Monday, October 24, 2016

Macular Regeneration

I had a conversation with a dear friend today. I love her. A lot.
But she's a bit of a conspiracy theorist. More than a bit, actually...
"They" are drugging our water, so that men will be more effeminate and they won't want to have children.
"They" are teaching our children how to masturbate and are making our children touch each other's genitals in school.
"They" are experimenting on pregnant mothers to see if "they" can create mutated children.
She also said that she lives in terror of all that "they" are doing and all that is yet to come.
When I said that I didn't believe what she was saying, she said that she understood that there were people who didn't want to see the truth, people who want to remain blind to what's really happening out there. But she knew what she knew, and nothing I could say would change her mind.

Funny that she should mention blindness and not wanting to see.
I've been thinking a lot about eyesight lately. About blindness.
And macular regeneration.

I have blind spots. I have had them all life long.
My children are brilliant. They are excellent athletes.
My house is fantastic. Spacious and well built.
My church is made up of loving, kind, welcoming, generous people who love God and all God's people.
Except... my kids are also deeply flawed and would rather not have to work too hard if at all possible.
Except... my house has chipped paint and stained carpets and leaks and cracks and occasionally critters come in through those cracks. Yuck!
Except... my church and my seminary and my neighborhood and my family and my country are all made up of self-centered, self-involved, selfish people. By no means do I believe that I an free from any of those characteristics.

Macular degeneration is a disease where the macula, the middle section of the retina, the part that allows us to see what is right in front of us, is damaged. I've heard it said often - "She can't see what's right in front of her." I've experienced it often - I will be looking for my purse or my glasses or the thing I want to wear. I look high and low, between things, behind things. Then I stop and say a quick prayer - "Lord, please open my eyes so I can find it." When I open my eyes, there it is. Right in front of my face. How did I miss it? It was right there.

Macular degeneration - it's in front of me, but I can't see it.
I can't see the intentional experiments on unborn babies.
Nor can I see the classrooms where children are told to take off their clothes and touch each other.
Honestly, if that is happening, I don't want to see it. So she was right about that.

But here's what I do see.
I see brave people who are fighting with all their energy to create equitable educational opportunities for all children.
I see others who are quietly fighting to help the poor and disenfranchised to understand their rights and the power they have to control their own lives, through voting, through community organization, through entrepreneurship.
I see a friend walking with her wife through illness while together they raise several beautiful children.
I see one friend working to regain her self-confidence and her courage after the pain of divorce, while another one is trying to establish her self-confidence and courage while in the midst of a difficult marriage.
I see someone who works for the UN, helping desperate people find safety and security and hope.
I see school buses being filled with rice and beans and being shipped to Haiti to feed hungry people.
I see housing complexes being planned and built to provide places for the homeless to come in off the street.
I see a new facility here in Charlotte for people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses to find help, support, and residential care if it is needed.
I see lawyers advocating for indigent clients, for those imprisoned unjustly, and for the abandoned.
I see friends recovering from harsh kanswer treatments.
I see parents who long to be both supportive and effective advocates for their suffering children.
I see black churches and white churches seeking ways to be one church, one united, beautiful, colorful, culture-full church.
It's right here in front of my face, and I see it.

Until recently, my macula had become cloudy with doubt about what is possible between people who say they love one another but cannot get along with each other.
My macula had become cloudy with despair about the growing distance between so many needy people and those who can offer assistance and support.
My macula had become cloudy with the fear that I would not see measurable change for the better in our city, in our churches, or in our home in my lifetime.

But thanks be to God - I am experiencing what I have termed "macular regeneration."
The clouds are lifting.
Connections are being made between individuals and groups that have struggled to find their way together in the past.
Healing is happening in broken relationships.
Barriers and walls are falling - barriers that divide people of different socio-economic groups, between different neighborhoods, between different congregations, between people of different languages and cultures.

We may not agree with one another's politics or faith claims or lifestyle choices.
Agreement in every area is not necessary.
What is necessary is the ability to see one another. To listen to one another.
To welcome one another. To walk one another home.
Even if home feels like it is one thousand miles in the other direction from the one we think we should be going in. Through valleys and shadows, through sickness and health, through protests and peace talks, through it all, we walk together. (please forgive the shameless plug for a group of awesome people I have the honor to call my friends) We have to walk together. If we don't walk together, all of us, there truly is no hope for any of us.

I don't like to think of myself as a conspiracy theorist.
Some of the connections I have heard people make are bizarre, truly bizarre.
I admit that I don't watch the news enough to say for sure whether some of the connections my friend tried to make earlier today are true.
I admit that there are some truths about our world that I don't want to see.
I am guilty of wanting to keep my head firmly buried in the sand on a lot of issues, some of them serious.
But one thing I refuse to believe or accept is the notion that our problems are too big to solve, that our divisions are too broad to bridge, and that our fears are too deep-seated to be uprooted. I have seen too much healing, too much forgiveness, too much hard work by too many people to give up or give in.

I don't know about you, but I'm gonna keep looking for and working towards macular regeneration.
In my immediate family, my extended family, my church family, my city, and beyond.
Quite frankly, I don't think I have any choice.
Because the alternative is despair.
The alternative is fear.
The alternative is blindness.
None of which are alternatives that I am willing to live with or in.

Macular regeneration.
Do you see what I mean?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Do you see what I see?

I got a new pair of glasses a couple of weeks ago. Progressives. Two eye appointments ago, back in 2014, I chose to get progressives. But since I'm near-sighted, I found myself taking my glasses off when I would read or work on my computer - both of which I do a lot. That year, I spent most of my time without my glasses on. The last time I got my eyes examined and got a new pair of glasses, I decided to get mono-vision glasses in my prescription for distance. I used them when I watched television and drove and went to the movies, you know, distance stuff. I had no choice but to take them off to read - but that was a challenge when I was at church or in seminary, places where I would have to look at people and screens a fair distance away, but also look down and take notes. On and off. On and off. Now I'm back to progressives - which are just a euphemistic name for bifocals, old people glasses. I'm getting old. Well, maybe I'm not getting old, but my eyes certainly are.

I like these new glasses, but it took me a few days to get used to them. The first full day that I wore them, I felt slightly nauseous all day. It was late in the afternoon before I figured out that my eyes and brain were struggling with this new way of seeing the world. It felt like I was on a boat out at sea. All day long. I'm more accustomed to them - but I must confess that I have started to take them off again when I'm reading or on the computer. Like right now, as I type, I don't have my glasses on.

Anyway, I've got these new glasses. I see my world, my house, my neighborhood, and I even see myself in the mirror more clearly with these new glasses. I am enormously grateful for the clearer vision they have provided. I am grateful for the doctors and nurses and technicians and engineers who understand the angles and curves and functions of the nerves and cells and components of the human eye and who have created glasses and contacts and anti-glare coatings and all the other gadgets and gizmos that make it possible for those of us with aging eyes and imperfect eyes to see better.

Someone I love had surgery a few years ago to remove cataracts. It was like a curtain had been removed from in front of her. Her blurry vision cleared completely. That same person has glaucoma and has to put drops into her eyes every day. We both hope and pray that the drops continue to keep the pressure in her eyes low enough so that she does not deal with any of the irreversible loss of sight that glaucoma can cause.

Two people I love are dealing with macular degeneration - the blurring of the macula, the central part of the retina at the back of the eyeball, which causes the loss of sight in the center of their field of vision. I know someone who can't look straight at you - she has to turn her head to the side in order to see straight ahead. I think she is dealing with macular degeneration or something very similar to that.

When I was in elementary school, there were two or three children there who were blind. I volunteered to help them get around the classroom and the school, and in exchange, I got to hang out with the most interesting kids in school. They taught me how to read and write in braille. They let me eat with them and hang out with them in the school yard and marvel at the development of their other senses. Around that same time, my father used to drive blind people back and forth from Brooklyn to the New York School for the Blind in Manhattan. During the summer months, I would ride along with him. The men and women he drove were fascinating to me. I wondered how they got dressed without seeing their clothes. I wondered how they kept their homes clean, how they organized their wallets, how they knew where anything was. I didn't know enough not to ask dozens of questions. When we arrived at the homes of the passengers, I would hop out of the van, go greet them outside their homes, offer them my arm, and walk them to the van. When we arrived at their school, I would open the van door and escort them one by one from the van to the door of the building. From there, they could figure out where they needed to go. I watched their every move with unabashed awe. I'm glad they couldn't see how much I stared at them, but I would imagine they sensed it in some other way.

One day when I was ten or eleven years old, one of the women took hold of my elbow and as we walked towards the entrance to the school, she said, "You are going to grow up to be very tall." I asked her how she could tell, and she said, "I can tell by how the bones in your arm feel." Amazing.

The human eye, the gift of sight, the ability to compensate for the loss of one's sight through other brain patterns - it's amazing.

All of which has gotten me thinking...

What are a few of the things right in front of me that I do not see?
The beauty of fallen leaves - even when they clog our gutters
the resilience of my aging and scarred body
the courage of my young adult children
the loyalty of my hard-working husband.

Where is pressure building up within and behind my eyeballs?
The pressure to get good grades in seminary
to not offend people when they said offensive things
to be kind and nice and happy all the time
to have a solution whenever someone shares a problem with me.

Where is my vision getting blurry?
And what is it going to take to clear up the blurriness?
Am I willing to get my emotional, spiritual, relational eyes checked?
Whose opinion about the state of my mental health do I trust?
Whose diagnosis and prognosis would I accept as reasonable and valid?
What steps am I willing to take to improve my vision?
Am I willing to wear progressives, to take gradual steps towards clarity?
What if I feel dizzy, uncertain, unsteady on this new path, this new life journey?
Am I willing to be vulnerable enough to truth the guidance of others,
people I can't even see?

Whose unexplained but undeniable insight do I trust?
Who are the marginalized, the overlooked, the outcasts in my world -
and how much time do I spend at their feet, learning from them?
Who has invited me into their world, into their situation, and shown me how much I am missing, even though I think I am the "fortunate" one?

I am reminded of the stories in the gospels of Jesus healing people who were blind.
More than once, Jesus asked this question: "What do you want me to do for you?"
I want to see.
I want to see again.
I want to be whole.

Holy One, I want to see.
Please open my eyes.
Open the eyes of my heart.
To see love, beauty, power, and hope in everyone I meet.
To see your image in everyone I meet.
I want to see you.

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found,
was blind, but now I see."

So be it, Lord. So be it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Hard Discussions

Too many people that I know and love are dealing with kanswer. We have had hard discussions about kanswer treatment and the future.

Parents I know are dealing with struggles with their children. College issues. Drug and alcohol issues. Relationship issues with the other parent or with siblings or significant others. Every day, we parents are having hard discussions about hard issues.

After a Bible study this morning, I stood with a pastor friend, and we had a hard discussion about race and complicity and silence in the church and why we need to have more hard discussions.

At the home of friends from church, my husband and I joined a group of other friends from church, and we had a hard discussion tonight about protests and justice and church and challenging sermons and what we can do to make a difference in our city and in our nation.

At seminary, we are reading about black theology and white theology and liberation theology and flawed theology and who gets to decide what is and what isn't flawed theology. These are hard discussions.

Cops and Barbers is a group that brings together community members here in Charlotte and police officers. To talk. To get to know one another. To hash out challenging topics. Their hard discussions began long before the recent events here in Charlotte and are still going on.

It's hard to talk about hard things.
But as so many people say these days, "We can do hard things."
We have to do hard things.
If we are going to survive as a family,
as a church,
as a city,
as a nation,
as a world,
then we have to be willing to have hard conversations.
And we have to be willing to do hard work.
We have to talk. We have to listen to one another.
We have to walk together. We have to work together.
We have to be willing to be wrong and to be called out for our wrongheadedness.
We have to confess where and when we have been wrong in the past, whether it is our own actions or the actions of our forebears and ancestors.
We have to be willing to change our minds and our vocabulary and our relationships.

I am grateful for these hard conversations.
I am grateful for the ways that our confusion is forcing us into more frequent interaction with one another.
I am grateful for the uncomfortable moments that are arising, the questions, and the uncertainty.
I am grateful because people who have never talked about race and racism before are having hard conversations now.
I am grateful because people who have called for justice and fairness are finally being heard.

I hate the stories that have brought us here.
The legacy of slavery, segregation, and hatred.
Segregation. Lynching. A profoundly biased criminal justice system.
Poverty. Injustice. Hopelessness. Fear. Anger. Despair.
Homophobia. Xenophobia.
Lack of adequate education. Willful ignorance. Unconscious bias.
Intentional oppression. Unintentional microaggressions.

But I am grateful for the legacies of hope and strength that sustain those who continue to fight the good fight for peace and righteousness and healing.
I am grateful for the newfound courage and renewed determination to do the hard things, to have the hard conversations, to ask the hard questions, and live into the hard truths that we are being forced to face.

The way forward will be with a broken heart - as Alice Walker wrote.
The way forward will certainly be with heavy hearts.
But I hope, I pray, that the way forward will also be with hopeful hearts.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Thankful Thursday

Where do I begin? At the beginning. At the source.
Thanks be to God.
Thanks to my friends and family and classmates and professors.

I am one month away from the four year anniversary of my kanswer diagnosis.
Which is (almost) mind-blowing to me - how can four years have passed already?
I am grateful for how well I feel and how strong I feel every day.
Kanswer sucks and so does kanswer treatment. I am grateful for every chance I get to share hope and encouragement with others who are on their own kanswer journeys.

I am three days away from visiting a young 30-something year old who was diagnosed with kanswer almost two years ago. She had three small children at the time - and was diagnosed with breast and ovarian kanswer. Miraculously, truly miraculously, she came through the treatment extremely well and strong... so strong that she and her husband now have a fourth child. In three days, I will go spend some time with them and meet that brand new baby girl. When my friend discovered she was pregnant, she was advised to terminate the pregnancy because the hormonal changes could bring on a recurrence of the aggressive kanswer she had just gotten through. A few times when she has posted photos of her gorgeous baby on Facebook, she refers to the day and the moment when she chose the life of that precious little girl over her own. There are many, many hundreds of people (if not thousands!) who are glad that they are both alive and well, thriving and bursting with joy. I can't wait to hold that chubby little one in my arms. She's quite chunky and juicy - and her mother appropriately calls her "Squish."
I am grateful for the miracle that is every newborn baby.

I am grateful for apple orchards, fresh pressed apple cider, and hot apple donuts.
I am grateful for olive oil, coconut oil, and canola oil - and all the delicious foods made with them.
I am grateful for gas stations with gas. We have had gas shortages here in Charlotte more than once in the past few years - and it is a disconcerting thing to not know when gas will be available again.

I am grateful for excellent customer service. Last week, I had to call Directv because we were having trouble with our service after a strong storm had passed through the area. The woman I spoke to walked me through resetting our system and together we resolved the issue. As she diagnosed the problem, we shared stories about our kanswer journeys (she had a brain tumor a few years ago) and laughed and groaned and wished each other well. And then she offered us an update to our system at no cost; as it turns out, being a long term customer of an overpriced entertainment system sometimes has its benefits.

I am grateful for the opportunity to volunteer at the Loaves and Fishes food pantry again today.
I am grateful for the other volunteers, for our camaraderie, for the laughter we share, and for the compassion we feel for those who come and request assistance.
I am grateful for the chance to talk briefly with the four year old twins who came in with their mom. With matching outfits and braids. Energy and smiles.
I am grateful for the woman who promised that the next time she came, she would be bringing food to donate.
I am grateful for the supermarkets, the private donors, and the individuals that donate food to the pantry.
I am grateful to my church for providing the space for the largest Loaves and Fishes distribution site in our city.
I am grateful that I was able to use my Spanish to assist two beautiful, pregnant Guatemalan women who came. One said she was shocked that I could speak Spanish so well. It still shocks me.

Speaking of Spanish and Spain... I am grateful for the memories of my first visit to Spain thirty years ago right now. It was the first semester of my senior year in college and I studied in Madrid for four months. Those four months transformed the way I think about travel, about language, about being alone, about exploring cities, about courage, about the Catholic faith, and about being grateful for the ordinary things I too frequently took for granted. Like food and shelter, like public transportation and snail mail. I am sooooooooo grateful for Spain, for the many times I have been able to return since 1986, and for my Spanish friends, who are much more like family.

A couple of weeks ago, I was an angry black woman.
I'm still pretty angry about all those same things.
But tonight I am also a grateful black woman.
I am grateful that my city is calm again.
I am grateful that the intersections where fires were started and windows were broken have been cleaned up.
I am grateful for the members of the clergy and other concerned citizens returned to the place where the young man was shot during the protests to pray and reconsecrate the ground where his blood was shed.
I am grateful for the fiercely courageous people who put themselves between protestors and the police, who begged for calm, who sang, who linked arms with strangers in walls of protection, who took photos and made videos of what was really happening on the streets, and who continue to do so.
I am grateful for the prayer vigils, church services, peaceful marches, and other gatherings that have happened and are still being planned here in Charlotte.
I am grateful for how the hard work of healing is pulling so many people together. This is the work that doesn't get televised. This is the work that ignorant people say must be done before they will concede that black lives matter. This is the work that fear-mongerers and hate-mongerers deny in order to keep fear and hate alive. This is the very work that the "friend" of a Facebook friend said isn't happening, even though I posted links and photos proving that it is happening. And this is the work that has been happening in this city for a long time. It didn't start after Mr. Scott was murdered.
I am grateful that the anger that drove the protestors to the streets two weeks ago is being channeled into deeper conversations about race and segregation, about justice and peace, about how to not just go back to the ways things used to be.
I am grateful for the conversations I have had with people in their 80s, 60s, 40s, 20s and everywhere in between about how to make friends across racial lines, how to respond (and not respond) to racist comments, and how to not lose their composure when conversations go poorly.
I am grateful for hope.
I am grateful that love is already winning.

I am four weeks, almost five weeks, into my second year of seminary.
I know beyond a shadow of doubt that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Asking questions. Not finding too many answers.
Being pushed to rethink everything I thought I knew about the Bible,
about theology, about the church, about this country.
Being pushed to push back against the things my professors say and the things that other students say.
Being pushed to examine my places of privilege - marital privilege, heterosexual privilege, socio-economic privilege, educational privilege.
Being pushed to recognize that I hide in my comfortable life a lot. I talk a big game about equality and justice and racism and prejudice, but what am I doing to change the system within which I live quite comfortably?
I am grateful for the discomfort I feel and for the knowledge that it's never going away completely.
I am grateful that the seminary has not shied away from talking about what has been happening here in Charlotte. I am grateful for the obvious discomfort that some of my classmates have experienced, because we can't fix what we don't admit is wrong. We can't serve our city and our churches with any efficacy if we cannot talk about race and racism. We are in the south. We are in North Carolina. We have race problems here. If we, as ministers and church leaders, aren't willing to wade into these deep socially and politically dangerous waters, then I'm not sure we should be ministers. Not in the 21st century. Not in a country that is threatening to elect a man who is openly sexist, racist, xenophobic, and not ashamed of any of those things as our president.

I could go on and on and on.
In my heart, my mind, and my journal, I will go on.
But I will stop here.

One more thing - thanks be to God.