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

swirl

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.

swirl

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!

Posted in Belief, Culture & Race | 1 Comment

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

Related Posts

Posted in Culture & Race | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

A look back at 2014

It’s been a busy year! Here’s a look at the most popular links, clicks, and posts on Between Worlds this year – enjoy!

Most Popular Posts on Between Worlds:

  1. 101 Culturally Diverse Christian Voices
  2. When White People Don’t Know They’re Being White
  3. Dear ‘Merica: A Lament
  4. 5 Painful Realities of White Privilege
  5. 4 Reasons White People Need to Talk about Race
  6. 4.5 Tips to Help White People Talk about Race
  7. 4 Reasons White People Don’t Talk about Race
  8. 10 Reasons I’m Reading Harry Potter to my Children
  9. 9 Ways to Help Children Develop Global Awareness
  10. Dear Lego: Yellow is not a ‘Neutral’ Skin Color

Most Popular Clicks on Between Worlds:

  1. 101 Christian Women Speakers (Rachel Held Evans)
  2. Urban Church Plantations (Christena Cleveland)
  3. Your Jesus (The Beautiful Due)
  4. Hidden Assumptions and Minority Burdens (The Washington Institute)
  5. Explaining White Privilege to a Broke Person (The Feminist Breeder)
Posted in Miscellany | Leave a comment

Aching thoughts on Ferguson

It is the end of a long week with teenagers. #thankyouJesus

They are precious, those half-baked and hope-filled ones, but they are entirely exhausting. In quiet moments, my heart hangs heavy from hints of broken lives and battered souls. They try to hide it behind apathy or attitude, but still I see it for the deep-aching that it is.

My own soul has been deep-aching again. The current state of the country brings up conflicting sides of my identity: the “super-white” side of me that doesn’t inherently grasp the racial atrocities at hand and the “recovering racist” in me that knows they are very real and raw for many in our country. 

It shakes me that after all these years I still don’t always get it, that I still have to ask someone to explain to me the realities of pain they’ve known. It shakes me that I don’t know what-the-hell-to-say as the two sides shout it out between pain and pride. It shakes me that, in my teenager-induced exhaustion, I am afraid to say anything because I fear offending both sides with my own instability.

swirl

When I returned to the Midwest last summer, I had a haunting dream.

I am waiting on the shore, desperately anxious, torn-apart for my husband and children who I have just learned are on a sinking ship. I am standing on solid ground on the shore, powerless over their fate, watching the horizon for any sign of their lives.

Suddenly, they arrive together in a life boat. They stagger over its edge into my arms and my relief over their safety overwhelms me. I collapse in tears. 

They are alive. 

They didn’t sink with the ship. 

We are safe now, together.

There is no clearer symbol of our move from the rural midwest to Southern California. A few days later, I had another dream:

My family and I are huddled together behind a door, hiding from an angry man in dingy overalls with a sawed-off shotgun who is shouting racial slurs at us. I cower in fear.

Suddenly, my brother and his wife are there, standing firm between the man and the door hiding us, “You cannot go in!” they shout at him as they fight him off. “We won’t let you hurt them.” 

I awaken, shaken again by the depth of protection I felt because someone saw and acknowledged our pain, even if they did not fully understand it.

swirl

The dreams fade away and simmer deep under the layers of daily life. Months later, these headlines shake me back to reality and I cannot help but think of the many families who aren’t rescued from the sinking ships, who are torn apart by the raging waters of racial brokenness. I think of the relief that comes from knowing those who seek deeper understanding, and the pain of navigating those those who assume too much. I think of the weariness that sinks deep when we feel alone in the battle.

Slowly, a gratefulness arises for the shaking that these headlines bring. We’ve needed it for quite some time now, and the time has come for more of us to stand firm with a voice that shouts, “We won’t let them hurt you.” 

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. 

The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth,” challenged Delp from his cell in a Nazi prison. He was condemned as a traitor for his opposition to Hitler and hanged in 1945.

As the protests, hashtags, debates and dismissals abound, I’m spending my Advent asking the Lord to preserve us all in ways that help us listen to and value each other. I’m praying that this shaking will teach me how to be a defender of other weary souls who need it like my family once did. I’m praying for protection from weariness for those standing firm in the trenches to create something whole from this brokenness. I’m praying for an adolescent nation that needs to grow-up and come to terms with its broken reality. I’m praying we will all pause long enough to remember what is firm and holy and good.

It is this soul-remembering season of Advent that reminds the weary world to rejoice. May the wait for His Coming teach us how to love one another better in a shaking and shattered world.

Further Reading

Alfred Delp Quote from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, December 5.

Posted in Social & Political Issues, Spiritual Formation | Tagged | 1 Comment

The-best-ones-this-Fall

Returning to full time work has slowed down my reading significantly, but I’ve still squished in a bit of time here and there! Enjoy some of the best articles I’ve read over the past few months…

the-ones-about-parenting

What’s a dad to do when his daughter wants to dress up as Hans Solo for Halloween by Tom M. Burns

But I think my big takeaway from all this will be — equality goes both ways. If I’m going to tell my daughter that she can do almost anything a man can do (excepting some very specific biological acts), then I need to show her that a man can do almost anything a woman can do, too…

Can hyper-involved parents learn to back off? by Brigid Schulte

“There’s such a status thing here: ‘I went Georgetown. I want my kid to go to Georgetown or better.’ It’s such a rat race,” says Bowers, who has lived in McLean for 24 years. “Nobody is taking a step back and asking, ‘Is going to Princeton going to make me happier in the long run? Is this even right for my child?’ Because there are real consequences to living this way.”

How cultures around the world think about parenting by Amy Choi

What can American parents learn from how other cultures look at parenting? A look at child-rearing ideas in Japan, Norway, Spain — and beyond.

the-ones-that-give-pause-for-thought

Judging America: Photographer challenges our prejudice by alternating between judgment and reality by Joel Pares

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 6.28.27 AM

Christopher Columbus was awful (but this other guy was not) by The Oatmeal

Why there should be no Columbus Day

Overrated: People aren’t projects by Eugene Cho

the-most-fascinating-statistics

Hans Rosling’s 200 countries, 200 years, 4 minutes

“Hans Rosling’s famous lectures combine enormous quantities of public data with a sport’s commentator’s style to reveal the story of the world’s past, present and future development. Now he explores stats in a way he has never done before – using augmented reality animation. In this spectacular section of ‘The Joy of Stats’ he tells the story of the world in 200 countries over 200 years using 120,000 numbers – in just four minutes. Plotting life expectancy against income for every country since 1810, Hans shows how the world we live in is radically different from the world most of us imagine.”

the-ones-that-said-what-I-was-thinking

When a pastor resigns abruptly by John Ortberg

I was struck, too, by the language quoted in news reports yesterday to describe this situation. The pastor, the board said, had been guilty of arrogance—along with other attitudes and behaviors associated with arrogance. But had not been charged with “immorality.”

When did arrogance cease to be immoral?

Being Midwestern (a four year primer) by Amy L. Peterson.

If I were a graduate of four years in Hoosier Land, what were the required courses I’d taken? What had I learned?

the-ones-about-race

What does it mean to be white? by Robin DiAngelo

In the U.S., while individual whites might be against racism, they still benefit from their group’s control. Yes, an individual person of color can sit at the tables of power, but the overwhelming majority of decision-makers will be white. Yes, white people can have problems and face barriers, but systematic racism won’t be one of them.

Tips for avoiding racial missteps from the makes of ‘Dear White People’

A great compilation of clips from the new Indie film.

Posted in The-best-ones | Leave a comment

When what you thought would happen doesn’t

Holiness

One of the great joys of working with young people is hearing their dreams.

“I’m going to be an artist.”
“I’ll be a basketball star.”
“I want to travel the world.”
“I’ll be a famous musician.”

Youth can have such hope. The challenge for the older and wiser in their lives, however, is helping them develop the character to maintain their hope if their dreams don’t pan out. I’m forever grateful for the models in my own life who have helped me learn this lesson for it, too, has been a series of dreams, readjusted.

I went to the college of my dreams. I thought it would be the highlight of my life – four years rich with faith and fun in a thriving community. Instead, those years grew dark. Faith walked out the door and the “thriving community” felt a whole lot more like “brainless group-think” to my skeptical soul.

I married the man of my dreams. Deep down, I expected our marriage would be a candlelit-fairytale-just-like-the-movies. Instead, we stumbled over ourselves painfully in our early years of marriage.

We moved to the east coast when we got married. We thought we’d be there a year or two before heading overseas to live-and-save-the-world. Instead, those doors shut and we got a crash course in learning to save ourselves.

Dreams die hard, and even with doors clearly shut, we hoped and pursued overseas work again.  Instead, we landed in a Midwestern cornfield.

I planned to stay home with our young kids. My own mom had been home when we were young and it seemed like a path I would enjoy. Instead, I nearly lost my mind from diapers and tantrums and I found a job-outside-the-house just to maintain some measure of sanity.

I grew to love my-job-outside-the-house. It was life-giving and perfect for me. I thought I’d found a lifelong career path. Instead, our family needs grew more important than my career ones and I walked away.

I wish I could say that each one of these changes-in-plan came with a steady faith and assurance of God’s guidance in my life. That is not, however, the case. With every instead also came moments of confused and desperate questions like Where are you, God? and Why me?  As time passed, I began to see a bigger picture, but in the midst of the little-moments, I could see nothing but the very next step.

During one of the more difficult insteads years ago, a soul-friend encouraged me to write a letter to God with my honest feelings, not the ones I thought I was supposed to have. After detailing the injustices I’d felt, I ended my letter with these words:

In Your mystery, You were gracious to me. At least, this is what I tell myself. But that’s not what I really feel. What I really feel is resentment toward you for what is happening. I’m angry that you didn’t lead me to a different way. I’m bitter that you let the water boil over to burn me, leaving my soul blistered and raw. I’m ashamed that I am not the perfect little child I’d chalked myself up to be. I’m grieving the life that I had so glorified and dreading the life that you are preparing for me.

I feel a little guilty that I don’t have the ‘right’ attitude about this. But I’ve spent far too long faking it, and can’t muster up even one more mask. I doubt it would do much good anyway. What I’m looking for now, father-god, is the real thing. I feel like I’ve been slowly shedding the fake stuff for years now, and am desperate for the real.

So here I am, my blistered, raw and aching soul ripped wide open.

Do with me as you will.

Through quiet tears, I read the letter aloud to my soul-friend. When I finished, she gave me words that I will carry in my heart forever, “I’ve just witnessed a holy moment.”

It was the breaking of the dam for me, the first moment when I saw that holiness is not merely doing-the-right-things but rather living-fully-into-what-is. I look back now and see that the insteads were deeply holy years, ripe with moments that stripped me of all notions of what I thought should be and gave me the gift of living into what actually is.

Truth is, the insteads will always be part of life. Whether dramatic-and-life-changing or small-and-seemingly-insignificant, my well-constructed plan may not always be the one that actually goes into effect.

The relationship will be hard.

The job will not go smoothly.

The dog will try to eat the tortoise.

The move will be lonely.

The children will make broken choices.

While these years don’t hold near the drama or angst of my twenties, I find them equally intense, filled to the brim with holy-and-breathtaking-moments that I don’t notice as often as I should. As life tumbles day after day into a series of completing to-do lists, pursuing long-term goals, navigating career choices, guiding little-souls and deepening friendships, the holy moments feel far more like holy days, holy weeks, holy years. And very few of those moments are happening exactly-how-I-thought-they-would, thank God. (Who knows where I’d be left entirely to my own devices?!?)

When what you thought would happen doesn’t, everything shifts. Questions surface. Anxieties bubble. Hope teeters. This is when the holy begins, for it is in the moments where our grip is loose enough for our fingers to actually let go that we begin to grasp the real meaning of faith. While the moments don’t feel particularly holy, they require a level of honesty, courage, hope, perseverance and wisdom that I had no idea how much I needed when I tearfully whispered those words that broke open the holy-moments, “Do with me as you will.”


Related Posts

Posted in Belief, Spiritual Formation | 1 Comment

Jesus is not a band-aid: Making life-giving decisions when God feels silent

Don’t brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow;
you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.
Proverbs 27:1 (The Message)
 

Sometimes I think life would be a whole lot easier if God were more of a cosmic puppeteer who made our choices for us rather than leaving us to all of this unpredictable and overwhelming freedom.

Of course, I’m happy to be in control of the little decisions in life like if to buy ice cream, when to go to bed or which lane to drive on the freeway. But the big decisions – like living with integrity, raising healthy children, thriving relationally, navigating career steps, managing money - they’re freakin’ hard. The answers for these questions don’t always fall clearly at my feet and it sure would be helpful if someone just showed up and said, “Here is the path for your life! Take it!”

Some days, I scour my Bible for the verse that reads:

Thou shalt take the job that is offered to you on August 1, 2014 at 9:03 a.m., live in the brown house with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms on Main Street, buy a 20 gallon aquarium for your son with the next paycheck, and become best friends with the brown-haired lady in the polka-dot shirt who smiles at you in the hallway next week.
 

Instead, I find these words:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me besides still waters.
He restores my soul.   
 

Apparently, the Bible speaks more clearly to giving life than to dictating its specific terms. Not all decisions are clear-cut, and sometimes the only thing God promises is to walk with us through them, not to tell us which way to go. My struggle, however, with this promise has often been that I still have to make hard decisions. While God’s presence helps me put one foot in front of the other, it doesn’t tell me exactly what to do. It’s kind of like my dad used to tell me, “Jesus isn’t a band-aid* that we just slap on to fix every little problem.” 

Sometimes healing (and decision-making and life-skill building and relationships and parenting and professional expertise and personal awareness) takes time and energy to learn.  Sometimes we mess up and realize we don’t know that first thing about tomorrow or how to get there.

This is where wisdom and discernment enter the picture.  Years ago, I started a pile of 3×5 cards where I kept all sorts of pieces of life-giving wisdom that I discovered in the process of walking through life. Some came from Bible verses, others from books or quotes. On each card, I’d designate a topic that the words applied to in my life. Themes like courage, insecurity, risk-taking, judgmentalism, and hope began to appear that reflected my life situations. Here are a few examples:

IMG_1056

IMG_1057 IMG_1058 IMG_1059 IMG_1060 IMG_1061 IMG_1062 IMG_1064

When I reach those moments where God’s presence feels far-away because I’m so overwhelmed by life’s details, I grab my Life-giver cards, find the topics pertinent to the day, and sneak to the back patio (followed invariably by the kids, the dog and the tortoise) to sit with wisdom compiled over the years. Occasionally the kids get too loud or the dog tries to eat the tortoise, but overall, the practice of sitting with wise words – even when chaos surrounds me – keeps me honest, recenters my perspective and calms my anxieties.

These calm-in-the-storm moments are far more than a band-aid… They are a balm, handlebars for life on the days when I feel wildly out-of-control and uncertain about tomorrow. I love that they’re low-tech (no social media connections to distract me), consistent and portable. I love that they’re starting to yellow and show the years because each time I revisit them, I’m reminded of the many timeless truths that have given me so much life.

I’d love to hear from you… What are your handlebars when band-aids fail to heal? How do you walk through life’s big decisions and unknown outcomes with courage and hope?

swirl

* As it turns out, my dad was kind of wrong. Jesus is actually a band-aid and you can buy him here…sigh.

** I’d like to also take the opportunity to give a shout-out to Jan Johnson, the author who should receive credit for the cards above referencing fear, community, and anger. If you haven’t read her books, you should.


Related Posts

Posted in Belief, Spiritual Formation | 4 Comments