Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A rough few weeks

I haven't recovered yet from the tragedy in Charleston. I hope I never do. But the grief I have experienced has silenced me in unexpected ways. I don't want to blog - who cares what I'm grateful for? Who cares about my experiences overseas? It all feels silly. Trite. Like something frivolous.

The families of the Charleston 9 are never gonna be the same.
Nor will the members of their church.
Or the citizens of this country.

It is great that the confederate flag has been lowered from the state house in certain southern states. But what is not great is the fact that many citizens have decided to fly that abominable thing from their vehicles. Apparently, my home state has run out of the confederate flag specialty license plates that drivers can choose because so many people have ordered them in recent weeks. Seriously, people? Why does my state still issue such horrendous things? Is there that much hate and fear in your hearts? And if so, how can you possibly be surprised that there are folks on the other side of the road who are increasingly motivated to arm themselves and confront racists? Are we going to let that murderer's dream of fomenting a race war, another civil war, come to life?

People are dying in jail and police custody everyday. Even people who are pleading for medical assistance.

People are being shot and killed for going to the movies. Some people seem to believe that more people should carry guns. On his show last night, Larry Wilmore responded to Texas Governor Rick Perry's suggestion that people should carry loaded weapons into movie theaters this way: "You realize we watch movies in the dark, right? People aren't responsible enough to silence their cell phones in movie theaters. They're not ready for loaded firearms." Funny. Sad. True.

Children in our cities are hungry and homeless. Adults are too. Children in our cities are segregated by race and economic status and residential area and schools - and too many of them see no way of escape.

Heat waves.
Wild fires.
More than 350 earthquake aftershocks in Nepal.
Stage 4 kanswer diagnoses.
An amputation after a serious infection.

When I think about these topics too much, I weep. My heart breaks. When I think about what I can do, my tears flow even more, because often I feel helpless. Clueless. Powerless. How can I make a difference when the problems are so broad and deep? What can I do that matters at all? Deep sigh.

So I escape. I take long walks. I watch marathons of "Say Yes to the Dress" - in both Atlanta and New York. I read. I journal. I pray. I blog-hop. I go to church. I meet friends for tea and long walks and to window shop at the mall. I stare at tiny homes on Pinterest and fantasize about setting one up in the outskirts of Madrid so I can live off the grid and under the radar on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I scroll down my facebook feed. Interestingly enough, it is on facebook where I often find the most reminders to get up and do something.

Stop lamenting and act.
Stop thinking and thinking about it - and go be with people.
Begin, enter, foster, provoke difficult conversations.
Push past the comfort zone and formulaic responses into discomfort and painful truth.
Recognize my own complicity with systems of economic, social, educational, heterosexual, marital privilege.
Own up to my own profound ignorance about my own history, my family history, and the history of my city and my nation and my church and the practices that have benefitted me at the expense of countless others.
Be present, stand with those who are hurting, even if I have nothing to say.
Walk with them. Listen to their stories.
Apologize for what I have done and not done on behalf of others.
Suggest that others to do the same.

I sit with my friends from other countries and try to help them navigate difficult systems related to the law and immigration. I translate things for them. I help them order tickets and other things they need. I am not gonna change immigration law this way, but every little bit helps.

I attend meetings with folks who are working to change the public school system here in Charlotte. I know nothing about the system, but I can listen and learn and support them and ask questions and stand with them as they advocate for their own children and schools and districts.

I gather with people and plan events to open our eyes and hearts and minds to the evils of racism, prejudice, bias, poverty, and justice. I am thrilled that Dr Cornel West is coming to speak at our church in September. Book discussions, classes, and other activities will precede and follow his time with us.

I started to reread Dr West's book, Race Matters, last night. I'm only 30 pages in, but I had to go back and check the copyright date because its truths reflected what's happening in our nation and our world this very week and month. My copy was published in 1994; race matters still. RACE matters. Race MATTERS.

Larry Wilmore's segment on The Nightly Show last night ended with this - "What makes this so hard is that a lot of people agree with Rick Perry. Guns are so central to our culture. Unfortunately, guns are who we are. We don't need a national conversation about guns. We need a national conversation about us." The good news is that such conversations are happening. Long overdue. Grossly underattended. But people are talking.

The Charlotte-based conversations that began just after the murders in Charleston continue. Hundreds of people gather every Monday evening to talk, to learn, to challenge each other, to create new relationships and networks - and to move out into the community with peace and reconciliation and connection as our goals. This past Monday, there was a presentation about the history of segregation in Charlotte since the middle of the 19th century. Sobering. Saddening. But also eye-opening. We do need to talk, to name our own participation in unjust systems and then act to dismantle those systems. We have a lot of work to do to right the wrongs of white supremacy and domestic, racially-based terrorism - and that work began that very night.

After hearing the talk and seeing the statistics and charts, we broke into groups of six to eight people to talk about what we had learned. To ask how we each and all can speak up about our history, speak out when injustice goes unchallenged, and also encourage one another to be strong in the face of opposition to the fight for what is right. It's not easy for black people. It's not easy for white people. Or latino people. Or asian people. Or anyone. But sitting in that circle with six other people, black and white, young and old, who want to see our city, our state, and our nation do better and be better, I was moved to happier tears. To hopeful tears.

Someone recently challenged me to not simply help people who are in unjust systems, but to defy and work to abolish the systems themselves. It's not enough to give out food at Loaves and Fishes or donate clothing to Crisis Assistance Ministries or give money for summer enrichment programs at churches around town; I need to work to end the programs and policies that diminish opportunities for a good education and gainful employment and fair housing. She's right.

Someone else quoted a book entitled Just Revolution (based the cost of the book at, I assume it is a college textbook) and commented about the fact that nonviolent protests don't always bring about needed change, that sometimes repressive acts must be met with "just violent revolution." Things are bad out there. Violent. Inequitable. Unconscionable. Dreadful. Heinous. Unsafe. Although I cannot imagine ever pointing a gun at someone and firing it, I can understand the anger and frustration and distrust and exhaustion that would make someone want to defend themselves by any means necessary. I hope they are wrong about the need for violence to bring about systemic change. But then again, I also hope that cops will stop killing innocent civilians and that people will stop shooting up movie theaters, churches, malls, schools, and their own homes... Deep, deep sigh.

It has been a rough few weeks.
An emotional few weeks.
A despair-laden few weeks.
A quiet few weeks.

I am thankful hope is growing, gestating, developing, preparing to be reborn in me. Movement is happening. I am still trying to find my best place and best practice for involvement. In the meantime, I am learning. I am listening to the wisdom of those who already are on the move. And I am going to follow them, walk with them, and act with them for peace, for righteousness, and for justice.

PS. This is one of the videos I have seen recently. A lecture about Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Powerful. Shocking. Over an hour in length, but worth the time. Warning - it contains traumatic information and images. But slavery and its aftermath were and continue to be traumatic, for white people and black people and everybody who lives in this country and every country that practiced chattel slavery. The legacy of slavery continues to affect all of us, even if we deny it or try to diminish it. All of us. Without exception. Check out Dr Joy Degruy's website here. So much to learn.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Radicalized and Tongue Tied

I grew up singing songs from the Billy Graham crusades. We sang them at church. We sang them at home. I memorized the lyrics to those songs and still sing them. Often. Especially when I watch the Bill Gaither music specials on television on Saturday evenings. Just as I am without one plea. He touched me. His eye is on the sparrow. Because He lives. The King is coming. It is well with my soul. Blessed assurance. I grew up with the image of Billy Graham, with one hand holding the Bible and the other pointing towards heaven, etched into my mind. A few years ago, I visited the Billy Graham library here in Charlotte and marveled at the accounts of his life, his travels, his influence over presidents - and was saddened by his decision to stop visiting with sitting presidents right about the time that President Barack Obama was elected.

Along came Billy Graham's son, Franklin. He founded and led the charity known as Samaritan's Purse. For years, we supported Samaritan's Purse with money and also with shoe boxes filled with goodies for needy kids at Christmas. Samaritan's Purse is known for its quick response to humanitarian crises around the world. Then he began to say things and demand things that were troubling to me. Things about gay people and gay marriage. Things about President Obama. And most recently, things about Muslims - about how Muslims can be radicalized and therefore should not be allowed to come into this country. I refuse to post links here as I don't want to confuse anyone into thinking that I agree with his statements.

Anyway - being the "good Christian woman" I had been taught to be, being the submissive woman I had been taught to be, being the unquestioning woman I had been taught to be, I have held my tongue. I learned my lessons well: if I had questions about what Christian pastors and other leaders were doing, if I disagreed with what they said and taught, that was my problem. If I didn't understand how they could be so insensitive and wrongheaded, if I couldn't let it go, whatever "it" was, that was my problem. I felt tongue tied. How could I disagree with this Christian leader, the son of someone I had only heard positive things about? Even that changed as I learned more of Billy Graham's story and about his relationship (or lack thereof) with leaders in the black church and the civil rights movement. Who am I to speak up against what I hear and explain what I believe to be true? What can I possibly say or write or even pray that would make a difference?

Thankfully, mercifully, I have met people and listened to people and read people and have been taught by people whose words, questions, demands, challenges are unsettling me, changing me, and transforming me. They and their words are tongue tying me in a new, far more radicalizing way.

I am thrilled and disquieted and stirred to hear and read the words of women and men whose aim and goal in life are not submission, obedience, or easy acceptance of whatever they hear. Women and men who are reading history books, ancient and modern philosophy, and the Bible itself - but are coming to radically different conclusions than the ones I have heard my whole life. Things like - just because something is in the Bible, that doesn't mean we have to agree with it or live it out now. Women are equal to men, even in the church. Gay people deserve to be loved and accepted and welcomed into all aspects of church life and the culture at large. America is not a Christian nation and never has been. What? You can say that? You can write that? And not get struck by lightning immediately?

As a result of the words and actions of those brave and wise women and men, and the bravest and wisest man of all, Jesus Christ, my heart, my mind, my soul, and my mouth now overflow with questions. What if the ways in which the Bible has been read and taught are more about maintaining a status quo of inequality and injustice, slavery and abuse, extreme wealth and abject poverty, than God ever intended? What if the poor really will inherit the kingdom of God? What if Jesus really meant that we should feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty and free captives and restore sight to the blind? What if the last really will be first and the first will be last? What if it truly is harder for the rich (and, if the statistics about global wealth and poverty are true, then I would have to include myself in the number of those who are rich) to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle? What if I am sitting in the midst of a whole lot of stuff that needs to be sold so that the money can be given to the poor? What if I need to just give a whole lot of my stuff to those who are in need?

A few weeks ago, I attended a service in Salisbury to remember and honor the Charleston Nine. The man who preached the main sermon that night spoke words and issued challenges that radicalized me. The friend who informed me about that service recently penned the following brief letter to Franklin Graham about the murderer of the Charleston Nine. Who is getting radicalized, Franklin? Why not speak out loudly and angrily about those deaths? Here's what my friend, Anthony Smith, who recently preached the best sermon on the 23rd Psalm I have ever heard (if you want to hear it, click the link and listen to David Week 4), wrote: Dear Franklin Graham,
I understand you are calling for the expulsion of all Muslims from America. Question.
Dylann Roof is a devout Christian. And he is a terrorist. Mr. Roof stands in that long standing tradition of domestic Christian terrorism. In light of that: Should we now throw all Christians out of the country?

Here's the most recent thing I've read that has both tongue tied me and radicalized me. How can I go on with my normal life, reading my normal books, doing my normal chores, having my normal conversations when there is so much work to be done to bring about justice and peace in this messed up country and this messed up world? How many more black people must die and how many more absolutely perfectly coordinated events with perfectly polite and forgiving families of victims before this country, this entire country, is willing to face and name and deal with its horrific past and present?

And it's not only black people who are dying; latino people are losing their lives at the hands of police officers as well, but not a lot of public attention is being paid to that crisis.

And don't get me started on the whole immigration thing; we are all immigrants. We all came here from someplace else... well, not exactly everybody. There actually were people on this continent when europeans arrived in the 1400s and later in the 1600s. Most of them killed by the immigrants who came here to find freedom to practice their religion and those who came here to find gold and other resources. Some of those whose land this really is, some of them are standing strong, speaking up, and becoming radicalized themselves. Here's another article about Native American women and their place, their role, their leadership in their tribes and nations.

These new thoughts, these new questions, these new readings of Scripture,
these new doubts, these new concerns, these new conversations,
these new voices in my life, these new authors, these new teachers,
they are changing the ways in which I relate to people I know and even those I don't know.
they are giving me reason to drive an hour or two or five to engage in conversation about faith and God and peace and justice and bringing about the peaceable kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
they are providing me with a new point of view and a new level of excitement as I enter seminary.
they are showing me my deep misunderstandings and profound lack of knowledge about history, my own, my country's, and that of oppressed people everywhere.
they are silencing me so that I can listen to those whose wisdom I need to absorb.
they are causing me to talk back where previously I would have remained silent and submissive.
they are waking me up in the middle of the night to journal and write blogs and pray and figure out what my next moves need to be.
they are scaring me and empowering me and draining hope out of me and also giving me courage.

Warning: be careful what you ask for. be careful what you pray for.
Recently I prayed and asked God to wake somebody up, someone I love,
someone who needs a wake up call in a lot of areas of life and relationships and self-care.
Turns out the one who has been awakened is me.
Turns out the one who has needed to see life more clearly is me.
It was me, it was me, it was me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.
Standing in the need of challenge and change.
Awakened. Tongue tied. Radicalized.
May God have mercy on my weary, angry, frustrated, increasingly clear-eyed soul.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thankful Thursday

I'm thankful for air conditioning on hot days.
I'm thankful for cold water.
I'm thankful for cool sheets under the ceiling fan.
I'm thankful for small cups of espresso in the morning.
I'm thankful for coconut milk yogurt with fresh berries, almonds, and uncooked oatmeal stirred in.
I'm thankful for strawberries and  watermelon and cherries and blueberries.
I'm grateful for grapes on sale for 99 cents a pound.
I'm grateful for my sun hat and sunglasses on my morning walks.

I'm grateful for the pile of books I recently brought home from the library recently.
I'm grateful for the upcoming book discussion and movie night at my church - I've gotta reread To Kill a Mockingbird.
I'm grateful for Searching for Sunday - I'm reading it slowly and copying many quotes into my journal - I feel a book review coming on sometime soon. It's one of the best books I've read in a very long time.

I'm grateful for the time I spent at the seminary in Richmond last week.
I'm grateful for the conversations about the Bible, about race and racism, about art, about books, about food, about interracial families, about the challenges of being a minister, about health, about marriage, and about God that I had with the folks I met there.
I'm grateful and excited for the many conversations I will have in class and after class and between classes over these next few years.

I am grateful for new friends - three hours sipping tea, telling stories, laughing, crying with a new soul sister yesterday afternoon.
I am grateful for old friends - conversation, laughter, more stories this afternoon with a friend visiting from India.
I'm grateful for emails and links to articles and videos and texts sent from friends who want to give me something to think about, something to laugh about, something to write about.
I am enormously grateful for the wisdom of my spiritual director. She is wise and thoughtful and asks great questions.
I am grateful for conversations with my kids, sometimes easy conversations, sometimes difficult conversations - but at least we're talking. Still talking. Still sharing. Still hanging out together. They are 18 and 21 - don't they know they are supposed to be sick of us by now? Who am I kidding? They get sick of us often - but they haven't given up on us yet. And we will never give up on them.

I am grateful for the team of folks that is forming to work towards the reintegration of schools in Charlotte. Segregated schools don't work. Isolated schools don't work. Kids who never attend school with kids who don't look or live like them don't get as broad or as deep an education as those who are exposed to a greater variety of students and teachers. We need each other. It is an honor to listen to and learn from these courageous men and women who are dedicated to institutional change in this city of mine. There is a lot of work to do and a lot of excitement building around getting the work done.
I am grateful that my church has taken the plunge and invited Dr Cornel West to come and speak, to come and challenge us, to come and push us far out of our comfort zone. It's time for our church to step out and speak up and move into the deep suffering and profound needs of our community and our city. There is a lot of work to do and a lot of excitement building around getting the work done.
I am grateful for the Moral Mondays events happening here in North Carolina - for voting rights and other justice issues. I am grateful for the hundreds, the thousands of people marching and writing and signing petitions and taking stands and making demands on behalf of themselves and others. There is a lot of work to do and a lot of excitement building around getting the work done.
I am grateful for the ways in which I am being pushed out of my easy and comfortable life into new ways of thinking and interacting with others, into painful realizations and confessions of my own complicity in unjust systems. Yet again, there's a lot of work to do and a lot of excitement building around getting the work done.

I'm grateful for my silly little dog and how she follows us around the house.
I'm grateful that we haven't had any ant problems this summer.
I'm grateful for the rain we've gotten lately. We need more, but California needs 40 days and nights of rain!
I'm grateful for the simplest of pleasures - food, water, clothing, a home, electricity, refrigeration, sunshine, coconut oil, and breath. Wait - not one of those things is simple. But it is remarkable how much and how often I take those things for granted.
I am grateful because I have so much for which to give thanks.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Thankful Thursday

A lot can happen in two weeks.
A lot does happen in two weeks.
Good things, bad things, and ugly things.
And many, many things for which to be thankful.

* The folks in government down in South Carolina voted to remove the confederate flag from the state house.
* Folks in Salisbury, NC are moving towards removing a confederate statue.
* Conversations about race and community are continuing here in Charlotte.
* Some people are moving beyond conversation into action - a meeting I attended this week was related to reintegrating schools here in Charlotte. They were integrated by busing students from one area of Charlotte to another, then busing stopped. And the schools have returned to an appalling level of segregation by race and economic status. There is a growing number of people who are getting ready to push for reintegration.
* I am grateful for the courage of Bree Newsome and the way she has inspired so many.

*Two of my brother's children are having babies. Does that make me a grand-aunt? I don't know, but I'm very excited. New life. New people to love. Now reasons for hope and hard work to make this world and this nation a place where little people, little brown-skinned people, can feel safe and secure.

* My newfound ability to stand my ground and defend what I feel is right and stand against what I feel is wrong and wrong-headed. I used to back down, to shut down, to step down, and allow others to speak over me and silence me. No more. Enough is enough. I am woman. I am a woman of faith. I am a woman who longs and prays for peace and freedom and justice for all. I am woman who hates guns and war and violence in all their forms. I am not ashamed. I am not intimidated. Whether it's about race and racism, faith, family, parenting, equal marriage rights, financial topics, education, community college versus private college, right or wrong, I am more confident now than I have ever been about speaking my mind, asking questions, and not allowing myself to be dismissed or silenced.

* I spent three hours today looking for a piece of paper that I couldn't find. An important document. I looked high and low. In my house and in my car. In drawers and boxes. No luck finding it. So I ordered a duplicate document online. Paid $15 for it. Printed out the receipt for the duplicate document. Went to put it in the spot the original should have been - the same place I had looked at several times in the previous three hours. Guess what? The original was right there where it belonged! How did I miss it? Why did I waste three hours and $15 for something that was right where it was supposed to be?
* Why am I thankful for this? Because I know there has to be a lesson in there. A lesson about looking more carefully. A lesson about trusting my instinct that it had to be right there, I just needed to look a little bit more intentionally at every nook and cranny.
* Spending those three hours looking for that paper forced me to go through a lot of other papers in search of it. I recycled a lot of papers. I shredded a lot of papers. I vowed to be better about taking care of our papers.
* My husband and I laughed a few sarcastic and droll laughs about how disorganized we are with our papers, our very important papers.
* We promised ourselves that we will learn how to do better and be more responsible about this stuff. After all, it's never too late to do better and be better. As Dr Maya Angelou said, "Once you know better, you do better." Truthfully, that has not always been my personal experience, but after this morning's many hours of searching, I certainly know better. The objective now is this: I have to do better. I simply have to.

* I am going to seminary! I know I've mentioned this here before, but it's starting to sink in. A lot of studying, reading, writing, praying, and preparation to do. Internships. Case studies. Hard work. All in service to the kingdom of God and the people of this world.
* Tomorrow I will drive up to Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, to meet several other men and women who will be starting seminary study this fall. Actually some of them have begun Greek classes already - and they are in my prayers. Anyway, I will meet several people that I have done some online work with over the past eight weeks, and we will spend 24 hours together learning about what can be expected during the next few years of study.

* I've been struggling with fear and worry lately. Fear of drought. Fear of fire. Fear of loss. Fear of accidents. Fear of harm coming to people I love. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of failure. Fear of violence. Fear that the many horrors that are happening around the world will hit us. Fear. Fear. Fear. Worry. Worry. Worry. I hate being afraid. I hate worrying.
* I am grateful for these fears because they send me back to prayer, to journaling out my concerns, to reading the Bible's repeated command (Do Not Be Afraid), to friends who listen to my complaints and encourage me without fail, to old journals that are proof that I have never been forsaken and have never missed a meal, and also my fears, when I can slow my thoughts and my heartbeat and simply watch them scroll by along the bottom of the screen that is my mind, move me to take a few deep breaths and come back to this moment, this very second. And I remember - all is well. all is well. all manner of thing is well.
* I am grateful for those fears because they push me to look beyond myself and my monkey mind out into the world. My life is wonderful. I am blessed. I am loved. Why am I afraid?
* Philippians 4:6-7 are two of my favorite verses - Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
* I have made a lot of requests (and fears and worries) known to God in the past couple of weeks. And with each passing day, I feel a deeper sense of peace. Nothing in my life has changed, but I have been changed. Peace that I cannot explain or understand is taking root in my heart again. Deep breath. Eyes closed. Deep breath. Eyes opened. All is well, Gail. All is well. And even when it feels like all is not well, even when things suck, in everything, in every moment, I can and should find reasons to give thanks.

* I had the chance to visit a Freedom School last week and, after their opening ceremony, Harambee, I read the students a book. The book was written in English, so I read it in English and translated it into Spanish as I worked my way through it. The kids were awesome, attentive, energetic, said a few Spanish words when I prompted them to, and asked tons of questions when I was done.
* I loved being there. I may ask if I can go back and read another book sometime this summer.
* Their energy and interest and attention were therapeutic and healing for my worry-filled, fear-filled mind and heart.

I am grateful
* to be alive, healthy and happy
* to have so much bountiful and beautiful food to eat
* to have air conditioning in our house and in the car on these 90+ degree days
* to have easy access to friends and family
* for lunch dates and long conversations
* for reconnection with friends who live far away but come to visit
* for laughter and tears shared with those I love
* for silence and solitude when everyone else is out of the house
* for sleepovers
* for homemade chocolate chip cookies
* for the gifts of fear and pain, of loneliness and loss, and for how they hone my attention on the people, the relationships, and the things that matter most in my life

* I am grateful for breath and life and love and joy
I am grateful that, even when I stop being grateful and start to complain,
even when times are hard and loss happens,
I am grateful that, even then, I have reasons to be grateful.
Thanks be to God.