Monday, August 14, 2017

A Different World... but not really

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thankful Thursday

There's this thing I do in my journal, an odd thing, a somewhat random thing, and it almost always turns out to not be "random" at all. To not be odd. It usually turns out to be absolutely perfect.

What I do is this - when I start a new journal, I write quotes on random pages. I glue in images from magazines on random pages. I tape in titles and headlines from articles. I stick in pieces I've cut out of church bulletins and programs. All on random pages in the otherwise blank journal. Then as I write my way through the journal, I'm often pleasantly surprised by the perfection of the placement of the journaling prompts and ephemera that I rediscover as I fill the pages.

Earlier this week, I thought about wanting to get back to my light-hearted blogging.
The Thankful Thursday posts.
Writing about what I eat and drink.
Telling travel stories.
Posting pictures of my kids and describing their antics.
But then I thought, "how can I focus on myself and my family, food and travel, when there is so much pain and suffering in the world?"
Deep sighing ensued.

I turned to what I expected would be two blank pages in my journal yesterday, and this is what I found pre-written on the lower left hand side page: "Wendell Berry: Be joyful - though you have considered all the facts."

I don't remember where I saw that quote, but it was exactly what I needed to see yesterday.
Having considered several facts of late - facts about our country, its history, our world, its turmoil, to name only a few -  I was reminded that being joyful, being grateful, being intentionally attentive to the goodness of life, the fullness of life, are exactly what I need to focus on. Not "though" I have considered all these facts, but rather "because" I have considered all these facts.

That "random" act of journaling I performed several weeks ago as I prepped this current volume for use has served as a motivational and encouraging reminder to be joyful always, to give thanks without ceasing, and to not be ashamed or afraid or apologetic for the joy and gratitude that dominate my life.

Tonight I am thankful for:

* every time I check my phone and I've hit 10,000 steps

* summer fruit, especially when it's on sale: cherries, nectarines, watermelon, grapes, peaches

* homegrown tomatoes and the neighbor who shares them freely because her uncle grows them in vast quantities. I didn't know how delicious tomatoes could be until I ate these tomatoes - grape and cherry tomatoes that could be classified as "nature's candy"

* yoga, especially with Kelley

* home cooking (especially when I didn't have to do the cooking)

* lemon water in the morning, coffee too

* steel cut oatmeal with chia seeds and flaxseed and banana and a drizzle of maple syrup

* sitting with my family at the dinner table, talking and laughing about the bizarre topics that come up between us. Serial killers. Cannibalism. Tattoos.

* eating out too

* traveling light (backpacks and packing cubes are my favorite means of keeping it light and simple and organized and efficient)

* rubber stamps and washi tape

* time with friends, walking, talking, sipping tea, laughing, and me taking notes the whole time. That's a natural response when your friends are as funny and thoughtful and wise and insightful and articulate and generous as my friends are. They tell me the best stories and share nuggets of truth that I simply must capture on paper.

* deep sleep

* the discovery of a tv channel that plays binge-a-thons of "Law and Order" almost exclusively

* the chance to celebrate with my brother that he graduated from college at the age of 52! I am so proud of him for working so hard for so long to get it done.

* finding feathers on my walks

* babysitting a sweet little four month old. Holding her. Making her smile. Giving her a bottle and watching her drift off to sleep in my arms.

* the trust her parents have in me, welcoming me into their homes and their lives

* being invited to lead a workshop on journaling and also to lead the book discussion session at the retreat I linked to above. Check it out here - and please consider coming to the conference.

* Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How do you define "expert"?

I don't remember where or when or who said it, but many years ago, someone said, "The definition of an expert is someone who has been flown in from out of town." I still chuckle when I think of it that way. I have attended many conferences and workshops in my lifetime. I have led many workshops and events in my lifetime. I haven't often been referred to as an expert, but I have been asked and expected to dole out expert opinions on many topics - homeschooling, breast kanswer, the Bible, faith, Spain, travel, packing light, journal writing, just to name a few. I am not an expert on any of those things, but I do have years of experience in all of those things.

I heard part of a segment on NPR yesterday morning that got me thinking about this question -  "how do you define expert?" - and connected it to the Thursday night class my new friend, Patrice, is leading with great distinction. Yesterday's piece is entitled, "Charlotte Talks: Ex-Offenders and Challenges on Transitioning back to Society." In this segment, one gentleman, who is himself an ex-offender, spoke about his experiences and about the difficult transition out of prison and back into the world. A world that is increasingly more difficult to navigate after incarceration. A world that denies those who have been imprisoned, those who have been accused, those who have been charged, the option of public housing, food aid support, school loans, college admission, and many job opportunities.

And on top of that, convicted felons are disenfranchised in many states; they can never vote again. That's right; even after you've paid your debt, after you've served your sentence, you cannot vote. You cannot serve on a jury. You cannot obtain many professional licenses - even if the license you seek is in no way connected to any crime you may have committed. It is legal in every state to discriminate against former inmates in nearly every aspect of their lives. They emerge from prison with debt - for their stay, their uniforms, any back child support, their lawyer fees, and many other fees - but then they are unable to find work or live in affordable housing, even with family members. Because landlords have the right to evict tenants from their homes, even if the tenant hasn't committed a crime. But if a family member or caregiver or friend is accused of a crime or is a formerly incarcerated person, the resident of the home can be evicted. How can anyone be surprised that so many people end up back in prison? Many cannot find a job or a place to live. Those who find jobs often have their wages garnished to cover all the aforementioned fees and costs, and some have 100% of their wages garnished. Did you catch that? Every penny that they earn from their jobs is taken away to pay debts. No one can live that way. No one should have to live that way.

Anyway, Gemini Boyd, the main interviewee on the Charlotte Talks segment, asked a great question of his interviewer. He wondered why his story, his experiences in and with the incarceration system, and his subsequent work to establish BOLT, Building Outstanding Lives Together, a youth intervention foundation, didn't count as those of an expert? Why should he need to have a title after his name in order to offer advice, suggestions, and make an impact in the way our country treats and mistreats its criminals - or those accused of crime? Perhaps, in this case, an expert isn't someone who has been flown in from out of town, someone with several advanced degrees on criminal justice and jurisprudence, but rather is someone who has felt the boot of the criminal justice and jurisprudence system on his neck - and has emerged relatively whole and strong - right here in our hometown.

On the first night of this Educate to Engage series, we drew up a long list of "group agreements," giving voice to the ways in which we would interact with each other during the six gatherings. Here is a sampling of our group agreements - we would not cut each other off when someone was speaking or have side conversations. We would treat each other with respect, and also we would allow for the participants to be experts in their own lives and experiences, especially as it relates to our main topic of conversation - the mass incarceration system.

Last Thursday at the fourth of our six sessions, we were given the opportunity to live out that final agreement. Two of the group participants served as experts on this issue of mass incarceration - because both of them have experienced it firsthand. One of them shared his perspective on education in school and education in life - and how "education" has affected his life, for better and for worse. He talked about the challenges of finding work after having to "check the box," the one on nearly every job application and every housing application: "Have you ever been convicted of a crime? If yes, explain below." He talked about the difficulty of explaining his situation, telling his story, and taking the chance that he won't get hired, that he won't be able to live in a certain place. He expressed surprise at the number of people in the room who claimed to have never had similar experiences.

We live such separate and unequal lives.
Once convicted, many roads, many options are cut off.
Never convicted, most roads, most options are open and available.
In some cases, conviction isn't even necessary.
Simple suspicion is enough to warrant and permit discrimination.
Our nation's attorney general recently reinstated a policy that allows cities and towns to confiscate property from individuals suspected of criminal activity. You don't even have to be charged with a crime to have your property taken by the police, permanently.
What the what???
In the United States of America - the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Yes, indeed.

So this young man took a chance and told us the truth.
His truth. His story. His experience.
He has a college degree, but that doesn't offset or override his "ex-con" status.
He handed out business cards at the end of class -
since many companies won't hire him, he has created his own small business.
Handy man. Plumber. Electrician. No job too small.
He is an expert in survival. In working hard.

How do you define "expert"?
We may not have multiple degrees or titles behind our names.
We are all experts in and experts on our own lives.
We each have so much to tell and to teach one another.
We are each an expert - and we are surrounded by experts.
Imagine what this country and this world could look like if we treated each other that way.

No one with a title behind their name can possibly know that young man's experience before, in, and after incarceration. No one can possible understand his particular challenges, any more than anyone can know yours or mine.

As long as we keep ostracizing, isolating, rejecting, stigmatizing, and perpetually criminalizing each other, as long as we continue to dismiss the harrowing experiences and accounts of injustice told by the poor, the underserved, and the black and brown people in this country, the more separate and unequal our nation will become.

The more we ignore the stories told by people whose perspectives we don't share,
people whose suffering we cannot fathom,
people whose experiences reveal how privileged and protected many of us are,
the easier it is to cling to that definition of expert that I heard so long ago -
someone who is flown in from out of town.

Because if the people who live under the highway,
if the people who live in tents behind the hospital,
if the people who have survived prison and are eager to transition back into society and contribute to society,
if the people who are being evicted from their affordable homes in order to build more condos,
if these people actually are our neighbors here in Charlotte,
if these people actually are experts on how to survive with very little,
if these people actually have good ideas on how to solve these major social crises,
then something might actually have to change in this city we call home.
Justice might actually be done and equity might actually be achieved.

So I ask again, how do you define "expert"?
Whose expert advice do we all need to hear and heed?

Friday, July 14, 2017

Strike a Pose

If you were asked to strike a pose that represents the word "fear," what would you do with your body? Would you cower and crouch down on the ground? Would you hide behind your hands?

What if you were supposed to enact "courage?" Would you defiantly put your hands on your waist and stare out at the world with a powerful gaze?

And how would you explain, express, or enact a moment of transition between fear and courage? Might that pose include you peeking up from your hiding place? Perhaps standing up straight with a curious glance in one direction on the other?

Last night at the third of the six week series on The New Jim Crow, Amalia Deloney led us through a practice that emerged from the Theater of the Oppressed - you can read a little bit about it here and here. She explained "image theater" to us and then asked us to strike a pose, enacting words related to oppression, liberation, and the transition from the former to the latter.

The exercise we engaged in pushed us to ask and answer these questions - What happens in our minds when we hear certain words, when we are asked to respond to those words, when we allow our bodies to reveal what our minds have understood? And then, how do we explain how we decided to strike the pose we have struck?

And all those questions got me thinking about more questions.

How does my mind respond, how does my body respond when I read that a friend of mine was held up at gunpoint down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, yesterday?

How does my mind respond, how does my body respond when I hear that someone dear to someone I love has been diagnosed with stage 4 kanswer?

How does my mind respond, how does my body respond when my twenty year old son texts me at midnight and tells me that he is about to leave a friend's house and drive home?

How do the minds and bodies of young children respond when they are asked to read a book out loud - especially when those young children are struggling with reading on their grade level? Do they make excuses for why they can't figure out the words? Do they claim to be tired, too tired to have to keep doing their work? Do they look up from the book and begin to tell stories unrelated to the book in order to avoid reading? Do their minds conjure up self-sabotaging statements like, "I can't do this"? "This is boring."

What pose can I strike that helps them realize that they don't have to make excuses?
They don't have to make up stories.
They don't have to guess at the words.
I'm there to read with them, not embarrass them.
I'm there to help them sound out new words, not shame them for what they don't yet know.
How can I use my face, my hands, my body to express to them that they are safe with me?
That they can relax and trust that we will work through this tough word,
this convoluted story together?

And what happens when those same kids become teenagers and they are still uncomfortable reading and writing? What happens when they are teased by classmates and humiliated by teachers and others in authority over them? What poses do they strike then? Do they put their hands on their hips with exaggerated bravado and turn into frightened, defensive, aggressive bullies? Do they drop out of school and drop into a life of violence, crime, and drugs? Do they find themselves striking a pose in a police precinct having their photos taken, from the front, the sides, and the back?

What they do not and cannot fully comprehend at their young ages is that the first time they strike that prisoner pose, they are being ushered into a system that will never let them go. Jail. Prison. Parole. Probation. Loss of the right to vote, to sit on a jury, to obtain public assistance if they need it, public housing, school loans, many jobs. All of which are the themes of The New Jim Crow. It's reminds me of that famous line from the old Eagles song, Hotel California, that says, "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." But the mass incarceration system of the United State of America does not let you check out anytime you like. Nor can you ever leave. The label "felon" holds you captive for life.

What if a few hours of tutoring,
helping elementary school students learn to read more confidently,
teaching middle school students the joy and fun and freedom of journaling,
encouraging high school and college age young people to put their words on paper,
to tell their stories,
reminding them that their stories matter,
that their black lives matter,
that their immigrant lives matter,
that their existence matters,
that their stories matter,
that their words matter -
what if just a few hours spent with a few kids makes a difference somehow?
What if a few hours of personal attention, of encouragement, of dependable presence matter?

Let's forget about the kids for a moment... well, let's never forget about the kids.
But let's take a look in the mirror for a moment.

What poses are we striking these days?
Especially when someone mentions race and racism?
Poverty and wealth?
Crime and drug addiction?
Politics and the government?
Police brutality and repeated acquittals for killing unarmed and innocent people?
Do our shoulders drop in shame or fear?
Do our spines stiffen with anger or indignation?
Do we turn and look away, hoping the subject will change?
Do we pretend to be asleep, so that we don't have to talk about these topics at all?

Speaking of being asleep, what pose would you strike if someone asked you to enact the word "asleep"? That's actually a pretty easy word to act out. Shut your eyes. Lay down. Sit on a comfortable chair. Put your feet up. Turn away from everyone and everything around you.

How would your mind respond, how would your body respond if you heard the word "awake"?
If you heard the phrase "Stay 'woke," what would you do with your body?
Now that you are hearing all these tragic stories of injustice and murder,
now that you are becoming aware of the racism and hate that are so prevalent in our country,
now that many of the tragedies that have been described are being videotaped,
what does it mean to "stay 'woke"? To stay alert?
To act on what you are now awakened to?
Because once you wake up, you can't go back to sleep on this stuff.
Once you see what you are seeing, you cannot "unsee" it.
I know I can't.

Over the past few months, when I think about writing a blog post, I often hold back because I am repeatedly drawn back to these difficult, uncomfortable, impolite, inconvenient, un-funny issues and topics. It's not that I'm not thankful on Thursdays anymore. It's just that sometimes writing a gratitude post feels so superficial when people are living on the street. When people are dying in the street. When people are being tossed out onto the street because of "urban renewal" and "gentrification." It's increasingly difficult to write lists of the things I'm privileged to eat, drink, and do with my free time when some of the children I've met and read with may not have anything to eat for dinner tonight.

So I find myself, like my classmates last night, figuring out what my transitional poses are.
I find it increasingly necessary to a pose that depicts my current state of being between being asleep and staying 'woke. Here are few of the poses I've been striking lately -

* sitting next to rising first graders, reading with them, asking them questions about the books we read, watching them draw pictures of scenes they remember from the books we've read
* standing in front of 30 rising fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, telling them that their lives do matter, and they they can pick a notebook and write down or draw out the stories of their lives that they want to tell
* looking up into the face of a homeless man, HIV positive, riddled with anxiety, so much so that he cannot even sleep at men's shelters because the presence of so many people incites unmitigated panic, listening to his story, crying with him as he talked about his wife's recent death due to kanswer, his subsequent house fire, and how he has had to use his Social Security money to pay for his wife's grave plot, not able to do anything but listen and cry and give him a hug before he took the bus to part of Charlotte where he has established his campsite.
* sitting and looking up, watching and listening to Patrice as she drops gems of wisdom into the center of the room every Thursday night, as she firmly challenges people deeply mired in patterns of self-centeredness and domination to wake up, and as she refuses to let any of us fall back asleep in our silos of safety.

Last night, as I walked around my classmates, pondering the poses they were striking,
as I listened to their stories of encounters with police,
stories of their children's encounters with police,
stories of white privilege and white fragility,
stories of fear and anger,
stories of hope and courage,
of determination and action,
as I watched Patrice and Amalia watch us wrestle with concepts we've never learned before,
I was thankful for our individual and collective humility to
strike a pose
as students, as apprentices,
as newly awakened co-travelers on this journey
towards wholeness,
towards knowledge,
towards power,
towards healing,
towards hope,
towards justice.

Please consider joining us.
Please consider joining the movement wherever you are.
Please wake up, stand up, and act up.

PS. I guess it was a Thankful Thursday after all.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What Retaining Wall?

We moved into our house nearly fifteen years ago. Time really does fly! 

At the time that we moved into our home, there was a large piece of property just outside of our neighborhood that was owned by a single family. At least twenty acres. We couldn't even see the house from the road because of all the trees. Then they sold to a developer who cut down 90% of the trees. They built two model homes, a couple of other houses - and then building stopped when the economy crashed. During the time of their sabbatical, we watched as the property fell into disrepair. No one lived in any of the houses, even though they held regular open houses in the model homes. One corner of the recently shorn landscape fell off into a deep ravine, a mud pit that collected rainwater and North Carolina's famous red clay. Yuck. Yikes. As the years passed, the hole seemed to get bigger. As we passed the property, we would shake our heads and declare that they would never be able to build a house there. 

But they did. They built houses all along what used to be that deep ravine. They backfilled it with dirt - presumably from other places in the development - and built one huge house after the other. In the spot that we deemed the worst possible place to build a house (we swore they wouldn't dare!), the builders erected a retaining wall below the base of the stilts that held up the back deck. 

Just over a week ago, as I enjoyed my morning walk, I looked at the back of that house and the retaining wall had collapsed. I figured that the previous weeks of drought that had been followed by days and nights of torrential rain had been the cause. That, and the fact that they never should have built a house there in the first place.  

If you take a close look at the photo above, you can see a tarp of some kind covering the collapsed wall and the clay and dirt that had slid out from behind the wall. The workers standing on top of the tarp had a look of dazed disbelief, walking around with their hands on their hips for several moments. (I know because I stood there and stared far too long in my own cloud of dazed disbelief.)

If you look at the photo below, you can see the width of the house and the width of the disaster.

I stopped and stared the first time I saw it. I tried to imagine what it had sounded like as it slid down. I wondered if the homeowners had even heard it or if perhaps they had wandered out onto the back deck one morning and looked down - only to find that what they thought had been a solid foundation had literally been washed out from under them. I wondered if they had noticed cracks in the walls inside the house or perhaps an imbalance out on the deck.

The photos below show the work that is being done now, work to shore up the ground under the house, under the deck, under their very lives. It looks like they are bringing in rocks and layering them in the backyard, presumably to help with drainage. It looks like they are preparing to build another retaining wall.

I'm not a huge worrier. I'm human, so I worry, but I don't worry all the time. I worry about money, about running out of money. I worry about the health and safety of people I love, and even people I don't particularly love. I worry about car accidents and having the kanswer come back. But not all the time, not even most of the time. However, if I lived in that house, and the retaining wall had fallen down behind our house, I think I would worry about that all the time. Because even though they are getting it fixed, how can they not jump out of bed and check that wall every morning? How can they trust that it won't give way again? Literally, the foundation of the place they call home couldn't sustain the weight of their lives.

All of that got me to thinking.

How many of us have watched the foundations of our lives collapse beneath us?
How many of us have watched the lives of our loved ones destroyed by people and situations that are out of their control?

A devastating diagnosis.
A job loss.
An encounter with a police officer that ended tragically.
A family that imploded or disintegrated.
An election that ushered a tyrant, a despot, a dangerous leader into power.
A house fire or a break in.
War and rumors of war.
Being arrested on false charges and being pressured to accept a plea bargain for a crime you didn't even commit.
Losing a job, losing a spouse, and losing a home - all in the same year. (I recently met someone who has experienced that trifecta of terribleness.)

What do we do then? Who do we turn to for help in rebuilding?
How do we handle the droughts and the floods in our lives?
The losses and devastation that life inevitably brings our way?
Who stands with us in the middle of the mess, hands on hips, spreading tarps over our brokenness, so that we can take the necessary time to determine possible solutions?
Who leans in close to us, with their arms around our shoulders, tissues, casseroles, and cookies at the ready, keeping us company as we cautiously reconstruct our battered and busted foundations in spite of our overwhelming, dazed disbelief?

Who are the retaining walls in your life?
Where are the retaining walls in my life?
What are the retaining walls in our lives?


I am enormously blessed and grateful when I look back on my life and realize that
even though there have certainly been foundational shifts in my life,
even though I have done more than my fair share of stupid and dangerous things,
some of which have endangered my life's foundations,
even though kanswer sucks, always has, and always will,
even though bipolar disorder sucks,
even though job loss fractures finances and families,
even though racism is real and life-threatening,
even though much, if not most, of what I hold dear will eventually collapse under the weight of life itself,
even though I could add trial after tribulation after trouble to this list,
I have never gone through these trials alone.
There have always been companions on this journey.
I am so grateful.

And then there is God.
For all the times I feel like God is silent,
for all the times I wish God would act decisively and directly,
for all the times I cry out for healing, for restoration, for wholeness
in my own life, in my family, in my city, and in the whole world,
for all that I have ever experienced and ever will experience,
God has been my retaining wall.
God has been my strong tower,
my rock and my fortress,
my redeemer and my deliverer.
The One who loves me most.
The One I love most of all.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Where am I - really?

I love to travel. Give me a destination, give me a backpack, put me on a plane, and I would go just about anywhere. To walk. To try new foods. To learn. To journal. To meet new people. To listen to their stories.

One of my regular pre-trip practices is rereading sections of a book called The Way of the Traveler: Making Every Trip a Journey of Self-Discovery. I purchased my first copy of the book back in 2001, before my first trip to Italy. It is filled with quotes, reflections, questions, journaling suggestions, and other activities that are meant to do what the subtitle suggests - make every trip a journey of self-discovery. Although it is not a workbook and no space is intentionally provided for writing in the book, I wrote so much in the margins, I underlined so many passages, I jotted down so many trip memories, and I included so many lists of people and places I visited that I needed to buy a second copy a few years later. Like I said, I love to travel. And I love the way this book has helped me travel as far into the depths of my mind and soul as I travel out into the world around me.

One of the suggested activities in the book is explained this way:

"Now as a conscious traveler, I want to be aware of all the phases of my journey, from the moment I leave my house until the moment I return to it. All the steps between those two points are present with me as I go to where I am going and as I come back. Here is what I call the "Really" activity. It has helped me to be present in the going and in the coming back. Try it once or twice a day while approaching your destination. You will find that your adventure is vastly enhanced. Take a moment and close your eyes. Ask yourself two questions: Where am I right now, really? Where am I going, really? You may be on a plane flying over the Mississippi River. If so, answer yourself with that information. You may be going to a wedding. That is your answer to the second question. That would be enough to anchor you to the process of the journey. But there is more to this deceptively elementary exercise. As you rest with these questions and answers, something deeper seems to set in. The word "really" begins to work... This exercise works for all kinds of travel to any destination. You can make your journey a hero's quest if you just ask yourself where you really are right now and where it is that you are really going. The "Really" activity has never failed to open my eyes to my true destination and to the magical steps that are taking me to it."  (pp. 86-87)

Where am I right now, really?
Where am I going, really?

These two questions rattled around in my mind several times last night, during the second session of the six-part discussion series being put on by Educate to Engage here in Charlotte. Last night we discussed the second chapter of The New Jim Crow, The Lockdown. Early in our time together, the attendees of the workshop were asked to participate in a sociometric mapping exercise. In layman's terms, we were asked to distribute ourselves around the room based on questions we were asked. If you were ever in prison, go to that corner. If someone in your family has ever been in prison, go to that corner. That sort of thing. If you think your neighborhood is over-policed, go to this corner. If you think your neighborhood is under-policed, go to that corner.

As I migrated from one corner of the room to the other, I asked myself repeatedly,
"Where am I right now, really? Where am I going, really?"

Where do I live and what does that mean in terms of race, policing, and mass incarceration?
Where I live in Charlotte means that there won't be police cars roaming up and down the streets watching every pedestrian or stopping cars for warrantless drug searches. Where I live in Charlotte means that when the police are called, whether it be for domestic violence or an episode of mental illness or a burglary or a break in, the police will arrive quickly, quietly, without sirens blaring, and will ring the front doorbell, and await an answer politely. No SWAT team will arrive. No guns will be drawn. No doors will be broken down by battering rams. No public or noisy arrests will be made.

Where I live also means that when I, a tall, slender, flat-chested African-American woman, go out for my morning walks, I have to make sure that I'm wearing earrings, that I'm wearing some bright color that identifies me as a woman. I make sure that I'm not wearing a hoodie. I make sure that I'm not wearing headphones that would keep me from hearing someone tell me to stop, someone asking me who I am, and why I'm in the neighborhood. I don't want to be mistaken for a black male - because Trayvon Martin was a prime example of what can happen to an African American walking in a racially diverse, but predominantly white neighborhood, his own neighborhood, minding his own business. Murdered while eating Skittles and drinking soda and walking home.

As I migrated from one corner of the room to the other, I also watched others migrate from one corner to another. I wondered who they were thinking about as they decided where to stand in response to the questions about incarceration. I wondered where they were when they were arrested. I wondered what kinds of interactions they had had with police in their neighborhoods. And I wondered about the stories, the incidents, the dream-lives of privilege they were waking up into, and the nightmarish times of arrest and incarceration they had endured.

Where are they right now, really?
Where are they going, really?

As we all migrated from one corner of the room to the other, I couldn't help but ponder the trip we are on. The trip that is turning into a journey of self-discovery. The trip that is causing each of us and all of us to do "the REALLY activity" on a weekly basis, on a daily basis.

Where did I grow up, really?
What did childhood and young adult experiences teach me about race, gender, class, really?
What have I learned about race and racism in my adult life, really?
Where do I live now, really?
How and why did I choose my neighborhood, really?
How do race and racism factor into my daily life and interactions, really?
What do I think when I see black people in my neighborhood, in my children's schools,
at my church, and at my place of employment, really?
Do they belong here, really?
Am I safe with them here, really?
What do I think when I see white people in my neighborhood, in my children's schools,
at my church, and at my place of employment, really?
Do they belong here, really?
Am I safe with them here, really?
What do I think when I see people whose racial or religious identity have been associated with being "an illegal immigrant" or being from one of countries that is on the list of six countries from which our nation is no longer welcoming visitors, really?
Do they belong here, really?
Am I safe with them here, really?
What do I think about people who were formerly incarcerated, really?
Do I think they deserve the right to vote, to get a student loan, to live in public housing, to be gainfully employed, really?
How often do I even think about race and racism, really?

As I migrate from one chapter of this book into the other,  I am reminded that my life journey has been a fortunate one. I have never been arrested. I have never been stopped by the police in my car or on the street.

Both of the interactions I have had with police officers here at my house were pleasant.

The first encounter was because of our house alarm. Something triggered the alarm, which triggered a call from ADT to my cell phone - a call that I wasn't able to answer - and that triggered a call to the police. I arrived back at home just seconds before two police cars pulled up in front of the house. I drove into my garage, got out of my car, walked out of the garage door onto the driveway, and approached the two officers as they walked toward our front door. They asked for permission to walk through the house in order to make sure that everything was okay. I gave them permission. They checked every room of the house, then came into the kitchen where I was waiting, and inquired as to when the homeowner would return. I informed them that I was the homeowner. They said that because I had come from the side of the house and not the front door, they thought I was a neighbor who had come over when I saw them arrive. They informed me that because I was the homeowner, I wasn't obligated to give them permission to walk through the house. I was not aware of that.  I apologized for the false alarm. I thanked them for making sure everything was okay. They left.

The second house call by men in blue happened last year, during a family health crisis. Someone called 911 and made a false report. Once again, two police cars arrived. Sirens not blaring. Two very calm and soft-spoken police officers rang our doorbell and asked if everything was okay. One officer came into the house and had a conversation with the person who had called the police. The other officer stood outside with me and my husband, and asked us a few questions. He began the conversation with unexpected words of encouragement and support for us. He said he understood the challenge of mental illness and applauded us for loving and caring for our family member in crisis here at home. The officer who had gone inside emerged a few minutes later, said that he was satisfied that it was a false report, complimented us on our home, and then they left. No one arrested. No one shot. No one tased. No one tear-gassed.

Where we live matters.
Our zip code matters.
Our level of education matters.
Our mastery of the English language matters.
Our socio-economic status matters.
Our socio-metric map matters.
Except when it doesn't.
Like when my skin color is enough to cause a white or Asian or Latinx woman to take their purse out of their shopping cart at Harris Teeter when they see me coming down the aisle. What else do they know about me other that what I look like?
Or when the African American cardiovascular surgeon who lives in our neighborhood and drives a Porsche gets stopped frequently for "driving while black." Except when his wife, the anesthesiologist, has to worry about whether her husband and their two sons will get home safe every day from school. Why isn't being a doctor enough to protect them from fear and harassment?
Why should anyone need a license to practice medicine to prove they are smart enough or live in the right zip code to prove they are rich enough or allow oneself to be stopped and frisked without resistance to prove they are unthreatening enough to be allowed to live?

Where are we, really?
Where are we going, really?

We are on the road to learning our checkered racialized american history. Really.
We are trying to figure out all the ways that we have internalized the racism and prejudice,
the fear and suspicion that we have been exposed to since the founding of this nation. Really.
We are asking each other and ourselves very difficult questions about where we live, where we work, where we worship, who we have as friends, and what all of that has to do with our nation's system of mass incarceration. Really.
We are looking at our nation's contemporary political landscape, the political landscape of our state and our city, and we are desperately trying to determine where we are, really, and where we are going, really.
And we are committed to getting involved in the transformative, healing work that is already being done, work that is waking us up to our various levels of privilege, work that makes us put ourselves on the socio-metric map alongside other residents of our city, work that makes us uncomfortable, work that makes us wish we could "unsee" all that we have been led to examine in the first two chapters of this uncomfortable, unsettling, unnerving book, The New Jim Crow. Really, we are.

This journey towards justice, wholeness, unity, and peace
is a journey of self-discovery -
self-discovery of each of us, one by one,
self-discovery of our city and its history,
self-discovery of our state,
self-discovery of our nation.
It's rough terrain, this journey we're on.
It's a rocky road.
Many of us have moments when we want to turn around and head back to where we started.
To what we were used to. To the way of life we've known for most of our lives.
Except that there is no turning back.
We cannot go back.

So let me ask you: where are you right now, really?
Where are you going, really?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thankful Thursday - "No One is Coming to Save Us"

The title of this blog is from a book that my daughter is reading, a book by Stephanie Powell Watts. A book about the lives of black residents of Pinewood, North Carolina (which I assume is a fictional town being that this is a novel) and how they deal with wealth and loss, family and pain. Full disclosure: I haven't read any part of the book other than the inside of the cover flap. But the title was enough to capture my attention and get stuck in my thoughts.

I just came in from the first of a six-part series on The New Jim Crow, another book with a thought-provoking title. The series is being facilitated by a new friend, Patrice Funderburg, who is already a soul-sister, mentor, co-conspirator, and inspiration in my life. Check out her facebook page and feel the burn of her spirit fire here. This woman is lit, engaged, and unafraid to speak the truth as she has come to understand it.

There were approximately 25 of us in the room, talking, listening, asking questions, telling stories, laughing, groaning, and committing ourselves to being open-hearted, quick to listen, slow to speak, welcoming, receptive, and also challenged, changed, and charged to go out into our community, our city, our work spaces, our faith spaces, and even our more intimate spaces and engage in transformative dialogue.

Because no one is coming to save us.

The first chapter of this book, The New Jim Crow, gives a brief history lesson about the birth of slavery in this country and how it has evolved, morphed, and transformed into the mass incarceration system that holds millions in captivity not only behind bars, but also under the authority of the parole and probation system. We read about dozens of laws, hundreds of laws, written and unwritten, that have been used to oppress, suppress, murder, torture, and imprison black and brown bodies on this continent since the arrival of Europeans. It's not a pretty history, but it is American history.

Most of the people in that room tonight didn't learn this history in the classroom. Most of us are learning this as adults. Most of the people I have spoken to about race and racism in the past two or three years are learning these brutal truths for the first time in adulthood. But don't be dismayed: better late than never. And it is never too late to get a real education, a good education.

We are arming ourselves with information so that we can do what Patrice so succinctly stated tonight: educate truth, expose systems, and engage action. Yes, we need to learn a lot. We need to expose and examine the systems of oppression that are active in our nation, and we need to engage in action to make a difference, to make a change.

Because no one is coming to save us.

Harriet Tubman came.
Fannie Lou Hamer came.
Rosa Parks came.
Martin Luther King Jr came.
Malcolm X came.
Medgar Evers came.
Countless uncelebrated people came.
They realized that no one was coming to save them either.

So they sacrificed their lives, their families, their homes, their livelihoods.
Sacrificed their reputations, their anonymity, their safety.
Sacrificed their comfort, their ease, their most intimate relationships.
And many of them were murdered for their efforts.
They were vilified.
They were ostracized.
They were criminalized.
But they didn't give up.
We won't give up.

We will gather five more times - feel free to join us.
We will read one chapter of this powerful book each week.
We will ask and answer questions.
We will hear and tell more stories.
We will bring our whole selves to these gatherings and to this work.
We will commit ourselves to engaging in justice work, intervening when we hear and see racism at work, challenging ourselves when we are complicit in oppressive systems, and otherwise find ways to both "step up and step back" as we are educating ourselves to engage.

Because no one is coming to save us.

We have to do the hard work that our nation needs, that our state needs, that our city needs, that our neighborhoods need, that our family members need if we are ever going to be the land where all are free and a home where all residents feel safe, regardless of skin color, religion, country of origin, gender, sexual identity, and every other category that has been used to separate and isolate us.
We have to read and learn, research and study on our own, for ourselves.
We are not going to sit back and expect someone else to teach us what we need to know.
We are not going to rely on the facilitator to bring all the answers or even all the questions.
We are not going to wait for "them" to show "us" what to do and when.
We are going to work at eliminating "us" and "them" categories all together.

Because no one is coming to save us.

Politicians aren't interested in saving us; they seem to only want to increase their own pay, eliminate our protections and medical care, while forcing us to pay for their medical care and protection (but don't get me started on politics in this country...).
The government isn't going to save us. The government can barely contain, control, or save itself.
Schools aren't going to save us. We can't even agree that all children deserve the same quality of education.
Churches aren't going to save us. Full disclosure: Yesterday, I finished my second year of seminary. And I know more than ever that churches aren't going to save us. Churches have spent way too much time protecting and maintaining the status quo in this country - going all the way back to using the Bible to justify the slaughter of the people who lived here when Europeans arrived, to justify chattel slavery, and to justify segregation and Jim Crow laws. Churches need to emerge from their fortress-like silos, repent of their collusion and silence when they should have been active and outspoken, and commit themselves to engage in action that will bring about the justice, peace, and salvation they claim to want for all people. (Again, don't get me started...)

So having said all that, where and how does gratitude show up?

* I am grateful for Patrice, for her passion, her compassion, and her insistence on action.
* I am grateful for every person who showed up to that space tonight, committed to learning, listening, and getting involved in the work of healing and wholeness.
* I am grateful for Michelle Alexander's difficult and necessary book - The New Jim Crow.
* I am grateful for the time and ability and freedom to go to these sessions.
* I am grateful for the thousands, the millions of people who are doing the work, speaking up, standing up, writing letters, writing essays, writing books, marching, working, advocating, pressing for changes in laws, and otherwise pushing for justice.
* I am grateful for friends, for pastors, for neighbors, for church mates, for non-religious people, who are committed to not stopping, to not losing hope, to not walking away from the neediest among us right here. Here's a fabulous example of a new friend doing something to make a difference in the lives of homeless women. Go, Donna, go!
* I am grateful for the ways in which we can encourage and support each other as we do this work.
* I am grateful for down time too, for time with family and friends, over food and wine, to decompress, to laugh, to dance, to celebrate new babies, to witness to the formation of new families in matrimony, all while taking time to disconnect from bad news, and turn away from videos of people dying in their cars in front of their children, and repeated acquittals for brutality and murder. Even if only for a few hours or a few days at a time.
* I am grateful that "no one is coming to save us" because maybe, just maybe, having realized that this is the only country we have, this is the only planet we have, this is the only life we have, we will work that much harder to walk together, to work together, to come together to help one another and to save one another.
* I am grateful for the fact that those of us who claim to be Christ followers, those of us who say that Jesus saves, we have absolutely no excuse for NOT getting involved in the work of mercy and justice. If we are followers of the prince of peace, we have no justification for advocating violence of any kind. If we are believers in the light of the world, we need to bring our own sins and our nation's sins into the bright light of justice and fairness, forgiveness and repentance. If we are disciples of the great physician, then we ought to be fighting for healing and wholeness, for medical care and coverage for all people who need medical, mental, and rehab care. If we are truly pro-life, then we ought to be advocating for all lives, including Muslim lives, immigrant lives, poor people's lives, black lives, the lives of those who are homeless, the incarcerated, and even people whose politics are not our own - yup, even them. We who say we believe in Jesus are without excuse. Because no one set a better of example of including the excluded, touching the untouchable, welcoming the outcast, and of actually living like every life mattered than Jesus. Without exception.

Silence is complicity. Sitting on the sidelines is complicity. Claiming ignorance is complicity.
It's time to speak up, to stand up, to get yourself educated to engage.
Because no one is coming to save us.


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Thankful Thursday

So much to be grateful for, my friends.

* gorgeous bright sunny day today - and not too hot.

* the fact that when the tree fell from our yard onto our neighbor's car (yikes!), there was no one in the car and, in fact, they were planning to get rid of the car anyway. PLUS the woman who lives there works with a tree cutting company and she said she can get the family discount to have that tree (and a couple of others that need to come down before they fall down) taken care of.

* my third grade tutee and I had a fun last session together today. School ends for the public schools here in Charlotte tomorrow. I am grateful to have had time to read with her, review math with her, and also talk to her about how not to be a bully, how not to fight, and how to be a better friend, sister, and daughter. I hope HT has a fantastic summer. I will miss her stories and her smiles.

* my daughter made carrot cake for dessert tonight. We didn't have cream cheese for her to make the traditional cream cheese frosting, so she made a glaze with fresh squeezed orange juice, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Can't wait to taste it - which I will do as soon as I publish this post.

* time spent by the lake with my dear friend and her rambunctious puppy. Laughter and stories, training and Portuguese water dog antics in the lake and the swimming pool (I seriously wish I could live his life!)

* new friends, long walks, and soul connections

* old friends, lunch dates, and deep conversations

* attending a session this past Monday evening put on by MeckMin related to Charlotte Uprising, the rallies and marches, protests and other public responses to the September 20, 2016 shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Their stories of fear and hope, courage and determination in the face of injustice, violence, and mistreatment by police officers unnerved us all. Those men and women demonstrated both poise and anger, both hope and frustration - and they are all still standing strong, still doing their work on behalf of those whose voices go frequently unheard, hugging one another, sharing essential oils to keep each other calm, and laughing between their tears. They inspired and challenged me as well as everyone else who sat under the sound of their quivering voices.

- Here are a few of the quotes that caught my attention and have given me much to ponder:

+ For far too long, we've done far too little.
+ Listening is an act of love. We have to listen to people's pain all the way down to the bottom. We cannot turn away just because we get uncomfortable.
+ I am brave - and sick and tired of this conversation about race and racism.
+ Is it impossible to stop killing people?
+ The uprising didn't start last September.
+ I was never in front, but I stood beside some beautiful souls out there.
+ It's my duty to fight for freedom - and it's also yours.
+ We had to be prepared because every second counts in a war zone.
+ I showed up because I love my people.
+ I'm not a religious person. I'm a Christian. There's a difference.
+ I didn't see Christ out there. I saw hate.
+ You need to use your voice. You need to have the courage to act.
+ Shame on us (in the church for not doing more and being more courageous.)
+ You created racism; you need to fix it.
+ I will keep showing up, no matter how tired I get.

* attending another MeckMin-sponsored event last night - at one of the mosques here in Charlotte several Muslim brothers and sisters spoke to a curious and attentive crowd about Ramadan and what it means to them to fast from sunrise to sunset for an entire month. There was also a Baptist minister on the docket who spoke about fasting from his experience and perspective. An older Jewish gentlemen rightly pointed out the oversight of not having someone Jewish speaking about their faith and the practice of fasting.  In response to a question I asked, young women and older women, talked about their pride and joy in wearing hijab.

Just before 8:30 pm, the Muslims in attendance were offered dates and bottled water to break their fast. They remained in their worship space for their prayers while most of the non-Muslim attendees headed for their large cafeteria to wait. My daughter, my friend, Kate, and I stayed and watched them as they prayed. My daughter later told me that she was deeply moved by being in the space with them as they knelt and bowed down in prayer. There is something sacred about bending the knee in supplication and thanksgiving. When the prayers were concluded, we joined them for iftar, the rather elaborate and absolutely delicious meal they had prepared.

We sat at the dinner table with two Muslim women, one an adult and the other a teenager, who talked to us about both the courage it takes to wear hijab these days and also about the mounting concern about praying in public. The teenager reminded us about their commitment to praying five times a day, regardless of where they are. She said it used to be safe to just kneel and pray, even outdoors. Nowadays, she said that if two people are together in a public place at prayer time, one will kneel and the other will keep watch. Shame on us - that this nation that claims to have been founded in response to a lack of religious freedom elsewhere has become a place where its citizens are no longer confident that they can safely practice their religion.

 I hope to have more opportunities to sit with people whose experiences are so different from my own; there is so much to learn from everyone I encounter. Everyone.

As we ate and talked, children ran around the tables and chairs - and tripped and fell.
Food slipped from overloaded plates onto the floor and was ground into the carpet.
Plates were left on tables and napkins drifted down to the floor beneath.
Mothers admonished their children to finish their food and wipe their mouths.
Teenagers chatted while they nibbled on cupcakes.
Men moved chairs from one place to another.
Someone talked too long.
Someone didn't get to talk enough.
It was life in community. Life in a community of faith.
It was funny. It was hopeful.
It was beautiful. It was messy.
It was prayerful. It was sobering.
It was human. It was holy.

I am grateful.
So very grateful.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Joining with all nature in manifold witness

One of my favorite hymns is "Great is Thy Faithfulness." 

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with thee
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not
as Thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.

Chorus - Great is thy faithfulness
Great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
All I have needed, thy hand hast provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Summer and winter and spring time and harvest
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside

[Here's a longer, more gospel styled version of this great hymn -
that is actually a medley of several songs of praise and gratefulness.
And he is accompanied by a few thousand people who could and would surely
provide many examples of the faithfulness of God.
Here is another version if you want to listen to a shorter version than the other two.]

Sure, old fashioned words and phrases and titles of God appear in its lyrics 
- words like thee and thy and thou in it - 
but the meaning of those words and phrases, the acknowledgement of the goodness of God, 
the faithfulness of God, and the reminder to pay attention, to take note, 
and to join with all nature in manifold witness to God's great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Our silly little dog is a great example of faith and faithfulness.
She's twelve years old - and she's showing signs of her age.
Limping. Ear infections. Hearing impairment. Bladder challenges.
But she is unrelenting in her love for us -
actually, for my husband;
the rest of us, she tolerates when he's not around.
On her short strolls, as she sleeps peacefully through much of every day,
she demonstrates the utmost faith in our faithfulness and our provision.
She never worries about where her next meal will come from.
She never worries about the mortgage or the bills,
kanswer or heart disease.
She eats, sleeps, walks, and lives in this present moment
every single moment.
May my faith someday be as vast and as deep as hers.
(There she is, on the other side of our driveway, next to our neighbor's house -
can you even see her?)

At the foot of our driveway lives a magnolia tree.
Recently I have taken notice of its magnificent magnolia blossoms.
Their fragrance unforgettable.
I've never picked any of the magnolia blooms.
They are too big, too fragile, too perfect for me to tear from their perch.
I stare at them. I sniff at them. I practically bow down to them.
And, of course, I thank God for them.

As I made my way home from someplace the other day, 
I came upon this terrific turtle crossing the road.
Certain that I didn't want any cars to run over it,
uncertain about how I would keep that from happening,
I managed to flag this woman around my new turtle friend.
She pulled over, got out of her car, and bravely picked it up,
moving it to a safe and shady spot off the road.

I wish I could have spoken to it - 
Where are you going, little one?
What adventure was calling you across this road?
The woman who picked you up was convinced
that you would meet greater challenges on the road ahead.
I'm sorry she didn't put you on the side of the road that you were heading for.
What do we know about turtle thinking?
Absolutely nothing.
Thank you for being a sign and symbol of the provision and protection
of the earth and of nature itself for its own.
Clearly you lived well before meeting up with us - the ignorant do-gooders.
I hope we didn't divert you too seriously from your appointed rounds. 
I hope you are safe and happy and well wherever you are today.

As I look back on the past few weeks and months and years, 
I am reminded over and over of the great faithfulness of God.
Recovering from kanswer
- it has already been four years since my surgery.
This November will be five years since my diagnosis - FIVE YEARS!!!
My daughter is a college graduate.
My son is a successful college student.
My niece has released her first album and is making waves and headlines with it.
New babies will be born. New families will be formed.

Beyond the borders and boundaries of those I know, love, and hold dear,
there is the manifold witness of so many folks whose lives and work,
whose passions and activism are manifold witness to
the justice, the righteousness, the wholeness, the healing that 
God wants for all people,
not just the folks who look and live like them,
not just the folks who were born here and live "legally,"
not just the folks who agree with them politically.
There is work to be done towards reconciliation and peace
for all people everywhere, starting right here in our broken and beautiful city.
And they are doing the work.
What a witness to faithfulness, hope, and the future.

Remaining alert, being attentive, staying 'woke
in a world, in a nation that so desperately wants
the most active and passionate and determined among us
to go back to sleep,
to slip into a consumerism-induced coma,
this kind of commitment takes a toll.
Wears us out, breaks us down, trips us up.

We need strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
We gain that, we regain that in community,
on the yoga mat,
listening to music,
dancing when nobody is looking,
filling journal pages,
reading poetry,
talking to, laughing with, and creating art with soul sisters,
eating good food,
slipping between clean sheets with dreams already swirling,
playing with puppies,
holding newborns,
planning getaways and "do nothing days,"
flipping through Bella Grace magazine,
sharing dreams about what church could look like if we dared to
abandon some of the old ways of doing things,
drinking tea, coffee, Fresca, and watermelon mojitos,
falling to our knees in prayer,
giving thanks for the many blessings that we have already received,
and taking note of the ten thousand beside.

Great is God's faithfulness.
Morning by morning.
Day by day.
Hour by hour.
Even in the darkest hours.
Perhaps most especially then.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thankful Thursday

It has been too long since I've written a Thankful Thursday post.
Not because I haven't had anything to be thankful for.
Not because I've forgotten to give thanks for the goodness of life.
In any case, I'm back now.

Tonight, I am thankful for:

* the upcoming opportunity to be involved with a retreat at Montreat this coming August.
Never heard of Montreat? Check this out. I've never been there before, but I have heard fantastic things about the center and the programs it hosts. We shall soon see.

I am honored to be involved in leading the conference book discussion for Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans' fantastic book about her experience both inside and outside of the church. I look forward to talking about and walking through this book with the attendees of the conference. I also look forward to meeting Rachel and hearing her speak.

In addition, I will be leading a workshop on journaling as a spiritual discipline. I love, love, love to journal - gratitude journaling, travel journaling, art journaling, making journals, buying journals, decorating journals, taking sermon notes in my journals, reading old journals... One could easily argue that, for me, journaling is a bit of an obsession. Being invited to share that obsession with others, encouraging them to pour out their hearts and minds on paper (or at the keyboard) is one of the things in my life that gives me great joy.

* our son had a fantastic first year at Wingate University. He was chosen as the MVP on the tennis team and was chosen as the best "freshman" male athlete of the year. His grades aren't out yet, but he thinks he will have a 4.0 average. It is a thrill for me to watch him mature into a young man that I would be proud to have as a friend.

* this absolutely fantastic recipe for Mediterranean Farro Salad, given to me yesterday by my dear friend, Heather. I love grain salads - quinoa salad, farro salad, salads with rice in them. Yum yum. I made this one for dinner tonight - but I tweaked it in all kinds of ways. I omitted the red onion. I added toasted almonds and pine nuts, goat cheese (instead of feta), dried cranberries, a chopped fresh red pepper, and used balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. (I very rarely follow recipes exactly as written, unless I am baking cookies or cakes...) So good!

* Last week, I attended the Define American Film Festival on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture here in Charlotte. Wowza - what a great event. Films and panel discussions. Swag bags and all the Kind Bars we could eat. (I love Kind Bars and that company was one of the sponsors, so they were giving the bars away by the handful. Literally! And if you know anything about me, you know I'm frugal/cheap - and I love freebies.)

How do you define "American"? Does that word refer solely to people who were born and raised in the United States? Or are all the people who were born and who live in any country between Canada and Argentina "Americans"? What about people who were brought here as children? People who arrived here seeking safety and refuge from abuse and danger in the countries where they were born? Are legal documents necessary in order to be American? When you hear the word "American," if you were asked to picture "an American" in your mind's eye, what would that person look like? When you see someone who appears to be of Asian descent, or someone who appears to be of Central or South American descent, do you assume they are not American? Do you wonder about their "immigration status"? These and other similarly challenging questions and concerns were the focus of the film festival.

My daughter and I saw "Dolores,"
"Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America"
"Am I too African to be American or too American to be African?"
And by herself, my daughter saw "Residente."
I had already seen "White People" and "Meet the Patels," so I didn't watch them again last weekend.
The panel discussions following each film were recorded and are available for view.

My ears and eyes were opened to stories and circumstances I had never thought about before.
One of the directors said it well: "Citizenship is another layer of privilege."
I know more than a handful of people from Central and South America who are here in the US without documentation. I have heard many stories of nervousness and fear about deportation. But I know far more "real Americans" who rely on the hard work and dedication of those same undocumented residents to keep their homes and places of work clean, to cook and clean dishes and tables at restaurants where they like to eat, to build our new homes, to put roofs on our houses, to mow our lawns, to run the stores we like to shop in, and to take care of their children. And every single one of us, documented and undocumented, native born and foreign born, each and every one of us peers into our refrigerators, our pantries, our bread baskets, and our fruit bowls at the products that are planted, tended, and harvested by those that many politicians and law enforcement officers and far too many unreasonably intolerant citizens of this country think should be deported back to their counties of origin. What would we eat if we sent them away? "Real Americans" aren't interested in or willing to bend over in hot fields and orchards in the relentless heat for eight and ten hour shifts. Nor are "real Americans" interested in allowing these brave new arrivals to bring their true skills to their new country. Imagine the competition if foreign-born business people, lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, chefs, scientists, researchers, writers, and politicians were able to work in their chosen fields of expertise here in the US - many of us would rather not face that kind of competition.

I am enormously grateful for the stories I heard, the tears we all shed, the hugs exchanged, the questions asked and answered, the hope that was raised, and the relationships that were deepened at DAFF. What a gift to our city and our country. So many stories already told, so many yet to be told.

* Speaking of farro salad and under-appreciated farm workers,
I am grateful tonight for strawberries and romaine lettuce,
for grain and flour and bread,
for milk and cheese, for kale and cucumbers.
I am grateful for turkey burgers and potato rolls,
for barbecue sauce and homemade vinaigrettes.
I am grateful for clementines and pineapples, for mangos and lemons.
I am grateful for the electricity that keeps powers the refrigerator,
dishwasher, stove, and microwave oven.
I am grateful for dish detergent and cutting boards, knife sharpeners and silicone spatulas.
I am grateful for almonds, pine nuts, dark chocolate, and hard apple cider.
I am grateful for fried fish, hush puppies, cole slaw, and tarter sauce.
I am grateful for farro, quinoa, brown rice, and veggie bouillon cubes.
I am grateful for mojitos, lemon drop martinis, and red wine.
I am grateful for ceiling fans and air conditioning.
I am grateful for gas stations and bus stops, for traffic lights and exit signs.
I am grateful for friends, for companions, for travel mates.
I am grateful for airplanes, airports, and passports.
I am grateful for chances to teach and to preach.
I am grateful for puppies, photos of puppies, and older dogs too.
I am grateful for invitations to Kentucky Derby parties, to dinners, and to discussion groups.
I am grateful for my pillows and my slippers and my bed.
So much to give thanks for.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Just another mindless Monday

Well, not exactly mindless. Perhaps forgetful...

I joined my We Walk Together pals this morning for The Liberty Walk here in Charlotte. Following signs and plaques related to the role Charlotte played in the Revolutionary War. I confess that I didn't pay full and complete attention to the history lessons because I was caught up in conversations about freedom, liberty, independence, and people who don't feel free in our city and our world. The poor. The immigrant community. Gay and queer people who don't feel free to fully live out their hopes and dreams. Women whose words and lives are demeaned and diminished. Nothing mindless about that, I suppose. Quite mindful and stimulating, if I am to be completely honest.

Then I drove to a nearby greenway to meet a friend and go for a walk. Unfortunately, she forgot. Not exactly due to mindlessness, though. She and her family had the good fortune to be able to spend an extra night outside of Charlotte, enjoying Mother's Day weekend. Based on the city where she spent the extra night, I have reason to believe that she ate some delicious food, drank some strong and tasty drinks, and enjoyed herself tremendously. No worries, dear one; we can reschedule.

From there, I went to the mall. I've got a Belk gift card that has been burning a hole in my wallet for the last three or four months. I perused the sales racks, looked at dresses and tops and jeans and sheets and towels and shoes and socks and purses and luggage and work out equipment and came to the conclusion that there isn't a single, solitary thing I need, even if it is on sale. I settled on a set of small rubber spatulas for use in the kitchen. I put my cell phone down on the waist high shelf across from the cash register. I put my backpack on top of it. I pulled out my wallet. Pulled out my gift card. Ran it through the machine. Put the gift card back in my wallet. Put my wallet back into my backpack. Accepted the bag with the spatulas in it. Turned and walked away. Twenty minutes later, when I was sitting at a traffic light just a few blocks from home, I reached into the pocket of my backpack to add something to the grocery list on my cell phone... where is my cell phone??? WHERE IS MY CELL PHONE!?!?!?

That's where the mindlessness/mindfulness kicked in.

I remembered stepping up to that counter and putting my phone down.
I remembered thinking: "Don't put your phone there, Gail. Put it in your bag."
I remembered ignoring my intuition.

I pulled into a nearby church parking lot to do a more thorough search of my backpack -
even though I already knew that my phone wasn't there.
Shaking my head at my mindlessness.

Then I thought, "Let me call the number and see if I hear my phone ringing.
Maybe it fell down between the seats in the car."
Well, you can't call your cell phone if you don't have a phone.
And you can't call your cell phone from your cell phone.

My next thought was, "Let me call Belk to see if they found my phone."
Well, you can't call the store where you left your phone because you don't have your phone.

The next thought was, "Let me call my daughter to let her know I'm heading back to the mall to get my cell phone."
Well, you can't call your daughter if you don't have a phone.

Finally, my mindless thoughts began to subside.
I decided to drive the rest of the way home, call the store from the house
(thank God we still have a land line!)
and decide on my next move from there.

I was not looking forward to the conversation in which I informed my husband that I needed a new cell phone because I left mine at the housewares counter at Belk while buying rubber spatulas that were on the clearance table - less than six months after getting this iPhone. Nope - we don't have insurance on my phone. Cuz I'm the mindful grown up who keeps track of my stuff. I don't drop my phone. I don't leave my phone in random places. Until I do...

When I arrived at home, I told my daughter the tale of my mindlessness,
and then I called the store - thankfully, mercifully, Theodora,
the woman who had helped me there, had found my phone.
So my daughter and I left and drove back to the mall.
Picked up my phone.
And I have checked for it every few minutes since then.
Just making sure...
I don't need any more mindless phoneheadedness today.

Today's incident revealed how attached I am to my cell phone.
How much I take its presence and usefulness for granted.
How often my first response to many of life's various situations
is to pull out my cell phone and text somebody or call somebody
or add something to a list
or take a photo of something.
It felt beyond strange to not have it for more than an hour.

Did you catch that last phrase - "for more than an hour"!?!?!?!?!?
I think it's time for a day or two of being unplugged from this dastardly, addictive thing.
I've got an all day meeting tomorrow; perhaps I will leave it at home.
Or in the bottom of my bag, on silent, and not check it all day.
Yes, that's what I'm gonna do. Not check my phone all day.
(Is such a thing even possible? What if my kids need me?
What if my husband tries to reach me?
What if??? What if??? What if???
Hello! My name is Gail, and I think I'm addicted to my phone.)

I am grateful that Theodora found my phone and kept it safe for me.
I am grateful that I back it up to my computer regularly.
I am grateful that I don't use it to pay bills or buy anything,
so it is far less likely that someone else can buy things with it.
I am grateful that I even have a cell phone.
I am grateful that if we had needed to replace it, we could have done so.
Just another mindless Monday.
Still shaking my head at my absentmindedness.
And bowing my head in gratitude that I got both my phone and my mind back.