken-down, melted, sapped, burned & tattered.

I read that and paused.  I am on the same journey, but what will it cost me?  What is it going to ultimately lead me to?  It still don’t fully know.  But, I am more convinced than ever that it is time for a revival of love, mercy and justice.  It is indeed time for the church to kick the shit out of Option B.

Swimsuit Season

Screenshot 2017-07-28 15.36.56So, part of the reason Mendocino sounded great is that I did NOT have to worry about being ‘swimsuit ready’ come June.  With temps in the 50’s and 60’s, I stayed mostly in jeans and sweatshirts.  No matter where you spend your summer, I can assure you that most moms out there watched the hilarious video by Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley, “I Swimsuit Season So Hard.”  It went viral, in part, because all women can identify with the crazy expectations modern life throws our way.  And, let’s be honest, when you’re juggling ALL that and then someone wants to give you a lecture being ‘worn-out, dried up, caved in, broken-down, melted, sapped, burned and tattered’ for the poor…..I mean, seriously.  It. Is. Too. Much.

But, faith doesn’t always make sense.  Jesus makes these outlandish claims, like we are to lose our lives in order to find them.  But, how do you do that and still pay your bills and raise your kids?  What ‘exactly’ are moms meant to lose?  Tell me.  This chica needs details.  I read these amazing books and blogs by the likes of Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans.  It looks and sounds so good, but how do you make it happen, a truly missional family and life?  Do we go to Africa?  Foster kids?  Work in the inner city?  Must everything we eat, drink and wear be fair trade?  What happens if I suck at composting and my kids don’t want to donate their birthday money to charity?  Seriously.  Where do you draw the line?  What does it all mean for a regular family, like ours, just trying to get from one day to the next?  How do you make sure you’re stumbling forward in the right direction? 

39EC4DBD-109B-4A05-B27B-5BB6E4FC1D8D.jpg
My TWO minivans (Not Option A)….

Don’t ask me for answers.

The “control-freak, Type-A, hoping to impress you” version of me would love to unveil my journey as a roadmap that others could follow.   But, all I have is my story…a messy one, at that.

Exhibit A: In my last post, I shared how God opened doors for me to donate my car (I truly thought life and faith were all falling neatly into place.)  Would you believe that my brand new car was recalled!?!?! As in…I CAN’T DRIVE IT!!!!  For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been driving around a rental while my new minivan sits in the driveway.  That was not Option A!

But, even in these headaches especially in the headaches, God is teaching me.  It seems faith falling into place does not equate to life going smoothly.

Damn.

I’m not sure my messes and lessons will be helpful.  But, I’m nonetheless going to walk through some of the lessons God has taught me since I began my journey, nearly one year ago, to *actually* live a Micah 6:8 life.

For the less ‘wordy’ types….here’s a diagram.  But, suffice to say that those who truly love me and/or God will read to the end. (JK)

Screenshot 2017-08-08 18.13.21

 

Lessons

I’m Privileged

Sorry, white, evangelical, upper-middle class American church – you’re not being persecuted.  On the contrary, you’re privileged beyond what you fully realize (Note: central to understanding privilege is acknowledging our own blindness to it).  The full extent of that privilege in my own life – born out of my race, nationality, education, income, etc., is what I’ve come to more fully understand and appreciate these last few months.

Screenshot 2017-07-28 16.31.46Research shows that people like me credit ourselves for fortunes, rather than factors outside our control.  This hindsight bias, as economics professor Robert Frank explains in his book, Success and Luck, Good Fortune and The Myth of Meritocracy, describes our tendency to think, after the fact, that an event was predictable even when it wasn’t.  A similar myth pervades much of Christianity, most blatant with proponents of the Prosperity Gospel.  Even Christians who don’t ardently propagate such dogma, still outwardly praise God, while inwardly crediting ourselves.  Naturally, we then rationalize stinginess with the rest of the world, citing laziness or bad decisions or immorality, etc., as the explanation for their misfortune.  If we get the credit for successes, they conversely deserve the blame for failures. (Or so the logic goes.)

If Americans are good at either not seeing or not caring about suffering at home, they are even more indifferent to the injustices beyond our borders.  Folks, concepts, such as manifest destiny, are not Biblical.  Americans are not *entitled* to some material global hegemony or economic prosperity or made sacred by our mere desire to justify our excesses at the expense of or in the face of other’s need and suffering.  Our brothers and sisters of every tribe and nation carry equal weight with our Father, and so too must they with us.

I’m Complicit

Remember high school?  I’m turning 40 in a few weeks.  My boys (ages 6 and 9) declared the other day in the car, that they did not believe I was EVER a kid.  Precious, huh?!?  Contrary to their belief, I can remember being young.  Books were my BFF’s.  I remember reading Emerson and Thoreau, finding an inner resonance and harmony between these great transcendentalist thinkers, my adolescent desire for independence and my sincere patriotic belief in American exceptionalism.  I saw no conflict between these ideas and my faith, and there is a good reason for that.

The ‘American’ Christian mentality has made subtle but significant shifts overtime, elevating individualism far above the collective.  (Note: the worth of an individual should not to be confused with Individualism as an ideology.)  Even as Jesus came so that we might enter into an individual relationship with Him via the Holy Spirit, we recognize that Jesus came to save us all.

“For God so loved the WHOLE world, that He gave us only Son…”.  

While we are saved individually, we are called collectively.  Christ said we will be known by the love we have for one another, not for ourselves (John 13:35).  Even the personhood of God testifies to a harmonious duality of One God in Three Persons.

So too must we look for a similar balance between the individual and the collective in our own faith.  Sadly, individualism as an ideology within the church has facilitated an unholy indifference to entire communities, from people of color to immigrants to even the poor (and many more).  I include the poor because I know most Christians bristle at the suggestion that they or their church don’t care about the poor.  What church hasn’t organized a charity drive or two?  The problem is that even as WASPY types publicly profess regret and even compassion, they privately support (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) the institutions and systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice.

This is not who we are.  In Matthew 22:38-39, Jesus clarifies the essence of faith:

This is the first and greatest commandment (Love God). And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’   

To the natural follow-up question of ‘Who Is My Neighbor’ Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, which paints a picture of God’s heart for the oppressed, marginalized and forgotten.  These days, we look a lot more like the Priest and the Levi than we do the Good Samaritan. The Bible is explicit in its call to love the least, calling out women, children, migrants, the poor, etc.

Sadly, American Evangelicals are quicker to wag a finger at individual failings than offer a hand to marginalized communities.  By our own doing, we have projected ourselves into the public square, with our moral majorities and our compassionate conservatism.  And, now that we are married into these often unholy alliances, we cannot wash our hands.  To the vast majority of America and the rest of the world, being an evangelical means protecting our individual interests above the needs of the communities where we live.

Even before #45 (who has taken indifference to a whole new level), evangelicals consistently backed policies and politicians that too often help themselves at the expense of those already at a power disadvantage.  To that end, Beth Moore recently tweeted:

“We keep empowering the powerful/equipping the equipped/saving the saved/feeding the full/helping the helped and we wonder why we’re unfulfilled.”

Even worse, we not only excuse, but as Judy Wu Dominick calls it, we Christianize our pagan practices.  God help us.  Thankfully, He does.  And, writing about the alternative faith mindset and practice, author Erin Straza advocates what she calls a ‘Comfort Detox‘ (which also happens to be the title of her book.  She writes:

“There is too much to do and too much brokenness in this world for any of God’s people to sit idle, amused by life pursuits that benefit only ourselves.”

A church that gives a damn about a world, cares more about meeting the need than counting the cost, loving the broken rather than admonishing the sinner….and, in the midst of it – seeing our OWN need and our own brokenness.

“If your theology prevents you from changing your mind when confronted with the immense suffering it causes, your theology is your God.” – Rachel Cohen

At the end of the day, the gospel is inherently about reconciliation of ALL things….not the well-behaved, polished or polite….but, the ‘as far as the East is from the West’ Redeemer of ALL.

 

I’m Called

Crap.  This is rubber hitting the road.  It isn’t easy.  But, discipleship is key to spiritual wellness.  And, in the same way that physical wellness requires effort (do those damn planks and try to like kale) – so does this effort require carving out space from our crazy lives.  We all want a magic wand, to make the problems go away or to create more time.  But, sometimes what we need is not a magic wand but an eraser.  We have to let go of something else in order to make space for new practices and mindsets.

Resources

Read

I love to read.  And, there is a growing library of literature on justice and/or faith.  Truth be told, much of it’s been there for a looooong time (starting with my favorite, Old and New Testament scriptures!).  But, once we find our bubbles, it’s astonishing how little we see outside.  Even if you’re not ready to physically step into the margins, you can begin your journey as I did, with a book.  I started with white, female Christian authors – women not that different from myself.  But, overtime, I’ve found some of the most moving and perspective shifting lessons to be from people NOT like me…..people of color or people with a completely different life story and experience.  So, even if you don’t pick a book off of my ‘Favorites’ List – please break your bubble and look beyond your own clan or comfort zone.

Favorite Scriptures

  • Isaiah 58
  • Matthew 25

Favorite Books

  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
  • The Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
  • Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk
  • Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
  • Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
  • Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
  • Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Favorite Folks to Follow – Twitter & Facebook

Some of these categories overlap but they nonetheless provide some categorization.  And, this is also the tip of the iceberg!  This is a large and growing community, that I was blind to till a couple years ago.  It’s been like pulling back the curtain and discovering an entirely new universe.

  • Faith and Justice: Jim Wallis/Sojourners, Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, DL Mayfield, Eugene Cho, Sarah Bessey, Laura Ortberg Turner, Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, Judy Wu Dominick, Red Letter Christians, Jonathan Merritt, Jonathan Martin, Joy Beth Smith, Lisa Sharon Harper, Katelyn Beaty, Mihee Kim-Kort, Jenny Yang, ACLU, Preemptive Love Coalition.
  • POC: TruthsTable, SafetyPinBox, Efrem Smith, Deray McKesson, Shaun King, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Terri Givens, Austin Channing, LaTasha Morrison, Trevor Noah, Charles Blow, April D Ryan, Charles Blow, Bryan Stevenson.

Summer Reading

  • Rescuing Jesus by Deborah Jian Lee
  • Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart
  • Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield
  • Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter McNeil
  • Comfort Detox by Erin Straza
  • The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper
  • God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
  • Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Annan
  • Wake Up White by Debby Irving

Write

For Yourself

Sheryl Sandberg writes about the value of journaling, in her book, Option B.  I’ve never been good at journaling.  I start a journal, write for a few days, and soon completely forget about it, as To Do Lists and Cranky Kids overshadow the empty pages.  I began blogging because it was a way to hold myself publicly accountable to this journey.

For Others

There’s a Japanese proverb that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. Folks who go out on a limb, usually take a beating.  #JenHatmaker It takes guts to call out injustice or speak truth to those with power or privilege.  If you see someone taking a risk, say ‘thank you’.  We need to be allies who stand first and foremost with those in the margins.  And, next, we need to be allies to those who are advocating for others, be it a pastor teaching to his white congregation about racism and privilege or the young reporter writing in the wealthy town’s local newspaper about persistent poverty of neighbors next-door.  And, as recent months have demonstrated during the current health care debate – your voice makes a difference.  Call.  Write.  Tweet.  We cannot afford to be silent.

Gather

It doesn’t feel like I’ve made much progress, but God help me – I was so blind, with so much to learn.  And, thankfully, it’s been a year of wrestling and questioning and painful growing.  Much of it began with a crazy invitation to a handful of girlfriends,

“Hey, would you be willing to meet regularly to study racism and white privilege with me?” 

Amazingly, even though they’re all super busy moms with 101 things to do – they all said YES.  And, so began a journey that has been broken and transformed all of us.

Go

At the beginning of this journey, roughly one year ago, I honestly didn’t know where God wanted me or what I was supposed to do.  But, I could not stand before God and attest for my life, given the delta between what I KNEW the Bible taught about loving the least and what I was actually DOING about it.  I needed to take going OUT into the world as seriously as took going to church each Sunday.  I needed to take listen to the stories of marginalized or oppressed people as often as I listen to Christian radio (if not more!).  I needed to get my head OUT of the books and blogs and INTO the margins I claimed to care so much about.  It was time to check my Savior Complex at the door, and just humbly GO.  Like the scales that fell from Saul’s eyes, once I walked through the door, there was no turning back….I could see with painful clarity the pain and suffering of so many.  While many questions remain and I still feel woefully inadequate, God keeps calling ME back to a few groups.

WHO: People of Color, the Poor/Homeless, Immigrants, Children  
WHAT: Education, Social Justice and Anti-Poverty Service Organizations 
WHERE: Bay Area
HOW: Launch Community Equity Collaborative, Continue volunteering with Life Moves and Live Able

As a busy mom, trying to ferry kids to appointments and activities, it is easy to fall into ‘paralysis by analysis’.  Seriously, there is a lot brokenness out there.  Where do you start?  How do you decide what issues to pursue or partners to work with?  Here’s how I’ve made my choices:

Screenshot 2017-08-09 14.59.06

Need

Read books, read your local paper, drive to the other side of town.  Identify the areas of greatest need in your community.  Here are categories frequently mentioned in the Bible that you can use as a lens when looking at your own community:

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

I loved the way Nish Weiseth put it in a recent tweet:

“Regardless of your theology, when there’s pain (ESPECIALLY in the margins) that’s always where the church should go first.  Always”  

The margins are holy places.

Effectiveness

Charity is a cheap substitute for justice, and God knows, many well intentioned charities have done more harm than good (Check out, When Helping Hurts).  Pick organizations that are not only alleviating present needs but also working to knock down barriers and create better opportunities for future wellness.  For your sake and the sake of the folks you’re trying to help, be smart in picking partners.

Gaps

What places are either my community or my church turning a blind eye too?  How can I help fill that gap?  Frankly, Evangelicals are largely MIA from the margins (POC, immigrants and LGBTQ folks are more common targets than recipients, recently!), so I highly recommend going with a humble heart, ready to listen, learn and help there.  And, here’s the crazy thing about the least….even if we have to leave our usual church activities in order to love the least, the margins are where we find Jesus.  As Jonathan Martin puts it,

“Theology that cuts you off from the messy reality of human experience ultimately alienates you from Christ, too.”

Looking back on my life, I’m struck by how desperately I’ve tried to sanitize my life when I actually should have been leaning into the mess of myself and others, for at the foot of the cross, we are all broken.

Schedule

What can I actually do?  What days of the week or times of the day work for me?  For me, with young kids and a husband who works long hours in Silicon Valley, my availability is while my kids at school.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.  I want to find new rhythms of life that can become my life-song for many years to come.

Last Shot

578E1614-E39C-46AF-82F3-59CAE0B1A170A few days ago, I saw Hamilton with my husband in San Francisco.  Brilliant show at the beautiful and historic Orpheum Theater….which happens to be located in what can best be called, a ‘gritty’ part of town.  Even my sincere desire to see worthiness in the homeless who encamp nearby, with their needles openly littering the ground and the stench of old urine hanging in the air – does not inoculate me to the deeply engrained norms of my lifelong privilege.  If this blog sounds preachy, know that I preach to myself first and foremost.  I still fall into my old ways of thinking, but I catch myself….I pivot.  Bit by bit….that’s the only way.

Screenshot 2017-07-28 16.07.27There’s a refrain in Hamilton that is often repeated: “No, I’m not going to give away my shot.”  And, this is the line that reverberates in my mind….I cannot give away my one shot at a Micah 6:8 life…for myself and for my family.  I’m leaning that God isn’t asking me for the answers – just willingness to follow, one day at a time.

I’ve matured in my posture to Thoreau, since those high school days long ago.  Though, there is much that still resonates, including this quote from Walden:

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”  

We cannot say we value and love others and yet be unwilling to make significant exchanges to their end.  Loving the least means taking your shot and kicking the shit out of Option B, no matter the cost.  Ditch the bracelet.  Pick up the cross.

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.

 

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