Stuck and Unstuck: A Lenten Reflection

A gracious, wide crape myrtle stands in our yard near the street.

During certain times of the year, leaves and seed pods from that lovely tree fall in just such a pattern as to block a few critical inches of our driveway. The drainage path to the curb gets clogged up.

And then I find myself pulling up during a rainstorm to step out of the car into ankle-deep water. I slosh across the driveway to that one corner and, in my already sodden shoes, kick the minuscule, problematic bundle of leaves, seed pods, and twigs out into the water flowing along the gutter.

As I make my way inside to shuck my wet shoes, the driveway begins to drain.

We could pull all sorts of lessons out this story, but there’s one that really interests me during Lent.

Every one of us gets stuck sometimes. Sometimes it’s a huge thing and we have to figure out an appropriate way to address that. At others, however, it’s something small.

Sometimes we get stuck on the small things.

They might mess with our capacity to show compassion and kindness in the world. They might keep us from seeing the pain of a neighbor. They might cause us to get mired in a muddle of self-condemnation. Or we might just feel stuck and not even know why.

This time in the Christian year allows us the opportunity to slow down and pay attention. Somewhere in that process of prayer and practice, we might notice what’s got us stuck.

Lent invites us to consider the small things that could make a big difference. Sometimes it’s exactly those small things in our lives that block us in our quest to follow Jesus.

*this was first published as a part of Beloved Community Church’s Lenten Reflection Series. Check out the site to see past reflections and sign up to receive future ones – http://us8.campaign-archive1.com/home/u=b0ec53794d5302e54ac84ec3b&id=9ea25a5d37 

Beyond the Usual: On Lent and Black History Month

Easter comes early this year. As a consequence, so does Lent.

For that reason, Lent coincides to a substantial degree with Black History Month.

As a white person, I understand Black History Month as a time for me to listen and to learn. It’s a time to hear stories and bear witness.  There are notable figures, overlooked by conventional history books, who have contributed to science and art, to politics and philosophy, to education and to faith. These accomplishments matter to black people and they matter to the rest of us, often far more than we know. They enrich the whole of human existence.

By the end of February, if I’m paying attention, I will know more of the triumphs and joys as well as the sufferings and sorrows of the history of African Americans in this country. It takes intentional effort to see beyond my own whiteness and the lens that comes with it. It takes looking beyond the history I’ve been taught and beyond the white experience that is used as the default in education and popular media.

The call of Lent and the call of Black History Month have a lot in common.

Lent is a season for listening and for learning. It’s a time to hear the stories of others, especially others who are different from us – and most especially a time to listen to the voices of people that our society places at the margins. It’s a time to try to understand the lens that we use to see the world.

Lent offers us the opportunity to repent not only of our individual sins but of our collective cultural sins. We can open our hearts to the triumphs and joys and the sorrows and sufferings of others. We are called to stop long enough and listen closely enough to hear the stories that get drowned out because they disturb or disrupt or threaten to upend our comforts.

Black History Month is a chance to look beyond the usual stories we are fed by the world.

Lent is also a chance to look beyond the usual stories we are fed by the world.

I pray we do so.

*this was first published as a part of Beloved Community Church’s Lenten Reflection Series. Check out the site to see past reflections and sign up to receive future ones – http://us8.campaign-archive1.com/home/?u=b0ec53794d5302e54ac84ec3b&id=9ea25a5d37 

A Statement of (My) Faith

Different people come to these pages for different reasons.

The people who read the blog are often not the same as those check out the Home or About pages to learn more about my work.

So while I recently added a new theological statement to the Home page, I don’t figure that folks who read things here will necessarily see it. I make small changes on the other pages regularly, tweaking a word or an idea as my own understanding or efforts grow and change.

Those are important, but they’re details. The statement I added last week is more than a detail. It has always been implicit in my other words, but I haven’t in the past stated it online this directly. Because I think it might be of interest to those who follow this space, I offer it here as well –

What I Believe: 

We are made by God in God’s image and charged with the care of all creation.

Contemporary culture in the service of material power and profit dehumanizes us. This is the narrative of empire. Rather than seeing our differences as a source of strength and interdependence, it divides us – often violently – across them. It attempts to commodify the whole of existence.

The Incarnational Christ calls us to honor and experience God by honoring one another and the Earth. To that end, I seek to both contest the narrative of empire and recognize the sacred in the everyday and in every person. I aspire to enact and embody this theology by seeing through a lens that acknowledges all time as holy, not just Sunday mornings or other designated Sabbath and worship moments.

My practice of this faith emphasizes conversation, care and presence, prayer, learning, curiosity, collaboration, meditation, creative expression, respect, humor, imagination, liturgy, and the building of porous, meaningful communities.

Critique and Creation: Why Social Change Requires Both

In a couple of different conversations on social change last week, I brought up an idea that I can neither lay claim to as an original thought nor attribute to a specific source. It has been said by many in any number of ways. However, it’s a fundamentally important practical point for community organizing and creating change in our world – and thus bears repeating, especially in our current climate. Even when we know something, we sometimes need to hear it again.

Effective social change work requires articulating a critique of the status quo and working to dismantle the structures that support that status quo.

Effective social change work also requires articulating a vision of alternatives to the dominant paradigm(s) and working to make those visions a feasible reality. It can be multiple visions of alternatives. Or a vision of multiple alternatives. One solution is probably not going to fit for everybody – and that’s okay as long as we can find a way to work within genuine pluralism*.

Sometimes we treat this work as either/or. We attack or we build. We create or we destroy. Such an approach has inherent limitations.

If all we do is critique, we risk leaving people in despair. We feed a climate of doom that forces others to look away so that they can function in daily life. We get bitter and frustrated and turn on one another. It burns out those who care and diffuses the energy needed to take on the powers-that-be.

If all we do is create a new path, we also limit our effectiveness. If people don’t understand the problematic nature of old institutions and patterns, they are much less likely to abandon the security the old system offers (even when it works against their own interests) for the uncertainty of something new. Familiarity is comfortable. Change is hard.

Without the component of active and articulated (not just implied) critique, it’s also harder to resist being co-opted – or crushed – by dominant structures. Compassionate and clear self-examination function best in a context of critical awareness. It helps keep us honest.

Not everybody is going to be good at both strands of the work. That’s okay. But the conversation as a whole has to include both components – and people of different gifts doing this work must listen to and respect one another. That’s not just head-nodding listening. That’s listening in such a way as to allow the other person’s insights and experiences change you and what you do and how you do it.

We have to do both. The conversation has to integrate both critique and creation. If it doesn’t, we make things harder than they need to be. And this work is difficult enough already, right?

 

* okay, that’s not at all a small caveat, but it represents a tangent here. We’ll come back to that another day.

Among Us

A quick story for a busy week –

Running late
as usual
one block
after leaving
my house
traffic stopped.
A man
stood in
the street
asking each
passing car
for some
unknown need.

I started
to cross
to the
other side
But then
saw his
body turn
toward me.

Ah hell,
I’m late.
I don’t
have time –
“What do
you need,
my brother?”

“A lugwrench.
Please. We
got a
flat right
up there.”

Sure enough
in the
worst bend
of the
road sat
a red
car, tire
flat, and

another man
with a
Falcons cap.

Oddly easy
to help
once it’s
decided. One
quick reach
behind my
Jeep seat
and with
rare flourish
I could
help this
time, this
one clear
time.

“You
drink beer?”
the first
fellow asked,
an offer
to repay,
a trade,
as I,
barely slowing,
could not
wait for
the wrench.

“Yeah, man,
but no
worries. I’m
good.”

Nowhere to
keep beer
in a

Jeep. I
hollered into
the wind
where they
could leave
the wrench
if they,
two black
men at
dusk wished
to wander
my labyrinthine
white neighborhood.

No surprise
at no
wrench on
my porch.
(I had
warned of
dogs). but
it’s okay.

The gift
was these
angels on
the corner
with one

flat tire.

The Problem of Daniel Holtzclaw’s Tears

Yesterday former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw was found guilty of 18 counts of rape and other forms of sexual violence. His victims were poor black women, age 17-50, in the community he was charged with protecting.

He preyed on these marginalized women because he thought no one would take their allegations of wrongdoing seriously. Apparently since there were 13 known victims, it took quite a while before anyone did.

I noticed Holtzclaw cried yesterday at the reading of the jury’s verdict. I wonder if I have ever had less sympathy for someone’s tears.

Nope.

However, I am praying for him today, that his heart and his soul might be healed of whatever horror possesses him. And I am most certainly praying for the women he terrorized and harmed, particularly after Holtzclaw’s attorneys predictably centered their defense strategy on defaming the victims.

In his violence, Holtzclaw brutally denied the value, the dignity, and the humanity of his victims – in a world that already systemically conveyed that message to them because of who they are.

I am working hard against my own temptation to view him as a monster. For the minute I do so, I strip away not only a sense of his humanity, but I also shred my own conviction that I must recognize the full humanity of all people. All people. Even the ones who commit monstrous acts. Even the ones who are so damaged that we (and they themselves) cannot see how they too are made in God’s image.

I am glad that some form of justice was done, whether or not it was complete (apparently the jury did not believe some of the complainants). I am glad that Holtzclaw will be sent to prison for his deeds – and hopefully with the full force of the law will serve a long sentence. I still have no sympathy for his tears. I have a whole heart of sympathy for his victims.

And I keep reminding myself: our casual cultural impulse to dehumanize is a part of the root problem.

I must thus continue in my effort not to dehumanize him in my own heart and mind.

An important task, but not an easy one.

On Being Both Pro-Choice and Anti-Abortion

In response to a discussion about violence and capital punishment a while back (which you can find here – http://bit.ly/1OUdMgi), a friend asked me about my views on abortion. When another friend inquired earlier this week about a link to those comments, it occurred to me that these particular nuances might be worth posting here. I don’t think I can rework them in any way that would make them better, so I’ll just go with the original format.

This is an incredibly difficult and divisive issue. People are so polarized that I have a difficult time locating myself within the broader conversation. But I suppose that’s no excuse for not trying, particularly in light of the recent controversies around Planned Parenthood (and for the record, I appreciate Planned Parenthood’s role as a provider of women’s healthcare).

Here is the original question: “You’ve been very vocal about this particular case and others concerning peoples right to live. I appreciate your perspective and general feelings on valuing human life. However, I can’t seem to find any posts that state your feelings on abortion. Curious where you stand on that issue.”

And this is my response:

It’s a big issue to step into in the context of this [other] big issue, but I think it’s a fair question in that context.

I am both pro-choice and anti-abortion. I would prefer to live in a world where no one felt they needed to make the choice to have an abortion – and to achieve that we must change our culture, so that we do not stigmatize sexuality and varied patterns of human relationships. We must provide services that enable people to have a dignified life, even in the context of an economy that does not and, as far as I can tell, never again will offer enough living wage jobs.

We must offer comprehensive sex education to young people and make birth control readily available to all people – because people are going to have sex – and to do so in a manner that respects their bodies and their relationships, that’s most likely to happen in a context of having good information and good supports.

We must value all efforts to create and maintain loving families – whether that family is a single mom or single dad, a same-sex couple, a multigenerational family, or an opposite sex parent family. It does indeed take a village, so we need to foster institutions that emphasize our interdependence as people and as a planet – so that everyone has a community of choice that supports them in the effort of raising a child.

We need to make adoption a workable process rather than a for-profit industry (and I realize that there are good folks out there doing good work in this area, so I’m not making that a wholly blanket statement).

We need to value the bodies of women rather than objectify them (and of men as well).

We need to change the predominant (note: not all, but the loudest voices) anti-abortion culture from one of condemnation and anger and shouting and moralizing and even hatred to one of unconditional love, caring, and material support that lasts up until at least the age of 18.

We need to stress a consistent life ethic – that the lives of all, indeed of all of creation, have value. Thus in my opinion the logical tie-in to the death penalty.

And in the end, I do believe that a woman has the ultimate voice of control over her own body. We don’t place chastity belts on all men to prevent rape, so we apply one set of standards to women and another to men. I would hope and pray (and work – in my best social justice activism sense) that we could achieve the world I’m talking about in which no one felt the need to exercise that right. But I do believe it is a right, even if I am troubled by the outcome.

I also feel that if people want to prevent abortions they should – we should work together – for the sort of world I describe above, which is very much to me reaching for the enactment of God’s vision of justice and mercy and love here on this earth.

That is what I think and what I believe.

One final thought – you are correct that I do not often speak about abortion specifically. But if you take that last paragraph I wrote with its vision for God’s vision of justice and mercy and love, that is what I work for and it is an inclusive vision. I don’t know a lot of people – a few, but not a lot – who occupy the same ground that I do about this topic, so it’s ground that I tread with some particular care, given the violent noise that tends to come up around this issue.

I also tend to speak out most on topics that I feel I have some clarity about – and abortion has never been an area of easy clarity for me. There was a time when I would have simply labeled myself pro-choice, but my views have evolved over time – evolved, however, in spite of not because of the mainstream of the anti-abortion movement (which I think repels rather than attracts people who might be willing to explore the complexities of the issue).

I also would not consider most (not saying all – just saying the ones I’ve familiar with) anti-abortion conversations and work to be safe space for me as an out lesbian Christian woman and seminarian. I have enough to do – and have to take enough care on a daily basis to maintain safe spaces for myself and my family – that I will not seek out places that are likely to be harmful to me personally.

I appreciate the conversation – and you. That bit that I mentioned in the middle of that first long response comment – about a consistent life ethic. I understand that phrase and that movement to come from some parts of Catholic activism. I am always willing to be in dialogue with and to look for shared space with people who subscribe to that ethic (and with others too, but sometimes that gets more complicated).

We are all on this journey together and for me it is always a journey of learning. So I welcome connections with that conversation, provided that others involved can find it in their hearts to be respectful of me.

That’s all I’ve got on this subject at this time.

 

Violence is Fast

The late writer and activist June Jordan offered many wise words, but this succinct insight from a 1990 essay is one of her greatest:

“Violence is fast.
Other things take time.”

This sets up a central problem in our daily lives and our global journey today.

Violence is fast. Other things take time.

It takes time to heal.
It takes time to listen.
It takes time to research.
It takes time to grow trees.
It takes time to share a meal.
It takes time to alleviate poverty.
It takes time to create relationships.
It takes time to negotiate differences.
It takes time build good social programs.
It takes time to sit down in honest conversation.
It takes time to understand differentials of power.
It takes time to show love when you don’t like someone.
It takes time to devise alternatives to military engagement.
It takes time to protect ecosystems and plan sustainable growth.
It takes time to create jobs and healthcare access and social inclusion.
It takes time to listen to voices of dissent and to see our shared humanity.

Violence is fast. Other things take time.

Acts of Creative Resistance: 12 Ways to Subvert the Intention of Terror

1) Be kind to everyone you meet.

2) Be not afraid. Or be afraid, but act from a place of love instead of from a place of fear.

3) Create things. Terror hates art and music and free expression of the life of the spirit.

4) Read books. Read lots of books. Read books about a wide variety of topics. Terror hates independent learning and critical thinking.

5) Learn about the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia. Seek out multiple perspectives on their history, culture, and conflict. Read fiction in translation, listen to music from these regions, and read online English language newspapers, magazines, and blog sites produced there.

6) Reach out to your Muslim neighbors. Build relationships. Learn about Islam. Learn about Islam from Muslims themselves. After 9/11, I visited a local mosque during Friday prayers as an act of both solidarity and curiosity. I was received with great kindness – and have always been greeted with hospitality from Muslims encountered elsewhere.  (bonus: other interreligious relationships are good too)

7) Root our defiance of terror in our love for the world (the whole world and its people and all of creation) rather than in anger, bitterness, or hatred.

8) Admit that the United States has often not been a benevolent presence in the world, that we’ve caused (and do cause) harm and pain. Admit we have problems in our country of our own making. Admit to the troubled parts of our history and our current national reality and work toward national accountability.

9) Admit the United States is in many ways a great country. It is our home and we heal it best through our love. Love it enough to want to work with others to make it better, to make it live up to its ideals. This is an act of citizenship and of courage.

10) Look beyond the cable and network news 24/7 focus on any one issue of the moment. Technology gives us access to information from global perspectives. Evaluate the source of news and consider its ideological underpinnings. Recognize that all sources and all people operate from a place of ideology.

11) Pray for the whole world and all the people in it, without exception.

12) Live life with all the joy you can muster, while yet ever acknowledging the world’s pain.