Brick by Brick

I left work Friday afternoon and headed to pick up my child from daycare. As I started down the hallway toward his classroom, another mother and her son, younger than mine, walked toward me on their way out. I was greeted with an exuberant “HI!” from the little guy, who oozes with a zest for life and other people. I smiled a big smile and returned the greeting.

As I passed this mother and son, my chest constricted and my heart ached, knowing that his sweet, innocent, lively presence will one day be diminished as his mama has to sit him down for The Talk. I ached for this mama who will fear for her son’s safety on a regular basis (in a way I will never have to) because we still live in a shoot first, ask questions later kind of world–especially when people of color are involved.

I felt it. Physically. Emotionally. I felt it.

I feel it often for my friends and their children. I feel it for the kids I encounter at work. I feel it for strangers I pass.

That feeling crescendoed this weekend as events unfolded in Charlottesville. Bigotry which had slumbered in hibernation awoke with a voracious appetite, ready for its first course. White supremacists with torches closed in on people gathered to speak truth to evil and love to hate. The most striking image for me, however, was the black officer standing at the rope line, his back to the rally that included white men carrying Confederate flags, wearing KKK garb, and raising their right hand in salute as the Nazis once did. The black officer looks down toward the left with a neutral expression on his face. But what thoughts must have raced through his mind?

This morning, I watched another black boy enter our shared space. This one was older, and he was accompanied by our youth pastor. The boy’s father was nearby, proudly recording his entry and lighting of the candles on the altar in our sanctuary. The schedule for which child would light those candles was made weeks ago, but this child’s role in lighting those flames TODAY was not lost on me. Not long after, my pastor stood to welcome the congregation as she does for nearly every service. She started by acknowledging that this morning was a difficult one. She named the sense of paralysis many white people feel. She named the the feeling among black people that once again their lives don’t matter. She called out the fact that 11:00 on Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour in America. The anthem sung later by the choir was Precious Lord, Take My Hand, a song favored among Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other members of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a song that was chosen weeks ago for this very morning. After the choir sat, my pastor went to work, speaking truth not only in love but to fear, challenging us to do this work–because there’s still plenty to be done.

I’ve struggled this weekend to put words to all of these things. What to say, what the hell difference it might make when we keep having to do the same kind of work. When the systems and hearts and minds of this country seem to take, at best, baby steps toward honoring the whole personhood of all who live here. I kept coming up short.

And then I read some words written by another of my ministers and I started to find my own.

He said, after proclaiming his love to our Black and Jewish and Latinx and Muslim brothers and sisters (and I would add our LGBTQ brothers and sisters), “I will continue to give my life dismantling white supremacy in the church I love and in the systems and hearts and minds of this country and world until we live in justice and peace or until I’m dead and gone or until Jesus comes back.”

Me too.

Brick by goddamned brick.

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#SustainedOutrage #SubversiveLiving #RandomActs #BYOHashtag

I follow things on the Book of Face. Lots of things. One of them happens to be a page for feminist issues (shocker). The creator of that page has decided that her plan of action until Election Day 2020 is to do one positive or proactive thing each day. The hashtag attached to that action, which appears to be gaining some traction, is #SustainedOutrage. Some of you might not like that hashtag. It might be too aggressive or too…something. So change it up. Call it #SubversiveLiving or #RandomActs or some other hashtag of your choosing. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It only matters that you act daily for the next 1450 days.

Wait…how many days?

Yep. One thousand. four hundred. and fifty days.

Imagine what daily acts of positivity or kindness or action could lead to over the next 1450 days. Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas:

  • Donate money to a cause in which you believe.
  • Donate money more than once…because you probably believe in more than one thing.
  • Put the phone numbers of your elected officials in your phone.
  • Call them. Call them often. Make your voice heard.
  • Bring awareness to issues in a meaningful and respectful way.
  • Volunteer in your community.
  • Do something that shows care for another person.
  • Do something that shows care for the earth.
  • Read things that will expand your thinking or challenge your assumptions and ideas.
  • Have a conversation with someone different from you. (And if you need some help with that right now…because I sure do…and because some of you are dreading family gatherings at Thanksgiving, this TED Talk is uh. mazing. Complete with questions to include in the conversation.)

Do small things. Because it’s more sustainable. Because it’s less overwhelming. Because small things over time become bigger things. Because small steps change things.

How are the children?

It’s been said that when members of neighboring Masai tribes greet one another, they don’t do so with a “Hello” or “How are you?” They do it with the question, “How are the children?” It’s a little bit strange for that to be the leading question, but when you stop and think about it, it makes a lot of sense. When the children are doing well, we’re all doing well.

Wednesday morning, when I walked into work, it was clear that many of us were not doing well. A brief conversation with admin led to the counselor and I composing an email for staff on how to support our students’ potential range of emotions that day. It was the kind of email you put out the day after a major crisis event, which is telling in and of itself. I changed my plans for the day to make sure I was available if needed. All of the adults worked to make Wednesday a normal school day, but it wasn’t long before we were hearing about students who needed to talk to someone.

I spent the bulk of Wednesday talking to students, trying to provide comfort, safety, support, and hope. I sat with them as each one entrusted to me their stories, their fears, their anger, their tears, their outrage. I heard stories of parents who work multiple jobs to help their children and themselves have a better life. One student looked at me pleadingly as he said, “He calls my people murderers and rapists and now he is the president of the United States.” The unspoken question was, “HOW? How is that possible?” Another proclaimed the president-elect to be racist and sexist, feeling both of those things to be true given her identity and based on things said throughout the election cycle. Others shared their fears of being separated from family and friends based on the words of the president-elect. One simply seethed in rage over the whole thing.

Many of my students carry identities of multiple groups who have been diminished by the words of the president-elect. They feel targeted, as many do, because of their skin color, gender, or ethnicity. Many of my staff members feel the same way, in some cases adding in other identities. And all I could do was sit with each of them, letting them know they were heard and loved and safe at school. The hardest part was trying to find words of reassurance, because I just didn’t have any on Wednesday. And when I walked out of that building that day, I was wrung out.

Today, though, I’m starting to find words–starting to generate ideas for action. Because together we can do hard things. Because they are all my children. Because my people are hurting and feel unsafe. Because many of us are stunned by the messages we received loudly and clearly in the very early hours of Wednesday morning. Because I am an advocate and an ally. Because the children are not well.

Let Them Have Their King: A Short Meditation on this Election Day

When I was in seminary, I had an assignment to memorize a chunk of scripture (15 or so verses) and then deliver it in monologue fashion in front of my class. After an Old Testament class in a previous semester, I was fascinated by 1 Samuel 8. So that’s the passage I chose to memorize. And though it’s a narrative of a turning point in the history of Israel, I think it has implications for this historical election day. 

In the text, Israel had been led by Samuel, who was nearing the end of his life. None of his sons were favored to take his role, so the elders in Israel came to Samuel and asked for a king. It worked for other nations; surely it would work for them. A concerned Samuel takes it up with God.

God responds by telling Samuel to tell the Israelites what would happen if they had a king. The king “will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves.”

Samuel shared the message with the people who insisted that there should be a king so they could be like all the other nations and so the king “may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” He listened to the elders and took their message back to God, whose response essentially was, “Well then. Listen to them…and let them have their king.”

I woke up praying this morning that the majority of the people would not insist on having “their king” in this election. And yet, I fear that so many people want something so different in the worst way that they are asking for the person who has gone about being different in the worst possible way. On this election day, if you have not already done so, I encourage you to vote. And as you do, consider the implications of the choices you make when you fill in that ballot. Because sometimes what we think we want is exactly what we do not need.

Who is my neighbor?

This week started out so well for many of us. We celebrated the birth of our nation and the freedoms we possess because a band of colonists were brave enough to say, “We’re not gonna take it anymore.” And they set in motion this incredible American experiment.

But no experimental design is without flaws. Underneath the celebrations and patriotism and mixed feelings (or not) about this great land of ours, there is a history of violence toward and violations of the lives and rights of others–usually the ones who don’t look like us. Although we have made progress around some of those misdeeds (a gross understatement), let us not think that the narratives we write and speak and believe don’t also render others silent and invisible.

Exhibit A: The events of the past 36 to 48 hours.

Black lives continue to hang in the balance every day–sometimes at the hands of those who swore to protect. I thought once that perhaps black parents could exhale just a bit once their sons and daughters survived into their 30s. Apparently, they can never exhale–a notion that takes #Icantbreathe to a whole new level.

Cop lives also hang in the balance. The officers in Dallas had nothing to do with the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Nothing. They were working a protest, present, I assume, to ensure the safety of those in attendance. But the misplaced anger and venom of a few people with access to what I also assume were some high powered rifles (based on the nature of the attacks) led to even more heartache and loss of life.

The lectionary passage for this Sunday is the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s a story Jesus tells in response to the question asked by an expert in the law. The expert wanted to know what he needed to do for eternal life. Jesus asked the expert what the law said. He responded: Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor as yourself. Affirmative, good buddy. The man followed up that statement by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” And then Jesus launches into the narrative we have come to know as The Parable of the Good Samaritan. After telling the story, Jesus had a question of his own. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man?” You’ve been given three examples, expert. You tell me who the neighbor is. “The one who showed mercy.” The one who was the helper. The one who cared for a stranger as if the man were his own flesh and blood. The one who crossed the lines of social divide because it was the right thing to do. The one who dismissed the norms of who belonged to which group because another human being, with a real face and a real name (though not known to us–probably for a reason), with real pain and real wounds, needed mercy. And love. And someone to see him when two others passed by on the other side of the road, rendering him invisible.

A friend of mine said today, “If your pastor doesn’t mention the shootings this week from the pulpit, you should demand to know why. Actually, I think you should probably walk out and then sue the church for malpractice.” Because church is one place we seek solace, yes, but also where we receive the challenge and the invitation to see and think and live differently. Because that is what it means to follow the Way. That is what it means to acknowledge Imago Dei. That is what is required to heal the broken places.

Let us awaken from the separateness that keeps us from hearing and knowing the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

Swirling Things & Naming Things

Some days I run because it’s just what I do that day of the week. Some days I run to clear my head. Some days I run to sort out all of the things swirling in my head. This past Tuesday, after the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, I ran because of the swirling things. And I named some things for myself.

I am weary. Weary of this world and the fear and hate and violence and sad things. Weary of fighting for things to be better.

I need a break. From gunmen and rape culture and legislation that denies access to any number of people to any number of things.

I am privileged. Because I can take a break from those things. I can choose whether to engage in the things that are wrong, the things that make me tired, the things I have to keep fighting for…or against.

I feel powerless. To support my LGBT friends. To end gun violence. To change attitudes against women. To combat legislation that seems to be written by a group of people who lack regard for anyone else.

I have to keep working…advocating…fighting for a better world for my children…and teach them to do the same. Because these problems take different forms or just get traded out for something else. There will always be work to be done.

I’m afraid I’ll stop fighting.

“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

We have to keep looking for the helpers.

I have to keep being a helper.

 

What is this job?

Some days the work I do brings me joy. Some days it brings me to tears. Some days it brings me to my knees. Some days I sit or stand in my buildings and wonder, “What job is this?” Some days I walk out of those buildings feeling like I just walked out of the twilight zone.

Within the past month I…

Tested my brains out and written report after report after report

Have gone to meetings for each of them

Watched a social worker stage a sit in because she doesn’t have her own office

Read a suspension report about an incident of sexual harassment of one student to another in which the administrator wrote, “as the situation came to a climax.”

Drove to a kid’s house to get his glasses so I could test him

Left that house, IEP Team in tow and, in an experience I still can’t shake, drove to another to have an IEP meeting

Heard about a teacher frustrated over the fact that two chairs in the classroom didn’t get returned to their original location after another teacher taught a class in that space, which only happened because we have no additional space

Read through student records and learned things about their histories that make me wonder how these kids even get out of bed, let alone try to learn something at school

Received letters from a medical professional requesting evaluations…and specific measures

Had conversations and asked hard questions about what we’re doing to meet the needs of all students

Have been asked hard questions about what we’re doing to meet the needs of all students

Read articles and books (and I’m not finished reading) about education and race and class and outcomes

I’ve felt more deeply than ever the weight of this work that I do. That we do. It is hard. It is heavy. It can feel too big and overwhelming and defeating.

And when I walked out of one meeting in particular today, I felt completely emotionally and physically drained by this work. In a way I never had before.

This is not my resignation. This is not me quitting. This is me trying to process this strange and brutiful work that I do, day in and day out. This is me trying to figure out how to give these kids–our kids–my kids what they need to beat the odds and have some semblance of a happy and successful life. This is me reminding myself that we’re fighting for the slim chance that their outcomes can be different–in spite of the generational issues that are just one piece of a complex picture saying otherwise. This is me still “saying there’s a chance.” 

After a glass of wine. And some sweet potato waffle fries. And maybe some sleep.