Wednesday, September 02, 2015

"Naked and Afraid"

Have you ever seen the show by that name? It's an hour long reality television series that pairs a man and woman. strangers, and together they must survive for 21 days in a jungle or desert or rainforest or on a mountain somewhere in the world. With no food, no water, and no clothes. They can each take one item with them - a firestarter or a knife or a pot. They must find food, water, build a shelter, and fend off predators for 21 days. If the experience is too difficult, they can "tap out" - at which point they are rescued and taken back to civilization and their partner is left alone to finish the 21 day challenge. Each of the competitors is given a video camera to keep a video diary, and there is a film crew that follows them around along with a medic, in case they are hurt. I've seen people cut themselves badly with knives. I've seen people who needed to have thorns removed from their feet. Infected boils lanced. Dehydration. Deep exhaustion. An inconceivable number of ant bites and mosquito bites. One woman was peed and pooped on by a monkey. It's gritty, nasty, fascinating, head-shaking, "I'm so glad that's not me" kinda stuff.

Yes, I confess - that crazy show is a guilty pleasure that my husband and I have indulged in for too long. We ooh and aah at how they deal with snakes and caimans and monkeys and each other. We laugh at their predicaments. We scold them for their foolish choices. We groan at their terrible interpersonal skills.

Let me be clear: We are not so cocky as to think that we could survive such an experience. We know full well that we couldn't last one night in our own backyard, fully clothed, in a tent, with a cooler full of food. We are not survivalists, by any stretch of the imagination. I can't remember the last time I went to bed without flossing my teeth, so sleeping naked, hungry, and completely exposed in the jungle for 21 days with a stranger is completely out of the question. Unless dental floss could be the one thing I chose to take with me...

According to what I see on the covers of the supermarket tabloids and the magazines I peruse at Barnes and Noble, as I approach the big 5-0, I should be afraid. When I look in the mirror, I see scars. I see droopy skin. I see wrinkles. I see ridges. I see dry skin. I see a receding hairline. I see signs of aging. When I think about those things as I flip through nearly any women's magazine or most television channels at certain times of the day, I am bombarded with messages that tell me to be afraid, be very afraid. Aging is a frightful passage. Fight it with all your might. Don't let the wrinkles win.

When it comes to aging and the changes in my body, I am not afraid. Every scar is a reminder of a battle I've won. Every stretch mark reminds me of the two people this body brought into the world. Every wrinkle around my eyes and mouth reminds me of a smile or a tear - both of which are signs of life, of a beautiful life, of a difficult life, of a blessed life, of a grief-filled life. Every sign of aging is a gift because so many people don't make it to 50 years of age. So many people don't even make it to ten years of age.

I am grateful for the husband who watches that silly show with me. I am grateful for the laughter we still share. I am grateful for the two children he and I have been blessed to raise. I am enormously grateful that he sees me with all my stuff, my scars, my droopiness, my silliness, my seriousness, my yearning for God, for the Bible, for peace, and for love - and he has not run away screaming into the night. I am grateful that my nakedness - be it physical or emotional or spiritual - doesn't make him afraid.

I am grateful for the friends and family members who walk with me and listen to me, who read my ramblings and ask my advice. I am grateful for the questions they ask and the freedom they give me to answer from my heart, from the most vulnerable places, the deep places, from the naked places in my soul. I am grateful that they too are gracious in accepting me in all my wrinkled, messy, deeply scarred nakedness.

I am grateful for my spiritual director, my pastors, my soul sisters and brothers, whose stories I have heard, those who hear my stories and walk with me on this journey that is my life. I am grateful for their courage and strength to sit with me and stand with me through all the moments in which I strip myself bare, let my tears flow, and don't flinch or turn away.

There have been times in my life when I have been afraid -
to be seen
to not be seen
to be rejected
to be welcomed
to tell the truth
to conceal the truth
to be wrong
to be right
to be weak
to be strong
to be silenced
to be heard
to be misunderstood
to misunderstand
that I will be forgotten
that I will be remembered

So much fear. Fear that paralyzed me. Fear that kept me running away from the truth of my faults and failures. Fear that pushed me to find my value in the approval and attention of people who were themselves afraid to be seen and unseen. Fear that caused me to turn away from those who sought connection with me. My life revolved around my fears for too long.

I am getting to a place in my life where those fears are losing their grip on me.
Perhaps it's because I am going to turn 50 in less than four months -
so who cares what anybody thinks of me anymore?
Perhaps it is the age thing. But more than that, I believe it's a faith thing.
If God is God, if God loves me,
if I have been forgiven, if I have been set free from fear,
if Christ did come and live and die for me, for all of us,
if Christ came to give us life, abundant life,
if the Holy Spirit dwells within me and guides me through my life,
if peace is possible no matter the circumstances,
if Love wins in the end, in the beginning, and in the middle,
if there is such a thing as joy that isn't tied to circumstances,
if I am never forgotten or forsaken,
if there really is healing and power in the name of Jesus,
then I have every reason to be naked with God and no reason to be afraid of God.

I can remove the masks and make up that I use to try to hide the bags under my eyes and the lines around my mouth. I can laugh when I'm happy and cry when I'm sad and scream when I'm angry and whisper when I don't have the strength to shout and be silent when there is nothing more to express. I can speak freely in prayer. I can sit silently in prayer. I can be fully, unashamedly, abashedly naked with The One who loves me most.

I can peel off the girdles and Spanx and other undergarments that constrict my breathing and make me look like I have a body that I don't actually have. Who do I think I'm kidding? Certainly not God. I can let it all hang out and hang down. I can stop holding my breath and sucking in. I can breathe deeply and rest in the knowledge that God isn't looking for a newer or slimmer or more chiseled version of me. Even as I am being transformed from glory to glory day by day, even as I am being made new, even as my weakness becomes strength, even though the rough places in me are being smoothed out little by little, God loves me just as I am.

I can take off my shoes and socks and walk barefoot, wrinkly toes, cracked heels, and all - because everywhere my feet land is holy ground. These are sacred and holy places that we walk on. Not only the churches and other worship spaces. But also each other's homes. The library. The Loaves and Fishes pantry. The mall. The barber shop. The auto parts store. The mayoral candidates forum. The doctor's office. The hospice. The voting booth. The bank. Even on our death beds. Wherever people walk and work, wherever the sun shines and the rain falls, wherever we live and breathe and move - it's holy ground. Why be afraid when we are all naked? Why be afraid when we are all so consumed with our own scars and stretch marks and droopy parts and flabby parts that we barely notice each other?

May we find joy at every turn on the journey.
May we find peace in each breath.
May we find grace to welcome and embrace each other, scars and all.
May we find mercy and forgiveness - and may we be willing to accept them.
May we laugh at our own nakedness, but never at each other's.
May we celebrate every day, every moment, every gift that the present is.
May we be courageous and strong, overcoming all False Evidence Appearing Real - FEAR.
May we know firsthand how God's perfect love casts out all fear.

And may my husband and I be set free from our addiction to this crazy show, Naked and Afraid.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thankful Thursday

On Monday evening, I returned to the YWCA Women in Transition program to lead a group of women in a journaling workshop. I am tremendously grateful for their trust in me, for the deep sense of welcome I feel when I am there, and for the willing and generous participation of the women who attend the workshops.

Here in the South, we like our lemonade and our sweet tea, so we talked about what it takes to make those two ubiquitous beverages.
Tea bags. Lemons. Boiling water. Cold water. Sugar. Ice.
We pour boiling water over the tea bags. We crush the lemons.
Kinda like life - which pours boiling water on us and crushes us. Ouch, ouch, ouch again.
Everyone gets burned by life. Everyone gets crushed by life. The question is - how do we deal with life's trials and tribulations?
Journaling, I suggested, gives us an outlet for cooling the hot parts and sweetening the sour parts.

I showed them some of my old journals and talked about when the privacy of my journals has been breached.
I explained how all the papers and tickets and flyers and stickers that have value and meaning to them can find a home in their journals.
They can write poems and stories and questions and prayers and dreams and fears in their journals.
They can protect their bosses and family members and other program participants from their unbridled anger and other inappropriate responses by pouring out their emotions in their journals. They can also prepare more appropriate answers and retorts on the pages of their journals. They laughed when I explained how my journals have saved my marriage and my children's lives on many occasions. Some people drink. Some smoke. Some shop excessively. Some withdraw. Some divorce. I journal.
I told them about how my father got rid of all his notebooks and Bibles before he died and how sad we were to realize that we wouldn't have any of his handwriting, any of his Sunday school lessons, or any of his Bible margin notes.
I talked about the fact that when I'm dead and gone, my children will read and see the worst of me in my journals, but they will also get to see the best of me, my prayers, my wandering, my wondering, my dreams, and my disappointments. It's not gonna be pretty, but I will be dead and gone, so I won't be around to be embarrassed.

We talked about having children and not being able to have children.
We talked about jobs challenges and not being able to find a job.
We talked about kanswer and loss and how grateful we are to be alive.
We talked about men and love and desire and healing.
We talked about our mothers and our siblings and how much we wish we were hugged more as children.
And we wrote. We made lists. We wrote about our hopes and dreams.
At the end of the session, we hugged each other good-bye - and they went back to their rooms with new journals, new pens, writing prompts, cookies and lemonade in their bellies, and a smile on their faces.
I hope to see them again before too much time passes.

I had the honor of walking with twelve other early risers this morning - exploring another new neighborhood, greeting the parents and kids waiting for the school bus, waving at garbage collectors (who returned our greeting by honking their horns), and picking up trash as we walked. This is a beautiful city we live in. Courageous people. Hope-filled people. Hard working people. Patient people. Friendly people - around us and among us.

Our walk began to Little Rock AME Zion Church. We walked to St. Paul Baptist Church. We begin each walk with "some inspiration," and I have been bringing the inspirational quote for the last three or four walks.

This is what I wrote for today's expedition: "This morning, as we stand in the parking lot of Little Rock AME Zion Church, I ponder the effect of little rocks. A little rock in your shoe can ruin a morning walk. A little rock bouncing on a highway can ruin your windshield and your day. A little rock that isn’t sorted out of a bag of dried beans can crack a tooth. Little rocks piled on top of each other can create a fortress. May each of us be little rocks that make the forward movement of racists and other bigots extremely uncomfortable. May each of us be little rocks that cause injustice to crack and fall apart and have to come to a sudden stop at the side of the road. May we be little rocks that together create a fortress for the many people around us who are in need of a safe place to rest. May we be peaceful and stubborn little rocks that cannot be sorted out of the hard conversations we enter and the challenging situations we encounter. May we each and may we all become Little Rock Churches, Little Rock Sanctuaries, and Little Rock Safe Spaces everywhere we find ourselves and everywhere we walk together."

We walk together.
We talk together.
We laugh together - a lot.
We stand in silence together, blessing the neighborhoods we explore.
We ask each other tough questions.
We challenge each other about our parenting.
We support each other as we send our children off to college.

We take photos of cracked walls and staircases that go up to nothing and each other.

This afternoon as I picked up something at an auto parts store, the young woman behind the counter recognized my tee shirt and told me that her cousin did the We Walk Together walk this morning. She told me her cousin's name - a name I didn't recognize from the group I walked with, but then I realized that one of the women in our group has started another We Walk Together chapter near her children's school. Go, Tasha, go! Spread the good word, the good news, and the goodness of life.

May we walk together wherever we are.
May we talk and laugh, cry and write together.
May we listen to each other's stories with empathy and presence.
May we walk each other home.
May we write each other home.
May we pray each other home.

PS. I recently took my wedding dress to Good Will. It languished for 24+ years in a box in a closet. My daughter is never going to wear it. I'm never going to wear it again, so off it went. Today, as I wandered through the store looking for nothing in particular, I spotted it. Selling for $69. Mixed feelings.

PSS. Last week, I took the license plate from our recently deceased Toyota Sienna back to the DMV.

Wasn't she a beauty? (The van, I mean)
I will miss that van. I will miss seeing that license plate.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thankful Thursday - we need to walk and we need to talk

I talk a lot. I love to talk. I love to teach. I also love to hear people's stories.
This summer has been a time of listening and learning and walking and talking.

Soon after the tragic murder of those nine men and women in Charleston, an organization here in Charlotte called MeckMin began weekly conversations - "We Need to Talk." I have attended several of those sessions in which we have talked about topics that include race and racism, white privilege, other kinds of privilege, and the trial of a police officer accused of using excessive force in the killing of an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by the officer. People of color, white people, people of various faith traditions, people from other cities have come together every Monday night since the week of the shooting to talk. To share. To listen. To ask tough questions. To seek answers. To figure out ways to move out of these safe spaces into a hurting world that needs to be transformed.

Certainly the number of attendees has dwindled since those first sessions, but the conversations have continued. I have listened to stories of anguish, of shaming, of blaming, of concern, of involvement, and of fear of getting involved. Stories of how race and racism show up in classroom, in university administration offices, in interpersonal relationships, at family gatherings, and in church. I have listened to people who are angry and people who are hopeful, people who have never thought about these issues before and those who have had to think about them all life long. I have told my own stories that cover all those topics and attitudes as well - after all, I do love to talk.

Today I attended a lunch hosted by MeckMin at which we talked about establishing a Municipal ID for residents of Charlotte - a way for people to obtain identification. Some of the people who would benefit from such a program are those who are here in Charlotte without legal or residential documentation. People who do not have a driver's license. People who are transgender and are unable to obtain ID that corresponds to their chosen name and status. In the room next to the one where we were having that discussion was another group talking about housing issues in the area.

Thank you, MeckMin, for these conversations and opportuninities.

Out of that series of conversations has emerged another group that I have joined - We Walk Together Charlotte. Two women who attended the Monday night sessions wanted to take the conversations to the street, so they decided that they would walk 100 miles in Charlotte, between faith communities, houses of worship, talking. Learning about the communities they walk through. They have invited a local historian to join us and tell more about this broken, beautiful, hurting, and growing city we live in. Men and women, we walk together. Black and white, we walk together. Fast and slow, we walk together. Young and older, we walk together. We walk together once or twice a week in the morning. We walk between 1.5 and 3.5 miles each time. We share inspirational quotes. We ask each other questions. And we are getting to know each other's life stories. Together.

Reading plaques and monuments as we walk.

I have joined them for five of their walks. We do exactly what the name says - we walk together. We talk together. We wear matching tee shirts so that we can engage curious bystanders in conversation. And nearly every time we've been out walking, someone will stop us and ask us what we are doing and why. It is an honor to speak to others about our simple and hopeful desire for a peaceful and just and safe community for all people.

Last Saturday morning, the group visited our church -
First Presbyterian Church.

The back of the shirt contains a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr -
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Together we are learning to drive out darkness and hate by walking and talking and learning about each other and our city. We are talking about school inequality and groups that are making a difference. We are learning about housing inequality and groups that are making a difference. Plus we pick up garbage as we walk. Why not leave the city a little cleaner as we walk?

Thank you, Catherine and Mary, for these walks and the tee shirts and your contagious enthusiasm.

One of the most well-read, thoughtful, articulate, courageous and passionate people I know, Anthony Smith, is spearheading several efforts related to education, politics, faith, and community in nearby Salisbury, North Carolina. He and his wife, Toni, inspire me to stay active, to speak up, to be about the business of reconciliation, peace, and justice. To that end, they have established a Peace Circle up there in Salisbury. They meet on the first Monday of each month at The Mean Mug to discuss how they can bring peace and healing to a city that has known racial terror and injustice for decades. My daughter and I attended their August gathering. Not long thereafter an article was written about that evening's conversations. Yours truly appears in one of the photographs.

They also have a practice called "Night Crawlers" - which is similar in some ways to We Walk Together, except their walks are at night. They walk through various communities in their city, talking to residents, praying with and for them, and encouraging each other to live at peace. Last winter, one of their walks included the distribution of socks and blankets to folks in need. If we didn't live an hour from them, I would attend their church and their gatherings a lot more often, for sure.

Thank you, Anthony and Toni, for being the leaders and servants and teachers that you are.
I am honored to call you both my friends.

In the spirit of shutting my mouth in order to listen and learn, I am taking an online class called "Hard Conversations" being led by Patti Digh. Her goal is to get people, mostly white people, to learn about the history of racism in this country, the ways in which racism affects all people, not only people of color, in order to enter into and stay engaged in hard conversations. We are reading articles, watching videos, participating in webinars, and engaging in online exchanges about structural racism, institutional racism, white privilege, white fragility, microaggressions - and more. My mind is expanding. My heart is cracking open. I have piles of books to read. I have websites and videos yet to explore.

We live in a nation that has a long and terrible history of treating many people terribly. The current move by many states and cities to ignore and diminish that bitter past will only serve to stifle any hope of true peace and healing. "Real American History" includes the stories of First Peoples, those who were here when the first undocumented immigrants arrived, the stories of slaves and others brought here against their will, the stories of those who were experimented on, those who were forcibly removed from their land and their homes. It's not a pretty picture. But it's who we are. It's who we continue to be. And it's who we will remain - unless we listen, learn, talk, and act on behalf of righteousness, justice, and peace.

Thank you, Patti, for your tremendous hard work in bringing this course together so hastily and so well.

There are so many stories. So many faces. So much pain. So many dreams of a better future for our city, our state, our nation and our world. There is so much need. There are so many people in crisis in our city and in our world. I am enormously grateful to be involved in so many conversations and actions aimed at opening people's minds and hearts and mouths and lives and wallets in order to make change and bring justice and peace and Beloved Community to our area in our lifetime.

Thank you, Sweet Jesus, for the people you have brought into my life, people who have gotten me talking and walking and listening and learning and speaking and teaching and studying - so that I can be more deeply engaged and involved in the work that I have been called to do.

PS. The "writer" in me hates using the same words over and over.
But sometimes repetition is necessary. So I will write them all again.
We need peace and justice, kindness and mercy.
We need hope and love and joy and gratitude on our lips and in our minds.
We need to listen and learn and be challenged and transformed.
And I don't want to pull out my synonym finder today -
because I need to embed these words, these concepts, these truths deeper, deeper, deeper into my mind and soul.

PSS. If you are interested in hearing Cornel West speak on either Thursday, September 17th or Thursday September 24th here in Charlotte, please click on the links and get your tickets. At my church, First Presbyterian, he will speak on the topic - "Justice: What love looks like in public."

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thankful Thursday

This past month has been the most challenging month since the end of my kanswer treatments for many reasons. I won't go into all the details of all the difficulties but I will share these photos by way of an example of some of what has gone awry.

My beloved and precious daughter was involved in a car accident last Saturday - or in North Carolina/NASCAR language - she had a wreck. While making a left hand turn in our beloved 2001 Toyota Sienna minivan, she was struck on the rear passenger side panel. The minivan spun around and then flipped over onto its roof.

These two photos show what it looked like after the tow truck flipped it right side up. 

Here's where the gratitude comes in.

1. She was wearing her seatbelt. When the car landed on its roof, she was held in her seat by the seatbelt. She braced herself with one arm and released the seatbelt with the other. She fell onto the ceiling of the car.

2. A man who saw the accident jumped out of his car and ran to the driver's side door. He asked if she was okay and what he could do to help. She said, "Call my mom." Worst phone call of my life: "Your daughter has been in a car accident. She's okay. But she has been in an accident."

3. Two other men joined him almost immediately. They asked her if she would be able to crawl out of the car if they could get the door open. She said, "Yes." After opening the door, one of the men told her to wait a minute because there was a lot of broken glass. He pulled one of the floor mats out the broken window and laid it on top of the glass. She crawled to safety.

4. I arrived at the intersection just moments later as I was literally two blocks away when I got the call. I am enormously grateful that I saw her sitting at the side of the road before I saw the car on its roof.

This is what the inside of the car looked like when I went to recover her purse.
Yes, it is upside down!

5. Two women were standing hear Kristiana. They introduced themselves to me as a mother and daughter who had seen the accident and pulled over to stay with my daughter until help came. The mother hugged me and said, "My daughter is 21 too and I would want someone to stay with me. I was just telling your daughter that God must have a plan for her life and that's why she came through this accident like this." More than once, she looked at Kristiana and reminded her of God's faithfulness in protecting her. Needless to say, I cried at her words.

6. The driver of the car that hit Kristiana was unhurt as well. In fact, her car was driveable after the accident, suffering only damage to the the left side of the front fender. Kristiana said that it didn't even look like the two vehicles were in the same accident. She was right.

7. During the accident, Kristiana's glasses flew off her face. One of the men looked into the crushed car and saw her glasses among the debris. He retrieved them for her. They weren't even scratched.

8. Several shards of glass embedded them in her forehead, upper right arm and lower right leg. In the hospital ER a few minutes later, the nurses cleaned the glass off, shaking their heads at how minor her injuries were. No broken bones. No stitches. No crutches. No loss of consciousness. She didn't even need a band-aid. Not even a single band-aid.

9. By the time I arrived on the scene, the man who had called me was gone. I was convinced that he was an angel God put on the scene to come to her aid and then head off for his next miraculous intervention. A couple of hours later, he called me back to check on her. He said he was sorry that he had to leave before I had gotten there, but he was already running late on his way to work. He said he had been on the phone with his pastor when he saw the accident. He told his pastor what he had seen and that he was stopping to help. After calling me, he called his wife and told her what had happened and said that the two of them and the pastor were praying for my daughter. Amazing!

10. Today she had a visit with our chiropractor and what we knew was confirmed - no concussion. no broken bones. no slipped or compressed discs in her spine.

11. One thing did give me a chuckle at the accident scene - and it also made me quite proud of my dear daughter. While sitting there with ambulance attendants, firemen, and police officers around her, Kristiana said, "Mom, I had CDs from the library in the car. Can you make sure to get them?" Yes, my daughter was thinking about what she owed to the library while sitting beside her overturned car. A geek after my own heart.

No matter what the point of view or the angle,
all I see is the miracle of her survival.
Look at how the driver's seat was protected,
not crushed.
Look at where engine fluids flowed 
but thankfully there was no fire.

12. I am grateful for the strong frame of that minivan. I am grateful for seat belts and safety glass. I am grateful for the 14 years and 140,000 miles that it gave us. My husband said, "The van served us well for all those years and then it gave its life to save our daughter. We can't ask for more than that." Needless to say, I cried again when he said that. Several times since Saturday, I have gotten choked up when I remember that I will never see the van again, but I would much rather see my daughter than that car. Who knew that a vehicle could feel so much like a member of the family?

13. I am grateful for auto insurance and for how responsive, attentive, and thorough Met Life has been.

14. I am grateful for the very quick response of the emergency workers on the scene.

15. I am grateful that she is in her bedroom right now, packing to go back to college on Saturday for her final semester of college. My girl is graduating from college in December! I have a child who will soon be a college graduate.

16. I am grateful for the support, the texts, the phone calls, the emails, the visits, and the prayers of our friends and church members and pastors and family as we have dealt with this aftermath of the accident.

17. I am grateful for tears and prayer and the safe haven of my journal, and above all, for God's tender, gentle presence through this whole experience. I am grateful for the promises of rest and peace and strength and victory. I am grateful for hope and a future.

Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Be careful what you pray for and what you ask for...

I prayed for more wise women in my life. I prayed for women of color who know history and who are patient with me, someone who doesn't know much history and can't remember many details of what I used to know. I said I wanted to learn more history, more about the history of the south, and more about the history of the fight for civil rights in the south. Somebody said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This week four new teachers appeared in my life.

First there was Dr Joy DeGruy - I posted a link to a lecture of hers earlier in the week. Here are two more - one in which she talks about a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and another in which she discusses a trip to the supermarket with her sister-in-law. This woman is powerfully articulate, provocative, and unflinching in her convictions. I plan to watch many more of her videos and read her book - Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

Then last night, three new faculty members at UMH (university of my heart) sat together on a panel and schooled me and the crowd on the hatred, racism, terror and brutality that the confederate battle flag represents.

Qiana Whitted is a professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia - which I learned last night has the dubious distinction of having the most slave-built structures of any university campus in the country. She said that she is looking forward to the many conversations and events that will take place when school reopens after the summer vacation. The massacre in Charleston and the removal of the flag from the state house grounds will be discussed widely. In response to someone else's comment about the naming of buildings and streets on campus for confederate "heroes," she remarked that those conversations will be harder but are certainly necessary.

She spoke eloquently about the need for ongoing discussions on all levels of education in this country. She said that during a recent rally of white supremacists in Columbia, there was a hashtag going around that said #ignorethem. Impossible. We cannot ignore them, and our local, state, and national government should not ignore them. They are domestic terrorists. Period. Hers was a gentle voice, but a strong one, and her position at the university, in the academy, is crucially important if we have any hope of teaching our children, our young adults well.

Following the panel discussion, I asked if I could have my photo taken with her. She furrowed her brow and said, "Do you really want your picture taken with me?" "Yes, I do," was my reply. Why wouldn't I want to have my photo taken with such a beautiful woman, such a well educated woman, such a passionate, committed, concerned, and inspiring woman?

Michaela Pilar Brown is an artist in Columbia, South Carolina, and was one of the speakers at the rally in the capital city four days after the massacre. She spoke about the crucial importance of removing the prominently displayed symbol of hatred.

Last night, she challenged us to speak up and speak against the dishonest stories being circulated about it's history. Nowadays, she reminded us, it is considered more racist to call someone a racist than to fly the battle flag. Conversations about our nation's history, the tragedy of slavery, and the continued battle for full citizenship of all of the inhabitants of the United States are easily and frequently derailed by declarations such as - But I'm not a racist. This doesn't have anything to do with me. What about black on black crime?

Not acceptable. She reminded us that we have to challenge the narrative that is swirling around us related to race and racism in this country. We have to push through resistance to change. We have to recognize that ignoring these problems is no longer possible.

One of Michaela's most poignant and thought-provoking statements related to her feelings about non-violence. She said, "I don't feel non-violent. I'm tired of turning the other cheek." I applaud her honesty and understand her anger, the anger of many thousands, perhaps millions of people in this country who are tired of, frustrated by, and increasingly unwilling to abide ongoing injustice and repeated attacks on the voting rights and civil rights of black people in this country. She is not the only thought leader I have heard talk about the problem with quick forgiveness of those who perpetrate violence against innocent people - like the nine who died at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

The third woman on the panel was Bree Newsome, that courageous young black Charlottean who shimmied up the flagpole in Columbia, SC, a few weeks ago and took down the confederate battle flag.

Such bravery. Such strength. Such faith. Such knowledge. Such wisdom. And she's only 30 years old. She talked about going to the slave market in Charleston with members of her family and being aware of the fact that her ancestors had entered that very market, been sold into slavery, and never saw each other again. As she stood with her parents and other relatives, she wondered what it would be like if they were separated from one another that day and were never reconnected.

In response to a question about whether the removal of the flag matters in light of all the other problems that black people face in this country, she answered with a resounding, "Yes, it does matter." Yes, one can argue that a flag is only a symbol, but symbols matter. In its most basic sense, her act that day was nothing more than the removal of a piece of fabric from a piece of steel, but the responses to her action prove that there is more at stake than merely "a piece of fabric." These painful conversations, the backlash that is happening here in North Carolina and all over the south (any beyond) demonstrate the ongoing desire by some people to terrorize and intimidate other people based on the color of their skin. If the flag doesn't matter, if symbols don't matter, then get rid of it. Take it down. Remove it from cars and houses and every other public place. Get rid of the confederate monuments as well.

Bree insisted that we not shy away from comparing the confederate battle symbol to the swastika. She pointed out that there would never be a panel discussion about whether or not the nazi flag should be flown in Germany. No one would be able to claim that its original designation thousands of years before it was appropriated by the hatemongers in the early 20th century made it okay to fly that abomination in the 21st century. There would be no government equivocation about its removal from public buildings or even private ones. That flag is a symbol of hatred, terror, genocide, and evil. Period. No questions asked. No turning back. No turning back.

She made us laugh and she made us groan when she talked about the difficult moment in which she made the decision to be the one who climbed that pole. First they went around the group and each had to answer the question: "Can you be arrested at this time?" Very difficult question indeed. She said she had to peel off from the group to pray, to read Scripture, to think it through - and then to come back and say, "Yes, I will do it." She spoke of the deliberate choice to have a black woman climb the pole and a white man stand at the bottom. They were both arrested. Her trial was recently scheduled begin in November.

Sitting in that hall last night surrounded by more than 100 people, including my husband and daughter, listening to those women speak truth to power, truth about power, truth from a place of power, my soul was soothed. My heart was encouraged. My mind was stimulated. There is so much more to learn, to read about, to talk about, to sing about, and to do in response to the ongoing legacy of inequality, hate, and terror that has plagued this country.

This is heavy stuff, I know, but if there is any hope for true peace, for true community, for a just future, we have to talk about this stuff and we have to act together to change ourselves, our families, the stories we tell, the ways in which we interact with each other, and not be afraid to name our own wrongdoing and complicity with unjust systems. Each of us. All of us.

I will never forget where I was when I heard the news about the first plane hitting the first tower on September 11, 2001. I will never forget where I was when Karen called me from Sandy Hook on December 14, 2012, and asked me to pray because there had been a shooting at an elementary school not far from her house.

Now I know that I will never forget where I was when Heather called me on my cell phone and told me about the horrors of this past June 17th in that church in Charleston, South Carolina. I have been forever changed by the senseless deaths of those God-worshipping people by that angry, deluded, racist young man. His actions there broke my heart on a level that no other tragedy has during my lifetime.

I am grateful for the gift of the four women that have appeared in my life this week to teach me, to challenge me, to push me forward in my seminary studies, in my thinking, in my teaching, in my reading, and in my faith walk. I am grateful for the gift of answered prayer. (But I need to be careful about what I pray for... Stuff happens. It really does.)

Thank you, Bree, Qiana, Michaela, and Joy.
Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A rough few weeks

I haven't recovered yet from the tragedy in Charleston. I hope I never do. But the grief I have experienced has silenced me in unexpected ways. I don't want to blog - who cares what I'm grateful for? Who cares about my experiences overseas? It all feels silly. Trite. Like something frivolous.

The families of the Charleston 9 are never gonna be the same.
Nor will the members of their church.
Or the citizens of this country.

It is great that the confederate flag has been lowered from the state house in certain southern states. But what is not great is the fact that many citizens have decided to fly that abominable thing from their vehicles. Apparently, my home state has run out of the confederate flag specialty license plates that drivers can choose because so many people have ordered them in recent weeks. Seriously, people? Why does my state still issue such horrendous things? Is there that much hate and fear in your hearts? And if so, how can you possibly be surprised that there are folks on the other side of the road who are increasingly motivated to arm themselves and confront racists? Are we going to let that murderer's dream of fomenting a race war, another civil war, come to life?

People are dying in jail and police custody everyday. Even people who are pleading for medical assistance.

People are being shot and killed for going to the movies. Some people seem to believe that more people should carry guns. On his show last night, Larry Wilmore responded to Texas Governor Rick Perry's suggestion that people should carry loaded weapons into movie theaters this way: "You realize we watch movies in the dark, right? People aren't responsible enough to silence their cell phones in movie theaters. They're not ready for loaded firearms." Funny. Sad. True.

Children in our cities are hungry and homeless. Adults are too. Children in our cities are segregated by race and economic status and residential area and schools - and too many of them see no way of escape.

Heat waves.
Wild fires.
More than 350 earthquake aftershocks in Nepal.
Stage 4 kanswer diagnoses.
An amputation after a serious infection.

When I think about these topics too much, I weep. My heart breaks. When I think about what I can do, my tears flow even more, because often I feel helpless. Clueless. Powerless. How can I make a difference when the problems are so broad and deep? What can I do that matters at all? Deep sigh.

So I escape. I take long walks. I watch marathons of "Say Yes to the Dress" - in both Atlanta and New York. I read. I journal. I pray. I blog-hop. I go to church. I meet friends for tea and long walks and to window shop at the mall. I stare at tiny homes on Pinterest and fantasize about setting one up in the outskirts of Madrid so I can live off the grid and under the radar on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I scroll down my facebook feed. Interestingly enough, it is on facebook where I often find the most reminders to get up and do something.

Stop lamenting and act.
Stop thinking and thinking about it - and go be with people.
Begin, enter, foster, provoke difficult conversations.
Push past the comfort zone and formulaic responses into discomfort and painful truth.
Recognize my own complicity with systems of economic, social, educational, heterosexual, marital privilege.
Own up to my own profound ignorance about my own history, my family history, and the history of my city and my nation and my church and the practices that have benefitted me at the expense of countless others.
Be present, stand with those who are hurting, even if I have nothing to say.
Walk with them. Listen to their stories.
Apologize for what I have done and not done on behalf of others.
Suggest that others to do the same.

I sit with my friends from other countries and try to help them navigate difficult systems related to the law and immigration. I translate things for them. I help them order tickets and other things they need. I am not gonna change immigration law this way, but every little bit helps.

I attend meetings with folks who are working to change the public school system here in Charlotte. I know nothing about the system, but I can listen and learn and support them and ask questions and stand with them as they advocate for their own children and schools and districts.

I gather with people and plan events to open our eyes and hearts and minds to the evils of racism, prejudice, bias, poverty, and justice. I am thrilled that Dr Cornel West is coming to speak at our church in September. Book discussions, classes, and other activities will precede and follow his time with us.

I started to reread Dr West's book, Race Matters, last night. I'm only 30 pages in, but I had to go back and check the copyright date because its truths reflected what's happening in our nation and our world this very week and month. My copy was published in 1994; race matters still. RACE matters. Race MATTERS.

Larry Wilmore's segment on The Nightly Show last night ended with this - "What makes this so hard is that a lot of people agree with Rick Perry. Guns are so central to our culture. Unfortunately, guns are who we are. We don't need a national conversation about guns. We need a national conversation about us." The good news is that such conversations are happening. Long overdue. Grossly underattended. But people are talking.

The Charlotte-based conversations that began just after the murders in Charleston continue. Hundreds of people gather every Monday evening to talk, to learn, to challenge each other, to create new relationships and networks - and to move out into the community with peace and reconciliation and connection as our goals. This past Monday, there was a presentation about the history of segregation in Charlotte since the middle of the 19th century. Sobering. Saddening. But also eye-opening. We do need to talk, to name our own participation in unjust systems and then act to dismantle those systems. We have a lot of work to do to right the wrongs of white supremacy and domestic, racially-based terrorism - and that work began that very night.

After hearing the talk and seeing the statistics and charts, we broke into groups of six to eight people to talk about what we had learned. To ask how we each and all can speak up about our history, speak out when injustice goes unchallenged, and also encourage one another to be strong in the face of opposition to the fight for what is right. It's not easy for black people. It's not easy for white people. Or latino people. Or asian people. Or anyone. But sitting in that circle with six other people, black and white, young and old, who want to see our city, our state, and our nation do better and be better, I was moved to happier tears. To hopeful tears.

Someone recently challenged me to not simply help people who are in unjust systems, but to defy and work to abolish the systems themselves. It's not enough to give out food at Loaves and Fishes or donate clothing to Crisis Assistance Ministries or give money for summer enrichment programs at churches around town; I need to work to end the programs and policies that diminish opportunities for a good education and gainful employment and fair housing. She's right.

Someone else quoted a book entitled Just Revolution (based the cost of the book at, I assume it is a college textbook) and commented about the fact that nonviolent protests don't always bring about needed change, that sometimes repressive acts must be met with "just violent revolution." Things are bad out there. Violent. Inequitable. Unconscionable. Dreadful. Heinous. Unsafe. Although I cannot imagine ever pointing a gun at someone and firing it, I can understand the anger and frustration and distrust and exhaustion that would make someone want to defend themselves by any means necessary. I hope they are wrong about the need for violence to bring about systemic change. But then again, I also hope that cops will stop killing innocent civilians and that people will stop shooting up movie theaters, churches, malls, schools, and their own homes... Deep, deep sigh.

It has been a rough few weeks.
An emotional few weeks.
A despair-laden few weeks.
A quiet few weeks.

I am thankful hope is growing, gestating, developing, preparing to be reborn in me. Movement is happening. I am still trying to find my best place and best practice for involvement. In the meantime, I am learning. I am listening to the wisdom of those who already are on the move. And I am going to follow them, walk with them, and act with them for peace, for righteousness, and for justice.

PS. This is one of the videos I have seen recently. A lecture about Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Powerful. Shocking. Over an hour in length, but worth the time. Warning - it contains traumatic information and images. But slavery and its aftermath were and continue to be traumatic, for white people and black people and everybody who lives in this country and every country that practiced chattel slavery. The legacy of slavery continues to affect all of us, even if we deny it or try to diminish it. All of us. Without exception. Check out Dr Joy Degruy's website here. So much to learn.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Radicalized and Tongue Tied

I grew up singing songs from the Billy Graham crusades. We sang them at church. We sang them at home. I memorized the lyrics to those songs and still sing them. Often. Especially when I watch the Bill Gaither music specials on television on Saturday evenings. Just as I am without one plea. He touched me. His eye is on the sparrow. Because He lives. The King is coming. It is well with my soul. Blessed assurance. I grew up with the image of Billy Graham, with one hand holding the Bible and the other pointing towards heaven, etched into my mind. A few years ago, I visited the Billy Graham library here in Charlotte and marveled at the accounts of his life, his travels, his influence over presidents - and was saddened by his decision to stop visiting with sitting presidents right about the time that President Barack Obama was elected.

Along came Billy Graham's son, Franklin. He founded and led the charity known as Samaritan's Purse. For years, we supported Samaritan's Purse with money and also with shoe boxes filled with goodies for needy kids at Christmas. Samaritan's Purse is known for its quick response to humanitarian crises around the world. Then he began to say things and demand things that were troubling to me. Things about gay people and gay marriage. Things about President Obama. And most recently, things about Muslims - about how Muslims can be radicalized and therefore should not be allowed to come into this country. I refuse to post links here as I don't want to confuse anyone into thinking that I agree with his statements.

Anyway - being the "good Christian woman" I had been taught to be, being the submissive woman I had been taught to be, being the unquestioning woman I had been taught to be, I have held my tongue. I learned my lessons well: if I had questions about what Christian pastors and other leaders were doing, if I disagreed with what they said and taught, that was my problem. If I didn't understand how they could be so insensitive and wrongheaded, if I couldn't let it go, whatever "it" was, that was my problem. I felt tongue tied. How could I disagree with this Christian leader, the son of someone I had only heard positive things about? Even that changed as I learned more of Billy Graham's story and about his relationship (or lack thereof) with leaders in the black church and the civil rights movement. Who am I to speak up against what I hear and explain what I believe to be true? What can I possibly say or write or even pray that would make a difference?

Thankfully, mercifully, I have met people and listened to people and read people and have been taught by people whose words, questions, demands, challenges are unsettling me, changing me, and transforming me. They and their words are tongue tying me in a new, far more radicalizing way.

I am thrilled and disquieted and stirred to hear and read the words of women and men whose aim and goal in life are not submission, obedience, or easy acceptance of whatever they hear. Women and men who are reading history books, ancient and modern philosophy, and the Bible itself - but are coming to radically different conclusions than the ones I have heard my whole life. Things like - just because something is in the Bible, that doesn't mean we have to agree with it or live it out now. Women are equal to men, even in the church. Gay people deserve to be loved and accepted and welcomed into all aspects of church life and the culture at large. America is not a Christian nation and never has been. What? You can say that? You can write that? And not get struck by lightning immediately?

As a result of the words and actions of those brave and wise women and men, and the bravest and wisest man of all, Jesus Christ, my heart, my mind, my soul, and my mouth now overflow with questions. What if the ways in which the Bible has been read and taught are more about maintaining a status quo of inequality and injustice, slavery and abuse, extreme wealth and abject poverty, than God ever intended? What if the poor really will inherit the kingdom of God? What if Jesus really meant that we should feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty and free captives and restore sight to the blind? What if the last really will be first and the first will be last? What if it truly is harder for the rich (and, if the statistics about global wealth and poverty are true, then I would have to include myself in the number of those who are rich) to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle? What if I am sitting in the midst of a whole lot of stuff that needs to be sold so that the money can be given to the poor? What if I need to just give a whole lot of my stuff to those who are in need?

A few weeks ago, I attended a service in Salisbury to remember and honor the Charleston Nine. The man who preached the main sermon that night spoke words and issued challenges that radicalized me. The friend who informed me about that service recently penned the following brief letter to Franklin Graham about the murderer of the Charleston Nine. Who is getting radicalized, Franklin? Why not speak out loudly and angrily about those deaths? Here's what my friend, Anthony Smith, who recently preached the best sermon on the 23rd Psalm I have ever heard (if you want to hear it, click the link and listen to David Week 4), wrote: Dear Franklin Graham,
I understand you are calling for the expulsion of all Muslims from America. Question.
Dylann Roof is a devout Christian. And he is a terrorist. Mr. Roof stands in that long standing tradition of domestic Christian terrorism. In light of that: Should we now throw all Christians out of the country?

Here's the most recent thing I've read that has both tongue tied me and radicalized me. How can I go on with my normal life, reading my normal books, doing my normal chores, having my normal conversations when there is so much work to be done to bring about justice and peace in this messed up country and this messed up world? How many more black people must die and how many more absolutely perfectly coordinated events with perfectly polite and forgiving families of victims before this country, this entire country, is willing to face and name and deal with its horrific past and present?

And it's not only black people who are dying; latino people are losing their lives at the hands of police officers as well, but not a lot of public attention is being paid to that crisis.

And don't get me started on the whole immigration thing; we are all immigrants. We all came here from someplace else... well, not exactly everybody. There actually were people on this continent when europeans arrived in the 1400s and later in the 1600s. Most of them killed by the immigrants who came here to find freedom to practice their religion and those who came here to find gold and other resources. Some of those whose land this really is, some of them are standing strong, speaking up, and becoming radicalized themselves. Here's another article about Native American women and their place, their role, their leadership in their tribes and nations.

These new thoughts, these new questions, these new readings of Scripture,
these new doubts, these new concerns, these new conversations,
these new voices in my life, these new authors, these new teachers,
they are changing the ways in which I relate to people I know and even those I don't know.
they are giving me reason to drive an hour or two or five to engage in conversation about faith and God and peace and justice and bringing about the peaceable kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
they are providing me with a new point of view and a new level of excitement as I enter seminary.
they are showing me my deep misunderstandings and profound lack of knowledge about history, my own, my country's, and that of oppressed people everywhere.
they are silencing me so that I can listen to those whose wisdom I need to absorb.
they are causing me to talk back where previously I would have remained silent and submissive.
they are waking me up in the middle of the night to journal and write blogs and pray and figure out what my next moves need to be.
they are scaring me and empowering me and draining hope out of me and also giving me courage.

Warning: be careful what you ask for. be careful what you pray for.
Recently I prayed and asked God to wake somebody up, someone I love,
someone who needs a wake up call in a lot of areas of life and relationships and self-care.
Turns out the one who has been awakened is me.
Turns out the one who has needed to see life more clearly is me.
It was me, it was me, it was me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.
Standing in the need of challenge and change.
Awakened. Tongue tied. Radicalized.
May God have mercy on my weary, angry, frustrated, increasingly clear-eyed soul.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thankful Thursday

I'm thankful for air conditioning on hot days.
I'm thankful for cold water.
I'm thankful for cool sheets under the ceiling fan.
I'm thankful for small cups of espresso in the morning.
I'm thankful for coconut milk yogurt with fresh berries, almonds, and uncooked oatmeal stirred in.
I'm thankful for strawberries and  watermelon and cherries and blueberries.
I'm grateful for grapes on sale for 99 cents a pound.
I'm grateful for my sun hat and sunglasses on my morning walks.

I'm grateful for the pile of books I recently brought home from the library recently.
I'm grateful for the upcoming book discussion and movie night at my church - I've gotta reread To Kill a Mockingbird.
I'm grateful for Searching for Sunday - I'm reading it slowly and copying many quotes into my journal - I feel a book review coming on sometime soon. It's one of the best books I've read in a very long time.

I'm grateful for the time I spent at the seminary in Richmond last week.
I'm grateful for the conversations about the Bible, about race and racism, about art, about books, about food, about interracial families, about the challenges of being a minister, about health, about marriage, and about God that I had with the folks I met there.
I'm grateful and excited for the many conversations I will have in class and after class and between classes over these next few years.

I am grateful for new friends - three hours sipping tea, telling stories, laughing, crying with a new soul sister yesterday afternoon.
I am grateful for old friends - conversation, laughter, more stories this afternoon with a friend visiting from India.
I'm grateful for emails and links to articles and videos and texts sent from friends who want to give me something to think about, something to laugh about, something to write about.
I am enormously grateful for the wisdom of my spiritual director. She is wise and thoughtful and asks great questions.
I am grateful for conversations with my kids, sometimes easy conversations, sometimes difficult conversations - but at least we're talking. Still talking. Still sharing. Still hanging out together. They are 18 and 21 - don't they know they are supposed to be sick of us by now? Who am I kidding? They get sick of us often - but they haven't given up on us yet. And we will never give up on them.

I am grateful for the team of folks that is forming to work towards the reintegration of schools in Charlotte. Segregated schools don't work. Isolated schools don't work. Kids who never attend school with kids who don't look or live like them don't get as broad or as deep an education as those who are exposed to a greater variety of students and teachers. We need each other. It is an honor to listen to and learn from these courageous men and women who are dedicated to institutional change in this city of mine. There is a lot of work to do and a lot of excitement building around getting the work done.
I am grateful that my church has taken the plunge and invited Dr Cornel West to come and speak, to come and challenge us, to come and push us far out of our comfort zone. It's time for our church to step out and speak up and move into the deep suffering and profound needs of our community and our city. There is a lot of work to do and a lot of excitement building around getting the work done.
I am grateful for the Moral Mondays events happening here in North Carolina - for voting rights and other justice issues. I am grateful for the hundreds, the thousands of people marching and writing and signing petitions and taking stands and making demands on behalf of themselves and others. There is a lot of work to do and a lot of excitement building around getting the work done.
I am grateful for the ways in which I am being pushed out of my easy and comfortable life into new ways of thinking and interacting with others, into painful realizations and confessions of my own complicity in unjust systems. Yet again, there's a lot of work to do and a lot of excitement building around getting the work done.

I'm grateful for my silly little dog and how she follows us around the house.
I'm grateful that we haven't had any ant problems this summer.
I'm grateful for the rain we've gotten lately. We need more, but California needs 40 days and nights of rain!
I'm grateful for the simplest of pleasures - food, water, clothing, a home, electricity, refrigeration, sunshine, coconut oil, and breath. Wait - not one of those things is simple. But it is remarkable how much and how often I take those things for granted.
I am grateful because I have so much for which to give thanks.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Thankful Thursday

A lot can happen in two weeks.
A lot does happen in two weeks.
Good things, bad things, and ugly things.
And many, many things for which to be thankful.

* The folks in government down in South Carolina voted to remove the confederate flag from the state house.
* Folks in Salisbury, NC are moving towards removing a confederate statue.
* Conversations about race and community are continuing here in Charlotte.
* Some people are moving beyond conversation into action - a meeting I attended this week was related to reintegrating schools here in Charlotte. They were integrated by busing students from one area of Charlotte to another, then busing stopped. And the schools have returned to an appalling level of segregation by race and economic status. There is a growing number of people who are getting ready to push for reintegration.
* I am grateful for the courage of Bree Newsome and the way she has inspired so many.

*Two of my brother's children are having babies. Does that make me a grand-aunt? I don't know, but I'm very excited. New life. New people to love. Now reasons for hope and hard work to make this world and this nation a place where little people, little brown-skinned people, can feel safe and secure.

* My newfound ability to stand my ground and defend what I feel is right and stand against what I feel is wrong and wrong-headed. I used to back down, to shut down, to step down, and allow others to speak over me and silence me. No more. Enough is enough. I am woman. I am a woman of faith. I am a woman who longs and prays for peace and freedom and justice for all. I am woman who hates guns and war and violence in all their forms. I am not ashamed. I am not intimidated. Whether it's about race and racism, faith, family, parenting, equal marriage rights, financial topics, education, community college versus private college, right or wrong, I am more confident now than I have ever been about speaking my mind, asking questions, and not allowing myself to be dismissed or silenced.

* I spent three hours today looking for a piece of paper that I couldn't find. An important document. I looked high and low. In my house and in my car. In drawers and boxes. No luck finding it. So I ordered a duplicate document online. Paid $15 for it. Printed out the receipt for the duplicate document. Went to put it in the spot the original should have been - the same place I had looked at several times in the previous three hours. Guess what? The original was right there where it belonged! How did I miss it? Why did I waste three hours and $15 for something that was right where it was supposed to be?
* Why am I thankful for this? Because I know there has to be a lesson in there. A lesson about looking more carefully. A lesson about trusting my instinct that it had to be right there, I just needed to look a little bit more intentionally at every nook and cranny.
* Spending those three hours looking for that paper forced me to go through a lot of other papers in search of it. I recycled a lot of papers. I shredded a lot of papers. I vowed to be better about taking care of our papers.
* My husband and I laughed a few sarcastic and droll laughs about how disorganized we are with our papers, our very important papers.
* We promised ourselves that we will learn how to do better and be more responsible about this stuff. After all, it's never too late to do better and be better. As Dr Maya Angelou said, "Once you know better, you do better." Truthfully, that has not always been my personal experience, but after this morning's many hours of searching, I certainly know better. The objective now is this: I have to do better. I simply have to.

* I am going to seminary! I know I've mentioned this here before, but it's starting to sink in. A lot of studying, reading, writing, praying, and preparation to do. Internships. Case studies. Hard work. All in service to the kingdom of God and the people of this world.
* Tomorrow I will drive up to Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, to meet several other men and women who will be starting seminary study this fall. Actually some of them have begun Greek classes already - and they are in my prayers. Anyway, I will meet several people that I have done some online work with over the past eight weeks, and we will spend 24 hours together learning about what can be expected during the next few years of study.

* I've been struggling with fear and worry lately. Fear of drought. Fear of fire. Fear of loss. Fear of accidents. Fear of harm coming to people I love. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of failure. Fear of violence. Fear that the many horrors that are happening around the world will hit us. Fear. Fear. Fear. Worry. Worry. Worry. I hate being afraid. I hate worrying.
* I am grateful for these fears because they send me back to prayer, to journaling out my concerns, to reading the Bible's repeated command (Do Not Be Afraid), to friends who listen to my complaints and encourage me without fail, to old journals that are proof that I have never been forsaken and have never missed a meal, and also my fears, when I can slow my thoughts and my heartbeat and simply watch them scroll by along the bottom of the screen that is my mind, move me to take a few deep breaths and come back to this moment, this very second. And I remember - all is well. all is well. all manner of thing is well.
* I am grateful for those fears because they push me to look beyond myself and my monkey mind out into the world. My life is wonderful. I am blessed. I am loved. Why am I afraid?
* Philippians 4:6-7 are two of my favorite verses - Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
* I have made a lot of requests (and fears and worries) known to God in the past couple of weeks. And with each passing day, I feel a deeper sense of peace. Nothing in my life has changed, but I have been changed. Peace that I cannot explain or understand is taking root in my heart again. Deep breath. Eyes closed. Deep breath. Eyes opened. All is well, Gail. All is well. And even when it feels like all is not well, even when things suck, in everything, in every moment, I can and should find reasons to give thanks.

* I had the chance to visit a Freedom School last week and, after their opening ceremony, Harambee, I read the students a book. The book was written in English, so I read it in English and translated it into Spanish as I worked my way through it. The kids were awesome, attentive, energetic, said a few Spanish words when I prompted them to, and asked tons of questions when I was done.
* I loved being there. I may ask if I can go back and read another book sometime this summer.
* Their energy and interest and attention were therapeutic and healing for my worry-filled, fear-filled mind and heart.

I am grateful
* to be alive, healthy and happy
* to have so much bountiful and beautiful food to eat
* to have air conditioning in our house and in the car on these 90+ degree days
* to have easy access to friends and family
* for lunch dates and long conversations
* for reconnection with friends who live far away but come to visit
* for laughter and tears shared with those I love
* for silence and solitude when everyone else is out of the house
* for sleepovers
* for homemade chocolate chip cookies
* for the gifts of fear and pain, of loneliness and loss, and for how they hone my attention on the people, the relationships, and the things that matter most in my life

* I am grateful for breath and life and love and joy
I am grateful that, even when I stop being grateful and start to complain,
even when times are hard and loss happens,
I am grateful that, even then, I have reasons to be grateful.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thankful Thursday: I am grateful

I am afraid.
I am encouraged.
I am also grateful.

I am grateful for these articles and challenges, these posts and laments in response to last week's horrors.
On black bodies in motion and in pain.
On white anti-racists who must speak up and act up
On refusing to be comforted at this time of grief
This piece on the long term legacy of racism, terror, and violence in this country
The reminder that what happened in Charleston is NOT unthinkable or unspeakable
Jon Stewart's segment on the shooting in Charleston
A Lament written by a Native American about what happened in Charleston
This prayer written by a Pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the same denomination as Mother Emanuel in Charleston
I am grateful for difficult but necessary and overdue conversations
I am grateful for the protests and actions being taken against the confederate battle flag

I am grateful for the relentless reminders and challenges that talking and praying and crying and blogging (!) are not enough - my friend, Anthony Smith, said we need to move beyond "being mousepad activists"
I am grateful for the discomfort I feel, for the grief, for the sorrow, and also for the hope
I am grateful for the vulnerability and honesty that tragedy often engenders

I am grateful that I don't have to stop crying or praying or speaking up
I am grateful for the time I am giving myself to grieve
I am grateful for the ways that my heart and mind are being softened by the stories I hear, the tears I have shed, the words others have written
I am grateful that I will begin seminary in just a few weeks - I can learn and prepare myself to answer the call to serve, to teach, to challenge, to act for peace, justice, righteousness, and redemption
I am grateful that I don't have to wait until I receive the diploma to get started on the work of peace making

I am enormously grateful for long phone calls, for lunch dates, for tea parties for two, for text exchanges and for every other means that allows me to reconnect with dear friends

I am grateful for friends to cry with, laugh with, tell the tough stuff to, listen to, and walk alongside on this treacherous and dangerous, delightful and treasure-strewn journey of my life

I am grateful for pastors and teachers, for prophets and leaders, for every person willing to teach and lead the way towards healing and restoration, wholeness and transformation
I am grateful for the invitations that are being issued and accepted to join the movement for justice, equality, peace, education, understanding, unity, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and other basic human rights

I am grateful for the conversations, the laughter, even the challenges that my kids bring into my life. They don't let me get away with much anymore - and I need to be pushed off my sacred cows more often than I would care to admit

I am grateful for the hundreds of journal volumes in my study, just feet from where I am sitting as I type right now. They remind me of the trials, the tear-soaked hours and days, the trips overseas, the hospital visits, the surgical consultations, the love, the loss, the doubts, the fears the foolishness, the fruitfulness of my life, as well as the goodness, the protection, the provision, the silence, the unfathomability, and the mystery of God.

I have seen many places and faces.
I have heard many stories and songs.
I have tasted earth's bounty.
I have been touched by tender and gentle hands.
I have smelled honeysuckle and lavender and sandalwood and bacon and coffee.
I have wept. I have been in pain. I have lost loved ones. I have been left, lost, and last.
And I have survived 100% of the challenges I have faced thus far in my life.
(So have all of us.)

I have been blessed.
I have been loved.
I am grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.
Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I'm encouraged

Last night, I was afraid.
Tonight, I am encouraged.
Actually, I was encouraged last night and the night before that too,
but I waited to write about it until tonight.

On Monday night, my daughter and I joined 300 other people for a conversation on race and racism in the Belk Chapel at Queens University here in Charlotte. It was hosted by Mecklenberg Ministries ( as the first of a series of "Community Conversations for Healing and Change." Here's what was written on the handout: "We Need to Talk...about Charleston, yes, but also about our shared life together in this community. We need to talk about who we are, where we have been, where we want to go, and how we get there. But mainly, we just need to talk. 

This series is a unique opportunity to speak and be heard in a safe place. Come as you are with something on your mind - things that may be hard to say and hard to hear. The conversation each week will be based on themes, stories and perspectives from our local community, from our nation and, most importantly, from what each person present brings to share."

Black people and white people.
Muslim, Jewish, Christian and non-religious people.
Angry, sad, brokenhearted, courageous, frustrated, outraged and inspiring people.
There we were, seated together, standing together, laughing together, groaning together, applauding one another's courage and wisdom.

One by one, dozens of people stepped to one of two microphones and shared their insights and feelings and questions and challenges with the audience.
They did exactly what the flyer said - they spoke and were heard in a safe place.
They came, we all came with things on our minds,
with sorrow in our hearts,
with stories to share,
with chants to energize,
with perspectives that challenged our own.

One beautiful brown skinned mother spoke of the way her daughter is treated at the pool club they are members of. She said that white children swim away from her because "they are taught there's just something not right about not being white." Is that what parents are teaching their children - either by speaking ill of others or by speaking nothing of others? I was encouraged because her words stirred us all to think about how we parent and what we are teaching our children with our words, our actions, and by who is and is not included in our circles of friends and neighbors.

Another woman asked the audience why there were so few young people in attendance. Did we leave our children at home watching television and playing video games? Why not bring them to hear the stories and testimonies being shared? Isn't it about time for our children, all of our children to hear what's happening in our country and be in conversation about all that has to change? I was encouraged because parents and teachers and every other adult in the room were reminded of our need to stop protecting our children from hard truths and to start to teach them the hard truths so that together we can make the hard decisions to bring about change in our world.

A Rabbi told a funny and profound allegory - Several people are drifting along the water in a boat. One of the people pulls out a drill and begins to drill a whole in the floor of the boat. The others protest. He says, "What are you so upset about? I'm only drilling under my seat." Ouch. We too are allowing others to drill holes in the boat of our nation, our faith traditions, our political system, our health care system, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our environment - just to name a few. Companies that don't care for the planet but only exploit it. Businesses that don't care for their employees or customers but only take advantage of them. Adults who neglect or abuse children. We who ignore the hungry and the imprisoned, the homeless and the lonely - we are all drilling holes under our seats and wondering why we are drowning in sorrow and violence and greed and anger and poverty. We are all in the same boat and we are all working pretty hard to sink it. But I was encouraged because I have a better understanding that every problem around me is my problem.  I was encouraged because many of us are waking up to our responsibility to lay down our drills, to patch the holes we have created, and also to rescue folks who have fallen out of the boat and are drowning.

I wish there was time to respond to each of the comments, to engage in quiet reflection, to take it all in more thoughtfully. I was encouraged that so many people had so much to share and that the conversations will continue. I know I won't be able to get to all of them, and I hope that many people will attend and that, indeed, the conversations will continue long after the final talk late in August. I am encouraged that there will be safe places to gather to grieve and to hope, to ask questions and to seek answers for the next couple of months - and beyond, I pray. I am encouraged that the shooter's hope for a race war might indeed come to pass - a war against race and racism, a war against hate and fear, a peaceful struggle openly waged against violence.

This lovely lady with me is Coretta. Her husband came to our house recently to do some painting. He returned with her yesterday morning to pick up a piece of furniture we were giving away. She is a sister breast kanswer survivor. She also chose a double mastectomy without reconstructive surgery. A flat chested sister. Her kanswer was far more aggressive than mine - but her joy and her courage, her stories of grace and wigs, of prayer and miraculous healing (a spot on her rib cage that literally disappeared without any traditional medical treatment - so miraculous that even the PET scan technician spoke of how amazing it was that the spot was gone) lifted my spirits in ways she cannot imagine. We laughed at one point when she talked about wearing a wig and having to take it off in church because it was giving her a headache. I followed that story with an account of my battles with hot flashes. In true church speak, she said, "Hot flashes were not my portion." I laughed out loud. "Not my portion," I like that way of saying that she didn't suffer with hot flashes. Lucky her - those horrendous power surges most certainly were "my portion" during chemotherapy.  I was encouraged by her contagious peace, her victorious spirit, her vivacious personality, her refusal to be shaken by the fact that she didn't have medical insurance while all that was going on. I was encouraged because Love showed up in my garage yesterday morning. Laughter showed up. Tears came, but so did joy.

Last night at the service where I was afraid, the front of the sanctuary was a somber sight.

Two tables with photographs of The Nine who died in Charleston.

One table with nine candles that were lit during the service.

And in the middle - a casket. Open. With a mirror inside it.

Because any of us could have been at that church that night. Or our own churches. Or our homes. Or in school. Or walking down the street. Or in our car. Or in a movie theater. Or in the mall. Or on an airplane. Or any of the many presumably safe places where innocent people have been gunned down in this country of ours. We could be in that casket. One day each of us, every one of us will be in a casket. What will we have lived for and died for? I was encouraged as I stood in front of that casket because the brave men and women at last night's service understood and explained the importance of living and dying for justice and righteousness' sake. I know I'm going to die - it may as well be in service to the world, to the community, to my family, to God.

This afternoon, I sat with two of the pastors of my church talking about Charleston and what we need to do in response. We talked about anger and fear, about racism and how to counter it, about hope and the future. After one of them left the room, I sat with the other for another hour talking about our church's upcoming fall festival. We brainstormed ways to keep the congregation and the community talking about these difficult issues and incidents when it is far too easy to forget how we feel right now and just get back to "our normal lives." What do we want to say to each other about racism? How do we discuss our fears? What can we do to be people of justice in a world where injustice is the order of the day? What does the church have to offer to a needy and hurting world? I was encouraged because there is much to be done and both the will and the desire to move beyond talking into action. Our church is active in the community, in partnership with two schools, with ministries to those who are living with homelessness, feeding people who are hungry, building projects with Habitat for Humanity - and so much more. I am grateful for what we are already doing. But it is easy to hide from so much of what is going on around us, to deny the existence of institutional racism and injustice, to pretend that we are doing all we can do to combat the problems we choose to address, and when all else fails, we convince ourselves that what we do won't make any difference anyway. I am encouraged because our eyes are open now, perhaps more open than they have been in a long time, to the vast needs of our city and our world. I am encouraged because we are determined to do more and serve more and love more even when we are uncomfortable and afraid.

I am encouraged tonight because in the aftermath of fear,
in the aftermath of anger,
in the aftermath of sorrow,
in the aftermath of grief,
in the aftermath of everything that breaks our hearts every single day,
justice is on the march.
Righteousness is on the march.
Hope, faith, and joy are on the march.

With tears in my eyes and deep sadness in my heart,
with prayers on my lips and plans on my mind,
I am encouraged.