26Aug

Encouragement

So it’s been a minute since I’ve written a blog entry.  I’ve not felt like I had anything to say.  But alas I feel a little stirrings worth sharing.  About a year ago I experience a rock bottom in my own life.  I didn’t lose my job.  I didn’t lose my hair.  I didn’t lose a person I love.  But even still sometimes we fall and I fell hard.  More or less I decided to give up on some things in my life but my partner would not let me.  It was at an emotionally weak point and perhaps I not as capable of making a sound decision.  And she gently encouraged me to not quit.

So the last year has been a gradual process of climbing from the valley.  With encouragement I decided to make the arduous process of dealing with all that that had happened and slowly trying to repair my life.  It has been about a year and I now know I am no longer in the valley.  Slowly things on my to do list are getting done.  With each accomplishment I feel a little bit stronger.  I have so far to go says my critical voice but I am well on my way says my affirming voice.  And I received a lot of encouragement from my partner on the way.

Life is a series of ups and downs for most of us.  Sometimes life is harder for others based on their mental maps.  We all get to experience some not so pleasant feelings.  And how do we cope?  What do we do?  Where do we look?  And what’s our plan?  And what do you do when you try and it seems like you get socked again and again?  I say this because I work with people who also landed in the valley but for whom recovering is a lot harder.

Encouragement goes a long way.  A flower blooms.  A child smiles.  A man sticks his chest out.  A woman weathers the storm.  A person is made to feel special.  One feels less alone.  It’s contagious and it gets shared like most other feelings.  It pushes the clouds back.  It gives you the added strength to push through.  It’s small stuff.  It’s free.  And it’s so easy to do.  And yet the world is in need of so much more.  And I know for a season that though I’m still climbing, encouragement made all the difference in the world.

05Aug

All Lives Matter

My views are a reflection of a well lived and thought out journey.  By that I mean I did not always occupy the space I am in.  I use to be often labeled as a black militant.  Many of my seminary friends, I later learned, did not associate with me because of my views.  I had one friend to say she was afraid to hang with me for fear of how I might utilize her words later.  I thought I was passionate about black life and nothing more.  And perhaps for different reasons that scared some folks.  Black life mattered.

I remember, around this time, my mentor said I was too narrow minded and that as a soon to be ordained minister I needed to expand my circle of called ministry.  What did she know was what I thought.  I did not give her words 5 seconds to register before dismissing them.  God had called me to care for and deeply love blacks.  I wasn’t trying to hate anyone; I was only trying to love a highly unloved neglected group of people.  Black life mattered.

Then life got complicated.  I ended up in a rough space.  And the hand that reached out to me looked nothing in color like my own.  It came from a far reaching place.  And it left me in such a vulnerable spot to better examine all my formerly held opinions about race.  The kindness of a white person, maybe more, made me reconsider my mentor’s words, ministry is larger than your race.  I cannot convey how much this experience changed the trajectory of my life.  Perhaps it didn’t help that I had been deeply wounded by the hands of a black person.  My life mattered.

I can’t say I embraced this new part of my journey but I stopped fighting it.  I remembered my multicultural military family upbringing.  I remembered all of my schooling.  I remembered my Inter Varsity days.  I remembered my Mennonite journey.  All of these spaces were filled with lots of non black people and lots of wonderful life evolving memories.  And in that moment I began to see with greater clarity the humanity of others.  Often we think the world does not see the humanity of blacks but really we’re all struggling.  And yes I know that not seeing the humanity of blacks is a BIG problem.  I get it.  I also think we all could do a better job of seeing other people’s humanity.  Other people matter.

I don’t feel comfortable saying all by itself, “black lives matter.”  And yet I feel it every time I encounter a black young person.  I feel it when I say to my drop out black male young adult, I see your heart and in the same breath encourage him to have goals.  I feel it when my smart sassy young black female, graduates as Valedictorian of her class.  I feel it when I beam with pride because a black young person took charge of our barbecue because of her leadership and desire.  And I think my feelings must matter because I just got a note from a young black adult I worked with over 18 years ago who was very angry at that time….that as she looked back over her life she thought of me… and she remembered someone who was nice, caring and kind to her in a difficult time in her life.  I get that black lives matter 200%.

But I have come to love a lot of folks who are not black.  I have friends who are marginalized for their sexual orientation.  I have friends who are wrong in their analysis of stuff but right in their commitment and love towards me and my family.  I have friends marginalized because they are different.  And so it is because of where I am on this journey, remaining true to myself, that I must say “all life matters.”  Because that is true of my experience.  Every person my heart has room for and those my heart does not; those who are grand and those who have done unspeakable horror; those who have so little power and those who abuse power;  those are are black and those who are non-black; all of us matter.

 

 

08Jul

The Doors We Enter: The Bill Cosby Discussion

In my teen years, when I was able to select where I wanted to sit in church, I often sat on left side farthest away from my family.  I don’t know if I sat there because it was farthest away but I only noted that I did as an observation and not an implication.  Now, when I go to churches generally I will gravitate to the right side.  I notice in my own church that more folks sit on the right side but if I do sit in a congregation I sit on the left.   I think much of life and how we enter discussions is like the congregations’ s seating arrangement I signed on to early in life.  We generally sit, eat and enter certain doors in our life.

Bill Cosby has resurfaced in public squares.  With the release of new incriminating information, those who believed the victims allegations of rape by the hands of Bill Cosby have more ammunition.  They are speaking out loudly.  While the other side, who defended Bill Cosby and thought these women’s allegations were a conspiracy, are almost silent.  Some have switch sides like Jill Scott now saying he was wrong.  While other die hards like Whoopi Goldberg are still defending him until there is proof.

I know that most of us enter this conversation through certain doors much like I sit on the right side in churches.  You have the black lives matter people defending Bill Cosby.  It’s not that they do not believe in the women’s stories but they are rooted in supporting black men and are suspicious of any allegations that try to tear down the black male.  After all, the black male is an endangered species facing possible extinction with the discrimination he faces in the United States.  And Bill Cosby was such a icon of healthy black family that this must be some sort of conspiracy to tear down one of ours.  This group includes strong black women who sacrifice daily to uplift the black man.

I suspect there are shades to this discussion but the other solid door is often those of us who are aware, all too often to abuse we have endured ourselves.  We know the statistics that says most women do not lie about abuse.  And we know the one or two that has has been given more air time pales in comparison to  the victims of sexual abuse.  We know the shame and guilt that accompany such acts.  I remember the first two people I confided in blamed me instead of offering compassion.  That shut me up for years.  It was only on my Dad’s dying bed that I saw my perpetrator after 20 years and I still did not have the courage to speak, not then and not now.

I ponder another door similar to the first one above or at least close by.  I have noted the silence of heterosexual men.  And black men who have had no problem being vocal about police brutality say very little on the affairs of women bodies.  I silently wonder if they choose this door because they are male and so there is some sort of testosterone connection with Bill Cosby.  And then I wonder how many of them are guilty too.  I secretly wonder with the number of women that have been sexually harmed, what does this say for men.  And so I ponder if there silence is an awkward awareness that they have done similar acts.  So we can’t out Bill because there are eyes, if not voices, that testify to our acts as well.

Because of a professor I am intentional about trying different doors.  In trying different doors it helps me to see things from different perspectives.  I’m not accusing Bill Cosby of anything.  The evidence is incriminating to me.  But more than Bill I am choosing to say that what those women said happened is totally believable.  Because of the scorn and criticism that often accompanies such confessions/truth telling there are no perks in telling.  Because of the door I enter and my own life experiences I believe and support these women.  As for Bill Cosby I really don’t have much more energy for him.  As much as the door I enter potentially biases me and gives me a blind side it also makes me compassionate towards others who have been victimized.  This is the door I enter.

 

19Jun

I Can’t Imagine: Reflections on Bible Study & the Murdering of 9 Churchgoers

Every week I call my mother and we talk.  Generally the church is a large part of our conversation.  She frequents different churches in addition to her own and usually has some very interesting stories about her visits.  The church has sustained her through critical periods in her life.  Sometimes as we are talking she can even slip into a testimony, though, through the years, I’m good at catching her.  Her community and fellowship is largely with the people she has developed strong ties with in the church; they know her in part and she knows them.  The church is a vine to her spirituality.

My mom generally attends bible study.  She will share with me her questions, others inquiries and an occasional funny moment from Bible Study.  I have context because I remember going to the same Bible Study.  I remember the casualness of a Wednesday bible study compared to Sunday worship service.  I remember the zeal and passion I had for delving into God’s word.  I remember the different setting that bible study provided for people to bring themselves and where they were on their journey.  Question were welcomed.  Generally the bible study was sandwiched between opening prayer and a  song and a closing prayers.  Bible studies back home will always hold a special place and I keep that awareness through my mother’s continual attendance.

It is with that context I think of the 9 victims shot by terrorist Dylann Roof.  I can only imagine that these victims were coming from different places and circumstances throughout the day but they were arriving for relief.  I can only imagine the yearning for spiritual sustainability met by unknown terror peaking around the door.  I can only imagine the warm embrace that comes from black people met with a hatred they will never again witness so up close.  I can only imagine their vulnerability and holy moment being splattered with their slaughtered blood.  The truth is I can’t imagine; I struggle with this senseless act.  I can’t imagine 9 people in heaven now in a much better place; this does not soothe me.  Racism, bigotry, ignorance, religion (bad theology), etc. do not explain what happened.  I can’t imagine family members holding this information in the absence of love ones who will never come back.  I can’t imagine justice righting the horrific nature of this crime.  I do know the space which has formed me and molded me will forever be trained by this heinous crime.  #itsokaytobeangry

 

18Jun

Where God Is Not: Senseless Acts & the Charleston Church

Recently my cousin posted the classical theodicy question (only she did not know it) – why do bad things happen to good people which I wonder why we never ponder bad things happening to anybody but I know that we are much more comfortable with bad folks getting what they deserve.  Now I don’t want to deviate into a discussion of what makes people good or bad because that’s not where I want to go.  Intrinsic in the question is a sense of injustice.  We’ve been taught reciprocity, that good deeds and good people cause good things to happen and when they don’t our belief system is eroded.  More than the question itself, I’m always amazed at the answers offered.  More or less in response to her question the responses amounted to God somehow gives us a testimony and makes us better through the difficult situation.  #bullshit

I too at some point asked where is God when bad things happen, like 9 people being shot dead while in prayer service, last night.  The answer above somehow is ill-fated for the theodicy issues that arise in our era.  And I do not have the same need as evangelical Christians to put God into the equation because even with God in the equation it makes no sense. For all practical purposes God isn’t really doing anything to stop tragic situations.  I’m not trying to say God is not present, a point I shall argue for later, but I am trying to assert God is not visibly doing anything to stop a really horrific thing from happening and Christians have a hard time with this bit of fact.  They have to make God all powerful and all knowing champ of sorts but how do you juxtapose such a God in the face of horrific acts.  My goddaughter summed it up perfectly, bad things happen period.

So today I saw several clips of people praying.  I saw a church filled to capacity with people praying.  I saw black men in a circle praying.  I saw a group of women holding hands praying.  I saw a white man and black man praying.  I saw a group of clergy praying.  I saw all kinds of people, shapes and sizes and of different ethnic and racial background console each other and hold each other’s hands.  And in that moment I realized unbeknownst and not even looking I had found God.  I had found hope.  I was moved to see these acts across the world.  God was there and it did my soul well.  And it reminded me that God can and does show up in our acts of crossing boundaries.  God can and does show up in our ability to feel another human being’s pain and move out of our comfort zone to be present.

 

 

02Jun

I Don’t Know: Reflections on Caitlyn Jenner

At three years old, more or less, my son started asking questions.  As a lover of knowledge, I was very excited.  However, his one question would lead to another and then another and it seemed there was no end to his inquiries.  He is not placated by an easy simple answer.  His questions got so good and developed that I started not knowing the answers.  Either I did not know or I really had not thought of it enough to have a response.  And so I told my son I do not know.  It was life giving to tell me son in some instances, I don’t know.  He respected my honesty.  When I saw how well it worked I used it even more often

As I mature, I have learned I know less and less.  I have looked back over my life and actions and winced at things I did or said in certainty.  I remember a sorority sister laughingly saying, to me when I was a college student, I would love to meet you in 10 years from now.  She knew I had not lived and had not had enough experience.  She was right.  I do not feel the same way I felt then.  But I have had to live with my actions and consequences.  I have graciously examined my own journey.  I have spent a lifetime pondering self.  And I know now, that even though what I know and believe grounds me, what I do not know frees me to be a loving creature and accept the unknown mysteries.

As it relates to Caitlyn Jenner and her fully transgendered self, I do not know.  I don’t even ponder her long except the world does and I live in the world.  She has gotten more tweets than the POTUS.  People are talking.  I look at her and I feel nothing because I’m relational.  I’ve lived most of my life not even knowing this person existed so it’s hard now to get caught up.  But if I push myself it’s hard work for me to understand the transgendered journey.  It feels like a physics problem that I somehow cannot wrap my brain around.  And so I leave the dance floor as quickly as I entered it.

While many are questioning her coming out story, I often give people the benefit of the doubt.  I have learned lately on Facebook that sometimes understanding people’s motive is important.  But that said I do not know now and I do not want to know.  Because I am very persuaded that our reactions to her story tell the world much more about us than Ms. Jenner.  I personally am leaning towards accepting and respecting her life choices because I want to be accepted for being in a same gender relationship.  While there is more and more acceptance of non heterosexuals, still there is a lot of rejection in the African American and Christian community.  I know what acceptance feels like and I know what the other stuff feels like too.  Because I am now a part of the LGBTQ equation, thought I do not play for their team, it’s important for me on my life journey to extend support.  I own my stuff and I wish others would do the same and then we wouldn’t have to inflict our baggage on to Ms. Jenner.  I suspect Ms Jenner has enough luggage to carry.  We don’t struggle with her; we struggle with ourselves and our understanding of human sexuality (and gender).  We struggle with what we’ve been taught and what we learned and what we are to believe.  Our struggles have internal origins.

I am excited that Ms. Jenner’s decision has created space for conversation that needs to occur.  I am saddened that the conversation is often polarized.  In another time period of my life I would have been on one side of the argument.  Now I’m in neither place.  I just am.  I want Ms Jenner to be happy as I hope for all humans.  And as an evolving person, always looking for and experiencing community, I want to say on this topic of transgendered individuals, without reservation, “I do not know” and that temporarily that is an okay place to be.

 

28May

The Ring

As you get older and as it relates to dating, your dreams and hopes change.  For those who are single or who have danced with single more than marriage or long term commitment, your list gets shorter.  You either start seeing possibility in different places or you stop seeing it at all.  You learn how to be okay with being single or you make finding someone a full time job.  It’s all a journey when you are not in a relationship especially when you think you are suppose to be in a relationship or you desire to be in a relationship.  And you have to negotiate the absence of what you want, sometimes, along with the world and those in it whose opinions you care about for longer than a second.

I had a classmate, back in college, who had her life mapped out.  She was going to graduate at 21.  She was going to go to graduate school.  She was going to get married at 27.  She was going to get a dog at 29.  And she wanted to have her first child at 30.  I could  go on with this story.  As a 19 years old, what struck me with this story is just how specific she was.  I more or less wanted some of the same things but what I wanted and the time period was not as detailed.  School and fun had preoccupied a lot of my life.  If I’m a bit more honest church and my evangelical lifestyle dominated my life as well.  I wanted a career and remotely a family because that was the picture of success but not because it was anything I wanted.

Because I lived far away from my family (i.e. meaning they couldn’t just hop in a car and come visit me), when I went home one of the first questions asked, after how was I doing, was are you dating someone.  My answer was usually no.  I hated the question because the answer was no.  My mother asked it even more often on her phone calls.  I wanted to shout I’ll let you know when it happens.  Generally when I was dating someone it did not line up with my trips home.  I remember the pressure of that question.  It was if my life was only measured by being in a relationship.  Even after a decade or more my family never let up.  My cousin even assured me it would happen.  It did but perhaps not like anyone thought it would.

Life happened.  I rolled in and out of relationships.  By the time I hit a few relationships I was happy to return to the single lifestyle.  Okay there was one or two that really had potential but I still thought companionship was overrated.  Pleasing this other person or even feeling pleased myself was not happening as much as I thought it should.  I realized that maybe I was better off single.  As an only child, I had grown more accustomed to my own heartbeat than any one else’s.  I enjoyed being with others but I loved coming home to solitude.  I loved moving to my own drum beat without any negotiations.  I loved sleeping late.  I loved to being bothered.  I loved my perpetual zen moment.  I love being free to pursue a thought, or an event or a person.  I love being single which is hard for folks to believe.

And then there was her.  After I had resigned myself to being a well adapted single person, she decided to make a play.  I don’t know when I knew or realized it but whenever I did it was too late to say no.  And then life happened again but it happened with someone.  And not that I missed companionship but I enjoyed her company.  I enjoyed sharing my crab legs with someone though she is not much of sharer.  I enjoyed having someone to process the events of my day and she loved hearing my voice though it would put her to sleep.  I enjoyed this new path that I was on.  Even though our lives intertwined very quickly around each other, I wasn’t sure about my college dream of marriage.  I have tried to put breaks on that possibility.  Lets just enjoy each other.

So over a month ago on her birthday she proposed to me against my verbalized wishes.  And I accepted.  And I put this gorgeous ring on my hand.  And not being the mushy kind of person, I had greatly underestimated the power of a ring.  After four days we needed to have it fitted.  It was hard taking it off.  It was hard letting it go.  The ring has solidified some things for me.  It’s like writing your name in wet cement.  We are interdependent on each other.  The name in the cement is permanent and real as our relationship is a solid fixture in our lives.   This ring has grounded my feet and my heart in ways I never thought imaginable.  I don’t know if this is the dream of yesterday or maybe it’s a new dream but it is a beautiful dream.

06May

Facebook Likes

Like is a very important part of our life.  No matter how cool a person acts, they want to be liked.  And no matter how much a person says they do not care, they want acceptance.  No matter how tough a person appears inside, there is a person desiring to be affirmed for something they did.  We want people to say we’ve done a good job. We want to hear good things about ourselves.  We want to be liked.  It’s universally human.

So a couple of years ago a Facebook friend, who happens to be someone I have a personal relationship with as well, told me they were going off of Facebook.  I inquired why.  They informed me that no one really noticed their post.  I asked. “how do you know this information?”  Was there some new app that told you how many people viewed your post?  They replied no but that none ever “liked” their statuses.  They said that sometimes I, the writer, hit “like” and one other person but many of their statuses went unliked.  They then compared their statuses to other people, writer included.  I do not get that many “likes” myself compared to others but I kept that information to myself.  I tried to reason that they had 40 friends compared to my over 500 friends.  I also explained, what is true for me, Facebook is a hit or miss and so I don’t see everyone’s post all the time.  I don’t have that kind of time.  This led me to the thought this person has too much time on their hand but I continued to think about this self disclosure.

I have to admit my Facebook friend’s confession put “likes” on my mind more.  I consulted with my partner at some point.  She has a like finger and she understood the Facebook friend’s feelings.  With her like finger she contributes probably 50 “likes” a day and as a result people like her (lol).  She just hits “like” to about almost anything whether she likes it or not.  If she read this she’s going to disagree but it’s true because I, the writer. said so.  She will “like” this blog post whether she likes it or not.  For her birthday she likes every person who wishes her a Happy Birthday.  She also stays up with Facebook much more regularly than I do.  She loves social media and along with her sweet tooth she has to have a healthy consumption of it daily.

For me I realize that I hit like, like I choose friends, with deliberation, thought and intentionality.  It’s not random and I am not on a mission to boost folks self-esteem, although I do admit I hit like for my Facebook friend, who confided her sadness over not getting many likes.  I try to be more mindful of the fragility of folks but I forget sporadically.  I realize that the like means so much to my Facebook friend and see it as ministry.  But I’m not on social media for ministry.  I go for winding down or avoiding an important task.  I know we all go there, for those of us that go there, for different reasons.  I’m not looking for “likes” but I’ll admit they can be nice.

My Facebook friend taught me a valuable lesson about the “like” button.  I already knew how much folk need affirmation but this person helped me realize that even in social media we can be intentionally affirming.  I’m not sure how much this has increased my usage of the “like” button but what I do know is that I see more clearly opportunities to affirm another person, that is hi-five them.  I may not be as frequent as my partner but I do recognize and sort of enter into liking the things people say on Facebook as a way of saying you really are okay and you’re doing a fantastic job.  Like after all is important to the sustainability of humans.  If you like this blog post go ahead and do it, hit the “like” button.

20Apr

Outside of Me

I listen to a lot of folks for a living.  As recent as today someone called me to help pull them in from being deep in ocean.  Listening is not even a job anymore but something I do naturally even though I am not so sure I hear self as well.  It’s so natural I even hear the girl crying as her mom brisk her pass me off to class late.   Somedays as I’m listening to others I have to work hard at hearing the lyrics in their story as separate from my own song.  Somedays it seems like all of our stories are like wet tangled hair easily meshed together.  I dance between joy and wonderment.  I find myself starting out in one emotion and dancing through a rainbow of emotions.  And so life is a prism of experiences.  It is not as clear to me anymore as I juggle many balls while walking on a tight rope where I am or what I am doing.

But there are these invitations, that sometimes find me, that invite me to step outside of me.  By stepping outside of me, I mean the me that is bombarded with to do list, errands, and obligations.  By stepping outside of me, I mean the person who has my family and friends in categories to call on different days of the weeks.  By steeping outside of me, I mean the person who balances listening with responding and being many things to many people that I care and love and knowing that some days I am not what they wanted me to be.  By stepping outside of me, I mean the person with two jobs, a blended family, family and friends, and unfulfilled personal aspirations.  By stepping outside of me, I mean the person who wants to go crazy sometimes but instead holds it all together because it’s what’s expected of people like me.  All of this is the me that I sometimes need to escape.

And so the latest of invitations, that I remember with a chuckle, is my son’s challenge to a race to the car.  Seeing as how we were less than 50 feet from the car, it was a surmountable distance but not something I was expected to do inside of me.  Somewhere a yes erupted from my mouth and it was on.  We both got to the car at the same time.  I believe this only to be true because my boots were unzipped slowing my movement down (lol).  But when we both arrived at the car we looked at each other and laughed.  I wonder if this is the joy of play.  We were both breathing a little harder, smiling a lot more and basking in exhilaration.  And in that moment I realized my son had invited me outside of myself.  Outside of me was beautiful, carefree and light.

16Apr

Pain is Part of the Journey

Yesterday I had lunch with the former and first pastor of Good News Community Church.  He is sort of like a miracle in that he has had some health challenges and is still alive.  Doctors have commented on him having survived.   He looks well but he explains to me he is very sick.  They are treating him for an auto immune disease that only 500 people in the world carry.  His daughter, whose field is not even autoimmune, worked tirelessly to find a cure and refused to let the doctors pull the cord on him, years ago when he was put in a coma for life preservation.  Finally she came up with a treatment that he responded to and that saved his life.  His memory is like a dried out rubber band so that in seconds he can forget the day or time or location.  His phone has his emergency contact information should he have an episode or should his brain not remember.  All the brain exercises that strengthen most people’s brain are a no no for him.  His brain is best relaxed.  As I sat listening to his story over the last few years and experiencing it, as I saw his mind working to communicate, I felt an unbearable weight.  I felt  a mix of gratitude and sadness.

I have always thought of pain as something we cause one another for our unwise acts.  But in those moments the former pastor shared the incredible pain he has caused to his wife and family without guilt.  I know if he could  he would take this pain away.  It is not a pain he would want them to have nor is it a pain they would not carry out of their love for him.  He is grateful for what his family does for him.  He complies more readily with the care plan designed for him.  His life is a series of calendars, alerts, phone calls, medicine and check ins. He must be monitored.  And yet, even with the work of fully listening to another whose brain is fleeting, we broke bread.  We had a wonderful meal and we talked about our lives.  We inquired about each other.  I understood him perfectly.  Perhaps I expected to pick his brain more but when I saw what that could do I adapted to a less rigorous conversation.  And I was encouraged because we shared and that inspite of his brain challenges we were able to find our way to each other.

In that moment I saw how pain can be something we tolerate and carry out of love for another.  I saw pain differently.  I saw it as more than a selfish act that hurts another.  Life brings us pain.  Love ones bring us pain.  Living brings us pain.  It is out of our connectedness with others that we can feel at all.  It is out of desires and hopes that sometimes the distance between where we are and where we want to be that causes us to bow over in pain.  I have felt a lot of pain, both physical and emotional, in the last year but it is not all that I have felt.  But after my meal with the former pastor, I understand pain not just as a burden but a part of my journey.

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