Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thoughtful Thursday: A time to mourn and a time to rejoice

Five years ago today, I was sitting in Starbucks with my kids, sipping sweet drinks.
It was my birthday.
I had completed two out of six chemotherapy treatments. (Kanswer sucks!)
We were rejoicing and celebrating a glorious mid-December day.

As we sat talking there in Starbucks, my phone rang.
It was my best buddy calling.
She lives in Sandy Hook, CT.
I figured it was a birthday greeting.
I was wrong. Dead wrong.
She asked me to be praying because there had been a school shooting in her town.

So now, every year, on my birthday, I celebrate.
I am grateful to be alive, especially after going through kanswer.
But I also remember - there are many hundreds, thousands, of people
for whom today, December 14th, will always be a day of remembrance,
of mourning, of missing their beloved ones.

It is my hope and prayer that, in the midst of their tears, they are able to rejoice.
To give thanks for the time they did have with their loved ones.
And it is my hope and prayer that, because of their tears,
they and we will work harder to bring an end to the senseless gun violence
in this gun-crazed nation.

There is so much to mourn these days.
Sexual misconduct on all sides.
Coming within a hairs-breadth of electing an alleged (known) pedophile to the US Senate.
The loss of net neutrality.
A tax plan that will truly make the richest among us even richer
and provide precious little relief for anyone else.
People, far too many people, still sleep on the street or in abandoned buildings or cars.
Jobs are still being lost.
Food is still a necessity that many do not have adequate access to.

But there is also reason to rejoice.
Black people showed up and stood up and voted to keep that pedophile out of the Senate.
Food pantries are open - and there is work to fight the injustice that keeps people poor.
There is indeed Room in the Inn - and there are people fighting to provide Housing First.
People are providing funds and presence in and on behalf of the lives of others whose voices are not often heard.
Others are using yoga and meditation, peace and joy as their methods of transforming the world around them and us.

Like everyone, I have moments of deep sadness, despair even.
I weep. Often.
I wonder, as my daughter mused aloud earlier today, "Do they even have hearts?"
I know they do have hearts.
I wonder what broke their hearts, what made their hearts so hard that they are unmoved by the suffering that new laws and policies, as well as the abolishment of old policies, inflict on so many.

But I know that a change is gonna come.
Change is coming.
Transformation is happening right now.
Even as I write.

I am a woman of subversive hope.
Unshakeable hope.
Undeniable hope.
And faith.
Faith in God.
Faith in so many that i know are doing the work.
Not just staying in their bubbles and safe places.
People who are quitting high paying, insulated, isolated jobs in order to work with and for folks whose lives will never be insulated or protected.
People who are working so that all children can receive an education that is worthy of the paper on which their diplomas will be printed.
People who insist that our criminal justice system can actually bring about justice, rather than injustice.

Tonight, my husband and I will eat, drink, and be merry with some good friends.
We will rejoice and celebrate.
But inside, I will raise a toast to and say a prayer for the families of Sandy Hook and Houston and Puerto Rico. I will remember the folks living around the leaking oil pipeline in the Dakotas, the slaves still being sold in Africa, and the hundreds of thousands of young American residents whose very presence in this nation may soon be deemed illegal.

Today - like every day - is a day to rejoice and a day to mourn.
May our tears and laughter mix and mingle on our cheeks and in our hearts.
May we rest and recover for a few hours, perhaps even a few days.
But then, it will be time to get back to work.
To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned.
Proclaim freedom for captives and restore sight to the blind.

Ready? Get set...

Monday, December 11, 2017

Prompt #1: "Tell me about a beginning"

So my seminary semester ended last Saturday. I am officially half way through my seminary journey. Thanks be to God. 

And because I'm constantly seeking ways to know myself better, 
ways to write better, ways to be a better version of myself,
perhaps the best version, I sign up for online classes. 
I'm taking three right now - all related to self-study, writing, gratitude, 
and learning how to pay close attention to my life and to the world around me.
So good. So much beauty. 
One of those classes started today.
And the first prompt was: "Tell me about a beginning."
This is how I responded.
(Check out my latest teacher here - Jena Schwartz. The current class is called: What if you knew?)
(Another of the classes I'm taking at the moment is called "Advent of Light - Journaling Course" -  it is being offered by Karen Walrond. She is a gift of light and love and journaling prowess. She and her family recently lost their home to flooding in Houston - she lost all of her journals, except for the one she had with her when they evacuated. Nonetheless, she is teaching and writing and shining a light on how to stay hopeful, how to seek and find light, in the face of tragedy and loss. I've followed her blog and writing since 2007 - at least.)
(The other class is being led by Patti Digh. Another gift in my life. Wise. Sharp. Fearless. Fierce. Honest. Challenging. Inspiring. Real. Generous. Hospitable. Funny. A prolific writer. And one of the hardest working people I have ever known. She exudes strength and determination.)

So this is my response, mostly unedited, to Jena's first prompt of the course. 

It began when I was a freshman in college. I went to a professor’s house for tutoring in poetry. I didn’t "get" poetry. I couldn’t understand it. When I arrived at his house, he waved me in from the living room where he was watching television. America had invaded Granada. There were soldiers on the ground on an island I didn’t know anything about, protecting American medical students from a threat they didn’t know anything about. My professor was livid - he cursed at the television and at our president. I think it was Reagan.
A few months later, it began again when I was in a political science class and my Argentine professor started talking about American involvement in Latin America, in his home country, and elsewhere. He talked about “banana republics,” but he wasn’t laughing. He talked about dictators and fascists, about take overs, and people who had "been disappeared." I had no idea what he was talking about, but it didn’t sound like the United States I had grown up in.
The beginning continued as I read more and watched more documentaries and listened to my fellow black students talk about their experiences of racism and discrimination in the classroom and in their dorms. I began to see that the bubble I had grown up, the bubble I lived in, the bubble I maintained around my life, my heart, and my body was soon to be burst.
The beginning continued when I met the coach from the Nicaraguan national basketball team. Their national team came to my college to play against our team. The national team! I was thrilled and excited and imagined that they would crush our little division three squad. What I didn’t realize was that the average Nicaraguan man isn’t very tall, nor does he have access to large quantities of food. Anyway, I was introduced to the coach of the team in the fall of my sophomore year (or was it my junior year?) in college, just before thanksgiving. I took him home for Thanksgiving that year. He didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak much Spanish. He came to our humble home in Brooklyn, New York, and I managed to communicate to him that he was free to eat and drink whatever he wanted from our refrigerator. He opened the fridge and peered in at our leftovers and overripe cheese. He asked if that was our Thanksgiving meal.
The beginning continued when I realized that our leftovers were a feast for him.
The beginning of seeing my life and the world around me through compassionate eyes,
through eyes of deep gratitude and through eyes seeking signs of justice and fairness,
the beginning of the weeping, the deep sorrow at the suffering of so many people,
the beginning of the desire to save other people,
the beginning of the realization that I cannot save anyone,
the beginning of the journey that would bring me to this moment,
to the beginning of a new life of work and service through the church,
it all began when I was a freshman in college, when I arrived at that professor’s house,
when I watched him and listened to him and
learned more that afternoon about life in these United States and
the lives that we took in other nations
than I learned about poetry.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful Thursday - Ten Things

How can I not give thanks today? What am I grateful for today?

1. The gift of texting. To connect with people who live far away. To encourage friends going through tough times. To send texts with silly photos and cartoons.

2. Going to my Mom's house for big meals. She always invites "strays," folks who don't have family to spend time with during the holidays. They bring food and themselves. We bring food and ourselves. Fun and conversation always ensue.

3. My daughter is absolutely fantastic at engaging people in conversation. Today she brought energy and interaction from both a shy seven year old girl and a reclusive 14 year old boy. His mother said she hadn't seen him talk that much in months.

4. Leaving her house and coming home. Putting on my pajamas, robe, and slippers and crawling into bed.

5. Finding several pieces made by my favorite designer at a discount of 65% yesterday.
I am almost obsessed with the modest, comfortable, roomy, linen garments made by Bryn Walker.

6. Linen? Yes. Because I love to iron.

7. As much as I thoroughly enjoy spending time with friends and family today, eating delicious food, I am also mindful of those whose land was taken from them, whose lives were taken from them, whose land is still being denied to them in the name of greed. Indigenous people continue to be mistreated. I am grateful for those who stand with them and stand for them in the ongoing search for justice, reparations, and fair treatment.

8. Questions that challenge my faith and my way of life. Especially when I don't have a quick and easy answer. Questions that make me think and pray and journal and look for answers.

9. Being asked to help someone come up with a sermon topic. Give me a Scripture passage and I will help you come up with a topic. Give me a topic and I will help you find a passage to wrestle with. I love the Bible, even the parts that I hate. Yes, there are parts of the Bible that I hate. All the violence. The stories of women being raped - and then expected to marry their rapists. Stories of war. But also stories of love and redemption, hope and joy, community and reconciliation. The main question of my life these days is this: How can I take this ancient book with its many miracle stories, so much poetry, so many parables, so much history, this book that serves as the foundation of my faith - and find ways to apply it to this present moment in time?

10. I am grateful for life itself. For breath. For strength. For health.
Five years ago, on Thanksgiving, I was four days away from my first chemotherapy treatment.
I've come a very long way since then. I am enormously thankful.
To be alive is a gift, perhaps one of the greatest gifts of all.
Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ten Things

Alisha Sommer is one of my new favorite internet personality crushes.
She drinks a lot of wine and coffee. She's a creative cook. She's a gifted writer.
She travels. She is and African American woman married to a European American man.
She is raising their children to eat good food and appreciate beauty.
And she takes amazing photographs to document her life and her adventures.
Please go check out her work - you will find your mouth watering.
I'm not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination, but this woman keeps my mouth watering.

One of the things that she does that has caught my attention is her practice of "Ten Things."
Simply a list of ten things, ten thoughts, ten ideas, ten moments from her day -
and any combination of the above, any combination of any ten things - she posts a list.
Daily. I look forward to reading her lists every day.

Since imitation is the best form of flattery, I'm gonna imitate her right here.

My ten things for today:

1. I love chewing gum. I crack my gum noisily and incessantly. My family doesn't complain, for which I am enormously grateful. If I get to meet Oprah again (someday I will share the story of meeting Oprah and getting my photo taken with her), I won't be able to chew gum in her presence. Apparently, she thinks gum chewing is a vile habit. Other than that, she and I will undoubtedly be great friends who agree on everything. In case Ms Winfrey is reading this, let me be crystal clear: I am more than willing to give up gum chewing if I get to hang out with you, Oprah.

2. I have recently been reminded about how much I love a well crafted sermon. And as much as I am grateful that when I preach at my own church, I am limited to about seventeen minutes, I enjoy a nice, long, intricately woven, story driven, Scripture dense sermon. This guy, Anthony Smith, is one of my favorite preachers. He lives, ministers, and serves the community up through a church called Mission House in Salisbury, NC. Here is a link to Mission House sermons. At a time in our nation, in our world, in our history, when so many of us struggle with fear, I would recommend scrolling down the sermon list to 2/12/17 and listening to the sermon entitled, "Take Courage." Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, grab a notebook and pen, because you are gonna wanna take a lot of notes - and be prepared to have your mind blown. So good!

3. One of the goals of Mission House is "to mobilize an army of love" in their city. They have tee shirts. I have one of those tee shirts. I am not an advocate of violence OF ANY KIND - but I am willing to enlist in an army of love. They are doing some fantastic work there in their home city. Advocating for peace. Walking the streets of their city every Friday night, praying with people, praying for the healing and wholeness of their city - they call themselves "Nightcrawlers." Getting involved in holding politicians accountable for what they do and say. Encouraging people to do their research and to vote. Imagine if those of us who call ourselves followers of the Prince of Peace actually worked for peace, walked for peace, advocated for an end to violence, and were willing to stand up and speak up and act up for peace. What would our cities, our nation, and our world look like if we actually lived out the command listed in both Psalm 34:14 and 1 Peter 3:11? Imagine if we actively and intentionally did simply this -  "Seek peace and pursue it."

4. Teavana tea - if you like loose leaf tea, now is the time to go stock up on their tea. All of the Teavana stores are closing early in the new year. They are beginning to reduce prices by 30%, 50%, and 75%.

5. Starbucks owns Teavana. Why are they not willing to invest some of the billions of dollars they take in every year to preserving and protecting an offshoot that sells healthier product than the coffee and sugary syrups they sell at Starbucks?

6. I love when a plan to "catch up and have lunch" turns into a four and a half hour story-fest, complete with laughter and tears, wisdom and encouragement, tea and salad, and prayer and a few choice four letter words. Only a small number of people in my life can stand hanging out with me for a marathon conversation like the one I had yesterday with my girl, Krystal.

7. Pioneer Woman macaroni and cheese will be on the Thanksgiving table in two day. Even if you don't make this recipe, it's worth the read. She's a chef and writer with an engaging sense of humor.

(If you have any recipes that you love, please send links to them in the comments. I would love to hear what some of you are eating... whether or not you celebrate Thanksgiving this week. I'm always open for new ideas. The simpler the better.)

8. Homemade fresh cranberry sauce too.

9. And cornbread and sausage stuffing.

(To try to offset some of the preplanned indulgence in deliciousness, I will keep up my habit of drinking a green smoothie a day at least through the rest of the week. I'm gonna need to get more spinach, I am certain.)

10. People still send snail mail - and I count myself among the endangered species of folks who still write letters and mail then the old fashioned way. Thoughtful cards from Kentucky and New Jersey and California, and right here in Charlotte. Missives from a friend who is in prison. Birthday cards. Christmas cards. Holiday cards of all kinds. Journals purchased and sent to me just because... There are colorful and beautiful stamps available at the post office. And washi tape, pens, and markers (all of which are a slowly advancing obsession of mine) for decorating envelopes and enclosures. Snail mail is the gift that keeps on giving.

The good thing about the Ten Things habit, which I have been practicing in my journal lately, is that I almost always want to write fifteen or twenty things. But limiting myself to only ten takes some of the pressure off... I can write my ten and then take a break. For anyone who doesn't particularly like to write, for anyone who feels intimidated by the blank page, for anyone who doesn't think they have anything important to write or to say, beginning with a list of ten things can make the process of writing, of keeping a journal, of blogging, easier.

Ten Things can be as simple as this -

1. Flowering pineapple tea from Teavana.

2. Daily green smoothies

3. I love the library. Free books for everyone!

4. Peppermint chewing gum

5. Peppermint anything

6. I love rainy days

7. the smell of clean laundry

8. the beauty of deer in the backyard in the morning

9. I am a pen hoarder, and I love every single one of my pens

10. homemade cranberry sauce is one of my favorite things to make and eat

For me, this list on a journal page would bring up a host of wonderful memories, but I haven't had to spend too much time on it. If I want to elaborate, I certainly can, but it is not required.

Sometimes my list of ten things is a list of ten people I love,
or ten things I wish I could eat,
or ten places I want to return to before I die,
or ten movies I would like to watch again,
or ten songs I listen to more than any others,
or ten invitations I wish I had accepted,
or ten invitations I am glad I did accept,
or ten authors whose writings I return to over and over,
or ten favorite Bible verses,
or ten lost loves.
See? Simple.
And also meaningful. Thought-provoking. Tear producing.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Happy Anniversary to Me!!!

Five years ago today, November 6, 2012, Barack Obama was voted into his second term as President of these (questionably, ostensibly, gun-loving, very violent) United States of America. I miss him and his dignity, his grace, his intellect, his class, his demeanor a whole heckuva lot these days. But that's a whole different topic for a whole different day...

Five years ago today, I received the terrible news that I had cancer, kanswer.
Five years ago today, I came home from that doctor's appointment with both hands full of books, pamphlets, a pillow, and a sheaf of papers I needed to read and fill out and cry over. I had appointments scheduled for tests and scans and blood work. And I had a lot of appointments to make for other tests and scans and conversations and chemotherapy choices.
Five years ago today, my life changed. Drastically. Unexpectedly. Uncontrollably.

This is what I looked like on the day I was diagnosed.
Smiling between bouts of tears.
Getting ready for the toughest journey of my life.

Today, I am arguably healthier than I was before that diagnosis.
I eat better. I sleep better. I breathe better. I pray better too.
I live more joyfully and hopefully.
I am grateful to still be here, in good health, and in great spirits.

I relish the beauty of the seasons more.
I am grateful for both the arrival and the passing of each day.

I stop and watch squirrels chase each other.
I laugh at their antics.
I am grateful for the wonder of nature, both theirs and my own.

I no longer pluck or color my gray hairs.
I am grateful that I have hair.

I clean my house less often and with less obsession about doing it perfectly.
I flip through magazines more.
I watch more Law and Order Criminal Intent marathons.
I watch Project Runway with my daughter every week.
I play with pens and markers and watercolor paper more.
Because life is too short and too precious to spend it sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting ceiling fans all the time.

When someone invites me to do something new, something adventurous, something out of my normal routine, I am more likely to say "yes" now than I was five years ago.
I am grateful for so many invitations and opportunities.
I am grateful for new friends and deepening connections.

Five years ago today, I wrote a blog post about how my life journey had been shifted on its axis.
I had no idea all that was ahead, but I knew I wasn't going to face it alone, nor was I going to face it with a spirit of defeat or despair.

Five years ago today, I didn't know if I would be here today.
Would I survive the kanswer treatment?
Would I be alive five years hence?

A few days after diagnosis day, I curled my locs one last time.
And my daughter followed me around the house with her camera.
I don't miss my dreadlocs at all.
Not one minute of one day.
I loved them when I had them, but now they are no more.
Truth be told, I still have them. In a bag.
But I have no interest in having long hair again.

Kanswer came. Now it's gone.
Although I was warned, although I was given an explanation of my dire situation,

Five years ago today, I was facing a serious uphill battle,
and I made it. I made it! I MADE IT!!!
I am here. I am ecstatically here.
I am gratefully here. I am peace-fully here.

Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to the doctors, nurses, receptionists, technicians,
the chiropractor and the physical therapist who walked that journey with me then.
And who continue to walk with me on this ongoing healthful pilgrimage.
Thanks to all the family and friends who supported me,
prayed for me,
took me to chemo,
brought meals,
came to visit,
and loved me and my family through that journey.
Many of you continue to love on us and take care of us - even now.
There is so much love, so much beauty, so much to celebrate in this life.

Happy anniversary to me!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

A homework assignment: Write your spiritual autobiography

I go to too many meetings. Day and night. Here in Charlotte and in other places in North Carolina. Today I went to another meeting. Actually, a gathering of like-minded spiritual seekers. All of us, each of us, are hearing voices. Or a voice. A voice that is calling us closer, deeper, further in. We want more silence, more prayer, more contemplation, more community, more God. This is the second time we have gathered. From several faith communities. From several faith practices. Drawn together by one man's dream of a community that lives and breathes prayer and hope, faith and connection. We have no idea where it will go or what it will look like. It's not going to be another church. We don't need any more churches. But what we need... well, that's what we are trying to dream up together. What do we need? What would quench our thirst and assuage our hunger for more?

Anyway, we were each asked to write our spiritual autobiography. No more than three pages. We were given some questions to consider as we wrote. Here are a few of the questions we could respond to:

How has God been present in your life? 
How do you experience God’s presence?  
Where have you felt God’s absence?
How has your experience of God shaped your life and the choices you have made? 
Where is God at work in your life now?

Which ones would you answer?

The questions that I sought to answer in my autobiography were: What role did the church play in your life? How did it shape you?

Here is my answer -

I love the church. I love going to church. That has been true of me for most of my life. 

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and spent most of the first twelve years of my life attending Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. I distinctly remember sitting in church one Sunday, wishing that I could attend church five days a week and school only two. It’s not that I didn’t like going to school; I loved my elementary school, but being in the house of the Lord with the people of God, singing the old hymns of the church, listening to my Sunday school teachers tell impossible stories that they claimed had come from the Bible, watching people get dunked in the baptismal pool below the organ loft, and even attending Wednesday night prayer meetings - all of that is what I wanted to experience five days a week. When I was 12 years old, that church split over a question of Biblical interpretation that I didn’t fully understand. All  I knew for sure was that my family could no longer attend the church I loved. My twelve year old heart is still broken.

The church I spent my teenaged years attending with my family was another Baptist church, but Calvary Baptist Church was on 57th Street in Manhattan, a solid 45 - 60 minute drive from our home in Brooklyn. It was during those years that I was first exposed to the truth that it doesn’t matter how much I do or don’t like the music; it doesn’t matter how much I do or don’t like the youth leaders. Being in the community of faith is far broader and deeper than my personal taste or preferences. The preaching was okay. The choir was okay. The high school Sunday school class was less than okay. But somehow, together, in our okay ways, we worshiped the God who made it all make sense, who made something majestic out of our mediocrity. In the company of those faithful people, my faith grew. Somehow, God drew me closer. Perhaps it was the less than charismatic leadership and the less than inspiring preaching that taught me that it was all about God anyway. It wasn’t about me. It wasn't about catchy tunes or exceptional showmanship. I was in the presence of Almighty God - and that is what mattered most. 

After high school, I attended a small college in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts and attended the local Baptist church in that tiny town. For the first time in my life, church was my choice. I picked the church and I got myself there nearly every week for all four years of college - well, except for the semester I spent in Madrid, and I found a Baptist church there to attend as well. It didn’t matter to me if I had been out dancing until midnight on Saturday night/Sunday morning. I got up, got showered, got dressed, and walked to church. Once again, it wasn’t a flashy preacher or professional musicians that drew me in. It was simply the opportunity to be with the people of God in the house of God. 

The thing is, I did not have the vocabulary for what I was feeling at the time. I couldn’t have articulated any real evaluation of the preaching, the music, or the theology of that small town church church I attended. Or any of the churches I had ever attended, actually. I couldn’t even tell you what branch of the Baptist church our church was associated with. None of that mattered to me. I just couldn’t imagine NOT going to church. 

Don’t get me wrong; during my early church experience back in Brooklyn, there was a whole lot of fear mongering going on. “Accept Jesus into your heart or be left behind when the rapture happens.” “Are you sure you are saved?” “If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would be in heaven?” Nothing made me more fearful than the thought that I could be “left behind.” But by the time I got to college, those fears were less central to my experience of the church. Thanks be to God! 

At some point during my college career, I had the opportunity to give the children’s sermon at church - a brief Bible lesson for the kids before they left the main worship service for junior church. Not long after that first children’s lesson, I was asked to do it every week. Who me? I did as I was asked - and I loved it. As a result, I had even more reason to love going to church. Suddenly, finally, I had something to contribute. 

Six years after graduating from college, I found myself married, pregnant, and living in southern Connecticut. My husband and I began to attend Hope Church, a congregation whose pastor I had met with I was a teenager at Calvary Baptist in Manhattan. This one was an Evangelical Free church - once again, a denomination I knew nothing about. All I knew was that they welcomed me and my husband without any apparent prejudice against the fact that ours is an interracial marriage. Our daughter was born four months after we arrived at the church. Just under three years later, our son was born. Both of our children were so well loved and their births were so perfectly timed that they were both cast as baby Jesus in the Christmas play. Both son and daughter were held aloft by Simeon’s strong hands and prayed over as their lives began.

On a more personal note, Hope Church ushered me into a phase of spiritual growth that completely altered my perspective on Scripture and prayer and faith. Through the Women of Hope Wednesday morning Bible studies, I learned how to read and study the Bible for myself in previously unimagined depth. I would get up an hour or two before anyone else in the house and pour over and through the Word of God, with curiosity and questions, with hope and joy. Frankly, I miss those early morning quiet times - and I’m not exactly sure why I let them go. 

In a similar way to what happened when I was invited to do the children’s sermons during college, one of the leaders of the Women of Hope asked me to speak at the Christmas luncheon one year. Our usual Wednesday morning gathering of 40 women more than doubled for the Christmas luncheon - one hundred women came together to eat a hearty meal and hear a good word. For some reason, the director of Women of Hope thought I could bring a good word that December. Within months, I was the weekly teacher for Women of Hope. What I didn’t see was that God had begun to do a work in my life, a preparatory work that was beyond anything I could have imagined when we moved to Charlotte in 2002. 

Before having our two children, I had spent four years as a middle school and high school Spanish teacher. Although I was no longer teaching, I certainly hadn’t forgotten my Spanish, so it was with great joy that I began to attend the Spanish speaking congregation at Calvary Church here in Charlotte. Within weeks, I had fallen in love with the energy and exuberance, the joy and the vulnerability of those beautiful, hopeful people who hailed from more than ten Latin American countries. I taught Bible classes, led women’s gatherings, and introduced them to journaling as a spiritual discipline - all in Spanish. I am certain that I learned more from those generous, kind, loving women than they learned from me. I also learned that I had to stay in my place as a woman - that there was no place for me in church leadership there, unless there were only women in the room. 

At the end of one of the spiritual journaling classes I taught, this one in English, a woman approached me and said, “You belong in the pulpit. You’re not teaching in here; you are preaching.” At the time, her statement sounded like heresy to me. Less than five years later, we left Calvary, began attending First Presbyterian Church here in Charlotte, and I had heard that same message several more times at our new church. 

I believe that when I hear the same message several different times from several different people, I need to pay attention. So I did. Currently, I’m in my third year of a five year seminary program here in Charlotte that I hope and pray will lead to my ordination in the Presbyterian Church USA. It looks like my early childhood wish of attending church five days a week might finally come true. 

Thanks be to God. Thanks be to God indeed. 


The most eye-opening part to me of writing this spiritual autobiography is that I hadn't made the connection between my childhood dream of being at church five days a week and my current seminary journey until I completed this homework assignment. I know that almost everyone who is a "full time pastor" spends more than five days in the church, so I may end up getting more than I hoped for, than I wished for, than I bargained for. But still, dreams sometimes do come true. 

As I wrote that final sentence, I burst into tears.
Tears of gratitude. Tears of joy. Tears of hope. 
Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Today's Sermon was called - "We Walk Together"

I love my church - for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is that they have taken several huge risks in invited me to teach and to preach there. I mean, how do they know I'm not going to say something completely heretical and off base? Like I said, it's a risk. I have been honored to preach there several times over the past two or three years. Today I had the chance to do so again.

The rest of this blog post is the manuscript for the sermon.
I hope you are able to find some word of encouragement and hope.
Here goes -

Today's Scripture passage is taken from Luke 24, verses13-19A.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ 


On the morning of Thursday, June 18, 2015, I received a text from a friend, asking me how I was handling the news out of Charleston. I answered - “What news?” About the shooting in the church down there. I stopped texting her immediately, logged onto Google - and nearly fell to my knees. Nine people gunned down during a Wednesday night Bible study. Lord Jesus, have mercy. There is no place safe anymore, not even church. Four days later, on the following Monday, Mecklenburg Ministries, more commonly known as Meck Min, began a series of gatherings they called, “We Need to Talk.” The tragedy in Charleston served as clear proof that we needed to talk about race and hate and our responsibility to know our history and to work for justice. Those conversations were raw, engaging, disturbing, and long overdue. Not long after attending that first gathering, two dear friends decided that they wanted to do more than talk. They decided to walk and talk. They invited anyone who wished to join them to walk 100 miles here in Charlotte, getting to know each other, getting to know the city, getting to know what makes us tick, and trying to figure out what they could do to challenge the status quo in this beautiful, broken, separate, and profoundly unequal city. They called their new movement,“We Walk Together.” 

Following a tragedy of cosmic proportions, a brutal and unjust execution, the two men we just read about in Luke 24 set out on a walk of their own. They had watched their beloved leader die a horrific death. And later in this account, they explained to the Jesus they did not yet recognize, that a group of women had told them that they had seen angels, angels who proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead. So not only was their leader dead and gone, but also they were dealing with the outlandish claim that he was alive again. My vivid imagination pictures them sitting across from each other at the table in that locked upper room, surrounded by other terrified followers of Jesus, and one of them raised his eyebrows and tipped his head toward the door. When they got to the bottom of the stairs, they decided to leave Jerusalem and make their way to Emmaus. I imagine that Cleopas said something like, “We need to talk as we walk together.”

It seems like a simple statement, like an ordinary thing. But I think that if we take a closer look at that simple and ordinary statement - we walk together - we will discover that it is far from simple and even farther from ordinary. 

First of all: Who is the “we”? In the Scripture reading for today, the “we” is Cleopas and his unnamed travel companion. That “we” was an offshoot of a larger “we” - the twelve disciples, the other companions of Christ, the women, the lepers who had been healed, and people like, Nicodemus, who was a member of the established religious elite. And that “we” was part of an even larger “we” - the rest of their religious community, their neighbors in the towns where they lived, all of them with the boot of their Roman occupiers on their necks. Which takes us out to another level of “we.” The occupying political and military forces and all they represented. Those two disciples on that road to Emmaus may not have seen it that way, but their “we” was far broader than they knew. 

Who is the “we” in our world? Look around you in the pews. We are the we. We gather here in the middle of the day in the middle of the week to be with others who also seek to know God better. This meager gathering connects to the larger “we” that makes up the body of Christ in the world. Our “we” also extends to the people we will encounter when we leave this place. The people in our families. The people in our extended faith community. The people with whom we work and interact on a regular basis. Our “we” goes beyond that as well. Our “we” includes the homeless people we will see lying on the sidewalk and occupying benches. It includes the people at homeless shelters and the ones unable to get there. Our “we” includes the people we serve at the Loaves and Fishes pantry. Our “we” includes the people to whom we are sending aid in Houston and Puerto Rico and Mexico. Our “we” includes people on the other side of the political aisle, and those who choose not to engage politically at all. Our “we” includes the athletes who kneel beside football fields and those who boo at them and threaten their livelihood. Our “we” includes white supremacists and those who stand against them. 

Despite all the pontificating to the contrary, there really is no us and them, we are all we. Just ask the rich and the poor people, the immigrant and the native born who are staring at water-logged, uninhabitable houses in Houston. Ask the people staring at the smoking hulls of their homes and businesses, recently consumed by wildfires in Northern California. Ask the millionaires in post-earthquake Mexico City whose children were trapped in collapsed schools right along with the children of their poor neighbors. Earthquakes and fires, hurricanes and droughts, illness and death - affect us all. We are all we.

Listen again to a portion of today’s Scripture, “Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” Seven miles is a long way to walk, and they had a long time to talk about all those things that had happened. What do you think was the pace at which they were walking that day? What do you imagine they talked about as they walked? “What do we do now? Where do we go? Can Peter keep this thing going? Can we feed more people? Should we even try? We weren’t doing it anyway. It was Jesus who did it all. I still can’t believe He is dead and gone. I thought this was only the beginning of his work in the world. What about all his talk of “the kingdom of God”? What next? What now?” 

If you were to set out from this gathering today, walking and talking for seven miles, what are some of the things that you would talk about? Would you talk about the shooting in Las Vegas and the senseless gun violence that plagues our nation? Would you talk about that young man from South Charlotte who committed suicide last week? What about the epidemic of drug use and abuse in our country? Would you talk about the fear mongering and political turmoil that have dominated our national conversations? Would you talk about someone near and dear to you who recently received a terrible diagnosis or is out of work - again? Would you talk about the refugee crisis in Sudan or Syria or Europe or right here in our own country? Once you start listing all the things that preoccupy you, all the things that preoccupy all of us, then seven miles doesn’t feel like too long a walk at all, does it? 

Walking seems like such an ordinary thing. That’s what Mary and Catherine thought when they began what is now nearly a two and a half year old walking adventure here in Charlotte. It’s easy to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. Because walking easy - until it’s not. I know someone whose wife suffered an aneurysm that has resulted in her no longer being able to lift up one of her feet. She can lower her foot, but the muscles in her lower leg no longer respond to her brain’s message to lift that foot. Lift up one of your legs right now and flex your foot. Pull your toes up towards your knee. Such an ordinary act, but if your feet can no longer carry out what your brain is asking for, then walking is impossible. The ordinary becomes impossible. It is that recognition of the impossibility of forward movement, that moment when hope is lost, that hour when despair sets in - that is exactly when, where, and why we need to remember that we are all “we,” and we are on this journey together.

Nowadays people say things like, “We used to be able to talk to each other more easily. But now there is so much anger and animosity that ordinary conversation is impossible. They are so angry. They don’t listen to anybody. They refuse to hear our side of the story.” Have you ever heard anyone say that? Have you perhaps said that yourself? Us and them. Us versus them. Despite every effort to convince us that “they” are not “ like us,” that white and black, rich and poor, republican and democrat, gay and straight people, cannot live and serve and walk together, the truth is that YES, we can, because we are all “we.” They are us. And we walk this planet and this journey together.

So where exactly were Cleopas and his companion walking to that day? Some Bible scholars and archeologists say that there were a few towns within twenty miles of Jerusalem that could be where Emmaus was. Others say there were no towns in that area that went by that name. Frederick Buechner, the well known Presbyterian writer and preacher wrote, “Emmaus can be a trip to the movies just for the sake of seeing a movie or to a cocktail party just for the sake of the cocktails. Emmaus may be buying a new suit or a new car or smoking more cigarettes than you really want, or reading a second rate novel or even writing one. Emmaus may be going to Church on Sunday. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred; that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had - ideas about love and freedom and justice  - have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends. Emmaus is where we go, where these two went, to try to forget about Jesus and the great failure of his life.” (The Road to Emmaus, page 85, The Magnificent Defeat) I suspect we can all relate to that. Sometimes we are compelled to turn off the news, turn away from the heartbreak, and head for our own private islands of Emmaus. We escape into shopping and food and alcohol. We escape into television and Hulu and Netflix. I confess that my escape of choice these days is seminary study and church committee meetings. The alternative, looking this world’s suffering people in their eyes, is often too much to bear. So we turn and walk away.

Cleopas and his friend turned and walked away from their downcast companions, embarking on one of the most painful walks of their lives. But hallelujah, they did not walk alone. In my earlier exploration of the “we” that traveled with them and the “we” that travels with us on our life journey, I intentionally left out the most important member of their little travel party: The travel guide. The One who created the road on which they walked, the One who had always been with them and always walked with them, the One who had, in fact, brought them thus far on the way. 

Cleopas and his friend had no idea that they were about to experience the truth of Matthew 18:20 first hand, for themselves. That’s where it says: For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. There they were, the two of them, and there he was among them, the One whose loss they were lamenting and whose presence they were too blind to perceive. There he was, among them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Perhaps they were walking with their heads down and just didn’t bother to look up and see the face of their Risen Rabbi. But how is it that they didn’t recognize his voice? That we do not know. But what we do know is that they left Jerusalem and made their way towards a place the writer identified as Emmaus, and as they walked together on the afternoon of resurrection day, they were approached and accompanied by Jesus, the Risen Christ. 

Can we let that soak in for just a moment? That Emmanuel, God with us, the God who came to earth in human form, died and rose from the dead, appeared to them on the road and walked with them. Put yourself there on that road as the unnamed companion of Cleopas. You and Cleopas may not know it, but Jesus is with you. You and your neighbor there in the pew may not know it, you may not recognize it, you may not remember it, and you may not even believe it, but Jesus is present. Listening to your prayers and your cries for mercy. Listening to you as you recount your losses and your dashed hopes. 

Jesus turned their ordinary and mournful walk, their ordinary and simple meal, into the most extraordinary walk and meal of their lives. Their eyes opened. Their hearts burned. Their spirits rose. And then so did they - a few verses later, we read that they got up and returned to Jerusalem. How different do you think that return trip was from their earlier walk? They went back to the upper room, eager to tell their story, to share their experience with the risen Christ. But guess what? Christ had already shown up for and with Peter. The disciples were already talking about what God had done. These two went back to the upper room - back to the place of despair, the place of loss, the place of fear - but they went back with Jesus on their minds and on their lips - and they discovered that Jesus was already there. They had no answers, no solutions, and no plan for how they would endure the oppression of the Romans or how they would move forward as a community of faith - but they were going to walk that road together. 

Like them, we have no idea of how we will endure the oppression of fear and greed, anger and racism. We don’t know how we will stand up against injustice and inequity. We don’t know how we will bring an end to war or sexism or homophobia or any of the other “isms” and “phobias” that divide us. But here’s the thing: we walk together. We are learning, some of us for the first time, that we are all “we,” and we have to find ways to disrupt every narrative that tries to tell us anything different. We have to find ways to break down the barriers that have already been erected and prevent the building of border walls that are threatening to be erected between us and everyone else who is included in the “we” that Christ Jesus came to seek and to save. We walk together and we walk with Christ in our midst and in our hearts. We can leave this place and walk together in hope, in faith, and in joy. We can leave this place humming the tune of today’s first hymn, that song of Easter triumph. 

It’s a simple choice, an ordinary choice, and a life changing choice to walk together. Even if we don’t know where we are going - Wait, let me rephrase that - even though we don’t know where we are going or what we are going to do when we get there. We walk together. We don’t know what we can do or say to relieve the pain and suffering we encounter. We don’t know and we can’t possibly know. But we walk together. We don’t have the answers. We don’t even have clearly articulated questions. But we walk together. We don’t have enough power to shift the balance of power - but we have been given power from on high by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have enough money to build everyone a house or feed every one a meal. But we have the Bread of Life, the Risen and Living Lord, interceding for us beside the throne of grace. We have the God of the Universe on our side. And we have the Holy Spirit within us. 

Even as we reel with unspeakable sorrow after yet another mass shooting, yet another white supremacist march, another gang war, another bombing, another hurricane, let us go from the comfort of this place and walk back into the places of despair, darkness, and fear, with the good news of Christ’s resurrection. And if we pay attention, if we raise our eyes and look around, we may very well see glimpses of the Risen, Holy One. If we look up and listen up, we will see and hear stories of peacemaking in war torn places- and I hope that we will recognize Jesus in the company of the peacemakers in our midst. We will see ships, airplanes, and trucks filled with food and water destined for our desperate Puerto Rican neighbors - and I believe that we will recognize Jesus in the company of those being fed. We will hear about medical clinics being built at a time in our country’s history when access to medical care is being rescinded - and I pray that we will recognize Jesus in the company of those who are being healed. We will tutor students in our local schools - and I suspect that we will recognize Jesus in the company of those precious and precocious little ones. We will get involved with programs that provide housing, food, education, and sanctuary for immigrants in our midst - and I bet that we will recognize Jesus in the company of the desperate and the disenfranchised. We will discover that our previously dashed hopes are being undashed  - honestly, I’m not sure if there is such a word, but I’m going with it - undashed by the God of hope. Listen, my friends, I know and you know that we can’t do any of this alone. But we are not called to do this alone. We are called to be the people of God - together. We are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation - together - seeking and finding the risen Christ in the eyes and in the faces and in the company of all who desperately need to be reconciled with one another and with the One who gave us life. We have been called to walk together. And let us never forget that we walk together - and Jesus Christ our Risen and Triumphant Lord, walks with us. Amen.

Will you pray with me? Holy and Risen One, we come to you now thanking you for your  call on our lives, your call to walk this life journey together, not only together with those who sit near us in this sanctuary, but also with those who by all appearances live light years away from us. Lord, please help us to recognize that we are all part of the “we” you have created. We are called to walk each other home, literally home to places where we can sleep at night, home to welcoming and inclusive communities of faith, and most of all, home to you. As we cower in our own locked rooms and our locked homes, in our gated communities and behind our gated hearts, Lord, please open our eyes so that we can see you right here with us, even behind our locks and gates. Help us to see you in the eyes and faces of those who travel this road with us. Guide us, O thou great Jehovah, weary, fearful, and divided though we may be, along your path of peace. And we will be careful to give you the thanks and praise, the glory and the honor that you alone deserve. We ask all this, we plead for all of this in the name of the one who taught us to pray saying - (The Lord's prayer was recited here.)

As you leave this place, may you walk together with courage and hope. May you go from this place, knowing that, even when you feel lonely, afraid, and abandoned, Christ the Risen Lord walks with you. Go in peace.

Addendum - This movie scene was sent to me by a friend from long ago and far away. 
He is right - this scene touches on theme that is similar to what I tried to say in the final paragraph of my sermon. Thank you, my friend. Thank you very much. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thankful Thursday: This is my story...

So I've been telling my story here for more than ten years.
Recently, I've had the chance to share my story in two other settings.

First, it was an honor to be invited to share my story with my high school alma mater.
I entered Poly Prep in the 7th grade in 1977. (Yes, that was 40 years ago!!!)
It was the first year that girls were admitted to Poly.
When I graduated six years later, in 1983, I was the first African American girl to graduate.
Now THIS is a senior yearbook picture taken straight out of the early 80s -
nice look, right???

The other story was an inspiration and invitation from my dear friend, Mel. She is a gifted photographer, a thoughtful therapist, a loyal friend, a passionate wife, a creative mother, a loving sister - and I am so grateful that she's one of my dearest friends and companions on this journey that is my life. Although we have written many emails and messages to each other for years, although we have spoken on the phone and had deep and soulful conversations, I only met her in person for the first time less than a month ago when I flew out to Phoenix to be with her and a mutual friend named Natalia. After wishing we could meet together for years, when we finally found ourselves in the same place, the three of us immediately slipped into a groove of soul sisterhood that is rare. Truly. We walked and talked, ate and drank, told stories and spent time in silence. We wrote and cried and laughed. We gave each other gifts and cards and reason to believe in the goodness of God and the healing power of true friendship. It wasn't nearly enough time. But it was so good. So very good.

As part of a storytelling project she is doing on her blog, Mel asked me a gaggle of personal, intimate, tear-provoking questions - which I answered with all the honesty I could muster. Then we went out into the desert where she took photographs of me.

This is my story - and it goes beyond the surface of my life into some of the deepest recesses I've got. Please read it with tenderness. Read it with patience. Read it with grace. Read it and know me better.

(Before you click over to this story, you should know: 
there are photographs in her blog post that include the kanswer scars on my chest.)

This is my story.
Thanks be to God.

PS. Why do I spell it "kanswer"? The pronunciation is exactly the same as the dreaded "c word" but the spelling is different because I needed to exert some power over that disease. But my explanation goes back farther than that. I have a 23 year old daughter, an amazing young woman, whose name is Kristiana. We knew it was a unique spelling, but we knew she was going to be unique and we went with it. At the beginning, many people got it wrong, spelling her name with a "Ch" instead of a "K." To this day, many people get it wrong the first or second time they attempt to write her name. But there are people who have known her since she was born, since before she was born, who still misspell her name. I've come to believe that that is a matter of disrespect. They just can't be bothered to get it right. 

Well, just after I was diagnosed with the dreaded c-word disease, when I was in the middle of all the tests and scans and appointments and scary conversations, I decided that I didn't want to give respect to something so awful, so life threatening. I began to spell it kancer, then kanser. But neither of those resonated with me in a meaningful way. As I continued to ponder my life and my future, I began to think, to hope, and to pray that the entire ordeal would teach me new things about life and faith. I hoped and prayed it would answer some of my bigger questions. That's when it hit me (and at the same time it hit a friend of mine who lives in Kentucky! Talk about sisterhood/friendship/connection to the max. We hadn't even talked to each other about it, but we began to spell it the same way right around the same time) to spell it "kanswer." A combination of lack of respect and looking for answers became a new spelling: k + answer = kanswer. 

PSS. Yes, I have a tattoo. Many years ago, I attended an art workshop in Vermont where we were invited to create a personal logo. Mine emerged as a spiral, a labyrinth which represented my life, the twists and turns of my life and my life story - all under the cross. Last year, I took an online class led by Patti Digh, a new friend and long time mentor, and one of our assignments was this: "Surprise yourself." The first thing that came to mind that day was to get a tattoo over my left kanswer scar. That's where the kanswer had been discovered. That's where my heart is. So, with the help and support of my dearly beloved Sarah, I went to a tattoo shop, had a consultation, and then returned a few days later to have the tattoo done. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Poor deer...

A few weeks ago, while I was out on my early morning walk, I saw a deer walking across the road ahead of me. Limping, really. Limping badly. Its front left leg appeared to be broken.

Normally, when I see deer in my neighborhood, I see them in groups, in families. Big and small. With and without antlers. They usually stop and stare at me, checking to see if I am watching them, advancing in their direction. Such regal, quiet, elegant, unobtrusive animals. At least, that's how they have always been in my company.

But that morning, the aforementioned morning, I saw only one deer. Slowly making its way across the street. Seemingly unaware of my presence. Unaware of anything but its wounded leg. It hobbled into the woods, down a steep embankment, and out of sight. I shudder even now as I think back on that sighting.

Questions flooded through my mind.
Where are you going, deer?
Who will be with you?
Who will keep you company in your pain?
Will your leg get better?
Will this injury be the cause of your death?
You poor deer.

My eyes teared up that morning.
They tear up again in this retelling.

I confess that I have had similar stirrings in other situations, more frequently of late.
I ponder the pain and brokenness of so many thousands of people who have been wounded,
emotionally, financially, relationally, nationally,
by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.

Where will you go now?
Who will be with you?
Who will accompany you in your pain?
Will your island, your city, your grieving heart get better?
Will this tragedy be the cause of your death?
You poor dear.

I ponder the loneliness and desperation of the people I see on the street, begging.
One man's sign reads, "I need a miracle."
His is not one of the usual small requests for food or money.
Nope, he needs a miracle.
I drove past him once and gave him a pack of cigarettes the second time I saw him.

Where will he go?
Who will be with him?
Who will accompany him in his pain?
Will whatever put you out on the street be the cause of your death?

I wonder about the outrage being expressed towards athletes and others who have chosen to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem. I think of those who support their decisions. And the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken stands - and taken their knees - in the face of all kinds of injustice, prejudice, violence, systemic and institutional racism, and so many other ills that our nation and our world have faced and continue to face.

Where are you going now, dear ones?
Who will be with you in your insistence on justice?
Who will keep you company in your pain?
Will our nation get better?
Will our nation's injurious behavior be the cause of our death?

As I make my way, slowly, sometimes tediously, always hopefully, through seminary,
(this is the beginning of the third year of a five year program)
I am becoming increasingly aware that those questions will come up in many conversations with present co-travelers on this faith journey I'm on, as well as future parishioners.

When momentous life decisions must be made -
marriage, divorce, parenting, job change, moving to other cities -
when sorrowful moments happen -
the death of a loved one, the end of a meaningful relationship, the loss of a job -
when confusion arises,
when fears mount,
when life's questions overwhelm,
I will ask these same questions -

Where are you going, my dear one?
Who will be with you?
Who will keep you company in your pain?
Will your leg/heart/soul/family/life get better?
Will this injury be the cause of your death?
You poor dear.

There will undoubtedly be times when it won't be appropriate to ask if things will get better.
And most people won't want to talk about death. Even in their final days and hours.
There will be many times when the best thing I can do is simply show up
and be a silent witness to their lives and their suffering.
But my heart will be filled with these and other questions.
My eyes will be filled with tears.
(I'm already planning to inform any search committee or agency or anyone who considers hiring me that if they aren't comfortable with tears, with people who cry, then I am most assuredly NOT a match for them. No shame to these tears - and no end to them either.)

And I will do my best to go forward with them, when invited.
To walk the journey of life with them.
To keep them company in their pain, their fears, their anxiety -
and things may not get better. Some things never do get better.
But I will do my best to be present.
Attentive. Alert.
Listening. Loving.

Most mornings when I go for my walks, I spend most of my time looking down at the sidewalk. I am one of the clumsiest people I know. I trip and stumble readily and easily, so when I'm walking on cracked sidewalks, I keep my eyes on the ground. Not only do I fear being embarrassed by a pedestrian blunder in front of my neighbors, but also I fear falling down a breaking a wrist, a hip, or a tooth. Yes, I'm that clumsy.

That morning, on the morning when I saw that wounded deer, I wasn't looking at my feet. I was looking up the road. I had raised my eyes from my own situation and my own potential injury just long enough to observe that another creature had already suffered harm. In the case of that poor deer, there was nothing I could do to help.

In the world in which I live, there is much I can do. I can donate to organizations on the ground, bringing relief to the hungry, thirsty, and those recently rendered homeless because of natural disasters. I can donate food and water and baby goods to food pantries right here in Charlotte. I can listen to the stories of veterans with PTSD, kanswer survivors, the recently widowed, and so many others who simply want to be seen, heard, respected, and welcomed. But it all starts with me looking up and listening up.

In the world in which we all are living these days,
storms seem to be churning up every few days.
Hurricanes, yes, but also political storms.
Storms of anger and protest, storms of disagreement and hatred.
There are broken promises, broken relationships, and broken families.
There is broken trust. There are broken hearts.
Deep wounds are readily and unapologetically inflicted.
With knives, with guns, with tasers, and also with words, with attitudes, with sarcasm.

There are desperate people all around us.
There are desperate people here among us.
And there are desperate people staring back at us from our mirrors.
These same questions apply - even when we are facing the lonely, hurting, angry,
shocked, reckless, restless, hopeless people we know ourselves to sometimes be.
Perhaps especially then.

Where are you going, my dear?
Who will be with you?
Who will keep you company in your pain?
Will your heart, mind, soul, spirit, and body get better?
Will this injury - whatever it is - be the cause of your death?
You, dear, yes you, are indeed dearly beloved.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Way Forward...

My heart is breaking over here.

Flooding in Texas and mudslides in Sierra Leone.
Homes, livelihoods, and lives ruined, lost, destroyed.

Missile launches from North Korea.
Retaliation threatened.

Racism and white supremacy surging.
Violence threatened and actualized.

Ineffective, disinterested leadership - in the community, in the city, in the state, in the nation, in the world.
Distrust on all sides.

Stage 4 kanswer.
For the first time.
For the second time.

I'm reading a book called Evicted. About Milwaukee.
Living on the edge of eviction. Landlords. Tenants.
Trailer parks. Condemned living spaces.
Churches that don't help, can't help, won't help.
Local government that sides with the landlords, not the tenants.
Is decent housing a human right or isn't it?

Last weekend, I went to visit someone in prison.
On Friday, his mother and I drive almost five hours east from Charlotte.
We spent the night in a hotel.
Got up early and drove another half hour to the prison.
We sat with him for four hours in the visitation room, talking, laughing, telling stories,
and then we left and drove back home.
Long two days.
Even longer for him - he's serving a 20 year sentence.
Upon his release, he is likely to be immediately deported back to a country he hasn't seen in
nearly thirty years.

I'm not gonna lie - I'm struggling with all of this.
Emotionally, I'm feeling more than a little overwhelmed these days.
How long, Lord, how long? How much pain and suffering and sickness can we endure?
How much injustice and discrimination can we inflict on one another?

But life is not all doom and gloom around here. Thanks be to God!

I spent most of yesterday with a dear friend with her two year old son. He's a delightful child.
Together, we spent most of yesterday at the home of another dear friend, a mutual friend, eating, talking, laughing, telling stories, in her boat, out on Lake Norman. She has a new dog, all energy, all love, all joyful activity. It had been far too long since we had been together, the three of us, and that sweet little boy.
I drove home from the lake yesterday, listening to Rob Bell's podcast about the lie of redemptive violence. (Please start with this podcast - the first one in the series on "the thing in the air.")
Rob Bell inspires me to think differently about my faith and my life and this world in which we find ourselves.

Tomorrow some friends and I will spend two hours hanging out with some young women who are pregnant and living in a supportive community while they seek work and housing for themselves and their unborn children. We will give them manicures and listen to their stories and tell some of our own. We will leave them with diapers and sheet sets and our best wishes for good health and happy babies.

I spent a couple of hours at the seminary today.
Reading. Journaling. Staring out the window.
Thinking, praying, wondering about my future, the future of my church, the future of our nation.
I found almost all the books I need for one of my classes this semester in the seminary library.
I came home and got my study space organized for the fall.
New spiral notebooks. Textbooks. Dictionaries. Folders. Pens.
Back to school I go.
It is, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year.

My son is back in college - for his junior year.
My daughter is gainfully employed.
As is my husband.
I'm reading a lot, doing a lot of yoga, journaling, taking Patti Digh's 137 Days class online.

The fridge is full. So is the pantry. (I am enormously grateful.)
And so is my heart.
Full of sadness and sorrow for the vast suffering in the world.
Full of hope and anticipation for all that is happening to combat the suffering.

The way forward is with a broken heart, as my dearly beloved Alice Walker once wrote.
The way forward is with a broken heart and also with a hope-filled heart.
The way forward is with tears flowing and also with joy unspeakable.
The way forward is with friends close at hand and also in solitary places.
The way forward is with music and also in silence.

The way forward is not going to be easy or quick or simple.
The way forward is going to be painful and frightful.
The way forward will cost us time, energy, money, and so much sweat and tears.
But the way forward is just that - forward.

There's work to be done.
There's community to build.
There's love to be shared.
There's new life to be born.
There's good news to give and to live.
There is no going back.
There is no turning back.

As the now familiar chant goes -
Forward together, not one step back.
Forward together, not one step back.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Different World... but not really

I spent this past weekend up in the mountains of North Carolina at a women's conference. Over 350 women gathered together from all over the country for a conference called "The Fullness of Life - Montreat Women's Connection 2017." I had the honor of leading the group through a discussion of Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. And I had the joy of leading two workshops on journaling as a spiritual discipline. I called it "The Fullness of Life: Keeping a Written Record." There was laughter. There were tears. There were stories. There were questions, tons of questions.

In a different world... but not really, some angry, hate-filled people gathered in a city in Virginia, carrying flags and guns and torches and centuries of rage that they unleashed on any and all who were there and any and all who turned on their televisions or looked at their handheld devices. There were tears. There were prayers. There was singing. There was violence. There are questions, tons of questions.

It would be easy to say that those two events, those two gatherings took place in completely different worlds. But they didn't. They took place in the same country. I have no doubt that these two gatherings involved people from the same states and the same cities, the same communities of faith, perhaps even the same households.

It would be comforting to think that no one we know,
no one I know
would spew such anger and hatred,
would avow such violence and mayhem.
But the reality is that we all know people who feel that way about
brown people, black people, Jewish people, Muslim people,
about immigrants, the ones with documents and the ones without documents,
about people on the LGBTQ spectrum.
We all know people who want to "take Am*rica back" and want to make Am*rica great again"
- and what they really mean is to make this country white again,
even though it has never been white.
They sit next to us at church.
They stand in front of us in the pulpit.
They sit next to us in our office cafeterias.
They stand in front of us at work gatherings.
They live next to us in our neighborhoods.
They stand in front of us at political events.

It is not a different world.
"Those people" are our people.
They live among us.
They are us.
If we remain silent,
if we make excuses related to the first and second amendments,
if we deny the true message of those hateful flags,
if we say that it's okay for them to show up with torches and machine guns
shouting about wh*te power,
but it's not okay for black and brown people and their white allies
to gather and march and say that black lives matter,
(which does not mean "ONLY" black lives matter, but rather black lives matter "TOO")
then that is proof positive that it is not a different world.

At the retreat this past weekend, I had many opportunities to sit with new friends,
to talk and laugh and share life stories
and ponder both the fullness and the messiness of these lives we live.
The challenges and the joy of motherhood.
The brokenness and woundedness that we all carry with us.
The terrible decisions we've made in our lives and the grace that we have received.
We hugged each other and cried with each other.
We spoke words of encouragement to one another.
And we also pushed one another to speak up for justice.
To teach our children about race and racism, justice and righteousness.
To stand up for what is true and right - even at difficult times like this.
Perhaps most especially at difficult times like this.

At the end of the conference, we all got into our cars or someone else's car
or onto airplanes and made our way back to our real lives.
Down from the mountains into the valleys of shadows.
Into the hatred and anger that assaulted us from every news outlet.
Into the anger and fear that some of those beautiful women deal with at home.
Perhaps some of those women went home to men who had carried a torch
or some other symbol of hatred in Charlottesville.
All of us are now back in this world we all share.
This nation we all share.

It is my prayer and my hope that each of those women,
myself included,
has reentered her life renewed, recharged,
determined to do the work that will make this a different world.
A different nation.

It is my prayer that we will not only wear pink hats and safety pins
(thank you, Patrice, for this)
without doing anything that makes a real difference,
but that we will stand strong and speak up when we hear racist rants,
sexist slurs, and anti-Muslim or anti-gay bigotry spoken in our presence.

It is my prayer that we will teach our children and our grandchildren,
our partners and our spouses,
our faith community partners and our neighbors,
our co-workers and our friends
that justice is what love looks like in public (Cornel West)
that hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that (MLK Jr)
that the way forward will be with a broken heart (Alice Walker)
and that we who believe in freedom cannot rest
until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons,
is as important as the killing of white men,
white mothers' sons (Sweet Honey in the Rock).

There is work yet to be done. So much work.
There is justice yet to be carried out.
Because a retreat in the mountains followed by a retreat back into our safe bubbles
(for those of us who have places of safety - not everyone has such a place)
can no longer be our modus operandi.
Because the hatred and racism and injustice that have always been
and still are present in the very foundation of this nation
must be named for what they are and they must be eradicated
if we have any hope of this being a different world, a different nation.

But if we remain silent, if we do nothing,
if we aren't willing to be uncomfortable in the ugliness of it,
if we refuse to learn our nation's history around these issues,
if we resist the fact that that history is still being lived out in 2017,
then we will only see more of what we saw this past weekend.
And all our yearning and hopes for a different world will never come to fruition.

What are you willing to do to make this a different world,
a different country,
a safe world,
a safe country
for all who live here and all who come here?
Where are you willing to take a stand for justice?
What are you willing to say at your dinner table,
at your office water cooler,
at your family reunion,
and in the mirror?