Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thankful Thursday - "No One is Coming to Save Us"

The title of this blog is from a book that my daughter is reading, a book by Stephanie Powell Watts. A book about the lives of black residents of Pinewood, North Carolina (which I assume is a fictional town being that this is a novel) and how they deal with wealth and loss, family and pain. Full disclosure: I haven't read any part of the book other than the inside of the cover flap. But the title was enough to capture my attention and get stuck in my thoughts.

I just came in from the first of a six-part series on The New Jim Crow, another book with a thought-provoking title. The series is being facilitated by a new friend, Patrice Funderburg, who is already a soul-sister, mentor, co-conspirator, and inspiration in my life. Check out her facebook page and feel the burn of her spirit fire here. This woman is lit, engaged, and unafraid to speak the truth as she has come to understand it.

There were approximately 25 of us in the room, talking, listening, asking questions, telling stories, laughing, groaning, and committing ourselves to being open-hearted, quick to listen, slow to speak, welcoming, receptive, and also challenged, changed, and charged to go out into our community, our city, our work spaces, our faith spaces, and even our more intimate spaces and engage in transformative dialogue.

Because no one is coming to save us.

The first chapter of this book, The New Jim Crow, gives a brief history lesson about the birth of slavery in this country and how it has evolved, morphed, and transformed into the mass incarceration system that holds millions in captivity not only behind bars, but also under the authority of the parole and probation system. We read about dozens of laws, hundreds of laws, written and unwritten, that have been used to oppress, suppress, murder, torture, and imprison black and brown bodies on this continent since the arrival of Europeans. It's not a pretty history, but it is American history.

Most of the people in that room tonight didn't learn this history in the classroom. Most of us are learning this as adults. Most of the people I have spoken to about race and racism in the past two or three years are learning these brutal truths for the first time in adulthood. But don't be dismayed: better late than never. And it is never too late to get a real education, a good education.

We are arming ourselves with information so that we can do what Patrice so succinctly stated tonight: educate truth, expose systems, and engage action. Yes, we need to learn a lot. We need to expose and examine the systems of oppression that are active in our nation, and we need to engage in action to make a difference, to make a change.

Because no one is coming to save us.

Harriet Tubman came.
Fannie Lou Hamer came.
Rosa Parks came.
Martin Luther King Jr came.
Malcolm X came.
Medgar Evers came.
Countless uncelebrated people came.
They realized that no one was coming to save them either.

So they sacrificed their lives, their families, their homes, their livelihoods.
Sacrificed their reputations, their anonymity, their safety.
Sacrificed their comfort, their ease, their most intimate relationships.
And many of them were murdered for their efforts.
They were vilified.
They were ostracized.
They were criminalized.
But they didn't give up.
We won't give up.

We will gather five more times - feel free to join us.
We will read one chapter of this powerful book each week.
We will ask and answer questions.
We will hear and tell more stories.
We will bring our whole selves to these gatherings and to this work.
We will commit ourselves to engaging in justice work, intervening when we hear and see racism at work, challenging ourselves when we are complicit in oppressive systems, and otherwise find ways to both "step up and step back" as we are educating ourselves to engage.

Because no one is coming to save us.

We have to do the hard work that our nation needs, that our state needs, that our city needs, that our neighborhoods need, that our family members need if we are ever going to be the land where all are free and a home where all residents feel safe, regardless of skin color, religion, country of origin, gender, sexual identity, and every other category that has been used to separate and isolate us.
We have to read and learn, research and study on our own, for ourselves.
We are not going to sit back and expect someone else to teach us what we need to know.
We are not going to rely on the facilitator to bring all the answers or even all the questions.
We are not going to wait for "them" to show "us" what to do and when.
We are going to work at eliminating "us" and "them" categories all together.

Because no one is coming to save us.

Politicians aren't interested in saving us; they seem to only want to increase their own pay, eliminate our protections and medical care, while forcing us to pay for their medical care and protection (but don't get me started on politics in this country...).
The government isn't going to save us. The government can barely contain, control, or save itself.
Schools aren't going to save us. We can't even agree that all children deserve the same quality of education.
Churches aren't going to save us. Full disclosure: Yesterday, I finished my second year of seminary. And I know more than ever that churches aren't going to save us. Churches have spent way too much time protecting and maintaining the status quo in this country - going all the way back to using the Bible to justify the slaughter of the people who lived here when Europeans arrived, to justify chattel slavery, and to justify segregation and Jim Crow laws. Churches need to emerge from their fortress-like silos, repent of their collusion and silence when they should have been active and outspoken, and commit themselves to engage in action that will bring about the justice, peace, and salvation they claim to want for all people. (Again, don't get me started...)

So having said all that, where and how does gratitude show up?

* I am grateful for Patrice, for her passion, her compassion, and her insistence on action.
* I am grateful for every person who showed up to that space tonight, committed to learning, listening, and getting involved in the work of healing and wholeness.
* I am grateful for Michelle Alexander's difficult and necessary book - The New Jim Crow.
* I am grateful for the time and ability and freedom to go to these sessions.
* I am grateful for the thousands, the millions of people who are doing the work, speaking up, standing up, writing letters, writing essays, writing books, marching, working, advocating, pressing for changes in laws, and otherwise pushing for justice.
* I am grateful for friends, for pastors, for neighbors, for church mates, for non-religious people, who are committed to not stopping, to not losing hope, to not walking away from the neediest among us right here. Here's a fabulous example of a new friend doing something to make a difference in the lives of homeless women. Go, Donna, go!
* I am grateful for the ways in which we can encourage and support each other as we do this work.
* I am grateful for down time too, for time with family and friends, over food and wine, to decompress, to laugh, to dance, to celebrate new babies, to witness to the formation of new families in matrimony, all while taking time to disconnect from bad news, and turn away from videos of people dying in their cars in front of their children, and repeated acquittals for brutality and murder. Even if only for a few hours or a few days at a time.
* I am grateful that "no one is coming to save us" because maybe, just maybe, having realized that this is the only country we have, this is the only planet we have, this is the only life we have, we will work that much harder to walk together, to work together, to come together to help one another and to save one another.
* I am grateful for the fact that those of us who claim to be Christ followers, those of us who say that Jesus saves, we have absolutely no excuse for NOT getting involved in the work of mercy and justice. If we are followers of the prince of peace, we have no justification for advocating violence of any kind. If we are believers in the light of the world, we need to bring our own sins and our nation's sins into the bright light of justice and fairness, forgiveness and repentance. If we are disciples of the great physician, then we ought to be fighting for healing and wholeness, for medical care and coverage for all people who need medical, mental, and rehab care. If we are truly pro-life, then we ought to be advocating for all lives, including Muslim lives, immigrant lives, poor people's lives, black lives, the lives of those who are homeless, the incarcerated, and even people whose politics are not our own - yup, even them. We who say we believe in Jesus are without excuse. Because no one set a better of example of including the excluded, touching the untouchable, welcoming the outcast, and of actually living like every life mattered than Jesus. Without exception.

Silence is complicity. Sitting on the sidelines is complicity. Claiming ignorance is complicity.
It's time to speak up, to stand up, to get yourself educated to engage.
Because no one is coming to save us.


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Thankful Thursday

So much to be grateful for, my friends.

* gorgeous bright sunny day today - and not too hot.

* the fact that when the tree fell from our yard onto our neighbor's car (yikes!), there was no one in the car and, in fact, they were planning to get rid of the car anyway. PLUS the woman who lives there works with a tree cutting company and she said she can get the family discount to have that tree (and a couple of others that need to come down before they fall down) taken care of.

* my third grade tutee and I had a fun last session together today. School ends for the public schools here in Charlotte tomorrow. I am grateful to have had time to read with her, review math with her, and also talk to her about how not to be a bully, how not to fight, and how to be a better friend, sister, and daughter. I hope HT has a fantastic summer. I will miss her stories and her smiles.

* my daughter made carrot cake for dessert tonight. We didn't have cream cheese for her to make the traditional cream cheese frosting, so she made a glaze with fresh squeezed orange juice, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Can't wait to taste it - which I will do as soon as I publish this post.

* time spent by the lake with my dear friend and her rambunctious puppy. Laughter and stories, training and Portuguese water dog antics in the lake and the swimming pool (I seriously wish I could live his life!)

* new friends, long walks, and soul connections

* old friends, lunch dates, and deep conversations

* attending a session this past Monday evening put on by MeckMin related to Charlotte Uprising, the rallies and marches, protests and other public responses to the September 20, 2016 shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Their stories of fear and hope, courage and determination in the face of injustice, violence, and mistreatment by police officers unnerved us all. Those men and women demonstrated both poise and anger, both hope and frustration - and they are all still standing strong, still doing their work on behalf of those whose voices go frequently unheard, hugging one another, sharing essential oils to keep each other calm, and laughing between their tears. They inspired and challenged me as well as everyone else who sat under the sound of their quivering voices.

- Here are a few of the quotes that caught my attention and have given me much to ponder:

+ For far too long, we've done far too little.
+ Listening is an act of love. We have to listen to people's pain all the way down to the bottom. We cannot turn away just because we get uncomfortable.
+ I am brave - and sick and tired of this conversation about race and racism.
+ Is it impossible to stop killing people?
+ The uprising didn't start last September.
+ I was never in front, but I stood beside some beautiful souls out there.
+ It's my duty to fight for freedom - and it's also yours.
+ We had to be prepared because every second counts in a war zone.
+ I showed up because I love my people.
+ I'm not a religious person. I'm a Christian. There's a difference.
+ I didn't see Christ out there. I saw hate.
+ You need to use your voice. You need to have the courage to act.
+ Shame on us (in the church for not doing more and being more courageous.)
+ You created racism; you need to fix it.
+ I will keep showing up, no matter how tired I get.

* attending another MeckMin-sponsored event last night - at one of the mosques here in Charlotte several Muslim brothers and sisters spoke to a curious and attentive crowd about Ramadan and what it means to them to fast from sunrise to sunset for an entire month. There was also a Baptist minister on the docket who spoke about fasting from his experience and perspective. An older Jewish gentlemen rightly pointed out the oversight of not having someone Jewish speaking about their faith and the practice of fasting.  In response to a question I asked, young women and older women, talked about their pride and joy in wearing hijab.

Just before 8:30 pm, the Muslims in attendance were offered dates and bottled water to break their fast. They remained in their worship space for their prayers while most of the non-Muslim attendees headed for their large cafeteria to wait. My daughter, my friend, Kate, and I stayed and watched them as they prayed. My daughter later told me that she was deeply moved by being in the space with them as they knelt and bowed down in prayer. There is something sacred about bending the knee in supplication and thanksgiving. When the prayers were concluded, we joined them for iftar, the rather elaborate and absolutely delicious meal they had prepared.

We sat at the dinner table with two Muslim women, one an adult and the other a teenager, who talked to us about both the courage it takes to wear hijab these days and also about the mounting concern about praying in public. The teenager reminded us about their commitment to praying five times a day, regardless of where they are. She said it used to be safe to just kneel and pray, even outdoors. Nowadays, she said that if two people are together in a public place at prayer time, one will kneel and the other will keep watch. Shame on us - that this nation that claims to have been founded in response to a lack of religious freedom elsewhere has become a place where its citizens are no longer confident that they can safely practice their religion.

 I hope to have more opportunities to sit with people whose experiences are so different from my own; there is so much to learn from everyone I encounter. Everyone.

As we ate and talked, children ran around the tables and chairs - and tripped and fell.
Food slipped from overloaded plates onto the floor and was ground into the carpet.
Plates were left on tables and napkins drifted down to the floor beneath.
Mothers admonished their children to finish their food and wipe their mouths.
Teenagers chatted while they nibbled on cupcakes.
Men moved chairs from one place to another.
Someone talked too long.
Someone didn't get to talk enough.
It was life in community. Life in a community of faith.
It was funny. It was hopeful.
It was beautiful. It was messy.
It was prayerful. It was sobering.
It was human. It was holy.

I am grateful.
So very grateful.