What I wish we’d remember a little louder on 9/11

I’m usually fairly quiet on 9/11 as it’s a day that holds a lot of memories. We lived 5 minutes from the Pentagon at the time and the plane crash shook the windows of our small apartment right along with my personal sense of stability. A family member worked in the WTC and we spent the entire morning awaiting his phone call. Thankfully, it came and we breathed deep sighs of relief.

Over the years, 9/11 has become a day where we honor the ones who ran toward rather than running away. When all of human instinct screams to protect itself, those brave souls did not. They were heroes in the truest sense of the world, and none of us will ever forget their sacrifice.  I hear a lot of references to this idea that Fred Rogers encapsulates so well:

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 9.12.35 PM

While so much of me resonates with these words and the value they place on so many who sacrificed that day, I also find myself feeling a lingering hole in the dialog about who matters when 9/11 rolls around.

“My dad says that all Muslims are bad,” a boy in my son’s third grade class shared this week. It’s become a norm – this alienating story of the West vs. the Middle East. Media stereotypes from both sides have flown for over a decade, and now, as I honor the heroes, I also mourn the victims that have been born from the political rubble of 9/11.

As a kid from the 80s, I saw the exact same story play out with the Russians. I remember distinctly thinking that Russians were evil, dangerous, and scary and that Nancy Reagan was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen (which of course meant that Reagan’s policies had to be right…).

Like so many today, I missed the critical reality that people are distinct from political agendas. In his song, Russians, Sting captures the hole I feel every 9/11:

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too*

In my heart today, I hold all of those mothers on the other side – Russian, Iraqi, Saudi, Afghani – who love their children too, who hold them in their arms at night, tears brimming over what the world has come to. I picture the fathers tickling little ones, teaching them simplicities of daily life and the hope for a better world. I remember stories of widows like Susan Retik and Patty Quigley – women who lost their husbands that day and now fight for the plight of Afghan widows.

They are heroes, too, all the ones who love their children. May our remembrance of them honor the hope they offer to the world.

swirl *Listen to the whole song here:

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Posted in Restoration & Reconciliation, Social & Political Issues | 1 Comment

When practicing creativity doesn’t feel much like creating art

It is finally Saturday, and in the slow, I sit with these long-loved questions from Annie Dillard’s classic Holy the Firm:

What can any artist set on fire but his world? What can any people bring to the altar but all it has ever owned in the thin towns or over the desolate plains? What can an artist use but materials, such as they are? What can he light but the short string of his gut, and when that’s burnt out, any muck ready to hand?

I don’t feel much like an artist anymore – this quiet soul returning to the noise of the teenagers and desks and hallways and lunch periods. My feet feel like clay. My voice rasps. My back begs for relief.

Where is the art in the nitty-gritty day-to-day of the classroom? I wonder. The materials I’m working with are attitudes and hormones and distractedness and way-too-much-chatting. It feels reminiscent to the first time I threw clay on a wheel, feebly attempting to shape it into something useful. It had a mind of its own and my hands had no clue how to shape it. Returning to the adolescent classroom after a decade away feels much the same way.

I come back to sit again with Annie’s words:

[The artists's] face is flame like a seraph’s, lighting the kingdom of God for the people to see; his life goes up in the works; his feet are waxen and salt. He is holy and he is firm, spanning all the long gap with the length of his love, in flawed imitation of Christ on the cross stretched both ways unbroken and thorned. So must the work be also, in touch with, in touch with, in touch with; spanning the gap, from here to eternity, home.

My life – it is aflame, I muse. It is certainly ‘up in the works’. This artist’s waxen and oh-so-flawed feet are on the move once again, stumbling over themselves as they learn a new way. I miss my kind and grateful immigrant-students. I do not yet understand these loud teenager-ones.

I breathe deep and slow, knowing that these steps, too, are holy and firm, spanning long gaps filled with depths of flawed, broken, but redeemed love. This, too, in all of its gritty mundane, is the kingdom of God, needing lit for the people to see. The raw material in this new phase is no less than any other path I have walked. It may, in fact, be even more given the nature of adolescents.

“You’re better than this,” I say to the boy-too-cool-for-school quietly in the hall. “I see so much more than what you let on. You’re a leader, talented and overflowing with potential. Don’t hide it just to impress others. That’s no way to live.”

I know he hears me. I don’t know if it will change him for today, but I can only hope it sinks in by tomorrow. I realize as I speak to him that he’s not the only raw material I’m working with.

The creativity needed to span the gap of my own flaws shows up far more than I’d like in times of transition. It calls me to be an artist with my own self, to bring my thin and desolate places to the altar and lay them down, trusting that even in the gaps, there is a holy and firm place to stand.

Posted in Belief, Spiritual Formation | 2 Comments

Must read books for 2014

I quit going to Christian bookstores years ago because the one-sided, narrowly defined perspectives represented on their shelves were more than I could handle.  Surely the Christian faith was larger than the American religious right!  Fortunately, some of my faith in the Christian publishing market has been restored by the voice that the internet has provided to authors who might not have ever made it into the narrow box of Christian bookstores. This post features two of these voices.

As I’ve followed the writing market, one important piece I’ve learned about the industry is the importance of early sales when a book is released. While I don’t always like the realities of the current publishing market, they are what they are. One practice I’ve started as a result of learning more about these realities is purchasing books of writer-voices I value as soon as they are released because it encourages their overall promotion, distribution and sales in a wider market.

Today it’s Eugene Cho’s new book, Overrated.

My husband and I have followed Cho for years, and have grown to deeply appreciate his voice of growing humility, justice, honesty, and grace. His insight has been tremendously helpful to us and offers a unique and much needed voice in the Christian sphere today.  Based on his blog writing alone, I highly recommend this book – it’s message is one we all need to grapple with.

Check it out at http://areyouoverrated.com/.

While I’m at it, I also have to re-recommend Christena Cleveland’s book Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the hidden forces that keep us apart. I’m halfway through it and finding its content incredibly convicting and formational. It’s a message I’ve needed to contemplate for a long time.  Throw it in on your order with Cho’s book – you won’t be disappointed!

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A new season

Every so often in life, I run across these lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Four Quartets:

And the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
- T.S. Eliot

Since I’ve lived through a lot of ‘new’, the sentiment always catches me off guard when it proves itself true and I find myself in a familiar place that I’m rediscovering all over again. Such is this next season of life for me.

I started my career teaching in an urban middle school, then a suburban high school and finally a rural elementary school before settling in higher education as a teacher trainer. After a decade of working in higher education, however, I’ve recently rejoined the K-12 system. Working in the academic world was delightful for its intellectual stimulation and scheduling flexibility, but when I was ready to pursue full time work again, its limitations exasperated me and I realized it might be time for a change.

So this week, I found myself once again standing before well over 150 adolescents, donning both my intimidating-but-warm-teacher-face and the-comfiest-shoes-I-own, watching them bumble over themselves as they explore who they are for the first time. While it was nowhere near the quiet-office and peaceful-space the contemplative in me hoped for, it was not at all unknown to me. In fact, it was a little like coming home.

It will most-certainly be a shift for me. I will be teaching Spanish at an arts-based charter school in a town known more for its rough edges than its shiny ones. Yet after only a few days with these students, I am reminded afresh than even in broken places, there is often softness hiding between the cracks. I see it in the passion of teachers serving as role models for growing minds. I see it in the quiet boy in the corner, both unsure and eager at the same time. I see it in the eager chatterbox-of-a-girl, testing limits, exploring options, expressing curiosities. I hope for it when I glimpse hardness in the eyes of a young man whose softness seems to have been buried long ago. I see it in the presence of parents as they wait alongside their nervous new students.

As I watched the events of Ferguson unfold this past week, I realized with great sorrow that once again, these stories will reflect ‘my kids’ – faces so often portrayed and perceived inaccurately in the public sphere. Tears brimmed over the realities that young black men face as I remembered the faces of so many former students who broke the stereotypes society created, and it made me grateful for the opportunity to relearn these lessons all over again.

While I know parts of me will long for the quieter corner of the academic world (and an occasional place to sit down!), I am exceedingly grateful that this job allows me to live out my life-purposes of caring for the tenderhearted, welcoming the stranger, and listening to the unheard through this next season. I also see a theme arising in my life of smoothing rough places that I’m looking forward to exploring more.

As a result, I’ve also determined my season of speaking is shifting to one of listening which will likely mean that this blog will fall largely silent. While I love the time I’ve had to write here this year, my time and energy will more likely be spent focused more intensely on leaning into new realities. It has indeed been a pleasure to interact with so many of you in this virtual sphere, but for now I’ll be spending most of my time in the place where my career first began that taught me so much about living between worlds in the first place.

swirl

If you’re new here and would like to read more, feel free to explore some of my more popular posts on race relations, culture, faith, and family.

Posted in Education, Families, Children & Marriage, Restoration & Reconciliation | 2 Comments

The-best-ones-in-June

If you hadn’t yet noticed, I’m on a bit of a hiatus from regular writing, but I am still reading!  Here are a few gems from the web this month:

the-ones-about-immigrants

Here’s what world cup teams would look like if immigrants weren’t allowed to play.  Graphic representations of world cup teams without immigrants.

Illegal immigration, the unforgivable sin? by Bronwyn Lea. “When I share the story of how brutal the path to citizenship is for us, people are often shocked. We are not what people have in mind when they think of ‘immigrants.’ We are white. We speak English. We have graduate level degrees. And yet even for us, as documented workers, it sometimes seems nearly impossible that we will be able to gain permanent residency. The path is so much narrower and steeper than people realize, so we speak up.”

the-ones-on-parenting

On daughters and dating: How to intimidate suitors by Jen Wilkin. “Instead of intimidating all your daughter’s potential suitors, raise a daughter who intimidates them just fine on her own. Because, you know what’s intimidating? Strength and dignity. Deep faith. Self-assuredness. Wisdom. Kindness. Humility. Industriousness.”

Thank God for Vaccines by Dr. Emily Gibson. “Maybe some of us have forgotten or are too young to realize the severity of these conditions. Healthcare providers who haven’t had firsthand experience with these contagious diseases don’t always think of them when confronted with classic signs and symptoms. But it’s only been a little over 50 years since vaccinations became routine for childhood killers like tetanus, diphtheria, polio, measles, mumps, and pertussis, or whooping cough.”

How the modesty police are hurting my son by Amy at Bunkers Down . “So when you hint that my son isn’t strong enough to handle himself if a girl wears spaghetti straps or short shorts?  You do him and me a disservice, as you do hundreds (if not thousands) of other sons and parents.  You place a doubt in his brain (and the brain of any male who hears your message) of whether he is stronger than his impulses and if he really needs to be stronger than those impulses.”

the-beautiful-ones

The Call by John Blase. A beautiful little poem on our purpose.

Your Jesus by John Blase. “I’m sorry but I cannot accept your Jesus. Your Jesus is eternally afraid of things like movies and sex and naked questions.”

the-ones-on-race

When white women talk about race: a case for thoughtful self-censorship by Esther Emery. A thoughtful reflection on the realities of white women talking about race.

Top 10: Conversation Deflections by Austin Channing. “Unfortunately for many people attempting to speak truth to power, sharing our hearts on these issues (not just theories, but how they make us FEEL) is always risky. Sometimes those listening engage well, but we always know there is a chance things will fall apart. It doesn’t always matter what the justice issue is- mass incarceration, education, immigration, or in this case racial justice- there is always a risk that our hearts will leave as broken as when we came.”

the-best-videos

Proud to be. Video created by the National Congress of American Indians protesting the Redskins as a sports team name. Very well done!

The gift of rest. Featuring some alum from my alma mater, this video highlights the work of Jill’s House, an organization that provides skilled care for families with children with special needs.

If Asians said the stuff white people say. A great video showing irony of racial ignorance.

Popular-on-BW

5 painful realities of white privilege. “Privilege runs deep, and as I continue to ponder the ideas of humility, I keep running smack into its gritty realities. They’re not pretty, but ignoring them won’t make them go away either.”

10 reasons I’m reading Harry Potter to my children. “While they can’t yet fully grasp the evil raging in the world around them, they do have an easier time processing the good they see. The fact that hope still makes more sense than despair may be one of the greatest gifts children give adults. For their sake and mine, I want to instill in them a thirst for goodness, hope, and friendship for the future moments in their lives when all might appear lost.”

4 reasons white people need to talk about race. “This cannot be a discussion of tit-for-tat, of accusations and defensives, and as members of the dominant majority, we need to lead the conversation first with humility and compassion.  We can not let go until we know what it is that we’re holding onto.”

Posted in The-best-ones | 1 Comment

5 painful realities of white privilege

5 painful realities of white privilegeWe were sitting outside the frozen yogurt shop when my husband interrupted my yogurt-induced-heaven with a passionate “Did you see that!?!”

“What?” I looked around but didn’t see anything unusual. I’d been a little spaced out in a blissful yogurt coma and was, as usual, less-than-aware of my surroundings.

“That Asian lady in the yogurt store! She and her daughter were just standing there, waiting in line for the restroom and this white guy came in and walked right in front of her.”

He paused, shaking his head in angry disbelief, “And she just let him go. She put her head down and let him push his way past her,”

He paused, processing the interaction, “That’s just so privileged. And he probably doesn’t even recognize it. The problem with us is that we get all submissive and let people walk all over us.” 

Confession Time: In my head, I started listing all the reasons why what he just said happened couldn’t have actually happened. Maybe he saw things wrong. Maybe the guy had to puke. Maybe he left his cell phone in the bathroom. Surely what my husband saw wasn’t what actually happened. 

But then I remembered all the things I’ve written about race & privilege. Dismissing perceptions is one of the most unhelpful responses in race conversations.

I should already know this, right? Right.

(Except for the fact that I don’t.)

Privilege runs deep, and as I continue to ponder the ideas of humility, I keep running smack into its gritty realities. They’re not pretty, but ignoring them won’t make them go away either. Here are a few truths I’ve learned along the way:

1. Privilege is hard to see if you have it, but easy to see if you don’t

I often don’t see the privilege my husband or my friends of color see, but not because it doesn’t exist.  I don’t see it because I don’t have to see it. I live in a world where people who look like me are the norm, so the world-at-large adjusts to me, not the other way around. I can walk into a restaurant without heads turning in curiosity. I’ve never encountered a situation where people define my personal qualifications by my physical appearance. People rarely make comments – ignorant or informed – about my race or ethic background.

It’s kind of like the emporer who wasn’t wearing any clothes – everyone but the stubborn king himself sees the truth. If I could get into the mind of that classic fairytale character as he walked naked down the street when the little boy called his bluff, I can almost hear him thinking to himself, “That crazy boy! Who does he think he is?  He doesn’t know anything. I’m the Emporer, after all. What I say goes!”

It’s not so different from the knee jerk reaction that many white people have when white privilege comes up. Who do they think they are? we think about the people of color who suggest perspectives that upturn our understanding of the world.

What do they know? we dismiss the realities they experience. When history is written by the winners, our story is the one with the power, and until we learn other sides of the story, it’s nearly impossible to understand why some might question our interpretation of it.

If I’m brutally honest with myself, I’ve done the same thing as the privileged white guy at the yogurt shop and never even noticed. Privilege just doesn’t feel the same to those who benefit from it like it does to those who get run over by it.

2. Privilege feels great and horrible all at the same time

I’ll be the first to say that being the one with the power feels great. Power is fun, but an equal reality of power is that it corrupts and blinds. The power that privilege carries does this as well. That’s why when the headlines erupt when a Princeton student writes a letter denying the realities of white privilege. It’s a divisive topic, drawing intense criticism and ire from some loud voices who staunchly deny its existence.

When I travel, I am nearly always treated better than my non-white family. I get higher quality service, more attention and courtesy. I get less attention at airport security lines and from police men. Even if I personally benefit from this treatment, the fact that my family faces its fallout sours any positives it holds for me.

If people only knew how much more humble and sacrificial and generous they were than me, I think, my brown family would be the ones given elevated status, not me. But the history of white skin tells a different story, so we walk instead through a broken and unequal reality.

3. Privilege creates guilt which creates shame which creates denial

Brene Brown has shed an immense amount of light on how shame impacts our ability to be vulnerable, and it’s easily applicable when considering privilege. She writes,

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

When I don’t initially understand a situation like the yogurt shop, it can take me weeks to admit it. My guilt kicks in…how many years I have been married interracially? How many conversations have I had and books have I read about race and privilege?

Will I ever learn?

The shame lingers so subtly that I don’t even notice it until my denial eventually slips out and I’m forced to face my privilege once again.

4. Privilege isn’t about individuals, it’s about systems

What lacks acknowledgement in conversations about privilege is that it’s not necessarily applicable to individuals. When racial microagressions play out on an individual level, the reason they trigger reactions is because of the history such interactions carry with them.

In other words, when the white guy marches past the Asian lady in the restroom line, the history of white-dominant/Asian-submissive interaction plops down right in the center of things. As much as we’d like to believe it, the world is not only made up of individuals, it’s also composed of groups who represent ideas and create realities beyond individuals’ control.

5. Privilege isn’t only about race

As I grow in my understanding of privilege, I see how it extends far beyond the context of race. Privilege comes in many packages and shapes how we view and interact with the world.

“I am unlearning the ways I perceive my own areas of privilege as ‘normal’,” writes Austin Channing. “I can smell when patriarchy is leaking all over a man as he interacts with me. But there are plenty of other ways that that I engage in oppression, ignorance, avoidance, and all kinds of crazy.”

I think of all the times I fail to consider other realities and subconsciously operate as though mine is the norm regardless of things like disability, education level, language ability, religious views, or sexual orientation. We saw it happen yet again last week with nationalities when Twitter called the spelling bee ‘Unamerican’ for its lack of white participants. Clearly, there is no end to how we exclude each other when we see ourselves as the ones who belong and everyone else as the other.

As a result, unpacking how we engage with people of different backgrounds than our own is critical to development the model of humility we see in Phillipians 2:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” (The Message)

Christ’s example stands in stark contrast to the pundits and pontificators who insist nothing-is-wrong-with-me in response to the racial struggles of our world. It sheds new light on the pushy white guy’s behavior in the yogurt line. It opens the heart’s door of this stubbornly-skeptical wife just a teeny-bit wider.

Our world is sorely in need of people who follow Christ before they follow political figures and tribe leaders.  When we fight against the privilege discussion because it’s too painful to face the reality of the broken history and systems of our world, we end up perpetuating the exact same legacy.

Instead, may our humility grow deep enough that we have the courage to walk through the painful realities privilege carries. May we, like Christ, live selflessly and obediently rather than clinging to privilege and status. If we want to see change the world, truly, it must first begin with ourselves.

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Posted in Culture & Race | 3 Comments

The world needs more places like this

If you haven’t heard of Jill’s House, this is a must-watch. I went to college with the couple featured in this video, and their story and the purpose this organization serves is so heartbreakingly beautiful and redemptive that I had to share.

Enjoy, learn, grab some tissues, and consider how to involve yourself in such meaningful work.

Posted in Restoration & Reconciliation | 1 Comment