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.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I'm Afraid

For the first time in my life, tonight I was afraid in church.

I grew up in the church. I'm sure that I was taken to church several times per week in my mother's womb. Baptist church. Evangelical Free church. Non-denominational church. Presbyterian church. Most of the churches I have attended have been integrated - sometimes mine was the only brown face in the space, but there I was. Even in those moments when I was a visitor to a church and mine was the only face in the crowd that wasn't white - "the only fly in the buttermilk" as some folks have said - I was not afraid.

Tonight I was in a black church, a Baptist church, in Salisbury, North Carolina. The service was long, powerful, convicting, encouraging, and inspiring. I almost didn't go - why drive an hour for a prayer vigil? Why drive an hour when I know I will get home late and probably be tired tomorrow? I am sooooooo glad I went - for many reasons.

I arrived early - more than thirty minutes before the service was scheduled to begin. I sat in my car eating fruit and almonds, watching parents pick their children up at a side door of the church. Beautiful mothers and handsome fathers reunited with their beautiful children.

Then he walked up to the church. A young white guy. By himself. With a backpack. And a beard. He stood in the shade of a tree in front of the church drinking water. He adjusted his clothing several times. He tugged at something under his shirt a few times.

I got nervous. I got scared. I pulled out my phone and took several pictures of him - just in case.
I wondered - What if he's here to commit another atrocity?
What if he's carrying a gun? What if he has other weapons in his backpack?

Some people in this violence-obsessed country think that perhaps those nine people wouldn't have died in that church in Charleston last week if some of the victims of that racist attack were carrying guns themselves. Is that what we want - people who claim to follow the Prince of Peace carrying guns into the house of  God to kill others? What would people on Fox News be saying if the Pastor had pulled out a gun and killed that racist who was in their midst? Would they be talking about it being an attack on Christians or another example of blacks being violent and carrying weapons? Some of the people I've seen posting that kind of rhetoric on their social network pages are the same ones who I know wore those bracelets a few years ago - you know the ones: What Would Jesus Do? Well, I may not know what Jesus would do in every situation, but I do know this - Jesus would NOT be carrying a gun into the synagogue to kill people, even people intent on evil. Sure, he turned over tables and got angry in the synagogue one time - but he was mad at the people who worked in the temple, not the visitors or the worshippers. Jesus with a gun? I think not.

Anyway, there I was, in my car.
Afraid of that young white guy.
When I entered the church and took my seat, I spotted him across the sanctuary.
I watched him.
I checked him out several times before the service began.
I was afraid in church.

After a few minutes, the music began. The prayers began.
Challenges were issued from the pulpit by several speakers -
Do not be afraid.
Die to your fears.
Stand up for justice.
If you are gonna die, die standing up for what is right.
Know your history.
Speak up for peace and justice.
Take bold and strategic actions.
Expose corrupt politicians.
Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked.
Set captives free. Proclaim good news.
Restore the sight to the blind.

Help the blind to see injustice all around them and within them.
Help the blind to see ways in which we can all stand for justice.
Help the blind to see the legacy of racism in this country.
Help the blind to see how politicians and pastors are so often acting for their own gain and not the good of the communities they are supposed to serve.
Help the blind to see how comfortable we have become and how uncomfortable we need to be in order to change the course of our nation.
Help the blind to see that we cannot be selective in when we demand that people be forgiven for their wrongdoing - forgive this young man? then forgive young black men too. forgive the police who shoot unarmed people? then forgive looters too. forgive corrupt politicians and warmongers and greedy capitalists? then forgive those who defend their countries and those who fight back when we invade and those whose politics we don't begin to understand.
Help the blind to see that they cannot be pro-life only until the child is born - and after the child is born, we become a nation that is pro-death. We must be pro-life for all people all life long. We must make sure that children are fed, clothed, housed, educated, and provided with health care.

Shortly thereafter, my fear subsided. I looked over at the previously "suspicious young white male," and he was nodding his head, clapping, laughing, participating in the service just like everyone else. And I had to confess to God and admit to myself that I had allowed fear and ignorance (due to not knowing him) to cloud my heart and my spirit. I had allowed fear and prejudice to cause me to pre-judge him. I had allowed fear to steal my ability to welcome him into a service of prayer and peace and healing.

But Perfect Love cast out that fear.
Because love wins. Love always wins.

It may not look that way all the time.
It certainly didn't look that way late last Wednesday night.
Love looked defeated when those shots rang out and those bloodied bodies fell.
But Love laid down its life - and rose again. Love won.

It hasn't looked that way as I've read articles and watched the news.
But Love has stood up and demanded to be seen and heard in churches and gatherings all over this nation since last Wednesday night's massacre. Love is still standing. Love is wrapped around those who mourn - those who mourn for Mother Emanuel AME Church. those who mourn for the children killed in Sandy Hook. those who mourn for Trayvon and Michael and Tamir and Akai and Yvette and Rekia and Shereese and Ezell and so many others. Love is demanding an end to the use of the confederate battle flag here in the South and elsewhere.

Love will win. Love has already won.

I am still afraid tonight.
I am afraid that I've been bitten by the bug of fighting and speaking and teaching for Justice.
I'm afraid that I've got a lot to learn, a lot to do, and a lot to change in my life.
I'm afraid that people are gonna get sick of me asking questions.
I'm afraid that I'm gonna cry even more than I usually do as I ask my questions and make changes in my life and speak up more for Love.
I'm afraid that my very comfortable life is about to get uncomfortable.
I'm afraid that my blindness is about to be healed.
I'm afraid of all the injustice I am going to start seeing much more clearly.

Somebody said that courage is fear that has said its prayers.
Somebody else said that courage is fear on its knees.
I'm grateful for the infusion, transfusion of courage I was given by those bold and prophetic speakers this evening as an antidote to the fear I felt earlier.

Jesus, Prince of Peace, Fearless One, Righteous One,
please let your perfect love continue to cast out all my fears
so that I can participate in the advent of peace and righteousness
here in my home, in my city, in my world.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sorrowful Thursday

Nine black people were gunned down during Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina last night. I heard about it for the first time this morning on my way to visit a friend.

By a 21-year old white guy who sat with them for an hour before saying that blacks were "raping our women and taking over the country." Then he said it was time for them to go.
Then he took out his gun and shot them. In church.
He sat with them. Listened to them.
Then he said he was there to shoot them.

So much sorrow.
So many tears.
So much anger.
So many prayers.
Too often.

A black woman stood behind two CNN reporters and asked them if they were angry.
She said black people need to get off our knees and stop praying.
I wonder what she would want us to do - start shooting back?
Buy guns and carry them everywhere we go?
Stay angry all the time? Afraid? On the defensive?
Anger is appropriate, for sure.
But anger that is channeled towards justice and peace.

I am angry.
I am sad.
I am praying too.
Cuz if I weren't a praying woman, there's no telling what I would be doing and saying instead.
But I will tell you this - it would be very ugly, angry, and probably violent.

Shaking my head.
Breaking my heart.
And the heads and hearts of so many more.
Why? Why? Why?

I typed these names as they were announced by the coroner in Charleston.
Killed in Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Clementa Pinckney, 41
Cynthia Hurd, 54, Librarian.
Susie Jackson, 87,
Ethel Lance, 70
Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49 years of age
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Daniel Simmons Sr, 74
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
Myra Thompson, 59

May tears flow.
May comfort come.
May hope survive.
May love prevail.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Trusting the Journey

In Madrid, there is a park called El Retiro.
In the Retiro, there is a glass building called El Palacio de Cristal - the Crystal Palace.
In the Palacio de Cristal, there is a tent, a jaima.
Made of fabrics designed and dyed by women in a refugee camp in the Saharan Desert.
The name of the collective and cooperative work that created the tent is
"Tuiza" - a word "that refers to the act of gathering, participating, and constructing
something with everyone's involvement... This great tent is presented as 
a space of hospitality and conversation between cultures."
(Taken from the brochure handed out to visitors in the Palacio.)

The first time I visited the Bedouin tent in the Retiro, I was with a dear friend, the one who worked a flight from NY to Madrid so that we could spend six hours together. (I am so thankful for her love and friendship...) She and I sat and talked, shared stories, took photos, marveled at the wonder of the handiwork and creativity of the refugee women who had created the colorful panels. Dozens of people sat and lay and stood nearby, taking it all in, resting, reading, talking, and enjoying the serenity and beauty of the tent.

The second time I visited - I will share about that a little later.

The same night that we discovered that gorgeous space in the Retiro,
my friend and I met up with another dear one
and we had dinner together. Outside. 
Sharing wine and food and stories and laughter.
Sharing our hearts and our hopes, our dreams and our dreads.
Sharing ourselves.
What a gift. 
Thanks be to God.

In the main cathedral church in Avila, Spain, the day after seeing the tent.

This is what I want - to be pierced through the heart with love and passion for God.
Wait - that has already happened to me.
So much love. So much passion. So much faith.
So many questions. So many doubts. So much fear.
It's all in me.
And I'm grateful for how every emotion, every experience,
every trip, every adventure hollows out deeper places within me,
teaches me, transforms me, and heals me.

Just beyond the statue seen in the previous photo is this small sign,
one of Santa Teresa's most famous, oft repeated prayers.
"Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
Everything passes/changes.
God doesn't move/change.
Patience accomplishes everything.
The one who has God lacks nothing.
Only God is enough/God alone is enough."
(There are so many ways to translate these poignant and powerful words.)

In my moments of fear and doubt and worry,
like this morning when I was out on my morning walk,
I need words like these to come back to my mind and heart.
Speaking of which, while I was out on my walk this morning,
asking God lots of questions, listing my concerns and prayer requests,
I listened to Rezandovoy - a daily prayer that is recorded in Valladolid, Spain, 
the hometown of my favorite Jesuit (Te echo de menos, AA)
 and posted on the internet.
What was the final portion of the prayer this morning?
These very words by Santa Teresa de Jesus.
Thanks be to God.

One of the tiny details that caught my eye in Avila -
These tiles that say, "Footsteps - Teresa de Jesus."
I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to walk in the tiny footsteps of that giant of the faith.

"So two nuns and two priests walk into a bar..."
Or meet up with each other on the street and talk.
Ask after each other's health and then ask for prayer.
I wished I was bold enough to approach and listen to what else they said to each other.

A fuzzy photo of an ornate altar at San Francisco el Grande -
one of the largest and oldest churches in Madrid.
I had done some reading before this last journey and came to realize 
that there are many churches in Madrid that I've never seen.
This was one of them.
Three weeks ago today, I planned and walked 
a pilgrimage between several churches,
covering over 12 miles on foot that day.
Entering, wandering, sitting, listening, praying.
Taking photos. Taking notes. Taking notice.
Marveling at the thought of how many thousands
of pilgrims and worshipers and tourists and beggars and 
priests and painters and other curious souls have entered those same buildings,
sat on those same benches and cried out to the same God.
Wow. Glory be.

San Antonio de los Alemanes Church.
(Saint Anthony of the Germans)
There is a work of restoration going on behind the altar.
I loved this covering, this curtain.
Reminded me of the separation between the people of Israel 
and the Holy of Holies in the temple.
Reminded me to be grateful that those curtains no longer exist.

Standing under an orange tree in the courtyard of a museum
in the middle of Madrid.
So much beauty and bounty and nourishment
and quietness and peace and growth.

The second time I returned to what I dubbed "the tent of meeting," 
I entered it with the desire to be alone with God.
I knew I wouldn't actually be alone - that other people would be present -
but I wanted to have an experience of being alone with The Alone.
And I did - I journaled and prayed and thought and shed a few tears,
all while being surrounded by people,
all while a woman was giving a talk about Spirit and being heard
and being seen and how we all need and desire to be loved.
And I was able to capture this photo - 
it looks like the tent was empty, but it wasn't.
I simply had a few seconds when no one was in my line of sight,
a few seconds when I could look straight ahead and see nothing and no one -
but The Alone.
That place felt mighty holy that day.
I almost took off my shoes. Almost.

I followed this woman past the estanco - the pond in the middle of the Retiro.
She stopped several times and took photos.
She was as fascinated by the beauty of the day and the place as I was.
I was grateful for her presence, her grace, her elegance, her life.
I was grateful for the three people she joined up with soon after I took this photo.
They looked like they were having a great time together in the park.
I confess to being fascinated by the hijab, the abaya, the caftan,
the head coverings, the tunics, the saris, the modest attire, 
the ways in which women adorn themselves
and choose not to adorn themselves because of their faith and traditions.
Oh, that we would learn to respect one another,
to accept one another, to welcome one another -
especially those whose traditions are not our own.

From the first day until the last day of this trip,
I embraced the motto on this tee shirt
(a shirt I saw in Asheville a few months ago):
I trusted the journey.
I trusted the strong women I walked with and ate with.
I trusted the Tour Guide I walked with.
I trusted that when a church or a museum was closed,
I wasn't meant to see it.
I trusted that when I missed a train
or a flight was delayed
or a conversation lasted longer or shorter than expected,
that I could trust that all was well.
That I was not alone.
That there would always be reason to give thanks.
How can I not be grateful?

Monday, June 08, 2015

Why do we care?

Caitlyn Jenner is all over the news.
Articles. Interviews. Magazines. Radio broadcasts.
Criticism. Sarcasm. Insult. Derision. Condemnation.

Why do we care?
Why do we, especially those of us who call ourselves followers and lovers of Christ,
engage in these gossip-fests?
Why do we try to "educate" ourselves by reading and sharing links to websites that vilify those we don't understand or with whom we disagree?

Where is the grace and mercy?
Where is the love and acceptance?
What happened to the wisdom of that old song and the Scripture that say -
"They will know we are Christians by our love"?

Why do we care so much about Caitlyn Jenner's story but have been curiously silent about the missing girls in Nigeria? Or the thousands of children who arrived in our country from Central America last year seeking asylum from gang violence and sexual trafficking? Or the internally displaced peoples in nearly every country on this globe? What about the victims of our misguided wars and other military actions? Why don't we care as much about them or their fate? Why didn't we post links to stories about them? Or educate ourselves about what was happening to them and why?

I hear other voices. "But the Bible says..."
"But we cannot tolerate..."
"But if we allow and accept and tolerate, then our nation... then our families... then our neighborhoods..."
"But if all we talk about is love and grace and hope, then they won't understand the judgment and the demands of God." (This last one makes me shake my head the most because I cannot say that I've ever encountered anyone who has spoken about hearing too much about the love of God or the grace of God or the hope of eternal life and salvation. Certainly I don't know anyone who has every experienced too much love or grace or hope. But maybe I run in the wrong circles.)

When I hear those voices, those concerns, I too come up with statements that start with "but" -
But God...
But grace...
But mercy...
But love...

Imagine this - imagine if we loved people and let ourselves be loved as we are.
Imagine if we welcomed people and accepted words of welcome from others.
Imagine if we extended grace and allowed ourselves to receive grace.
Imagine if we touched people gently and tenderly.
Imagine if we allowed ourselves to be touched.
Imagine if we fed people and ate with them.
Imagine if we housed people and lived with them.

Imagine if the only people we got angry at, if the only ones condemned were those who refused to love and welcome and feed and visit and walk alongside others and listen and receive the poor, the needy, the wounded, the blind, the desperate, and the dying - which mostly likely includes all of us, each of us.

Imagine if we received and included all the people Jesus received and included.
The liars, the deniers, the zealots, the doubters, the ones who work for the corrupt government, the ones who have no jobs at all, the rebels, the adulterers, the lepers, the outsiders, the insiders,
the misunderstood, the mistaken, the mistreated,
the least, the last, and the lost.
Imagine if we rejected and excluded all the people Jesus rejected and excluded.
Imagine that.

Do we care enough to love Caitlyn Jenner and President Obama and Former President George W Bush and John Boehner and Hilary Clinton and Former President Bill Clinton and megachurch ministers and Buddhist monks and corrupt politicians and the drunk driver who kills both children and the homeless man outside the office tower and the death row inmate and the neighbor about to lose her home and the executive about to buy it and knock it down to build a mansion? Dare we figure out how we can love the whole dingdang lot of us? All of us? Do I? Can I? Dare I love that much? Is that kind of radically inclusive love even possible?

Do we care enough to leave the judgment to the only one who knows the truth about who we really are and what we have done? Do I? Will I?

Deep sigh.
Deeper questions.

Lord, please have mercy on us.
And help us to have mercy on each other.