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.

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