Black History Month

 

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It’s black history month in America, and too often that just means token quotes from Martin Luther King Jr (selectively chosen for their inoffensiveness) pop up on Facebook. So this month I’ve been educating myself about awesome black women in American history , and there’s a lot of them. There’s Katherine Johnson of Hidden Figures fame– if you haven’t seen it, go watch it—to Ella Baker, the middle-aged woman-power behind the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to Ida B. Wells’ single-handed campaign to end lynching, to the many rural Southern Women who not only changed the diapers and washed the laundry of the white people’s kids, but also housed student volunteers during the Civil Rights movement and led the Montgomery Bus boycott—it’s good that America take some time to say “thank you” to reflect on and celebrate the many black people in our history who have made America what it is today.

(Most of these stories were collected in the book “When and Where I enter” by Paula Giddings if you want to read them.)

I’ve also been listening to a series of sermons during Black History month from Fellowship Memphis—a church with a vision to reflect all the diversity of Memphis, TN in their congregation and on their staff team. The sermon collection I have is from 2009 (from a CD! Remember those?!). But the idea that is circled back to again and again in these sermons is:

If God is our Father and one day in heaven he is going to have people from every tribe, nation, and tongue gathered around his throne, and we’ve been told by Jesus to be praying,  that things would be “On earth as it is in heaven”, then racial reconciliation and ethnic diversity within our churches isn’t just a nice option for some people. It’s part of what the church is called to.

These sermons were given in 2009, and almost ten years later, I was convicted that American church isn’t famously known for giving people in our nation a glimpse of the celebration and diversity we will experience in heaven one day. On the whole, our communities aren’t little pictures of the reconciliation that comes from life in the kingdom. For the most part, no one in America would look at the church and be compelled to say, “Something of God must be going on in that community, because this is one divided, racist city, but those Jesus people somehow are all working together.” (Or even, on the other side of the spectrum, why aren’t people saying, “I hate black people, and most people I know hate black people, so why are all those Christian white folks spending their Sundays with those black folks?!”)

As I’ve talked about before on this blog, reconciliation isn’t just where we agree that we’ll push our differences under the rug, pretend to be color blind, ignore past injustices and current inequalities and just say, “Well, we’re all Christians, so let’s just get along.” Real reconciliation involves a reckoning. It involves repentance, as well as forgiveness.

But my sense is there aren’t even that many churches that are trying the “let’s all just get along” version of racial reconciliation at the moment.

How are you celebrating black history this month? Have you ever been part of a Christian community that did racial reconciliation well? Tell me about it!

On confusing Jesus with the Statue of Liberty

 “People are confusing the Statue of Liberty and Jesus…But in fact while the real historical Jesus did urge compassion for those in need, but he also said, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.’ In other words, support government with your taxes because they have a legitimate function like protecting citizens. Those of us who believe in the sanctity of life believe that sanctity serves to not only to protect the unborn but to protect the born from terrorist attacks. That’s a Christian value as well.” – A certain pastor of a big church on Fox news

Once they wouldn’t let my Dad on a plane. He had to stay behind in Germany a few extra days to go to the US embassy because he didn’t have enough pages in his passport. It was inconvenient, and frustrating, but we knew it would all work out in the end.

Once I was reduced to tears by a grumpy immigration official who made a comment about privileged white people when I was leaving South Africa. I sat on the plane and cried, but I knew that America would let me in on the other side, and that South Africa would most likely always welcome me back (in some form or other!).

Travel can be traumatic under normal conditions. It can be traumatic even when you hold one of the most powerful passports in the world. 

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Syrian Refugees (www.globalresearch.ca)

Now imagine fleeing Aleppo with your family to escape the bombs, paying everything you have to get on an overcrowded boat that will take you across the Mediterranean  (if you’re lucky and it doesn’t sink), arriving on the other side and getting placed in a refugee camp. Imagine trying to maintain some sense of family normalcy in these crowded and chaotic conditions, while trekking to a small internet cafe with hundreds and hundreds of other people every day, trying to get connected via Skype to the immigration desks of another country to start the process for being granted refugee status. It’s really like winning the lottery if you even connect, let alone get accepted to the first stage of the process.

Imagine applying to come to the US as a refugee, and going through the 2-3 year intense vetting process. (Applying to come to the US as a refugee is currently the MOST DIFFICULT WAY to get into our country. If you want to understand all the steps and security checks involved, check out the IRC’s description of their process).  Imagine stepping on the plane, arriving at the airport, and being told “Turn around and go back home. You’re no longer welcome here.”

***

I visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island a few weeks ago. I had just come from a march where people were chanting “Say it Loud and say it clear: Immigrants are welcome here.” I read stories of how American people welcomed new immigrants, helped translate for them, threw Christmas parties for families waiting for clearance on Ellis Island. Most of these people were motivated by their Christian faith.

I watched a video of a man from north Africa seeking political asylum in the 2000’s who was frustrated at having to wait 5 months in a detention centre until his status could be cleared. But at his hearing, he said the judge asked him, “What will you do if we let you into America?” and he replied, “Keep fighting for freedom and justice just like I did at home.” And the judge said, “Well then, Welcome to America, sir!”

I understand that there are governmental reasons for not wanting more refugees. And maybe if we were throwing open our boarders and allowing just anyone in, this freeze on Syrian refugees and people from Muslim countries would make sense (except we’re not and never have been- remember the 2-3 year vetting process?).

And I understand a government’s first priority is to protect its own people.

What I don’t understand is how Christian leaders are able to make arguments about the sanctity of life and somehow use that to promote anti-refugee policies.  God primarily introduces himself in the Bible as, “The Lord, father of the fatherless, defender of the orphan and the widow, who shows love to the foreigners among you, giving them food and clothing.”  

This isn’t a side issue. This relates to our theology, our understanding of who God is. If we primarily see God as out there to protect our own interests (rather than how he has consistently revealed himself in the Bible), I’m not sure what God we’re following. Sure, an understanding of the image of God in everyone and the right to protect life can apply to protecting people from terrorism. But it also applies to protecting refugees. And the Christian ethic consistently puts caring for others ahead of caring for ourselves, so when these two things appear* to be in conflict, we side with the refugees.

Perhaps someone who confuses Jesus with the statue of liberty has a better understanding of who God is and what he is like than preachers from the Bible belt. 

***

As a Christian, this has been a depressing week for me. I expect our government to pass policy in its own self-interest. I don’t expect Christians to support it. I’m mourning for how this will affect families from the banned nations, but I’m also mourning how public statements in support of this ban are destroying the public witness of the church. So I asked, in my prayers this week, to see where God’s spirit was at work in the midst of this chaos, and I saw him.

I saw him this week in the Girl Scouts who went to DFW airport to give cookies to protestors protesting detained green card holders and the recent Executive Order.

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Dallas Morning News

I saw him in the Christian leaders who spoke out against this ban, and in particular the provisions that are starting to be made to give preference to Christian refugees.

I saw him in army of lawyers who gathered in the San Fransisco airport to provide voluntary legal assistance to families who were awaiting detained family members.

I saw him in the brass band that marched around the check-in counters with several thousand protestors in San Fransisco chanting, “Say it loud and say it clear, refugees are welcome here!”

I saw him in the Dallas Mayor, speaking out about the ban, and welcoming detainees with roses and heartfelt apologies as they were released.

I saw him in the many emails sent out by World Relief this week (the relief arm of the National Association of Evangelicals) urging people to call their representatives about this issue, and providing support for those affected by the ban.

I saw him in this poem, and I mourned that he was on the other side of the door:

 
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_ “NO ROOM”, A POEM BY JOHN BLASE at The Beautiful Due  (where there are more great poems!)
 

Things to do to take action: 

Sign up for World Relief’s mailing List and call your Representatives (every day).

Check out the IRC and donate

Show up to town hall meetings and voice your support for refugees

*Note: I say “appear” because factually speaking these two things are NOT in conflict. 

What worked for me in 2016

class 1991.jpgThere’s this thing that a lot of bloggers (also ) I follow do at the end of the year– reflect on “what worked” and what didn’t. It’s a great tool to reflect over the past year and integrate new things into the year ahead. Since things have been pretty serious around the blog the past few months, I’m going to be sprinkling in some more stories on our experiments with minimalism starting with my variation of the 2016 “what worked for me”: the things we did without in 2016…

We try not to have a lot of stuff. There are Jesus reasons for this, environmental reasons for this, stay out of debt reasons for this, and “we’re just scared of not being able to travel” reasons for this. If you’re looking for some inspiration to get your own minimalist life moving, here is the list of things we did without in 2016:

Big stuff: 

Car : To be honest, this did not start out as a choice, because I totaled our car in 2015! But then we got used to it, and realized we didn’t really need one. This was possible because we live in a small college town where we could bike to the store, to work (the university), to friends houses (they all live near the university) and pretty much anywhere we needed to go. Most of the time we could get rides to the airport (2 hours away) for longer travels. Did it work? Mostly. One thing that wasn’t my favorite about this was feeling needy and dependent on friends for when we really did need rides (like to the doctor or to church small group). There is NO way we could have survived with no car without a super supportive community. We tried to always pitch in for gas and oil changes and stuff, but still. Also, although this was a small town, and we were fine with bikes, this is pick-up truck country, y’all. People definitely thought we were crazy, and it’s not like there are bike lanes or anything. But I’m glad we did it. I really feel like I could live pretty much anywhere without a car. And free exercise.

Car insurance: No car, no insurance. Did it work? Uh, yeah, no car. 

Washing machine: Our apartment has no washing machine, plus, our apartment laundromat was taken out by a tornado last Spring. So we’ve been biking to the downtown laundromat to do laundry this year. Did it work? It worked kind of. It was kind of a pain, and I’m excited to be able to drive to the laundromat now instead of biking. We did it because we had to…but voluntarily I wouldn’t do it again!

Technology

Internet at Home: My husband is a grad student, and most of his internet work needs his powerful computers at his office anyway. Since I teach at the university, I also have unlimited free internet on campus. So we went without home internet. For a while our apartment neighbour shared with us (for free! We tried to pay him, but he wouldn’t take it, so we gave him cookies). Turns out it is cheaper for me to go to coffee shops when I need internet than to pay for it at home. We worked out that I could literally go to a coffee shop 3 times a week, and it would still be cheaper. Did it work? Yes. We’re continuing the plan this year, so I guess it worked. So far it really hasn’t been too much of an inconvenience.

Cellphone contract: We paid for our phones upfront in 2015 and before, and love Republic Wireless, which lets us pay a monthly free of just $15 per phone for calls and texting, and we can purchase bundles of data when we need them. David has never purchased bundles this year, I generally do so I can catch SA work-related things from home. Did it work? Totally. If we weren’t on Republic, we’d probably be on Google Fi, which works on the same principle.

TV: So far we’ve enjoyed watching DVD’s for free from our local library, or going to the office to use the internet and watching TV shows for free online. We’ve also been given some Netflix gift cards which we use for the DVD subscriptions, or streaming. When epic sports events happen, we just hang out with friends who have TV’s, and watching sports with friends is more fun anyway. Did it work? Duh. Who needs a TV?

Kindle: I resold my kindle back to Amazon this year, and I haven’t missed it. I had a very old kindle, so while it was nice to read on, it was a bit difficult to navigate with the small buttons. I downloaded the free kindle app to my smartphone, and now I do most of my kindle reading on there. Did it work? Yes! I love looking on overdrive for books from our library on my phone and having it download straight to my kindle app. If I get a new phone, I might get one with a larger screen since I realize I actually read a lot on my phone.

Kitchen Stuff: 

Microwave: We were given one when we moved in 2015, and we were super grateful for it! But when it stopped working, we realized we really didn’t need it. Did it work?  Yes! I don’t think we’ll ever get another one. I miss microwave mug cakes, but that’s it!

Automatic Coffee maker: Again, a gift that we were super thankful for, but then when the pot broke and we realized it was more expensive to replace the pot than buy a whole new one, we opted to do neither and instead got a french press. Did it work? Yes! It’s way smaller, and works just as well.

This is the list I could think of off the top of my head! I’m sure there’s more…but on the whole, having less stuff worked great!

Okay you other minimalists out there– what stuff have you removed from your life, and is it working? Have any “stuff goals” for this year?

 

 

 

 

The violence of nonviolence

“Get up, boy!” the voice hissed in my right ear. I could feel the chair shake as the person stood behind me and tried to forcefully shake me out of my chair.

“He said get up, you filthy ***. This place ain’t fer your kind.” The counter to my right banged sharply in my left ear as the other man slapped his hands down on the counter, trying to disrupt my calm state.

The noise in Woolworth’s cafe was loud, and jostling, and while not everyone in the crowd was coming up to the counter to intentionally harass me, there was a continual throng of noise, of people telling me to leave, of people telling me they knew where my family lived and if I cared about them, I should leave, of people dropping plates on the counter right in front of me, the glass shattering. I kept my eyes closed as long as I could.

I opened them. The red digital clock in front of me read 59 seconds. 

 

59 seconds. That’s how long I would have lasted doing a sit-in if I was part of the student non-violent coordinating committee’s de-segregation protests.

I wasn’t actually sitting at a lunch counter protesting segregation. My husband and I were at the Atlanta Center for Civil and Human Rights, walking through the section on the American Civil Rights movement. In the corner of one of the rooms is a lunch counter with four chairs. A museum worker makes sure anyone who wants to try the interactive exhibit is over 13 years old. You sit in one of the seats, place headphones on your head, and place your hands flat on the counter in front of you, just like the protestors did in the 60’s. Although your chair looks like a normal cafe stool, it’s rigged to jostle and shake along with the audio. Before the noise of the counter surrounds you, the voice of a SNCC volunteer tells you it’s going to be scary, but you’re going to be okay, and you should just concentrate on breathing and blocking out all the noise.

59 seconds.

Before the end of the school year in 1960 when the sit-in started, over 1500 college students had been arrested. Sometimes they sat from open until close at those lunch counters before being hauled off to prison. Enduring hours and hours of psychological and physical abuse.

I’ve been thinking about how much white people love Martin Luther King Jr. How we compare his peaceful protests and nonviolent movement with some of the disruptive activities of protestors today and say, “Why can’t everyone just be peaceful and nonviolent? It worked last time!”

But I realized most of the time when I think of MLK and the nonviolent movement, I’m thinking about it backwards. The term nonviolent trips me up. It’s easy for me to think that all this social change happened without violence.

That’s not true. The Civil Rights movement was a very violent time period. It’s just that rather than the violence being directed at the white oppressors, Civil Rights leaders taught their movement followers to voluntarily receive violence from white oppressors in the belief that unearned suffering has redemptive qualities– that it would awaken white consciousness and bring social change.

The Civil Rights movement was not peaceful. MLK didn’t just march to Washington, sing some songs, and new legislation came down from the White House.  People were beaten. People endured horrific abuse. People died.

We went to church in Montgomery, Alabama at Ralph Abernathy’s old church (friend and co-leader of MLK). The preacher came down to hold our hands and sing the benediction with us, as we were the only visitors that day (and only white people… so we kind of stood out). Afterwards, the mostly elderly congregation welcomed us and chatted a bit. One of the members, a grey-haired professor at Concordia, told us to look out for a small memorial on the way from Montgomery to Selma. “That’s where my dear friend’s father was lynched.” She said. “He had a good business and was found riddled with bullet holes for being an uppity black. No one was convicted.”

Over 4000 African Americans were lynched in the South between 1877 and 1950 in America.

There was So Much violence.

We drove to Selma. We walked over Edmund Pettus bridge, the path that nonviolent protestors, led by John Lewis, took in their march from Selma to Montgomery, protesting their lack of voting rights. It was on this bridge that these marchers were attacked and beaten by local posses and state police. The video footage of Bloody Sunday did awaken the white consciousness. Hundreds of people, mostly clergy, over 1/3rd white, came down to join the march after that. In the end, LBJ signed the Voting Rights act. The strategy worked.

But there was so much violence leading up to that moment.

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John Lewis leads the march over Edmund Pettus Bridge

59 seconds. It was strange, sitting at that lunch counter. It was the first time it really hit me, on an experiential level, how much courage and bravery it takes to endure violence nonviolently. How much courage and bravery it takes to willingly put yourself in a position to suffer violence in the first place. It was strange, as a white person in 2017, hearing all that hatred spewed at me, and realizing it was other white people who were saying all those filthy things.

It’s easy as a white person to think nostalgically about MLK. To think his way was the only viable way to bring social change. But the white tribe in America doesn’t bear scars from years of slave beatings, lynchings, and beatings at the hands of white police. The white tribe doesn’t bear scars of daily abuse because of our race, let alone the psychological scars that come from directly putting ourselves in the line of that abuse in an attempt to bring change.

I’m so thankful for the legacy of MLK, John Lewis, and other nonviolent leaders like them. I believe in their ideals and the dream of a beloved community that has space for white people, too. But it struck me this weekend in a new way that the high cost of America’s redemption from most forms of institutional racism was born by the victims. The cost was born by ordinary black men and women who already were victims of violence and abuse. That, of course, is the way of the cross, the way of forgiveness. But it’s not natural.

And then there’s this other part I was thinking of: when we try to talk about reconciliation, and black people ask white people for some kind of accounting for the past, some kind of restitution, some way of acknowledging the cost and trying to make things right…we white people are baffled.

I think maybe we only find this desire for restitution confusing because we have yet to grasp the depth of the violence black people experienced in this country at the hands of white people.

We’re going to have to get a lot more uncomfortable before the real conversation can even start.

The Christmas Movie List: the most un-Hallmark version ever!

I have my favorite Christmas movies. They have to be watched, or it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Charlie Brown, The Little Matchgirl, Elf…. but aside from Santa, there’s not much that makes these movies actually Christmassy…. you know, as in real meaning of Christmas, real Jesus-coming-to-earth-incarnation stuff.

So here’s an alternative Christmas movie list. They probably won’t all fill you with warm fuzzies and holiday cheer. But probably will get you thinking about Jesus and what he was all about!  (Click the links in the titles to watch the Previews).  Continue reading

Canoes & the upside-down ways of a coming king

 

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Random kayak from wikiwand.com

I’ve been thinking about those tiny canoes, dancing in front of giant USS nitro.

 

It happened at Christmas, in 1971. The USA was bombing women, children, and hospitals in Vietnam. The Quakers wanted to do something about it. But what could one small group of Friends do in the face of an entire army, with bombs and napalm and the economic power of the state? 

They’re so small. Just a handful of people. What could they do?

Continue reading

The Table

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Depression Era Bread lines (Wikimedia commons)

We had communion at church last week. At my church we all line up, and walk down to the front to receive the bread and wine. On Camino, we did this as weary, dirty, pilgrims with the dust of the day’s hike still on our faces. On Sunday, I did it as a weary, worn-out pilgrim, with the dust of a broken America on my face. It always makes me think of depression era bread lines. All of us, poor, needy people, lining up for the bread we need to keep going through the day.

Christena Cleveland was the first reconciliation writer who highlighted to me the importance of the communion table when it comes to reconciliation. Communion- it means fellowship. We can’t claim to walk in the light and in fellowship with God if we’re not in fellowship with our neighbour. That doesn’t mean ignoring whatever is wrong. It means stepping out of line, going to find them, and making it right. It means hard, perhaps confrontational conversations. It means asking for repentance. I don’t want to minimize that. I’ve been reading Paul’s letter to the messed up church in Corinth, and his second letter, full of reconciliation, comes after his first letter, where he straight up called out all the issues he saw  going on. We can’t gloss over stuff and pretend it’s okay. Continue reading

Advent: What to do with the waiting

Advent is almost upon us. That time of the year when we Christians mourn the dark and wait for the light, thankful for the Jesus who came, and longing for him to come again and set everything that is broken to rights.

I think there will be lots of longing this year. But I hope we can find some joy as well. After all, he did come. He is here. We’re not left alone in this broken mess. He sent us the comforter to comfort us so we could comfort others.

If you’re feeling sad, depressed, or frustrated at the state of the world (or the church!) maybe Advent can be a time to process and figure some things out. Here are a few Advent resources: Continue reading

I get it. So now what?

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Some people read my first post and were confused or hurt. I tried to address that in this post. Others of you read it and were like- “Yeah, I get this! But what can I do about it?”

I’ve tried to gather together some resources and some things I’ve learned about racial reconciliation into one post. This is especially targeted at white people. Most of these are things I’ve learned from other smarter, more seasoned people of color. Hopefully you’ll click on links and read their words yourself! 🙂 And please share ideas below of things you are doing (or wish could be done!)

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Gracism: The art of radical inclusion

Oookay that last post ended up going to a much broader audience than I intended! I’m thankful to the people who have kept their comments civil, as this is something the internet discourages us from doing these days. That’s what we Christians do, it’s part of our witness to the watching world. We disagree, but we can have civil conversation about it , we still see people as made in God’s image, we resist the temptation to overgeneralize and defame. Thank you to those who have shown this is possible, even when emotions are running high.

To my friends who voted for Trump (and I say friends, because you are! I know and love you, and I know you are not hateful, KKK-loving crazies) – I’m sorry if my words caused you pain, if you felt like I was painting you into the corner as the bad guys. My intention was simply to point out the real pain that I’ve witnessed in the church from the things Trump himself and some of his supporters have said and done. I think many of us in the church naively thought we could vote on a platform and separate that from the person, without realizing the real hurt that would cause to the most vulnerable members of the body of Christ. And that’s what I care about- the hurt to the vulnerable members of our body. Continue reading