Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thankful Thursday

On Monday evening, I returned to the YWCA Women in Transition program to lead a group of women in a journaling workshop. I am tremendously grateful for their trust in me, for the deep sense of welcome I feel when I am there, and for the willing and generous participation of the women who attend the workshops.

Here in the South, we like our lemonade and our sweet tea, so we talked about what it takes to make those two ubiquitous beverages.
Tea bags. Lemons. Boiling water. Cold water. Sugar. Ice.
We pour boiling water over the tea bags. We crush the lemons.
Kinda like life - which pours boiling water on us and crushes us. Ouch, ouch, ouch again.
Everyone gets burned by life. Everyone gets crushed by life. The question is - how do we deal with life's trials and tribulations?
Journaling, I suggested, gives us an outlet for cooling the hot parts and sweetening the sour parts.

I showed them some of my old journals and talked about when the privacy of my journals has been breached.
I explained how all the papers and tickets and flyers and stickers that have value and meaning to them can find a home in their journals.
They can write poems and stories and questions and prayers and dreams and fears in their journals.
They can protect their bosses and family members and other program participants from their unbridled anger and other inappropriate responses by pouring out their emotions in their journals. They can also prepare more appropriate answers and retorts on the pages of their journals. They laughed when I explained how my journals have saved my marriage and my children's lives on many occasions. Some people drink. Some smoke. Some shop excessively. Some withdraw. Some divorce. I journal.
I told them about how my father got rid of all his notebooks and Bibles before he died and how sad we were to realize that we wouldn't have any of his handwriting, any of his Sunday school lessons, or any of his Bible margin notes.
I talked about the fact that when I'm dead and gone, my children will read and see the worst of me in my journals, but they will also get to see the best of me, my prayers, my wandering, my wondering, my dreams, and my disappointments. It's not gonna be pretty, but I will be dead and gone, so I won't be around to be embarrassed.

We talked about having children and not being able to have children.
We talked about jobs challenges and not being able to find a job.
We talked about kanswer and loss and how grateful we are to be alive.
We talked about men and love and desire and healing.
We talked about our mothers and our siblings and how much we wish we were hugged more as children.
And we wrote. We made lists. We wrote about our hopes and dreams.
At the end of the session, we hugged each other good-bye - and they went back to their rooms with new journals, new pens, writing prompts, cookies and lemonade in their bellies, and a smile on their faces.
I hope to see them again before too much time passes.

I had the honor of walking with twelve other early risers this morning - exploring another new neighborhood, greeting the parents and kids waiting for the school bus, waving at garbage collectors (who returned our greeting by honking their horns), and picking up trash as we walked. This is a beautiful city we live in. Courageous people. Hope-filled people. Hard working people. Patient people. Friendly people - around us and among us.

Our walk began to Little Rock AME Zion Church. We walked to St. Paul Baptist Church. We begin each walk with "some inspiration," and I have been bringing the inspirational quote for the last three or four walks.

This is what I wrote for today's expedition: "This morning, as we stand in the parking lot of Little Rock AME Zion Church, I ponder the effect of little rocks. A little rock in your shoe can ruin a morning walk. A little rock bouncing on a highway can ruin your windshield and your day. A little rock that isn’t sorted out of a bag of dried beans can crack a tooth. Little rocks piled on top of each other can create a fortress. May each of us be little rocks that make the forward movement of racists and other bigots extremely uncomfortable. May each of us be little rocks that cause injustice to crack and fall apart and have to come to a sudden stop at the side of the road. May we be little rocks that together create a fortress for the many people around us who are in need of a safe place to rest. May we be peaceful and stubborn little rocks that cannot be sorted out of the hard conversations we enter and the challenging situations we encounter. May we each and may we all become Little Rock Churches, Little Rock Sanctuaries, and Little Rock Safe Spaces everywhere we find ourselves and everywhere we walk together."

We walk together.
We talk together.
We laugh together - a lot.
We stand in silence together, blessing the neighborhoods we explore.
We ask each other tough questions.
We challenge each other about our parenting.
We support each other as we send our children off to college.

We take photos of cracked walls and staircases that go up to nothing and each other.

This afternoon as I picked up something at an auto parts store, the young woman behind the counter recognized my tee shirt and told me that her cousin did the We Walk Together walk this morning. She told me her cousin's name - a name I didn't recognize from the group I walked with, but then I realized that one of the women in our group has started another We Walk Together chapter near her children's school. Go, Tasha, go! Spread the good word, the good news, and the goodness of life.

May we walk together wherever we are.
May we talk and laugh, cry and write together.
May we listen to each other's stories with empathy and presence.
May we walk each other home.
May we write each other home.
May we pray each other home.

PS. I recently took my wedding dress to Good Will. It languished for 24+ years in a box in a closet. My daughter is never going to wear it. I'm never going to wear it again, so off it went. Today, as I wandered through the store looking for nothing in particular, I spotted it. Selling for $69. Mixed feelings.

PSS. Last week, I took the license plate from our recently deceased Toyota Sienna back to the DMV.

Wasn't she a beauty? (The van, I mean)
I will miss that van. I will miss seeing that license plate.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thankful Thursday - we need to walk and we need to talk

I talk a lot. I love to talk. I love to teach. I also love to hear people's stories.
This summer has been a time of listening and learning and walking and talking.

Soon after the tragic murder of those nine men and women in Charleston, an organization here in Charlotte called MeckMin began weekly conversations - "We Need to Talk." I have attended several of those sessions in which we have talked about topics that include race and racism, white privilege, other kinds of privilege, and the trial of a police officer accused of using excessive force in the killing of an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by the officer. People of color, white people, people of various faith traditions, people from other cities have come together every Monday night since the week of the shooting to talk. To share. To listen. To ask tough questions. To seek answers. To figure out ways to move out of these safe spaces into a hurting world that needs to be transformed.

Certainly the number of attendees has dwindled since those first sessions, but the conversations have continued. I have listened to stories of anguish, of shaming, of blaming, of concern, of involvement, and of fear of getting involved. Stories of how race and racism show up in classroom, in university administration offices, in interpersonal relationships, at family gatherings, and in church. I have listened to people who are angry and people who are hopeful, people who have never thought about these issues before and those who have had to think about them all life long. I have told my own stories that cover all those topics and attitudes as well - after all, I do love to talk.

Today I attended a lunch hosted by MeckMin at which we talked about establishing a Municipal ID for residents of Charlotte - a way for people to obtain identification. Some of the people who would benefit from such a program are those who are here in Charlotte without legal or residential documentation. People who do not have a driver's license. People who are transgender and are unable to obtain ID that corresponds to their chosen name and status. In the room next to the one where we were having that discussion was another group talking about housing issues in the area.

Thank you, MeckMin, for these conversations and opportuninities.

Out of that series of conversations has emerged another group that I have joined - We Walk Together Charlotte. Two women who attended the Monday night sessions wanted to take the conversations to the street, so they decided that they would walk 100 miles in Charlotte, between faith communities, houses of worship, talking. Learning about the communities they walk through. They have invited a local historian to join us and tell more about this broken, beautiful, hurting, and growing city we live in. Men and women, we walk together. Black and white, we walk together. Fast and slow, we walk together. Young and older, we walk together. We walk together once or twice a week in the morning. We walk between 1.5 and 3.5 miles each time. We share inspirational quotes. We ask each other questions. And we are getting to know each other's life stories. Together.

Reading plaques and monuments as we walk.

I have joined them for five of their walks. We do exactly what the name says - we walk together. We talk together. We wear matching tee shirts so that we can engage curious bystanders in conversation. And nearly every time we've been out walking, someone will stop us and ask us what we are doing and why. It is an honor to speak to others about our simple and hopeful desire for a peaceful and just and safe community for all people.

Last Saturday morning, the group visited our church -
First Presbyterian Church.

The back of the shirt contains a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr -
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Together we are learning to drive out darkness and hate by walking and talking and learning about each other and our city. We are talking about school inequality and groups that are making a difference. We are learning about housing inequality and groups that are making a difference. Plus we pick up garbage as we walk. Why not leave the city a little cleaner as we walk?

Thank you, Catherine and Mary, for these walks and the tee shirts and your contagious enthusiasm.

One of the most well-read, thoughtful, articulate, courageous and passionate people I know, Anthony Smith, is spearheading several efforts related to education, politics, faith, and community in nearby Salisbury, North Carolina. He and his wife, Toni, inspire me to stay active, to speak up, to be about the business of reconciliation, peace, and justice. To that end, they have established a Peace Circle up there in Salisbury. They meet on the first Monday of each month at The Mean Mug to discuss how they can bring peace and healing to a city that has known racial terror and injustice for decades. My daughter and I attended their August gathering. Not long thereafter an article was written about that evening's conversations. Yours truly appears in one of the photographs.

They also have a practice called "Night Crawlers" - which is similar in some ways to We Walk Together, except their walks are at night. They walk through various communities in their city, talking to residents, praying with and for them, and encouraging each other to live at peace. Last winter, one of their walks included the distribution of socks and blankets to folks in need. If we didn't live an hour from them, I would attend their church and their gatherings a lot more often, for sure.

Thank you, Anthony and Toni, for being the leaders and servants and teachers that you are.
I am honored to call you both my friends.

In the spirit of shutting my mouth in order to listen and learn, I am taking an online class called "Hard Conversations" being led by Patti Digh. Her goal is to get people, mostly white people, to learn about the history of racism in this country, the ways in which racism affects all people, not only people of color, in order to enter into and stay engaged in hard conversations. We are reading articles, watching videos, participating in webinars, and engaging in online exchanges about structural racism, institutional racism, white privilege, white fragility, microaggressions - and more. My mind is expanding. My heart is cracking open. I have piles of books to read. I have websites and videos yet to explore.

We live in a nation that has a long and terrible history of treating many people terribly. The current move by many states and cities to ignore and diminish that bitter past will only serve to stifle any hope of true peace and healing. "Real American History" includes the stories of First Peoples, those who were here when the first undocumented immigrants arrived, the stories of slaves and others brought here against their will, the stories of those who were experimented on, those who were forcibly removed from their land and their homes. It's not a pretty picture. But it's who we are. It's who we continue to be. And it's who we will remain - unless we listen, learn, talk, and act on behalf of righteousness, justice, and peace.

Thank you, Patti, for your tremendous hard work in bringing this course together so hastily and so well.

There are so many stories. So many faces. So much pain. So many dreams of a better future for our city, our state, our nation and our world. There is so much need. There are so many people in crisis in our city and in our world. I am enormously grateful to be involved in so many conversations and actions aimed at opening people's minds and hearts and mouths and lives and wallets in order to make change and bring justice and peace and Beloved Community to our area in our lifetime.

Thank you, Sweet Jesus, for the people you have brought into my life, people who have gotten me talking and walking and listening and learning and speaking and teaching and studying - so that I can be more deeply engaged and involved in the work that I have been called to do.

PS. The "writer" in me hates using the same words over and over.
But sometimes repetition is necessary. So I will write them all again.
We need peace and justice, kindness and mercy.
We need hope and love and joy and gratitude on our lips and in our minds.
We need to listen and learn and be challenged and transformed.
And I don't want to pull out my synonym finder today -
because I need to embed these words, these concepts, these truths deeper, deeper, deeper into my mind and soul.

PSS. If you are interested in hearing Cornel West speak on either Thursday, September 17th or Thursday September 24th here in Charlotte, please click on the links and get your tickets. At my church, First Presbyterian, he will speak on the topic - "Justice: What love looks like in public."

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thankful Thursday

This past month has been the most challenging month since the end of my kanswer treatments for many reasons. I won't go into all the details of all the difficulties but I will share these photos by way of an example of some of what has gone awry.

My beloved and precious daughter was involved in a car accident last Saturday - or in North Carolina/NASCAR language - she had a wreck. While making a left hand turn in our beloved 2001 Toyota Sienna minivan, she was struck on the rear passenger side panel. The minivan spun around and then flipped over onto its roof.

These two photos show what it looked like after the tow truck flipped it right side up. 

Here's where the gratitude comes in.

1. She was wearing her seatbelt. When the car landed on its roof, she was held in her seat by the seatbelt. She braced herself with one arm and released the seatbelt with the other. She fell onto the ceiling of the car.

2. A man who saw the accident jumped out of his car and ran to the driver's side door. He asked if she was okay and what he could do to help. She said, "Call my mom." Worst phone call of my life: "Your daughter has been in a car accident. She's okay. But she has been in an accident."

3. Two other men joined him almost immediately. They asked her if she would be able to crawl out of the car if they could get the door open. She said, "Yes." After opening the door, one of the men told her to wait a minute because there was a lot of broken glass. He pulled one of the floor mats out the broken window and laid it on top of the glass. She crawled to safety.

4. I arrived at the intersection just moments later as I was literally two blocks away when I got the call. I am enormously grateful that I saw her sitting at the side of the road before I saw the car on its roof.

This is what the inside of the car looked like when I went to recover her purse.
Yes, it is upside down!

5. Two women were standing hear Kristiana. They introduced themselves to me as a mother and daughter who had seen the accident and pulled over to stay with my daughter until help came. The mother hugged me and said, "My daughter is 21 too and I would want someone to stay with me. I was just telling your daughter that God must have a plan for her life and that's why she came through this accident like this." More than once, she looked at Kristiana and reminded her of God's faithfulness in protecting her. Needless to say, I cried at her words.

6. The driver of the car that hit Kristiana was unhurt as well. In fact, her car was driveable after the accident, suffering only damage to the the left side of the front fender. Kristiana said that it didn't even look like the two vehicles were in the same accident. She was right.

7. During the accident, Kristiana's glasses flew off her face. One of the men looked into the crushed car and saw her glasses among the debris. He retrieved them for her. They weren't even scratched.

8. Several shards of glass embedded them in her forehead, upper right arm and lower right leg. In the hospital ER a few minutes later, the nurses cleaned the glass off, shaking their heads at how minor her injuries were. No broken bones. No stitches. No crutches. No loss of consciousness. She didn't even need a band-aid. Not even a single band-aid.

9. By the time I arrived on the scene, the man who had called me was gone. I was convinced that he was an angel God put on the scene to come to her aid and then head off for his next miraculous intervention. A couple of hours later, he called me back to check on her. He said he was sorry that he had to leave before I had gotten there, but he was already running late on his way to work. He said he had been on the phone with his pastor when he saw the accident. He told his pastor what he had seen and that he was stopping to help. After calling me, he called his wife and told her what had happened and said that the two of them and the pastor were praying for my daughter. Amazing!

10. Today she had a visit with our chiropractor and what we knew was confirmed - no concussion. no broken bones. no slipped or compressed discs in her spine.

11. One thing did give me a chuckle at the accident scene - and it also made me quite proud of my dear daughter. While sitting there with ambulance attendants, firemen, and police officers around her, Kristiana said, "Mom, I had CDs from the library in the car. Can you make sure to get them?" Yes, my daughter was thinking about what she owed to the library while sitting beside her overturned car. A geek after my own heart.

No matter what the point of view or the angle,
all I see is the miracle of her survival.
Look at how the driver's seat was protected,
not crushed.
Look at where engine fluids flowed 
but thankfully there was no fire.

12. I am grateful for the strong frame of that minivan. I am grateful for seat belts and safety glass. I am grateful for the 14 years and 140,000 miles that it gave us. My husband said, "The van served us well for all those years and then it gave its life to save our daughter. We can't ask for more than that." Needless to say, I cried again when he said that. Several times since Saturday, I have gotten choked up when I remember that I will never see the van again, but I would much rather see my daughter than that car. Who knew that a vehicle could feel so much like a member of the family?

13. I am grateful for auto insurance and for how responsive, attentive, and thorough Met Life has been.

14. I am grateful for the very quick response of the emergency workers on the scene.

15. I am grateful that she is in her bedroom right now, packing to go back to college on Saturday for her final semester of college. My girl is graduating from college in December! I have a child who will soon be a college graduate.

16. I am grateful for the support, the texts, the phone calls, the emails, the visits, and the prayers of our friends and church members and pastors and family as we have dealt with this aftermath of the accident.

17. I am grateful for tears and prayer and the safe haven of my journal, and above all, for God's tender, gentle presence through this whole experience. I am grateful for the promises of rest and peace and strength and victory. I am grateful for hope and a future.

Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Be careful what you pray for and what you ask for...

I prayed for more wise women in my life. I prayed for women of color who know history and who are patient with me, someone who doesn't know much history and can't remember many details of what I used to know. I said I wanted to learn more history, more about the history of the south, and more about the history of the fight for civil rights in the south. Somebody said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This week four new teachers appeared in my life.

First there was Dr Joy DeGruy - I posted a link to a lecture of hers earlier in the week. Here are two more - one in which she talks about a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and another in which she discusses a trip to the supermarket with her sister-in-law. This woman is powerfully articulate, provocative, and unflinching in her convictions. I plan to watch many more of her videos and read her book - Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

Then last night, three new faculty members at UMH (university of my heart) sat together on a panel and schooled me and the crowd on the hatred, racism, terror and brutality that the confederate battle flag represents.

Qiana Whitted is a professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia - which I learned last night has the dubious distinction of having the most slave-built structures of any university campus in the country. She said that she is looking forward to the many conversations and events that will take place when school reopens after the summer vacation. The massacre in Charleston and the removal of the flag from the state house grounds will be discussed widely. In response to someone else's comment about the naming of buildings and streets on campus for confederate "heroes," she remarked that those conversations will be harder but are certainly necessary.

She spoke eloquently about the need for ongoing discussions on all levels of education in this country. She said that during a recent rally of white supremacists in Columbia, there was a hashtag going around that said #ignorethem. Impossible. We cannot ignore them, and our local, state, and national government should not ignore them. They are domestic terrorists. Period. Hers was a gentle voice, but a strong one, and her position at the university, in the academy, is crucially important if we have any hope of teaching our children, our young adults well.

Following the panel discussion, I asked if I could have my photo taken with her. She furrowed her brow and said, "Do you really want your picture taken with me?" "Yes, I do," was my reply. Why wouldn't I want to have my photo taken with such a beautiful woman, such a well educated woman, such a passionate, committed, concerned, and inspiring woman?

Michaela Pilar Brown is an artist in Columbia, South Carolina, and was one of the speakers at the rally in the capital city four days after the massacre. She spoke about the crucial importance of removing the prominently displayed symbol of hatred.

Last night, she challenged us to speak up and speak against the dishonest stories being circulated about it's history. Nowadays, she reminded us, it is considered more racist to call someone a racist than to fly the battle flag. Conversations about our nation's history, the tragedy of slavery, and the continued battle for full citizenship of all of the inhabitants of the United States are easily and frequently derailed by declarations such as - But I'm not a racist. This doesn't have anything to do with me. What about black on black crime?

Not acceptable. She reminded us that we have to challenge the narrative that is swirling around us related to race and racism in this country. We have to push through resistance to change. We have to recognize that ignoring these problems is no longer possible.

One of Michaela's most poignant and thought-provoking statements related to her feelings about non-violence. She said, "I don't feel non-violent. I'm tired of turning the other cheek." I applaud her honesty and understand her anger, the anger of many thousands, perhaps millions of people in this country who are tired of, frustrated by, and increasingly unwilling to abide ongoing injustice and repeated attacks on the voting rights and civil rights of black people in this country. She is not the only thought leader I have heard talk about the problem with quick forgiveness of those who perpetrate violence against innocent people - like the nine who died at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

The third woman on the panel was Bree Newsome, that courageous young black Charlottean who shimmied up the flagpole in Columbia, SC, a few weeks ago and took down the confederate battle flag.

Such bravery. Such strength. Such faith. Such knowledge. Such wisdom. And she's only 30 years old. She talked about going to the slave market in Charleston with members of her family and being aware of the fact that her ancestors had entered that very market, been sold into slavery, and never saw each other again. As she stood with her parents and other relatives, she wondered what it would be like if they were separated from one another that day and were never reconnected.

In response to a question about whether the removal of the flag matters in light of all the other problems that black people face in this country, she answered with a resounding, "Yes, it does matter." Yes, one can argue that a flag is only a symbol, but symbols matter. In its most basic sense, her act that day was nothing more than the removal of a piece of fabric from a piece of steel, but the responses to her action prove that there is more at stake than merely "a piece of fabric." These painful conversations, the backlash that is happening here in North Carolina and all over the south (any beyond) demonstrate the ongoing desire by some people to terrorize and intimidate other people based on the color of their skin. If the flag doesn't matter, if symbols don't matter, then get rid of it. Take it down. Remove it from cars and houses and every other public place. Get rid of the confederate monuments as well.

Bree insisted that we not shy away from comparing the confederate battle symbol to the swastika. She pointed out that there would never be a panel discussion about whether or not the nazi flag should be flown in Germany. No one would be able to claim that its original designation thousands of years before it was appropriated by the hatemongers in the early 20th century made it okay to fly that abomination in the 21st century. There would be no government equivocation about its removal from public buildings or even private ones. That flag is a symbol of hatred, terror, genocide, and evil. Period. No questions asked. No turning back. No turning back.

She made us laugh and she made us groan when she talked about the difficult moment in which she made the decision to be the one who climbed that pole. First they went around the group and each had to answer the question: "Can you be arrested at this time?" Very difficult question indeed. She said she had to peel off from the group to pray, to read Scripture, to think it through - and then to come back and say, "Yes, I will do it." She spoke of the deliberate choice to have a black woman climb the pole and a white man stand at the bottom. They were both arrested. Her trial was recently scheduled begin in November.

Sitting in that hall last night surrounded by more than 100 people, including my husband and daughter, listening to those women speak truth to power, truth about power, truth from a place of power, my soul was soothed. My heart was encouraged. My mind was stimulated. There is so much more to learn, to read about, to talk about, to sing about, and to do in response to the ongoing legacy of inequality, hate, and terror that has plagued this country.

This is heavy stuff, I know, but if there is any hope for true peace, for true community, for a just future, we have to talk about this stuff and we have to act together to change ourselves, our families, the stories we tell, the ways in which we interact with each other, and not be afraid to name our own wrongdoing and complicity with unjust systems. Each of us. All of us.

I will never forget where I was when I heard the news about the first plane hitting the first tower on September 11, 2001. I will never forget where I was when Karen called me from Sandy Hook on December 14, 2012, and asked me to pray because there had been a shooting at an elementary school not far from her house.

Now I know that I will never forget where I was when Heather called me on my cell phone and told me about the horrors of this past June 17th in that church in Charleston, South Carolina. I have been forever changed by the senseless deaths of those God-worshipping people by that angry, deluded, racist young man. His actions there broke my heart on a level that no other tragedy has during my lifetime.

I am grateful for the gift of the four women that have appeared in my life this week to teach me, to challenge me, to push me forward in my seminary studies, in my thinking, in my teaching, in my reading, and in my faith walk. I am grateful for the gift of answered prayer. (But I need to be careful about what I pray for... Stuff happens. It really does.)

Thank you, Bree, Qiana, Michaela, and Joy.
Thanks be to God.