Wednesday, October 07, 2015

This is my life right now...

* I am sitting at my kitchen counter, reading a book called Theological Anthropology for seminary class. No, please don't ask me what the title means. I'm 96 pages in and I'm not quite sure yet. I am creating a chart to keep track of the point of each of the essays and to answer questions posed by the professor on the study guide. No, please don't ask to see the chart. I'm filling it in as best I can, and still I'm not quite sure what it's all about.

* There's a growing pile of unopened mail a few feet away. None of the people in this house like opening the mail. What does anybody get in the mail except bills and sales pitches and checks? (Yes, I have plowed through unopened piles of mail in the past and found checks that we didn't cash. You would think we would figure it out by now - OPEN THE MAIL.)

* Our washing machine broke down on Monday. The repairman came today with new parts - only to discover that one of the parts we need he didn't have. And the total for replacing the broken parts would be more expensive than buying a new machine. Plus he said that all the new fangled front loading machines with flashing lights and display screens  are more likely to malfunction than the old fashioned top loaders with the tall agitator in the middle. Without doing one minute of research, we marched off to Lowe's and ordered the machine he recommended. That's how we roll.

* This past Saturday evening, I went to a beautiful gathering of beautiful women of color, many of whom are kanswer survivors - it was called "Chocolate for a Cure." I went as the "date" of a friend who is finishing up treatment for breast kanswer. She and two other young women received an award called "The Chocolate Warrior Award."

Get it? Chocolate for brown-skinned women. Not only that, there were several vendors there giving out chocolate cupcakes and lollipops and chocolate bark and chocolate bonbons.

The keynote speaker was Dr Jacqueline Walters, an OB-Gyn from Atlanta, who is more famous for her role on the reality TV show, Married to Medicine. She gave an encouraging and challenging address, pointing out the need for us as women of color (with our higher mortality rate from kanswer than our caucasian counterparts) to eat well, to exercise, to reduce our consumption of alcohol, to get to and maintain a healthy weight - all with the goal of reducing our chances of getting kanswer. She herself is a two time survivor, so her words were all the more poignant and powerful. Lovely event.

Here's my only problem with the program: sugar is one of the worst things we can eat. There is research and evidence that points to sugar's detrimental affect on the body, and more specifically about how sugar feeds kanswer. So why is chocolate and all the sugar that goes into it being offered to kanswer survivors? Don't get me wrong; I love sugar. I ate some of that chocolate on Saturday evening. I even brought a few pieces home. But I know I cannot eat it everyday. I know that I ought to be reducing my intake as much as possible.

I had the same frustration and confusion during chemotherapy. Why are there bowls of candy all over the oncologist's offices? Why are canned sodas offered to the people who are receiving treatment? They can offer fresh fruit and flavored water and almonds. Why candy and soda? Perhaps they want repeat customers...

* I sat for forty-five minutes with a Presbyterian pastor from Cuba today, talking about the church there, the seminary he works at, the country of Cuba, challenges related to the economy and the currency, the connections that churches in Cuba have with churches here in the United States, and a book he is writing about reconciliation and healing. All in Spanish. I really, really, really want to go to Cuba now. To see it. To see the people. To encourage them to stay strong, to hold onto their faith and each other, and to be living proof that their struggles matter to us, to me. I've got a growing list of places I want to go: back to Nicaragua and Haiti, to Cuba and India and Equatorial Guinea (did you know that there is a country in West Africa that has Spanish as its official language?) and a Caribbean island with clear water, wide beaches, and ant-free hotel rooms.

* Tomorrow morning, I will join a group of men and women to walk three and a half miles in our beloved city of Charlotte. Continuing conversations about justice and peace, community and conflict, mercy and friendship. We talk about healing and fear and prejudice and having our minds and thought-patterns change so that we can be people who can bring about change in this city and beyond. We Walk Together - it's a simple name. It's a simple idea. It's changing us, drawing us closer to each other, opening our eyes to the lives and experiences of others, and prompting us to reach beyond our comfort zones to touch other lives and other people.

* I find myself praying a lot more these days.
For my family, my children in particular.
For victims of violence - bombings, gun violence, domestic violence, verbal violence.
For those affected by the terrible storms here in the South.
For friends of mine in life transitions, for the children of other friends who are sick, recovering from concussions, and struggling in school.
For my seminary classmates, their studies, their long drives to school.
For those fighting against school inequities here in the city. I have such respect for the hard work that so many people are doing to provide a better education for our children.
For newly elected officials and the ones already in office - for corruption and injustice to cease.
For those who stand in the way of justice and peace, reconciliation and grace.
For those who think more people should have guns and not fewer.
For those who think that aid to people in need should be curtailed.
I pray for wisdom and clarity for those with the power to affect long term, wide reaching change.
I pray for those whose work is short term and narrow in reach too.
I pray for all people everywhere.
Little stuff like that.

This is my life right now.
Full. Busy. Demanding.
I am grateful.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Life is a whirlwind these days - but in a great way

Seminary has been demanding and delightful these past three Saturdays.
Serious and subtly life-altering already. Giving me answers to questions I didn't know I needed to be asking about the history of the church and the trinity and why those ancient buildings are called basilicas and cathedrals. Who know? Certainly I did not.

I am taking two classes. One is The History of Christianity 1 - from the days of the apostles through the Reformation. The other is The Christian Life - which parallels the timetable of the history class and considers the faith practices and rules of living that faith communities have practiced over the history of the Christian church. A lot of reading and writing.

But if you have been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know I am a geek. I love to read and write and so seminary is going to be a gift I give to myself - before I get to give the gifts gained to others. A dear friend of mine recently told me to study hard, to read and write well, to do everything I need to do to prepare to serve all the people that God will bring my way, all the people I will meet and serve. I love her perspective - this is a time of training and preparation that I get to go through in order to be better equipped to love and support and learn in future places and times of ministry.

One of the gifts you all have given me, Linda K most recently, is the support and kindness and encouragement that reminds me that I am already doing work to serve others. I am already praying and teaching and listening to stories and telling stories and asking questions and learning more about what needs to be done to bring justice and peace to more people and places and communities here in Charlotte and elsewhere.

Last Thursday, our church welcomed Dr Cornel West to speak, to challenge us, to move us, to make us laugh, to make us think, to push us out onto the front lines of the battle for justice. The title of the talk was - Justice: What Love Looks Like in Public. We can say everything we want about racism and inequality and injustice, but we must act. The skewed economic situation in our country and in our world, the segregation of people by race and socio-economic status, the gross inequality in our schools, the high percentage of people is "a moral disgrace" and "spiritually obscene."

The question is, knowing all that we know now, how now will we live?

What will we do? What will I do? (I guess that's more than one question...)

I had the honor of participating with Dr West and my senior pastor, Pen Peery, during the time of question and answers following the talk. Here is a link to our church website and a video of the talk and conversation we had. Make yourself some tea and grab a few cookies to dunk into the tea. It's long. But oh so good.

Briefly, our photo will serve as the profile photo for the church's Facebook page.
It was a glorious night. Such an honor to meet Dr West.
Sitting with him at the end felt like a conversations with a friend
while others watched, listened, and contributed questions to ask my friend.

He talked about individuals and churches and all the rest of us being on fire for justice and integrity.
Not being driven or motivated by buying and selling and status and position, but rather by love and justice.

I came away asking - Where am I using my energy and my resources?
Where is my anger and indignation at suffering and evil?
What I say matters much less than what I do.
He gave us much to consider - and showed us how much we need to do.

Towards the end of our conversation, he said, "The fight for justice is not a fad or a fashion. It is a way of life."

What a powerful challenge to not go back to being "well adjusted to injustice." We are outraged when tragedies happen - Sandy Hook and Ferguson and Baltimore and Hurricane Katrina and Mother Emanuel Church. We get upset - and rightfully so. We ask for help to understand our nation's horrific history of homicide and racism and inequity. But then we go back to our regularly scheduled consumerism and self-promotion and forget that so many still suffer and will continue to suffer until we, until I am willing to stand up, to speak up, and to change my way of life. For good.

In the meantime -
My daughter comes home from college for her fall break this weekend.
I have to write a paper on Communion before Saturday morning.
Tomorrow is the day I welcome guests to our Loaves and Fishes pantry.
There is another We Walk Together Charlotte walk tomorrow morning.

I am excited about our upcoming Fall Fest @ First. It will take place on October 18th, 4-6 pm at First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. Please join us for food trucks, pumpkin decoration, face painting, music by Tyrone Jefferson and A Sign of the Times. Bring canned food to donate to a local food pantry. We will create a book of prayers and messages of support and hope for Mother Emanuel AME Zion Church in Charleston where those nine church members were killed by a visitor. I recently found out that he had visited the church and attended Bible studies there several times. That fateful night back in June was not his first visit. He was welcomed by his hated victims; he almost couldn't go through with it, he said, because they were so kind to him. We cannot forget those who still mourn - and we hope our small and imperfect efforts will show them that they have not been forgotten.

For now, however, I need to get some sleep.

Life is a whirlwind these days - but in a great way.
Thanks be to God.

Monday, September 21, 2015

"You're Gonna Hear Me ROAR"

Every now and then, I am invited to tell more of my life story in a public forum.
I share my sorrows and my joys.
I share my triumphs and my losses.
I share who I am and what I think,
what I have seen and what I have learned,
how I have been wounded and how I am being healed.

It was with nervousness, excitement, butterflies in my stomach, hope, and gratitude
that I shared some of my faith story in a series hosted by my dear friend,
Jena Schwartz. The series is called "The Roar Sessions" and my contribution
to the series is HERE.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Is thankfulness the only thing I write about these days?

Is it just me or are the weeks of this year absolutely flying past? Is it Thursday again already? Is it time for another thankful Thursday post? I guess so.

How cool is this sand sculpture?

A week ago right now, I was enjoying the last day of a week-long vacation with my husband. At Hilton Head in South Carolina. We absolutely love that place. The Spanish moss hanging from the trees. The alligators floating lazily in the small ponds. Turtles that swim together in clusters. Sand. Shells. Surf. Sunshine. The best salmon we've ever eaten - and we cooked it ourselves. Wine. Blueberry mojitos. Blood orange mojitos.

Water. Popcorn. Sorbet. Towels. Chairs. An umbrella. Books. Journaling. Watching US Open tennis. Riding bikes. Shopping. Marveling at the beauty of the place.

Marveling at the torrential downpours and the depth of the standing water 
after only two hours of rain.

We ate remarkably well.

We walked and biked for miles.

Epic people watching.

Reading books that caused me to rethink 
my beliefs about race and racism.

There were silly moments -
and moments when I couldn't close my mouth long enough
to have my photo taken.

Dark clouds rolled through and unleashed enormous thunderstorms.

If you are married, if you have ever been married, then you know that marriage is hard. Very hard. Demanding. Disappointing. Frustrating. Spending several days alone with one's spouse can be hard, demanding, disappointing, frustrating. I know because I've been there.

This is the man, my man.

Last week at Hilton Head was the best week of our marriage. "Magical" is not too extravagant a word to describe the time we shared there. Reconnected. Recommitted. Reunited. Recharged. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to Steve for his willingness to try all kinds of new things. All manner of new things. (That's all I'm gonna say about that...)

We were happy.

I was happy.

But below all the laughter and beyond all the good food and before the long nights of deep sleep and after all the bike trips and with all the cans of La Croix peach-pear water, there was sorrow, suffering, and sadness. There was reflection and remembrance. There was wordless prayer.

As I sat and watched children run into and out of the water, I thought about the tiny bodies of tiny children washing up on seashores around the globe. Lifeless.
Lord, have mercy.

I thought about the children whose photos have never been and will never be shown on the news here, the ones in Rwanda and Congo and India and Pakistan and Brazil and Nicaragua and Liberia and Eritrea - the ones that are dying everyday of hunger and disease and neglect and war and abuse.
Christ, have mercy.

I thought about the children right here in the United States that are washing up on the shores of our land after being shot by lunatics with easy access to guns. We who claim to live in the greatest country in the world, the wealthiest country in all of human history, are more adamant about defending our right to have and carry guns than the right of our children to eat, have a roof over their heads, have access to health care, and attend school safely. 
Lord, please help us to have mercy on each other.

I thought about the parents and friends and relatives of young men and women who left for a new job or a movie or an engagement party or a department store or a Bible study and never returned home.
Lord, please provide comfort.

I thought about a friend whose husband was in the final days of stage 4 pancreatic kanswer.
Sweet Momma Jesus, please sit with her and hold her in your loving and comforting arms as she mourns his death.

I thought about the men and women who served us our meals when we ate out and the ones who would clean our rental house after we left.
Lord, please open my eyes and heart to all who provide me with service, care, and help in any capacity. May I see them all with eyes of love, greet them with words of gratitude, and remember their faces at future moments of prayer.
I thought about the dozens of people who sat behind a nearby hotel waiting for rides back home or to their next jobs or wherever they were headed. Sitting in groups. Sitting alone. After long hours cleaning up for guests who tried to ignore them, guests they were trained to not disturb. 
Sweet Savior, please protect them and provide for them. Please remind us that we are all guests, we are all hosts, we are all service workers in this world. No one is more valuable or worthy of love and respect than anyone else.
I thought about how much suffering surrounds me, even on vacation. Even on a magical vacation with the man I have loved for nearly 30 years now.
Thank you, Lord God Jesus, for never allowing me to forget that you love all people everywhere. Please help me to see, to acknowledge, to welcome, and to embrace all people.

Thank you for the friendliness of the family that occupied the chairs and sat beneath the umbrella next to ours.
Thank you for the assistance and attention from restaurant staff and supermarket cashiers and the fishmonger.
Thank you for the bounty and the beauty of creation everywhere we looked.
Thank you for safe travel for us and protection for the children we left behind.

Thank you that joy and sorrow, peace and sadness, laughter and prayer flowed together as effortlessly and poignantly as they did last week.

Thank you thank you thank you.
PS. Please have mercy. And help us to do the same. Help me to do the same.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Things are about to change

I begin seminary in two days.
In two days, I will begin study towards becoming a pastor in the Presbyterian Church.
Me. The former Spanish teacher, track coach, and college admissions counselor.
Me. The former homeschooling mother.
Me?!? Me.

I am excited and nervous and thrilled and concerned and hopeful and joyful and unsure about writing and submitting papers and take home exams and wondering what God will give me to do when these studies are over.

Perhaps I will be the pastor of a congregation - or an associate pastor.
Perhaps I will serve in a non-church ministry.
Perhaps I will become a prison chaplain.
Perhaps I will spend the rest of my life studying and teaching and doing a whole lot of praying.

No matter what God calls me into, I will do it with all my heart,
with joy,
with tears,
with gratitude,
with prayer,
with trepidation,
with hope,
with as much energy as I can muster,
with the help and guidance of the One who created me for good works,
for service,
for involvement,
for sacrifice,
for walking alongside others on their own faith journeys.

I am grateful for the 49 years and nine months that I have lived to get to this point,
to this place, to this new adventure.
I am grateful for the sorrows and the sicknesses,
the doubts and the questions,
the broken bones and sliced fingers,
the betrayals and the losses,
the wrongs I have done and even the ones done to me,
the tears, the buckets of tears I have shed.

I never volunteered for the suffering. I never wished for it. I never sought it.
But I have learned more from the difficulties than from the easy times.
I have seen (and appreciated) more beauty in my scars than in my smooth places.
I have heard (and lived) more stories of victory because I admitted my defeats.
I have tasted (and enjoyed) more sweetness in life because I refuse to deny the truth of my moments of bitterness.

It is my prayer that the scars, the wounds,
the defeats, the bitterness,
the fear, the worries, the questions,
the hopes, the joys,
the laughter, the stories
the journeys, the journals -
that all the stories of my life,
all the people in my life,
all the experiences of my life
are useful in my seminary studies and beyond.

Things are about to change.
I am about to change.
My life is about to change.
In ways I am sure that I cannot yet imagine.

Let the reading begin.
Let the studying begin.
Let the learning begin.
Let the research begin.
Let the conversations begin.
Let the healing begin.

May it all bring glory and honor to God.
May it all bring healing and wholeness and hope to me, to my family and friends,
and also to the hurting, courageous, determined, curious, lonely, questioning, searching,
dreaming, suffering, brave, broken people around me.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Being Fed by the Hungry

Today was Loaves and Fishes day for me. I thought I was going there to provide food for a few needy neighbors. Instead, they fed me. They made me laugh. They brought tears to my eyes. They shared their children with me. They shared their stories. They shared themselves. All I did was bag the groceries they chose.

One gentleman didn't speak much English, so I had the honor of leading him and two of his companions through the pantry while speaking the language of heaven - Spanish! When I mentioned that we had coffee if he wanted it, he informed me that coffee is bad. Especially because he had had kanswer. In fact, he is currently moving through a second bout with it. He showed me his port. I showed him my port scar. Then we high fived each other as we gave thanks to God for bringing us through.

An older gentleman walked with a walker, explaining that he had suffered a stroke. He carefully chose each item, asking me to read labels as we made our way through. Don't tell anybody - but I have him a jar of peanut butter that he didn't have enough "points" for. I know, I know - it's a tiny gesture, but it made him smile.

A young married couple, with two of their four children in tow, thanked us profusely for the provisions they were able to choose. She was a fortunate wife - her husband is the one who is the chef in their house, so he made most of the food decisions.

The hardest part about being there today was seeing the number of very young people who came in as families of 1 to get food for themselves. Why are there young men and women in their 20s who are already struggling to provide for themselves?

Even as I write that question, I know it's a silly one to ask. Why should anyone of any age in this nation be hungry? Not have enough to feed their families? Not be able to find productive and meaningful work?

Why are dead children washing up on the shores of our world's beaches? Why are presidential candidates seemingly okay with that? Okay with building walls to keep out the hungry and poor, the same people whose hurting and desperate parents and grandparents and spouses showed up on the shores of this nation seeking refuge, asylum, and a safe place to live? What about the message of the Statue of Liberty in New York's harbor? Does that message no longer ring true?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
 Author: Emma Lazarus

Why are any of us okay with any of the suffering that is happening overseas, across the street, and in our own homes? What am I going to do and say to make a difference in someone's life, anyone's life?

I recently read someone's poignant response to these questions - what can we do about all the suffering that is going on in our world? the violence? the racism? the hatred?

Answer: Anything.

Do something. Do anything.
Everything we do to fight injustice, hunger, suffering, pain, fear, it all matters.

I'm not sure what I can do to alleviate the suffering in Syria or India or even West Charlotte that causes people to want to flee their homelands and their homes.
I'm not sure what I can do to resolve labor issues in China or Nicaragua or Haiti.
I'm not sure what I can do to create jobs for the homeless and recently incarcerated.
I'm not sure what I can to to change the minds of people who still think it is okay to fly the confederate flag and deny others the right to vote or get married or simply to live.

But I can walk clients through the Loaves and Fishes pantry and
I can collect all the names of all the clients and pray for each one to find work, to find joy, and to find comfort and dignity and hope even in the most challenging of circumstances and
I can ask them what I can pray for on their behalf and
I can stand with one gentleman, put my hand on his shoulder, and pray with him in the hallway as he heads back to his rented room and
I can laugh with harried young parents and
I can shake hands with their young son who introduced himself to me as "Batman" and
I can show people my kanswer scars and
I can put my Spanish to good use and
I can encourage a friend whose engagement recently ended and
I can send a letter to a dear friend's son in prison and
I can sign petitions and
I can send money and
I can look the homeless man in the eyes when he approaches me and listen to his story and
I can smile at the Indian woman who works at the gas station and
I can visit the folks at the senior center and the nursing home and
I can vote and
I can pick up garbage when I walk and
I can invite my neighbors to go for walks with me and
I can teach Sunday morning formation classes (to myself and others) about how hard we work to build our sacred towers, make names for ourselves, and ignore the plight of those who suffer around us and
I can weep for the suffering in the world and
I can keep my heart and mind and eyes and hands open for new ways to both feed others and be fed and
I can pray and pray and pray some more and
I can trust that any one of those things or some of those things or all of those things will matter.

Here's the thing, if we each and if we all do a few small things with great love, as Mother Teresa said, we may not change the whole world, but we can change the part of the world we are in. On the rare occasion, we may end up changing the whole world for one person. Far more frequently, the previously hungry child who will go to bed with a full tummy, the worried set of parents that won't need to worry about food for a week, the person behind bars who will open a letter from someone who cares about them - that person's joy, that person's gratitude, that person's bolstered dignity feeds the soul of the one who was able to intercede and get involved. We, the ones who think we are doing "a good deed," we are the ones who are fed by the hungry, helped by the needy, and comforted by the lonely.

Sometimes I feel selfish and guilty for all the joy that I receive when I serve at the pantry.
(Not really.)

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.