Where to start when you’re afraid to talk about race

It’s been another turbulent week for racial headlines in the US: yet another incident of police brutality toward black women at a swimming pool, NAACP President Rachel Dolezal is outed as a white person, and 9 African-Americans were shot and killed at a historic black church in Charleston.

Lord, have mercy. It’s only Thursday.

I’ve followed quite a few conversations on these topics and the general reaction (in addition to some shockingly racist comments) is dismay, shock, and sadness. As I’ve listened, I’ve also heard a sentiment from white people of not knowing exactly what to say or do. Blogger Jamie Wright pins down what I suspect many white folks are feeling right about now in her recent Facebook status:

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So, what’s a caucasian to do once this admission has been made? How do we move from “I care. I won’t ignore this.” to actually being part of lasting change? The internet has no shortage of excellent articles with tips on how to understand and respond to white privilege:

I love these articles – they’re incredibly helpful, practical, and get straight to the point. I need reminded and re-reminded of their truths: listen, learn, respect, challenge. As helpful as these tips are, at times I still find myself wrestling with how to handle the privilege I have, especially in light of the recent Rachel Dolezal coverage. Thoughts like these simmer beneath my surface, leaving me both perplexed and speechless in light of racialized headlines:

I have a degree in Multicultural Education, am multilingual, and have taught in communities of color for years. Do I disregard my experiences, my skills, my knowledge because of my privilege?

As a teacher, I still hold a position of power within the many communities of color I have known. Do I shun any association of power because of its association with privilege?

As a mother, wife, friend, and family member, I walk alongside the daily journey of people of color navigating a world of white power. Are these experiences invalidated in the wider world because of the privilege I carry?

Having grown up in a predominately white community and lived as an adult in many communities of color, I frequently see multiple sides to an issue that highlight misunderstanding from many sides. When do I use my voice and when do I keep quiet?

These are not easy questions;  but they’re real ones that churn deep down, rumbling as I go about my days. I read, talk, and think about race on a fairly regular basis, but there are times when I still feel at a complete loss because of the guilt I carry over my privilege. I know I’m not the only white person who feels this way.

While I agree that lying about her race is a poor choice, I also see the situation as far more complex than this. Truth be told, I identify with Rachel’s desire to don a different skin. I’ve often longed for a different appearance to disassociate myself from the harsh history of my race and to legitimize my passion for reconciling racial brokenness. Sometimes it feels like being white disqualifies me from a seat at the racial table. When I whisper this shame-filled admission to those close to me, they remind me that not having a seat at the table is no new feeling to people of color.

Ah, privilege. It blinds even those who want to see.

This conversation isn’t simple. It’s far – both literally and figuratively – from black and white. So where’s a white-person-on-the-sidelines watching all this pain, caring-but-not-experiencing, horrified-and-heartbroken to start?

As I sit with these questions, I find myself contemplating who I need to be in addition to what I should do to live in a culturally humble way. The lists of how-to’s and to-do’s are undeniably helpful, but they’ll go nowhere without a fundamental shift in our way of being.

In light of this, I ask myself harder questions than the initial ones above that were likely born out of defense.

  • How do I cultivate the type of character that consistently acknowledges my privilege and promotes a good greater than myself?
  • Who do I need to become in order to more deeply understand the lives of those who live and think differently than I do?
  • How do I seek understanding when I simply do not understand? 

The answers that surface are less to-do list, more lifelong goals:

1. Be ok with messy. 

I’ve read a lot of coverage on Rachel Dolezel and the one firm conclusion I’ve drawn is that it’s messy. There are good points on conflicting sides and so many speculations on her intent.

  • Could it be that a person who has been immersed in a culture for years would identify more strongly with that culture than with their own? Sure.
  • Does that make that person actually a part of that culture? Not exactly, but third culture kids have struggled with this balance for years. 
  • Is our society brutal in the way we draw lines between the haves and the have-nots, the ins and the outs? Definitely, especially when we only have 140 characters to do so.
  • Do Rachel’s choices exist in a larger social and historical reality of race and power that cause others to respond harshly to her story? For sure.

Voices from all sides throw ‘truth’ at each other without acknowledging that sometimes the truth-in-the-realm-of-people’s-experience is anything but clear. We operate only within our own skin and this limits our ability to understand others.

Heather Plett explains an idea called “holding space” that could close some gaps between these two gaping cultural realities. She explains holding space for another person as a willingness to be present and available in the difficult moments of life. When part of life carries such pain that it’s difficult to imagine the next step, those who hold space for others don’t judge, try to fix, or make them feel inadequate. Instead, they come alongside and offer warm hearts and open ears.

What if this response had been our measuring stick for Rachel Dolezal, the recent police pool beating of young black women, or the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson? How would the conversation shift if instead of jumping to immediate conclusions to label sides as right/wrong, we looked first to where we need to ‘hold space’ for the brokenness that exists on both sides?

2. Lean toward pain.

One way I’ve grown more comfortable with mess is through the practice of walking through pain – both my own and that of others. While it would often feel easier to just close my eyes and turn the other way, digging into the deeper reasons for what causes pain strengthens our ability to understand it. In our broken places, we experience how insincere gestures like offering platitudes or dismissing pain can hurt far more than they help.

Externally, this might look like actively reading on many sides of the headlines or practicing principles offered in the articles I mentioned at the beginning. Internally, however, it means sitting with a whole lot of uncomfortable. Theresa Latini explains this idea further in her article I am a pastor. Here’s why I don’t want you to pray for me:

Please do not pray for me unless you are willing to walk with me.

Know me. Hear the depths of my fear or anguish or whatever it might be and let it affect you.

Then let us bring our (not just my) most profound needs vulnerably before God. Please do not try to escape that vulnerability. Because if you do, you have left me, and that is not prayer. It is not communion with God through Christ by the spirit.

And if you have no words, that is okay — more than okay, in fact. It’s an invitation to sit with me in the awfulness of my predicament and silently wait upon God together.

I would imagine that a whole host of similar prayers are being breathed from the mouths of many in Charleston today. May it remind us of our need to simply walk alongside and hold space for those in pain today.

3. Seek first to understand, and admit when you don’t.

One of Stephen Covey’s classic principles of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,  this notion definitely needs revisited in our short-tempered and knee-jerk Twitter age. Seeking first to understand means that rather than constantly throwing out my own opinions, I ask questions and listen to the opinions of others. It means I don’t quickly dismiss those with whom I disagree but rather look for ways to understand why they might think that way. It means that I spend time reading, listening to, or seeking out perspectives of those with whom I disagree to understanding the what and why of their reasoning.

The hard part about seeking to understand is that sometimes we simply don’t. When someone’s experience extends beyond our ability to grasp it, we’re apt to throw our hands up in frustration and label them idiots. Sometimes, we feel embarrassed by our ignorance so we don’t say anything at all.

When I run into a racial situation I don’t understand, my first response is usually defensive. I like to play devil’s advocate, so it’s easy to dismiss my defensiveness as just being “who I am”. However, I’ve come to recognize that when I grow defensive in race/privilege conversations, it’s usually a sign that I need to stop, reflect on what triggered my anger, and revisit the conversation to listen some more. The phrase “help me understand” comes in really handy at this point because it focuses my attention on something besides my own (strong) desire to be right and maintain control.

4. Acknowledge both single and collective stories.

Many white Americans are accustomed to practicing an individualist perspective. We think about ourselves over the whole, elevating individuals over communities. One way this shows itself in many white churches is their harsher response to individual sins relating to individual sexuality (abortion, pornography, infidelity) than to communal sins like neglect of the poor, consumerism, or gluttony. In contrast, many cultures cultivate a more communal view where individuals consider how their personal actions impact the community as a whole.

In discussing the Rachel Dolezal situation with others, I’ve learned that I see it through an individual lens – she is one individual with specific details that impact her personal choices. In contrast, others see it through a collective lens that include painful realities of repeated power and race abuse through history. Do we both have valid points? Yes, we’re just processing through different lenses.

5. Create space to listen.

The breakneck speed of our culture robs us from time to consider both our place in the world and our impact on those around us. Throw the smartphones-glued-to-our-eyes in the mix and its a wonder any of us think for ourselves at all. Finding spaces to pause and sort through our thoughts, feelings, and experiences is crucial if we want to incorporate any of the above goals effectively.

Pausing looks different for everyone. Some people listen to podcasts or sermons that inspire. Others retreat to nature and quiet space. Some prefer to write, read, or chat over coffee with a friend. Whatever the method, intentionally creating space to allow ourselves to reflect deeply is key to long term and sustained internal change.

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“Let him that would move the world first move himself.” -Socrates

May these timeless words remind us of the need to act beyond the horror of the headlines by starting with the one thing we all have the power to change: ourselves.

Further Reading

A relevant and timely place to start listening is this post by Osheta Moore: What I Need You to Say in Response to the Shooting in Charleston and this post by Austin Channing: The Only Logical Concluson.

Here are a few other helpful resources for those seeking deeper racial understand to move beyond “I don’t know what to say, but I care.”:

Posted in Culture & Race | 1 Comment

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40 kids who got ridiculous detentions and don’t regret it. (This pretty much sums up my year teaching mostly freshmen…)

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Girl wears wrong shoes to graduation, falls hard. (This struck me as particularly funny since I just sat through a looong graduation with lots of crazy high heels.)

Wonder Woman to Justice League: “If I don’t get pants, nobody gets pants.” by Cynthia Sousa.

by Cynthia Sousa

by Cynthia Sousa

An American girl’s guide to kissing by Sarah Quezada.

Kissing. It’s a relatively simple aspect of Latino cultures. When you say hello or good-bye, it’s customary to include a quick peck on the cheek.  Naturally, this practice sends me into a spiral of what ifs, internal dialogues, and a general state of panic.

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To the One who is Left Behind by Marilyn Gardner. 

I know with each parting, that life will never be quite the same and I’m never quite sure I will be able to handle it. I’m never convinced that this time might be the time where I become undone, where I can no longer pick up the pieces of those left behind — move forward when those I love are gone. But each time I do. Each time I survive, and I smile and laugh again, and though it hurts, somehow it’s okay. 

In my imaginary world, family lives right next door by Marilyn Gardner.

So in my imaginary world, family is right next door. This is one of the things that we who live a mobile life give up. We give up family. To be sure, family arises in different ways, community is born out of need and desperation and it’s good community. It’s necessary. But we give up extended family and that is not easy. We give up grandparents who speak regularly into our children’s lives and teach them what it is to grow old. We give up aunts and uncles who, crazy as they may be, each come with their particular gifts and idiosyncrasies; with a collective wisdom born of good and bad choices. We give up the spiritual dimensions of lives lived well in the realm of faith, we give up family dinners, we give up family fights and the subsequent forgiveness and making up. When we live a mobile life it is really easy to decide we won’t work through the hard, instead choosing to ignore people and not reconcile our differences and our hurts.

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Meth lab found inside Walmart restroom in Indiana by Tribune Media Wire.

This is the Walmart where I used to shop. I was not especially surprised.

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How American parenting is killing the American marriage by Danielle Teller.

In the 21st century, most Americans marry for love. We choose partners who we hope will be our soulmates for life. When children come along, we believe that we can press pause on the soulmate narrative, because parenthood has become our new priority and religion. We raise our children as best we can, and we know that we have succeeded if they leave us, going out into the world to find partners and have children of their own. Once our gods have left us, we try to pick up the pieces of our long neglected marriages and find new purpose.

To the well-intentioned but ignorant parents of teenagers by Kayla Nicole.

You may be thinking “I’m smarter than that. I have a facebook and I watch my kids online.” You might have a Facebook. So do I. And so does my mom and my grandma and all of her friends. But you know who doesn’t have a Facebook? Your kid’s friends. I took an informal poll of my 150 students at the beginning of the year, and 60-80% of my students don’t even have a facebook. They connect with each other onKik, an app that allows users to text each other without exchanging phone numbers. They use Snapchat, an app that allows users to send pictures that supposedly disappear forever after ten seconds. They use Whisper, an app that a user can “anonymously” tell their deepest secrets to a vast community of other secret sharers. They use Yik Yak, Vine, Tumblr, Twitter (do you know about subtweeting? you should.), Instagram, Oovoo, WhatsApp, Meerkat, and sometimes even dating apps, like Tinder.

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I am a pastor. Here’s why I don’t want you to pray for me. by Theresa Latini. 

Please do not pray for me unless you are willing to walk with me.

Know me. Hear the depths of my fear or anguish or whatever it might be and let it affect you.

Then let us bring our (not just my) most profound needs vulnerably before God. Please do not try to escape that vulnerability. Because if you do, you have left me, and that is not prayer. It is not communion with God through Christ by the spirit.

What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well by Heather Plett. 

What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.

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The Right Words to Say: On being read as White by Dahlia Grossman-Heinze.

When you meet me for the first time, you read me as if I were a book. Every idea you have about me and every word I say is part of that book.

When you look at me, you will think I am white. I already know this. When you shake my hand and meet me for the first time, you always already read me as white. You will hear me speak English without an accent and think I am white. You will hear or read my last name and think I am white. You read me wrong.

10 images of the Baltimore riots you won’t see on TV by Natasha Norman. 

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Expanding the ways we experience God by Shauna Niequist.

So many people I talk to are trying to find language for what’s happening inside them, and often the closest they can get is that their faith has stopped working. For many of them, I think possibly what they mean is that the tools they’ve been using to experience a life of faith have stopped working.

Confessions of a high church millenial: Is liturgy a fad? by Erik Parker. 

Christian millennials seem to live in this multi-layered world of reading the bible on their iPhone and tweeting in church, while singing ancient plainsong and praying prayers spoken by saints of centuries past.

Until your pride melts by Kim Hall.

What can we do with all our soul trouble? Where can we take it?

The season of Lent says to God’s people: “Bring it.” Bring your dry bones, your numb hearts, and your wrecked and weary souls. Bring your shame and the sin that you can’t shake. Yes, it is too much for you, but it is not too much for God. Only He can create a clean heart and a renewed spirit within you.

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Note to Self: Finding balance in the digital age by Manoush Zomorodi.

Formerly known as “New Tech City”, I’ve been listening to this podcast a lot and HIGHLY recommend it – one of the best, most thoughtful shows around. Check it out!!!

Look Up. (Spoken word on the importance of using technology thoughtfully)

I forgot my phone.

 

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Lenses of a faithful follower.

I do not often feel full of faith. As a matter of fact, I am far more frequently filled with questions of hows and whys and whens and what ifs. I have known those who walk away from faith in the face of such seeming unbelief. I, too, have had my moments wondering if my lack of belief equated an insurmountable lack of faith. When I reflect on what I have found faith to be, however, I am astounded by how much more there is to being a faithful follower of Christ than merely belief.

The puzzle of many homes.

Surely God intended some of us to stay and some of us to go, some to plant and some to tend, some seeds to grow deep roots and others to float on the wind. It is a purpose that we struggle to accept when we leave behind loved ones and familiar lands.

101 culturally diverse Christian voices.

Check out this list of voices from many backgrounds!

And just for fun…. Meet Dumbledore, my pet tortoise. He really likes dandelions and exploring the back yard. However, he does not-at-all like it when the dog gets ahold of him and tries to bury him.

Dumbledore the Tortoise loves Dandelions

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The puzzle of many homes

Photo by PeterDargatz, public domain

Photo by PeterDargatz, public domain

In honor of our dear friends on their return to the Midwestern home they left long ago. May the many gifts of a life lived between worlds be theirs in abundance.

I am not a Third Culture Kid. I have one home with deep roots and long histories and pictures-on-the-wall-for-decades. But I have left home, and sometimes it makes me wonder who I am now that I have parted ways with the place that cradled me as a child. It knows nothing of my new reality. It spins in place, repeating the same stories generation after generation.

My world is different now. It is filled with places my childhood mind could have never imagined. There are street tacos, saris, homeless people, loud music, dusty streets, freeways, endless plane rides and too many languages to count. It is not the big skies and broad cornfields I once knew.

I return to the cornfields one summer and a day after I arrive, I have a dream:

My husband and children are aboard a sinking ship. Anxiously awaiting their rescue, I am safe on shore. Finally rescued, they stagger off a lifeboat into my arms. My heart breathes deep relief at their presence with me.

As the dream replays in my mind, the painful reality dawns on me that my home was their sinking ship, and I am so-very-relieved they didn’t drown there. It is a conflicting reality I don’t always know how to navigate. The land that cradled me so gently had not done the same for them; it had nearly drowned them.

Who am I in this place? I wonder.

More than any other place, it has carved the majority of my days. It will always be home and yet it may never become home again. I am an outlier now. I live amongst the freeways, alongside the sea, in the shadow of the movie stars and the mountains. My family spans the whole-world-wide. My children’s friends are Chinese and Filipino and Caucasian and Vietnamese and African-American and Mexican and Chilean and too many blends to count. My students and my neighbors come from even more corners of the globe…Syria, Albania, Egypt, El Salvador, Samoa, Italy, Vietnam, Pakistan. In the space of just one week, we can eat Malaysian curry, Mexican tamales, Lebanese kabobs, Peruvian chicken, Japanese boba, Portuguese peri-peri, and an In-n-Out double double animal-style.

It is in this journey from a cornfield-mind to a global one that I taste the reality of those who have known many homes but belong to none. Tears brim as I mourn the loss of what once was, but beneath my sorrow simmers more. On this path of many homes, I am learning resilience, beauty, and humility in ways I have never before known. It teaches me to walk toward the unknown, to reach for a hand in the dark, to surrender my privilege.

By faith, Abraham left his home and went to a land he did not know. 

Me too, Abe.  Me too. 

I wonder how Abraham, Sarah, his sons and daughters felt when they left their own cornfield. Did tears brim for the loved ones they left behind, for the relationships that would never quite be the same again? Did they struggle to learn the language and navigate the foreign culture? Did they ever long for the familiar-that-once-was?

I am not a global nomad. Instead I am something of a global pioneer – the first-in-my-line making many corners of the earth my home while my roots remain buried deep in a soil far away.

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Everything changes; everything stays the same.

It is a paradox I now know well.

I fit and I don’t fit.

I belong and I stick out.

I understand completely and I am utterly baffled.

There is no longer any box. Lines established long ago are blurred now. I am left in a world wide open with unclean boundaries and shadows in every shade of gray, no longer the clean blacks-and-whites of just one place.

And God saw all that he had made and it was good, the highways whisper softly as I traverse the country from coast to cornfield to coast. Surely God intended some of us to stay and some of us to go, some to plant and some to tend, some seeds to grow deep roots and others to float on the wind. It is a purpose that we struggle to accept when we leave behind loved ones and familiar lands. Yet with each new home, I can’t help but wonder if part of this plan is, in Parker Palmer’s words, “to think the world together”.

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My feet have known the silky soil of a freshly plowed field, the dusty chaos of the developing world, the cement sterility of the city, the pristine lawns of the suburbs. These days, I am less perplexed by this world’s diversity and more fascinated by the beauty of its vast complexities. Clearly, this place is not an accident. We are pieces of a puzzle, meant to form a picture of a larger whole. 

The challenge to those-who-move-around is to understand how those pieces fit together to tell a bigger story. Some would say it’s mass chaos; and there are days we hopelessly agree. We have seen the differences mount like a giant brick wall in the middle of Berlin. Yet we’ve also seen mothers who love their children both in war and in peace, people who serve the needy in red states and blue ones, and tears in children’s eyes both rich and poor. We have lived the intensity of Willa Cather’s words that “there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”

When the last box has been packed and the goodbyes have all been said, we know far-too-well that the clashing realities of cornfields and freeways shape home for many hearts; and we embrace that sweet tension within. For while home may very well be where our story begins, it is far from where it ends. With each new step into the unknown, we cherish the gifts of the old and lean toward the hope of the new, our hearts irreversibly expanded by each of these places we’ve called home.

Posted in Spiritual Formation, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lenses of a Faithful Follower

It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt. — Fyodor Dostoyevski

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I do not often feel full of faith. As a matter of fact, I am far more frequently filled with questions of hows and whys and whens and what ifs. I have known those who walk away from faith in the face of such seeming unbelief. I, too, have had my moments wondering if my lack of belief equated an insurmountable lack of faith. When I reflect on what I have found faith to be, however, I am astounded by how much more there is to being a faithful follower of Christ than merely belief.

What creates a faithful follower? I ponder in the margins of my days. Is it unwavering belief? Unquenchable joy? Overwhelming emotion? While I have frequently seen these experiences defined as faith, none of them are especially familiar to the ever-so-rational-and-logical me. Some days, this leaves me concluding that surely I hold no faith within. Other days, however, I wonder at the full-bodied nature that this faith thing might actually entail.

Indeed, belief, joy, emotion are significant components of faith, ones that the rational-and-logical should not easily dismiss, but to view faith solely through these lenses is an incomplete understanding. When I consider how my faith has grown, there is wide array of lenses through which I see it in my life:

Steadiness. Musician Josh Garrel‘s song Farther Along explores the realities of doubt, belief, wonder and mystery:

Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man died, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because he loves em’ both
We’re all cast-aways in need of ropes
Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope
In a house of mirrors full of smoke
Confusing illusions I’ve seen

As I listened one day, I noticed that the song begins with an organ chord that is sustained in the background – without ever resting – throughout the whole song. It struck me as the perfect metaphor for God’s constancy – always there, steadily playing in the background while we create all sorts of other noise in our attempts to understand. Listen for yourself:

God’s steady presence in life leaves me asking how my faith could mirror the same. How can I be a faithful friend? spouse? parent? colleague? Through pursuing such steadiness, I’m reminded how my faith flourishes.

Tolerance for ambiguity. Perhaps one of the most striking realizations I have had in life is that I am not God. I suspect some of you are now thinking, “Wow, she’s a little dense.” You’re probably right, but humor me while I explain further.

Hard things that I do not fully understand happen on a regular basis. They are large things – war, natural disaster, senseless violence, human corruption, destructive disease. But they are also small things that touch my life far more frequently than the large things – struggles finding a satisfying job, dear friends moving away, marriages fighting to thrive, children with hard-questions or strong-wills.

I struggle most with belief when I think that I’m actually capable of understanding completely. Recognizing that the ability to fully understand is beyond my mind’s grasp – in other words, accepting that I am not God – helps me trust a Creator who understands what I do not.

I saw this recently in a conversation with our 11 year old daughter. We were attempting to explain our reasoning on a certain decision that she disagreed with. Between adults, I’ll share that this decision was influenced by things adults understand far better than kids – sticky things like people being power-hungry, manipulative, and passive aggressive. However, we simply could not explain these things to her because she wouldn’t fully understand.

“We’re not telling you the whole story on purpose,” we told her. “It’s too much for you and would overwhelm you because you wouldn’t be able to understand it all. Just trust us – one day you will understand.”

I grinned to hear myself repeating the same exact conversation I’ve had so many times with my Father-in-heaven. Just wait, says the Father-God who knows I couldn’t possibly understand completely. It’s ok not to know everything right now. Trust me.

Humility. It is out of this tolerance for the unknown that humility grows in my life. I awake after a night of tossing and turning about those-freaking-teenagers and my heart says, “This is where you have placed me. I will lean into this because it is what you have given.”

I miss the immigrants, the college students, the big ideas, the stimulating conversations, the quiet offices of my former career, but it is not where I am. Humility sinks deep as I accept the reality that what-I-think-I-want may not be what-should-be. This, too, is faith.

Dignity. The internet has spent the week marveling at the final days of Kara Tippett, the 38-year-old mother of four who has taught us all remarkable lessons about joy in suffering. “The only way to ever really die with dignity,” wrote Ann Voskamp, “is to have lived with dignity. It’s our living well that determines our dying well.”

Tears slide at these words for I know this is my end goal in spite of all the distractions that get in the way – a life of quiet dignity, of loving well, of living deep, and of holding fiercely to hope that lies beyond the grave.

Connection to others. I just spent the weekend with deep-and-old friends, the kind who know you all the way back to your stupid-days and have loved you for decades anyway. We don’t see each other like we used to anymore – our lives are now filled-to-the-brim with studies and careers and families and dogs and neighbors. Yet we had the gift of pausing to sit with one other for a few days, to ask endless questions, to walk alongside one another by the sea and to listen intently to the ups and downs of the years.

While I mourn that we don’t share our daily lives anymore, I rejoice that the connection remains, that there are spaces in the world where I am known, and that who I am is valuable to others. Having moved 7 times in 14 years means that it takes some effort to make these connections, but I am reminded of the restoration they bring to my faith every time I do. Being with soul-friends reconnects me to faith because I am able to tell my whole story to them and they hold that naked soul with gentle hands.

Gratefulness.  I paused in the shadow of the foothills this morning after dropping my kids to school. As the days go, there is always noise tumbling through my head – a worry-here and a to-do-list-there. The mountains though, they sit steady. I whisper a thank you for this steadiness before me and it calms my spirit. From there, I spend my morning noticing all the little moments I am grateful for – a walk with a friend, the warmth of home, a soft-hearted husband, curious kids, kind strangers, loving parents, a healthy body, food in my cupboards. When my eyes are turned toward goodness, the list never ends.

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Living out faith through these lenses right sizes my doubts, allowing them to walk alongside each other rather than completely dismissing all the ways that I do practice faith. It leaves even the skeptic in me humming the quiet hosana of a faithful follower.

He leadeth me: O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

Refrain:
He leadeth me, he leadeth me;
by his own hand he leadeth me:
his faithful follower I would be,
for by his hand he leadeth me.

Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,
sometimes where Eden’s flowers bloom,
by waters calm, o’er troubled sea,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

Lord, I would clasp thy hand in mine,
nor ever murmur nor repine;
content, whatever lot I see,
since ’tis my God that leadeth me.

And when my task on earth is done,
when, by thy grace, the victory’s won,
e’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
since God through Jordan leadeth me.

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The-best-ones-this-winter

These are some of my favorite reads over the past few months. If you’re still snowed in the lands of endless winter, enjoy the cozy & thought-provoking reading time!

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A glut of PhDs means long odds of getting jobs by Brenda Iasevoli. (aka the reason I returned to public school teaching)

Adjuncts and other nontenured faculty now make up three-quarters of college and university teachers. As this shift has taken place, there have been growing complaints that they work for lower wages than their tenured counterparts, and and that they lack access to health care and other benefits.

The tall task of unifying part time professors by Kate Jenkins

Adjunct professors’ troubling working conditions—some qualify for food stamps, and most don’t get health-insurance benefits—have led some to label them “the hypereducated poor.”

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Wholeness parenting – an alternative to helicopter and free range parenting by Lisa Jo Baker

In a generation growing up glued to screens, acting out the heroics of animated, one-dimensional men and plastic women, I want our boys to learn what it feels like to be a hero, rather than just to play one. I want my daughter to wear her beauty on the inside and all three to build with their hands and not just pixelated blocks.

Presence, not praise: How to cultivate a healthy relationship with achievement by Maria Popova

Admiring our children may temporarily lift our self-esteem by signaling to those around us what fantastic parents we are and what terrific kids we have — but it isn’t doing much for a child’s sense of self. In trying so hard to be different from our parents, we’re actually doing much the same thing — doling out empty praise the way an earlier generation doled out thoughtless criticism.

To my children, called in childhood by Laura Kelly Fanucci

“she reminded me that my calling as a mother is to introduce you to the wide world and the God who created it, so that I can help each of you learn how you are called in turn.”

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11 things I love about the Episcopalian church by Ben Irwin

At the altar, we all kneel, as Lindsey Harts put it. We all receive what we cannot do for ourselves. We all confess our weakness—that even the gifts we bring were God’s gifts to us in the first place. We all receive the same body and blood.

We need to do a lot better at cultivating and embracing diversity in our midst…but the altar is as good a place as any to start.

The universe and my aquarium by Philip Yancey

I keep the aquarium as a reminder.  When writer’s loneliness sets in, or suffering hits too close, or the gray of Chicago’s sky and buildings invades to color my mind and moods, I turn and gaze.  There are no mountains out my window, and the nearest blue whale is half a world away, but I do have this small rectangle to remind me of the larger world outside.  Half a million species of beetles, ten thousand wild butterfly designs, a billion fish just like mine poking around in coral reef—a lot of beauty is going on out there, often unobserved by human eyes.  My aquarium reminds me.

Woman, why are you weeping? (when your kid becomes an Episcopalian) by Amy Peterson

We attend an Episcopal church. Twenty years ago, most of the Christians I knew thought there was little true faith to be found in the Episcopal church, what with its rote prayers and female priests and politically liberal congregations. I understood, too, because I’m a mother, and I am beginning to see how impossibly fraught with emotion and responsibility and prayer and vulnerability it is to watch over your child’s spiritual formation.

The continued crucifying of Rob Bell and what it says about the state of modern Christianity by John Pavlovitz

Bell’s been doing something braver than most of the pastors overseeing churches in this country would ever do, yet the same thing that so many in their congregations wish they would do. He’s admitting the real questions that surface in the excavation of deep faith. He’s looking to separate what in this religion is of God and what is of us. He’s asking why we believe what we believe, and asking believers to do the same.

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How real people make shades of real love by Ann Voskamp

None of us ever know whom we marry. And falling in love never made anyone angels… it’s only made it clear how far we’ve fallen. Who we say ‘I do’ to —  is not who we roll over to touch twenty years later. The challenge for the vows is to fall in love with the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

Picturing Love: The stories behind 8 indellible images by Jessie Wender Stunning photos from National Geographic photographers that capture love.

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The proper weight of fear by Rachel Pieh Jones

“In August 23, 2012, before reporter Austin Tice disappeared in Syria, he wrote for The Washington Post, “No, I don’t have a death wish—I have a life wish. So I’m living, in a place, at a time and with a people where life means more than anywhere I’ve ever been—because every single day people here lay down their own for the sake of others. Coming here to Syria is the greatest thing I’ve ever done, and it’s the greatest feeling of my life.” We had a similar life wish, and it propelled us forward.”

Secret millionaire: Vermont janitor bequeaths fortune to hospital, library by Chris Serico

Known as an intensely private man who loved to chop wood and drive his second-hand Toyota Yaris around the Vermont town of Brattleboro, Read didn’t strike locals as the type of guy who had a lot of money to throw around. When the 92-year-old passed away in June, most Brattleboro residents were shocked to learn his estate donated $4.8 million to the local hospital and $1.2 million to the town’s Brooks Memorial Library.

Why we need to slow down our lives by Pico Iyer

As I travel the world, one of the greatest surprises I have encountered has been that the people who seem wisest about the necessity of placing limits on the newest technologies are, often, precisely the ones who helped develop those technologies, which have bulldozed over so many of the limits of old. The very people, in short, who have worked to speed up the world are the same ones most sensitive to the virtue of slowing down.

The most ignored commandment by Nancy Sleeth

Our generation is the first in 2,000 years of church history that is on the go 24/7. But this experiment in Sabbath-less living is taking a huge toll. It’s called time debt. We overcommit. We multi-task. We stay so busy we don’t have enough time for relationships with family and friends, let alone God.

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Thoughts from a recovering racist by Josh Throneburg

“Please, please, please don’t say things like, “Race doesn’t matter – we are all just human” or “Race isn’t the issue here”. Race matters. Race is the issue. Being black is the issue. Being white is the issue Skin color is the issue. And to suggest that these don’t matter devalues the life experience of racial minorities as well as makes you someone they know doesn’t understand – and they can’t trust.”

The rise of biblical counseling by Kathryn Joyce

On Christian blogs and websites, complaints about biblical counseling are starting to accumulate: of abused women counseled to discover their role in their husband’s domestic violence; of molested children declared healed after a one-time, 45-minute counseling session. Biblical counseling has also been cited as a contributing factor to scandals at several prominent conservative Christian colleges.

Popular-on-Between-Worlds

Aching thoughts on Ferguson

There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more than to be genuinely shaken up,” wrote Jesuit priest Alfred Delp in his essay The Shaking of Advent. “Where life is firm we need to sense its firmness; and where it is unstable and uncertain and has no basis, no foundation, we need to know this too and endure it.”

This – both the firm and the unstable – is what the Ferguson headlines, the #blacklivesmatter statements, and yes, even my tiring-teens reveal. Some of us have been living unshaken for far too long.

In honor of the steady faithful

Recently, I’ve started reflecting on the ways that I’ve experienced healing and growth in the midst of the deeply broken places. As I ponder, I remember quiet lives of reconciliation lived with a steady faithfulness and unwavering commitment to heal this deeply broken piece of God’s kingdom.

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In honor of the steady faithful

“But I was exposed early to the real stuff – Top Shelf Christianity – Deep and Old Christianity. This kind is practiced by people who work until they stink and take life in great draughts. Their hands are as rough as their hides, and they DO their faith in secret, hiding their good works in obedience to Christ. They know how to love and be loved in return. Their laughter is loud and has its roots in joy.” – Gordon Atkinson

“There is no shortage of good days, it is good lives that are hard to come by.” – Annie Dillard

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I’ve spent a great deal of time both in my writing and my personal life sorting out the ways that I’ve seen race & culture mishandled, especially by Christians & the Church. Sadly, it’s not a difficult experience to find – we are, undeniably, a broken people.

Recently, however, I’ve started reflecting on the ways that I’ve experienced healing and growth in the midst of the deeply broken places. As I ponder, I remember quiet lives of reconciliation lived with a steady faithfulness and unwavering commitment to heal this deeply broken piece of God’s kingdom. In honor of Martin Luther King’s legacy, I’m compelled to share about them today.

I think first of my father-in-law, a humble and unassuming man who surrendered a successful medical career in the US to return to his war-torn home and serve as a government doctor in the rural areas that were suffering greatly from the violence. The war was ethnic, and my father-in-law was often the only ethnic majority person living in areas dominated by the country’s minority group. There were long days with no electricity or water at times and resources were severely lacking. In spite of this, he worked hard to provide the best medical care he could in an area of significant deprivation for years. His work broke down ethnic lines and over time, he became beloved in this community. It wasn’t safe or comfortable or even ‘wise’ at times, but the reconciliation story it tells is striking.

I think next of my brother-in-law, an African-American man currently serving as a public defender in Amish country. A graduate of the East’s most prestigious schools, he could have pursued a far more lucrative path, but instead chooses to work in the broken places and genuinely enjoys his work. Over the course of our lives, we have spent hours in conversation working out life’s details, many of which inevitably include racial issues. While I cringe when I remember questions about race I’ve asked him over the years, he never has. Instead, he’s patiently and kindly shared the reality he has walked for a lifetime. He regularly extends kindness to those with whom he has little in common – mennonite theologians, criminal clients, pig farmers, neighbors in the midst of very difficult lives – and spends hours listening to their stories so that he can learn from them. His consistent honesty and commitment to providing justice in the midst of broken places brings healing to our world one small step at a time.

I think of the white history professor at the small university in the midwestern cornfield, a man fiercely-but-gently committed to educating a predominantly white campus about the history of the civil rights movement. His understanding of racial brokenness ran deep, and he was masterful at helping privileged and often ignorant people engage in realities they had not ever known. When we announced our departure from those very cornfields, he and his wife overflowed with joy for us, for they understood the deep strain the environment had held for our family. We felt the hands of God upholding us through their joy for us in those moments as we hobbled out of town.

I think of another white man of deep kindness in that same small cornfield town. He loved rhododendrons, his wife, and generally everyone around him. His kindness alone created safety for sharing brokenness, and so we spoke quietly at his dining room table about the reality we knew that was so-very-different-than-his. While he may not have fully understood our reality, his willingness to say-so and then to listen and even admit ignorance was a breath of fresh air in a place where so many assumed everyone was just-like-them.

I think of the elderly African-American academic who has mentored my professor-husband in Christian higher ed for most of his adult life. While their relationship is not frequent, it is potent and life-giving, helping my husband navigate the maze of often being-the-only-one with boldness, grace and dignity.

I think of the countless women of color who have modeled such grace and dignity for me. Their lives of fierce honesty and intense pursuit of forgiveness and reconciliation remind me that this path is not always smooth, quiet, or simple. When I pause to remember what is good, their stories of perseverance and wisdom linger long in my story.

I think of the handful of dear-friends who have walked alongside us – celebrating with us when we rejoice and listening to us when we ache. They know our whole-story and still, they remain, sometimes in moments far-too-spaced-out, but ever-present, always steady.

The cacophony of the masses fade when I pause to remember the quiet and steady faithfulness of individual lives pursuing the reconciliation of all things.  They are not merely ‘good people’ but rather quite normal people whose choices and life direction stem deeply from their Christian faith, from their belief in what the church should be and the role they are to play in it regardless of how flawed it actually is. 

They are my “Top-shelf Christians”, these secret, hidden, and unadvertised lives, never to be known widely beyond their own social spheres. Christian magazines will not feature them in headlines nor will they boast of their own initiatives on social media. They don’t wear Christian t-shirts or boast fish bumper stickers; they just do their best to follow Christ’s example of loving the other and tending to brokenness. They are no Barack Obamas, Mother Teresas, or Martin Luther Kings, but their lives of steady faithfulness serve the same purpose. There are so many more just like them, and these well-lived lives offer glimpses of hope into what could be were we all to follow their example.

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If you are so inclined, I’d love to hear stories of the Top-Shelf Christians in your lives who model this same faithfulness. This reconciliation-business is a complicated tasks, and the more examples we have, the better we learn how to go about actually living it out. Share your own stories or links to other examples in the comments below!

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Dear Dr. King: A thank you note from a white mother of biracial children

This was so popular last year, I’m reposting it in honor of the MLK holiday this weekend. Enjoy!

The first time I heard you say you had a dream, I didn’t know it would be for my children.  But in those first moments when I stared into their deep brown eyes, held their tiny caramel hands in my pale ones, and paused to consider the ‘content of their character’, my heart whispered your words to them.

I have a dream.

While I didn’t always know I’d need them, those four little words breathed hope into my new-mother heart.

Because of you, I would not raise children labeled ‘half-breeds’ or ‘less-than’ by the majority of society.  Your dream offered them full lives and beautiful love.

Because of you, the laws that would have once prohibited me from loving their father have long since died away.  Your persistence gave us the freedom to be a family.

Because of you, my children watched someone with a beautifully mixed story like theirs swear an oath of allegiance to our beloved homeland and become its Commander-in-Chief.  Your leadership was another step forward toward ceilings that are beginning to shatter.

Because of you, our understanding of the Gospel includes rough places made plain and crooked places made straight.  Your belief taught us to seek healing and to fight for restoration.  

Because of you, we, too have hewn out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.  Your hope gave us perseverance to keep going when we didn’t think we could.

Freedom rings loudly in our home today as we celebrate your memory, grateful that we do not walk alone, hopeful for this American-dream rooted in love instead of money, fiercely blessed by the days we share.  Together, we carry your dream forward one small step at a time.

Marching ahead gratefully,

Jody

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