On race relations and being a Christian

Imagine a happy table, surrounded by people from the world over.

A meal of mixed cultures covers the counter and we sit together, laughing at the antics of children, hugging babies and talking about the different cultures from which we all hail. There is so much love in the room, love which we found for each other originally in our shared faith, but has grown with the knowledge of each other as we share our hopes and fears and likes and dislikes,  laughing at differences and similarities. Eating deviled eggs and rice and Calypso chicken and drinking tea (a commonality!), the large world becomes small.

In the course of conversation, we discuss what it is like to come to the U.S. as a foreigner. What advice was given? The mood becomes quieter, less jovial, as the following story is told:

“My brother has lived in the U.S. for a long time. Since the 1970’s. I called and spoke with him about my upcoming move and he told me to be careful. That things are different here and I will need to watch out for myself. As a man of dark skin color, I would be treated differently than at home. He had been pulled over by police for no real cause and insulted, ‘What do you think you are doing here, boy?’ “

His brother had to watch every move he made. Watch what he said. For it was so easy to be turned into the stereotype of the ‘Angry Black Man’ for merely being upset that he was being unjustly treated. 

This, he explained, is the poisonous cycle:  A man is treated with contempt by someone in a position of authority. He cannot hold his temper any longer and speaks back in anger. Maybe he puts a hand out or raises his voice. He is quickly arrested. Or beaten. Or worse. His family is left wondering what happened. What did he do? Surely nothing to incite this overreaction. Who wouldn’t be upset when wrongly detained and insulted and denied justice? So they become angry. The next family member carries that with him and is unable to hide his contempt when facing a similar situation. 

Those in authority are no longer trusted but arbitrary dealers of punishment based on race and stereotype.

And then there was more. A story of our peaceful, idyllic small town. 

He was walking home from class when he noticed a police car. The officer made a u-turn then followed him. She parked in a cul-de-sac and watched him. He could feel her eyes upon him. He made sure to keep his hands visible. To walk at a steady pace. He did not wish to risk arrest or confrontation because he made the wrong move.

Horrified silence around the table.

Merely because of his skin color, this man who is kind and gentle and funny, a man who has answered a spiritual call to go to Seminary, was being watched by the local police officer.

What if he had been wearing a hoodie? What if it had been dark? What if he had run away in fear of someone stalking his movements?

Would we be reading a story about a man who “looked suspicious” being shot down?

Would we see pictures of the scene, blood spilling over his book bag full of  Biblical texts and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries? 

 Stories like this  need be told around the dinner table. Stories of what it is like to live in an environment suffused with racism, stereotype and misunderstanding. Told to people of different ethnicity who are sharing a meal so that in this relaxed environment, this time of sharing and eating and laughing, we can be receptive to the truth. That our societal struggle with race is far from over. 

For until it is personal, until we feel the threat to people that we know, people that we love, people with whom we break bread, we will never do the hard work of dismantling the system. 

As long as we remain in our comfortable boxes, only associating with those who look, speak, dress, and act like us, we will never begin to understand what it is like to move through society as a black man. Or a white woman. Or a person who is disabled. Or an immigrant.  If we do not live that reality, we cannot understand what it is like unless we interact in meaningful ways with those who do.

The vision of heaven we are given is this, ”  [I] looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” 

If we are going to loudly announce to the world that we are followers of Christ, we had better make sure our actions fit our words. 

Every nation.

Every tribe.

Every people.

Every language.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr. 

 

 

 

 

 

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For Boston

1  mixing balls and powder

Drops of malice in a tube

27,000 writing ball point pen

Name

Address

Age

1 map on table

Studying placement

27,000 maps on tables

Learning the route

1 rising early

Destination intent

Tidy packages of evil gently placed

27,000 with shoes tied on

Numbers pinned

Kisses for good luck

And then

An intersection

Empty shoes scattered

Veins broken open

Windows shattered

27,000 running

27,000 lives

In the numbers I find my solace.

27,000 to 1.

The ratio of good to evil can be shown

quantified

proven

Good will triumph

27,000 > 1.

 

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On heartache & schools & guns

My kitchen table is  made of 100 year old wood, cracked and full of imperfections. The table is covered in marks, nail pops, paint smudges from enthusiastic art projects, school books and notebooks and jars of sprinkles from last night’s cookie making. Our set of advent candles sits in the middle. My two oldest children are quietly arranged on each side, writing spelling words and completing their math work for the day.

Baby is napping.

Warm sunlight filters in through the bay window, where we can look out and watch the birds at the feeder or wonder how the bees are faring in the hive. This is how we do school. It is gentle. It is supportive. It is at home.

Today our little Eden has been invaded by the need to discuss an event so tragic, so big, they are destined to hear about it.  Children their age have been shot and killed.

I debated how to tell them about this event. About the monstrous evil that can lurk in the heart of every human. Of how a young man can choose to take the lives of children and adults to try and fill the hole in his own heart by spreading violence and destruction.

I  tell them this:

Our world is broken, my darlings. Broken and filled with heartache. God intended such wonderful things for us and still does, but we must choose those good things. With the ability to choose to do right and good, comes the opposite. The ability to choose evil. Just as God does not force us to believe in or accept his power or love or grace, he will not prevent us from doing evil, if it is our will to do so. The choice is ours. We can choose to walk in light and love, making the world a better place for all or we can choose to walk the path of self-interest, hatred, and corruption.

Every day and every minute, we make these choices. When we choose to share with our friends or hide our special toy. When we open the door for someone whose hands are full or let it slam in her face. Life is about choices. God supports us in our choices and helps give us the strength to make good choices in difficult times. He is there to comfort us when someone else’s bad choices cause us pain.

After I spoke, there were tears all around as we grieved for the loss.

For whom should we pray, I ask? “The children, the families, the family of the shooter and the shooter himself,” they answer.  All are in need of prayer.

We light the candle.

“Help. Help. Help. Help us Lord Jesus. Please help people to quit making bad choices. Please help people to love each other,” prays my freckle-faced boy.

Indeed. Help us Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And the greatest of these is love…

Signs are created and waved. Chants ring out.

God hates Fags!

Christian Bigots!

People marching. Blocking streets with bodies and debris. Peaceful singing. Riots.

The rich suck the blood of the poor!

The poor suck the teat of the government!

Knees are bent on a street corner in prayer, one eye on God, the other judging a woman as she quietly walks into a clinic.

Baby killer!

Anti-choice!

Protect your rights. Know your rights. Demand your rights! Each side screaming,  righteous indignation and anger spilling across the sidewalk.

Haven’t we figured it out yet? Why don’t we see the truth? Listen to the Teacher, the Word, when given the opportunity to sum up theology and religion and faith:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

It gives me chills.

He could have said anything. He, who was there in the beginning, who is now and will be forever, had the chance to tell us exactly what was important. And he didn’t say condemn. And he didn’t say yell. And he didn’t say judge. He said to Love God and Love Others.

It is time for people of faith to put down the signs. Stop the marches. Stop the anger. We are called to love. We are called to live in quiet harmony with our neighbors, working to help those in need, providing comfort and sustenance to widows and orphans – not get in fist fights about our faith.

“But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

“Our Lord’s meaning is, ‘Do not repel one outrage by another.’ He that does so makes himself precisely what the other is...”  Turn to him the other cheek. Not just refusing to respond in kind, but offering up the other cheek. Do we have the strength for this type of action?

Do we have the strength to respond to a slap in quiet humility and love? To let go of our need to prove we are right and say, “I will respond to you in Love. I will not act out of anger”? Do we have the strength to extend grace exactly as God does – to all people.  His grace is not extended only to white, middle-class, straight, “right” thinking people. His divine, all-encompassing love is extended to all of his beloved creation. I believe we do have the strength to Love, to respond to anger and accusations with humility. We must first regain our eternal perspective and find our strength in HIS Power, HIS grace and HIS Love.

This moment. Brief and fast moving, it is a dot on the map of eternity. How we choose to spend this moment can change the world. So, let us be the ones to take the first steps in the work towards reconciliation. Let us find the real meaning of the Teacher’s words, not gloss over them in mindless familiarity, no inward reflection or personal application needed.

We must remember that this life is just a beginning. A jumping off point. God is calling us into eternal communion. That’s so much bigger and more important than whether or not we eat a chicken sandwich or pay a certain tax rate. Why are we wasting energy?

I cannot ask non-Christians to behave in a certain way. But to my fellow believers, I say this – our job is to love. Our job is to provide hope. Our job is to provide help. Our job is to share Jesus. God’s Love and Grace are extended to Gay and Straight. Pro-life and Pro-choice. Rich and Poor. Dark skin and light. Old and young. ALL OF HIS BELOVED CREATION. No exceptions. No exclusions. No distinctions.Let’s focus on our job and quit engaging in politics. Quit engaging in angry rhetoric. Regain your eternal perspective and let’s do what the Teacher told us to do .

Love God, Love Others.

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I do not pray at bedtime.

Exhausted from a day of teaching, praising, disciplining, cooking, cleaning, dancing, singing, picking, canning, part-time paralegal-ing, volunteering, and just plain living, I usually fall into bed. I read a bit and then off to sleep. This time, when most hit their knees in devotion or half-heartedly throw up a few thanks or pleadings just before drifting off to sleep, doesn’t work for me. A life-long insomniac, I need to turn off my brain and not engage it in active conversation (and really, good prayer time is a conversation) if I want to find rest.

I do not keep a prayer journal. I am barely putting entries in the children’s baby books a few times a year, so a daily prayer journal just isn’t going to happen.

I do not have a prayer partner or pray with my husband. I am sure that lots of church folks would tell us that it would enrich our lives or make us love each other more, but we are fine with our routines.

I do pray.

For example, this morning I was picking blackberries, listening to my children play in their small pool, happily splashing as I marveled at the juicy hugeness of a ripe blackberry. The sun was shining and a gentle breeze blew across the yard. It was one of those perfect summer moments. My mind wandered as I searched for ripe berries, wondering…

My lovely life has as much to do with luck and other people’s choices as it does with decisions I have made. Let’s face it – I was 10 strides ahead of the pack at birth because I was born into a middle-class, white family in the U.S.A. From the day of my conception, I was ahead. Excellent pre-natal care, educated parents, high quality medical care and good pre-natal nutrition. In a still racially inequitable country, my skin color is an advantage. According to every study out there, I was destined to be healthy and strong, with a good brain and enviable life opportunities.  However, I no more deserve these advantages than a woman who is born in the Sudan and who faces extreme privation and hardship from the moment of conception until her death deserves to suffer. It is awareness of this inequity, this incredible injustice, that moves me to prayer.

I can stand and pick blackberries and not worry that someone will come out of the woods to rape, maim or kill me. I do not worry that my daughter will be kidnapped and sold into slavery while she walks to  a friend’s house. I do not fear that my boys will be pressed into military service as soon as they are big enough to hold an AK-47. I take it for granted that my husband will come home, safe and healthy, not having been beaten by roaming militia or gang members.

And so, as I listen to my children play, I pray for the children of mothers who cannot protect their lovely babies. As I pick berries, I pray for people who do not have enough to eat. As I wash the berries, I pray for those who do not have access to clean, abundant water. As I can the berries and put them in my pantry for later int he year, I pray for those who don’t know where they will lay their head from one day to the next – how can you plan for the future if even today is in question?

Each part of my day is an opportunity to remember. To remember that I am lucky.

I do not believe in saying that my financial, social & political opportunities are a blessing. To say that, is to say that my God, the God who holds justice, mercy and love above all else, has picked me as his favorite. That somehow, God loves me more than a woman born in China or Sudan or even in a poor part of KY.  There is much scriptural evidence to the opposite, actually. Evidence that God loves those with nothing – no money, no power, no freedom  – best of all.

To say that I am “blessed” to have any material item is ridiculous. God just doesn’t care. At least, not about square footage or miles per gallon or even organic vs. conventional. What He does care about is that those of us who have much are taking care of those who have little or nothing. He cares that we are showing “the least of these” loving kindness.  As a pastor once said, “God never rejects our justice for lack of worship. He ALWAYS rejects our worship for lack of justice.”

So, I pray that I will find a way to always be aware of and working towards rectifying the inequities in the world around me. I pray that I can be an instrument of change and not get caught up in complacency. I pray that I can teach my children to be aware that they have much and “from whom much is given, much is expected.” I pray that the consumer culture in which I am living does not completely consume me or my family so that we lose track of what is important – God, each other, showing loving kindness to others.

This is one of the ways in which I pray. I really don’t pray at bedtime. But I think that is probably just fine.

How do you pray?

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Hello world!

Dipping a toe into the world of blogging.

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