Monday, November 02, 2015

To My Daughters

Dear Sweet Girls,

There's so much I want (and need) to tell you about life. There are so many lessons, so many ways I want you to know Jesus and grow up happy, healthy and stable. I won't get into a discussion on helicopter parenting right now, and I'll narrow my focus to one thing that the three of us share in common: being girls. That is, females, women, ladies, etc. Your chromosomes, your inner female parts--as well as the outward signs of them--are significant parts of who you are as people. And they will continue to be so. Your femaleness will affect you for your entire lives because it is the context from which you will encounter the world. The physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual ramifications of your two X chromosomes are so many. Your womanhood will matter, and it will shape the way you relate to the world in general and to your loved ones in particular.

Physically, you are more vulnerable than men. I hate to even type these words, and it makes me see red (which quickly fades to black) to think that according to statistics, you have around a 20% chance of being sexually assaulted (and apparently it's higher because you are multi-ethnic) in your lifetime. At best, you will be ogled, fantasized about, and demeaned by some of the men around you. At worst, your bodies will be physically violated in a way that makes me feel rage and helplessness and nausea all swirled together. I wish I could protect you from the world. But I can't. I can (hopefully) help you discover a sense of self and joy in your physical selves.  To help you appreciate your bodies, to care for them, and to learn about how your physicalness and femininity are imaging God in all his glory and creativity.  My wish for you is that you will find your own way in understanding the line between modesty and prudishness, between fear and the wielding of your bodies as a weapon. And added to the journey is this complexity of being "multi-ethnic," of having a difference to your appearance that can be alternately intriguing and alienating.

Emotionally, things get a little more complicated. Depending on who you talk to, being a woman has either no ramifications on your emotional state, all the way along the spectrum to having disastrous consequences for your feelings. I stand (as I do in most things) somewhere in the middle in this. I do feel (ha!) that women tend to think and feel differently, and that this is a beautiful and valuable thing. Some will tell you this is merely a matter of biology and chemistry. Some will claim that the idea of women's emotions is a mere societal construct. I can see the points made in both camps. It seems to me that rather than the challenge of having uniquely female emotions, the issue is really the challenge of having human emotions. Yes, PMS is a thing. A not-much-fun thing. And you have both seen how pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and post-pregnancy hormones can be powerful, frightening, and consuming. But the reality is that both men and women have emotions, and those emotions can either be used to hurt or to heal, to encourage mercy or to promote selfishness. I hope you both will figure out, early on in life, where God calls you as individuals to serve and love and rejoice and grieve with others. I hope your emotions won't control you, but that you also won't try to wholly control them. I hope that your brain chemistry will be balanced. I pray that your community will encourage openness and honesty. And I trust that you'll remember (as more than just a youth group party trick) the shortest of the Bible verses: "Jesus wept."

Yes, Jesus wept, and he was sometimes angry, and sometimes happy, sometimes sad, and sometimes content, and sometimes fearful, and a multitude of other human emotions. Dear daughters, rebuke the lies of Satan that will tell you that the emotional aspects of you are merely manipulative and untrustworthy. Instead, see the ways that you can thoughtfully and carefully cultivate relationships for good. Rejoice in the gift you've been given for loving others, and trust your instincts as they are guided by the Holy Spirit. Some people--women even--are just naturally less openly emotional than others. That's okay, too. Lean into your personality and your God-given emotions, offer them up as gifts to the Lord, and rejoice in all the ways he will use them for your good and his glory.

Mentally, there are both truths and stereotypes that you will encounter. I long for a day when different learning styles are equally valued, when "street smarts" count for as much value as "book learnin'" in the dominant culture, and when IQ is truly a spectrum upon which all of humanity falls (and not a hierarchy of value assessed). I know that something like that will exist someday, in the new heavens and the new earth. I know that someday brothers and sisters who have IQs which are several standard deviations below normal (i.e. "mentally handicapped") will be perhaps, far beyond even being seen as equals, actually be the most honored among us. Until then, intelligence is defined in Western culture by mostly white males.

This intelligence--scholarship, academic leaning, leadership potential (call it what you will)--is something I simultaneously long for and hate. I'd like to think that I used to be able to hang with the scholars, and that the reason I'm not getting all As in graduate school is less a product of my innate ability and more a perfect storm of exhaustion, over-commitments, and relational entanglements (i.e. ministry and family). The sad thing is that I acknowledge that what intelligence I have is innate, meaning: God-given. I have done nothing to earn it, nor can I claim any credit for it. Yet I revel in it, and use it to place myself above others, both men and women. And the heartbreaking truth is that when I feel less than smart, I try to say that my "EQ" (Emotional Intelligence) or "CQ" (Cultural Intelligence), or any other number of "xQ"s, more than makes up for what I may be lacking in IQ. The point that I so often miss is that it's not about competition or ranking to begin with.

Dear daughters of mine, it's already clear that you are both quite smart, and in more ways than one. You are both bright, cheerful, people-persons who think and feel deeply. My prayer for you is that you will rejoice in the intelligence you've been given and not let it rule you. My hope is that you will defy stereotypes--and that if you perhaps become engineers, lawyers, or doctors it will be because that is your calling, and not merely to prove something to someone. My wish for you is that you will find jobs that fully utilize your gifts, calling, and intelligence, but that you won't become arrogant or prideful. I pray that you will never see yourself as above things like cooking, cleaning, or other domestic/service jobs, even if you are oh-so-important career women who hire those jobs out. Let the praise of your intelligence wash over you, boast in Christ alone for it, and cling to what really matters--praising God for your ability to think at all.

Annabel, you once told us that you wanted to be a garbage truck driver when you got older. I love that phase of toddlerhood. I hope you'll always remember what we told you: that it's a valuable, much needed, important job. If that is where God wants you, may you thrive in it. But we had to also tell you the truth that it is very hard work, pays poorly, and engenders little of the respect due to it. I have to be honest that I want more for you. But I don't want you to simply have an easy life as an academic or other white-collar worker. I want you to use your brain to fight for others, to extend your privilege and opportunities where there are none, to stand up and say, very eloquently, "Garbage truck drivers deserve our respect and kindness because in addition to their hard work, they are made in the image of God."

Spiritually, this aspect of being a woman may be the most complicated one of all.  Annabel, you also said once, "Mama, I want to do what you do when I grow up.  What is it you do again?"  Ah, yes.  What is it I do.  Why have I chosen to pursue my MDiv at a very conservative seminary?  Why do I work for a more progressive campus ministry?  Why does our family worship at a multiethnic church in Jackson, MS?  What does it mean, and what does it do to my physical, emotional, and mental state to not really fit in spiritually no matter where I go?  Is this discomfort, this otherness, this loneliness what I am hoping you can avoid?  Or am I hoping you will be able to survive in such a sense of disjointedness?  Dare I even hope and pray that you might thrive in it in a way that most days, I don't really see myself doing?

Far beyond the complementarian/egalitarian debate, quite past the practical questions of what roles women should and can have, is the question of why do women matter to God, and how do we know that? It broke my heart to hear a friend say that her little daughter asked why there weren't any women in the Bible. Have mercy, O Lord. Such women as there are in the Bible! Lost women, found women, sinners and saints, leaders, followers, mourners, and joyful evangelists. Women who worshiped, who were the first to know of the impending arrival of the Christ, as well as the first to know of his resurrection. Without getting into a deep exegesis of the scriptures, suffice it to say (for now) that the ways in which the covenant God YHWH treated women (along with children and other minorities/outcasts) is telling of his care for his children. He loves you, dearest girls. Because when you trust in Christ, you are both his daughters, but also his sons who inherit, co-heirs with Jesus, even. That is a beautiful thing, and a holy mystery.

I don't really have answers for you in all this. I very rarely do, if I'm honest with myself (and with the two of you). I can train you in the catechism, read the Bible and pray with you before bed every night, and let you see me trying to work all this theory out into practice as your dad and I walk this road together. I can try to see the people that you really are becoming, and not traffic in stereotypes or broker in prejudices, but try to frame reality as I see it, and trust that God is big enough to hold you. My biggest fear certainly isn't that you become a woman preacher or a missionary in some hostile country or even that you come to me one day as a teenager and tell me that you're pregnant, or gay, or any of the other things that complicate an otherwise simple existence. (Please hear my sense of irony, there.) My worst nightmare is that you won't have anyone you can really to talk to, that you'll spend your years alone, locked in your own thoughts, drowning in questions and doubts, and thinking that you're all alone in having them.

I can tell you that especially when it comes to seminary, I certainly wasn't planning on being this ground-breaking radical, racking up firsts and pushing boundaries and making people (at best) very uncomfortable and (at worst) pretty angry. I just wanted to learn how to care for graduate students and faculty better. Seminary (like most things) seemed like a good idea at the time.

I can tell you that there are times when it is very very lonely both there and in my work. There are times when the only thing I'm more aware of than the discomfort and pain I cause others is my own discomfort and pain. Times when I wonder if it's worth it to try to co-exist in two very different spheres.

I can tell you that your dad and I don't have it all figured out, that many of our arguments or intense conversations are all about what it means to see each other as equally valuable, but intrinsically different. I can tell you that it would be so much easier to just pick a side and stick with it. I can tell you that especially right now, I'm weary from asking these questions and hearing no answers.

This dissonance is not something I want for you. And yet, I don't know if trying to spare you from it is such a good idea, either.

So what am I hoping for each of you? There is definitely a part of me that wants you to have a comfortable, stable life. To have a husband that loves and respects and nurtures and sacrifices for you as your dad does for me. To have a job--either out in the world or secure in your work at home--that is gratifying to you. Daily work that challenges and strengthens and grows you in patience. A job that you can mirror God in, being creative and bringing order from chaos and finding a little bit of eternity in the day-to-day tasks of life. I want you to have family. Whether that looks traditional and picket fence-y is not the point. I just want you to have people that really know you, and get you, and walk with you and make you more of who you really are, of who God has made you to be. That might be a husband. It might be children. I hope it will, at least in part, be each other, sweet sisters. Your family may be your church family, or your neighbors, or coworkers. People who love you unconditionally and yet don't just leave you to stagnate. People who God uses to show you a physical manifestation of his transformative love for you.

But I recognize that whether or not you have those things, there will still be lonely times. Times where you don't fit in, where miscommunication swallows up friendship until it seems like there is no way out. Whether you are down the street or across the world, I am trying to sit with the knowledge that comfort and stability are good places from which to grow, but that the real growth happens in the griefs and disappointments and violations that the world throws at us. Those are the times when we learn the most about God and his mercy for us.

So what does it mean to be women? I think it means vulnerability mixed with strength. I think it means the ability to both laugh and cry. I think it means asking questions, and learning to trust what few answers we get in life. I think it means loving others, not just because you're women, and that's what women are supposed to do. It means loving others because you're human, and that's what Christ has freed us to do. I think it does mean loving others in your own unique ways, because you're women, and part Asian, and being raised in the South, and all the other special things that make up the beautiful, hilarious, precious, precocious, and wonderful women that you're growing up to be. I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and so I'm able to love you.

With Much, Much Love,

Friday, October 30, 2015

Free Shipping Fridays: Praise is What I Do

Dear Readers,

Last week's Free Shipping Friday apparently got lost in the mail (oops), but here's an old-school CD, in a bubble wrap mailer, ready to pop into your three-disc changer and put on repeat. Sorry, I also forgot to do a Throwback Thursday post yesterday...

For your listening pleasure, some beautiful music that I do listen to on repeat. Just without having to fight ridiculous cellophane wrappers or broken, clunky jewel cases or without having to lug around huge binders full of CDs. I love the internet.

In De Lord (Negro Spiritual)

Praise is What I Do (William Murphy/Shekinah Glory Ministries)

Bless the Lord (Son of Man)  (Tye Tribbet & Greater Anointing)

Monday, October 26, 2015

To Our Team (Players as well as Fans)

Dear Brave and Bold,

Yeah, this is going to be a pretty shallow, ridiculous letter. Frankly, I'm behind the eight-ball on paperwork and classwork and papers and classes and just plain work. So sometimes it's nice to just turn the brain off, talk trash, and revel in the feel of a ridiculous, beautiful, phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes type of college football win.

Well done, boys. Good job, team. Thank you, coaching staff. And hell yeah, fans! I was there back in 2003 when we took down Auburn (and consequently, the goalposts) in an unprecedented upset. Kennan and Team Redd and I took to the field back then, and it was amazing. I would expect nothing less from fans for this game. I so wish I had a piece of goalpost... I know it's destructive and expensive but I envy our friends who have ragged chunks of bright yellow metal on their desks. I settled for a chunk of turf because I was young and crazy then (as opposed to now being older, crazier, but also theoretically more responsible, and concerned with the well-being of my kiddos).

I guess I'll get just a little political here and say: why not expand the definition of the "brave and bold" to include not just the football team but all of GT and her fans? I didn't even understand why the proposed song amendment "If I had a daughter sir, I'd dress her in white and gold; and put her on the campus to join the brave and bold" didn't make sense, because all along, I'd been thinking of the brave and bold as everybody. Which I realize doesn't make great sense, but hey--this proposed change wouldn't be the first time it was changed, anyway, as shown by these lyrics. If nothing else, "... put her on the campus to improve the ratio" is another option. Not necessarily the most flattering, or even helpful, but it at least acknowledges that engineering is a (sadly) male-dominated field.

As far as changing lyrics, I've been doing that ever since I became a fan, anyway. I sing, "He would yell, 'To Hell with Georgia!' like his mommy used to do!" so it's obvious I'm not above interjecting my own feminist politics into sacred words (I do the same thing with praise songs and hymns whose lyrics I find theologically questionable, though actually not targeting gender bias... but that's another post entirely). Really, I'm just here to cheer the team to victory, which is actually kind of possible. I remember another great game, in 2006 against Miami (weird to think of the days of Chan Gailey and Reggie Ball with fondness), where my delusions of fan grandeur were actually confirmed when I HELPED FORCE A TIMEOUT. We had amaaaazing seats in the student section, thanks to friend Kdids, and I screamed my heart out, along with everybody else, enough so that their QB had to call a timeout because nobody could hear the audible. This did not help me to calm down and not take things so seriously. But it was soooooo much fun. There's a small part of me that thinks that they can still hear me through the television, from hundreds of miles away. Like I said, now more responsible, in theory only.

Anyway, it's a rainy Monday morning but the glow from the weekend is sunshine enough for me today. Up with the White and Gold! Am I watching the #BlockSix clip online, again and again? Maaaaybe. Can you blame me? Go Jackets!

Drinking to All the Good Fellows (gender-neutral...?),
A Ramblin', Gamblin', Helluva (Wife-uva) Engineer!

Monday, October 19, 2015

To Those Who Want to Mourn Well

Dear Friends of those going through a miscarriage,

I've hesitated, for almost 10 years now, to write something like this, for several reasons. Firstly, I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings who may have said something that we found unhelpful when we miscarried our first child. Because secondly, even I (though I know better) have said thoughtless and randomly hurtful things to those suffering from the loss of a child. When grief enters the picture, awkwardness and miscommunication aren't far behind. And thirdly, I recognize that everyone's story is different, and that what spoke love and care to us might not be helpful at all for other people.

But I'd like to try to offer some ideas on how to care for a friend in this situation, in hopes that it will be helpful. And I hope that offering a majority of "do's" (as opposed to a list of "don'ts") will avoid hurting anyone. These are general suggestions, and it's important to understand that although ours is not a dramatic story of multiple losses, ours is a sadly common story. The statistics are disheartening: some show miscarriages as occurring in as much as 20% of known pregnancies. The likelihood that you know someone who has had a miscarriage is high, as is the likelihood that you aren't aware of their loss, for a variety of reasons. For some folks, it just isn't as painful as it is for others, so they don't dwell on it. I want to in no way make them feel guilty for that. But for some others, the pain, grief, and even shame is too much to share publicly. They prefer to grieve privately. And for some others, they just don't have anyone they feel close enough to with which to share such a personal thing.

But some, like us, want to share both the joy (we found out about our pregnancy at 6 weeks, and shared the news shortly thereafter) and the pain (we learned the baby had died at 11 weeks, and I fully miscarried at 14 weeks) with others. So if you have friends who are going through this painful time, and you are aware that they are grieving, may I suggest some things to know, things to say, and things to do to help you grieve well with them? The following is brutally honest and rather graphic in places, so be forewarned.

Something to know: if your friends are like us, they consider this miscarriage to be the death of a child.
Something to say: "I am sorry for your loss." I know this seems simple, but sometimes it's the best option. Offer condolences and then silently grieve with them.

Something to know: if your friend has suffered this specific loss of a child, she is also having to sort through a lot of heartbreaking information and difficult decisions while in the midst of grieving. Though it is very different from the paperwork and arrangements required in the death of someone ex-utero, she still has difficult decisions to make and a painful road ahead. She will either have to wait for her body to expel the remains, or she will have to undergo surgery to remove them. If you want to know more about the physical and emotional pain that will accompany surgery, read this beautiful, harrowing piece (warning: it is very descriptive). If you're wondering about the first option, let me say that (warning: very graphic language ahead) the only thing more horrific than the waiting (in my case, for three weeks) is having to flush the remains of your first baby down the toilet like so much refuse. Far beyond even the excruciating physical pain, the gore of the blood and tissue, and the fear of complications, is that knowledge. The knowledge that your baby is gone, without a funeral, or a marker to visit, or anything. Just gone.
Something to say: "I am sorry for your loss." I cannot emphasize this enough. It can be very hurtful if well-meaning people try to minimize the loss, as though downgrading it to "just a miscarriage" could make it hurt less. "I'll be praying for your health and recovery" could also be a good thing to say.
Something to do: Send a card. Send flowers. Bring food. Bring groceries. Bring all the things you would normally bring to the home of a family who has experienced a death. This includes, hopefully, a willingness to sit and grieve with them.

Something to know: if the loss was indeed a baby, then your friends are also indeed parents. They may not get to hold and raise their child (oh, the ache of those empty, longing arms!) but they are parents nonetheless.  They loved their baby as best they could, for as long as they could. The mother, especially, may be feeling guilt, shame, and horror at how her body has betrayed her. She may be worrying that the glass of wine she had or the extra mile that she jogged is what caused the miscarriage. In truth, the most likely reason is a chromosomal abnormality. If she knows this, it may only make her feel more guilty and hopeless. While there is something pure and holy about housing life inside your own body, there is something dark and horrifying about carrying a tiny corpse around inside of you. For me, at least, this constant presence of death weighed very heavily.
Something to say: "I am sorry for your loss." Again, these simple words can mean so much. As holidays like Mothers' and Fathers' Day draw near, saying "I'm praying for you--I know this day will be difficult for you" might also be a kindness.
Something to do: If there aren't other children in the home, remember this couple's baby has died, and many precious dreams along with that baby. I would have given anything to know the exhaustion, frustration, and fear that comes along with parenting a living child. It can be very hurtful if someone implies that life is better or easier without children. That is true; life is "easier" without kids. But only say things that you would say to someone who has lost a child out of the womb (like "I am sorry for your loss.") While it can in no way replace a living child, one of the most precious gifts we received was a stuffed animal with long, furry arms. I cried into that bear a lot, and it is still one of my most treasured possessions. If there are other children in the home, it might be helpful to offer to take them to the park for an afternoon. Either way, bring meals, offer to do laundry, mow the lawn. Like I said, whatever things you normally do for someone with a death in their family, do for this little family.

Something to know: you will probably say something awkward or hurtful, and without even knowing it. Don't let that stop you from loving your friends as best you know how.
Something to say: "I am sorry for your loss." Keep saying that for as long, or as often, as they need to hear it. Depending on their personalities, you might ask them how you can help. Ask them what they need. Rely on the same cues in your friendship that have thus far told you how to be a good friend.
Something to do: but also don't let your feelings get hurt by their erratic grief or anger. A miscarriage (like all deaths) is a life-changing, heartbreaking event, and your friends will not be the same. Your friendship will need to grow and mature as you walk alongside them, as it would in any tragedy. Remember (and send a card for) what would have been the due date. Remember (and give a call on) the anniversary of the miscarriage. Pray with them. Pray for them. Cry with them. Keep loving them.

Almost ten years, two beautiful healthy girls, one failed adoption, and several health issues and surgeries later, we have learned much about parenting, grief, each other, and God. We have learned much about friendship. We have been comforted, been able to comfort others, and found much joy in community. I'm glad that your grieving friends have you, that you care for them, and that you want to love them well. Lament with them, and be blessed by it.

Grieving with you,
A friend.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Free Shipping Fridays: Beautiful, Broken Christian Ancestors

Dear Readers,

Still not famous, nor have I won the lottery, so no makeup samples or totebags or cars to send to you. However, may I present: folded in half, rolled up neatly, secured with a rubberband, and tossed expertly on your topmost porch step (I was a papergirl in Jr. High), a gracious, nuanced, helpful article diving into the complexities of race in the South, especially in the church.

Sometimes we follow tradition, and are grateful for it. Sometimes we strive for progress, because we see the need for change. But always, Tish Harrison Warren reminds us, we follow Jesus.

Christianity Today article (link should work for non-subscribers, too)

Monday, October 12, 2015

To a New Graduate Student's Family

I had the honor of guest posting on the Emerging Scholars Network blog.  So today's full post can be read by clicking on the link below:

Dear New Graduate Student's Family,


Friday, October 09, 2015

Free Shipping Fridays: The Danger of a Single Story

Dear Readers,

It's Free Shipping Friday! Alas, I don't have any shiny, tangible items to send to you for free. What I do have are thoughts and ideas, which can sometimes be the most expensive things of all. (cue orchestra)

For today, let me present on your doorstep: a "brown paper package, tied up with string," containing a TED talk. I am passionate in my belief that we are all complicated, nuanced, made-in-the-image-of-God people. Still, I forget this sometimes. I reduce people to a single anecdote, belief, or moment in time. I reduce people to a single story.

Chimamanda Adichie reminds us why we must strive to look deeper.  Enjoy!

TED Talk video

TED Talk transcript

Monday, October 05, 2015

To My Brothers in Seminary

NOTE: a letter to my sisters in seminary will be forthcoming. :) But for now,  I speak to the brothers.

Dear Brothers-in-Arms,

I've gone back-and-forth on whether to mention names or not. On the one hand, I want to give a shoutout to my classmates who have been true brothers, and praise God for them. On the other hand, most of you would be terribly embarrassed by such praise, and I'd no doubt (unintentionally) leave someone out, which I'd hate do to do. So I've decided to leave it fairly anonymous... but y'all know who you are. And I'm grateful.

Thank you for being true brethren to me. We've laughed, studied, cried (okay, that one's mostly me), prayed, parsed verbs, debated fine points of theology, broken bread, and lived life, all together. You've encouraged and exhorted me, offered (and received!) loving chastisement, cheered for me, and stood up for me. You've seen me as a classmate first, and a female second. You've understood that I'm not trying to be "one of the guys" here, but that I am one of the student body, and should be, as such, treated with respect. You've modeled good study habits, how to love family in the midst of grad school, and how to keep faith and a sense of humor through it all. One of you even coined the term "M.Diva," and that is priceless.

Some of you are also good friends of, and brothers to, my husband, and a blessing to our entire family. Rather than being threatened by me, you've chosen to live life with me and my family. You've understood that I understand healthy boundaries and that I respect your spouses. You've taken the time to get to know me for who I am and you've affirmed me in my calling along the way.

Many of you have used your relational capital and places of privilege to advocate for me, and for other Others (especially the faculty and staff--thank you). You've stood alongside me when it wasn't popular or beneficial. You've even chosen to bless and support me though we have many differences of opinion in matters of politics, education, practice, and theology. You have chosen to celebrate our areas of likeness, and provide safe space for exploring our differences. What a gift.

Many of you know what it's like to be the Other, whether by race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or educational experience. You have graciously extended welcome and belonging to me where all-too-often, you have also known what it's like to be on the outside. Rather than nursing your own wounds, you have chosen to care for mine. That is true Gospel.

I am so blessed to know you, labor alongside you and your families, and to count you as brothers.
Your Sister in the trenches

Dear Brothers-at-Arms'-Length,

I won't mince words here, but I hope I can speak both candidly and gracefully. You've hurt me (more than you know), mocked me (which I can handle), looked down on me (which is infuriating), and dismissed me (which hurts worst of all). For many of you, it's unintentional. For a few of you, you didn't realize just how hurtful your actions and words could be. And for a very rare few, well... we all need Jesus, is all I'll say.

You've asked me if my diploma will come with an asterisk (it won't), assumed I'm a raging feminist (I'm not), questioned not just my calling but my very faith (so that's helpful). I have been screamed at for daring to disagree with a professor, told that my type of "diversity" is not needed on campus, and condescendingly called "honey." I've been asked, several times by the same person, "Now what is your degree program, again?" as though he was hoping he'd misremembered, or heard incorrectly the first eight times.

I think some of you really do think I snuck on campus when no one was looking. For the record, I was recruited, welcomed, and affirmed by the staff and faculty. I'm not even asking you to accept me on my own merits, but rather to accept the leadership of our institution. If they endorse a certain student in the program, who are any of us to disrespect that? I also sought the advice and blessing of my pastor back in Atlanta, my pastor here in Jackson, and most of all, my husband. And I received confirmation and affirmation from all of them. A few truly rough days, my husband has comforted me as I wept. I guess I should thank you for further strengthening our marriage and my resolve, but I'm afraid it would be mostly sarcasm if I did.

But I am trying to forgive you. I'm trying to learn to pray for you, your ministries, and your families. I'm trying to see things objectively, not assume offense where there is none, pardon unintended offense, and extend grace where there is certain and calculated offense. You and I need the gospel, gentlemen. It is perhaps the one thing we can agree on, so I'll cling to that.

In Christ Alone,
A Sister

Dear Acquaintances, and Brothers by virtue of the Gospel,

Please forgive me for where I've judged you. When I've sensed judgement from you (deserved or not), when I've assumed I know your stories and your intentions. Thank you for your work on campus. Thank you to some of you who have worked hard to not judge me, to not alienate me, and who are also just trying to survive grad school. I hope we can be friends. I hope our families will get to know each other, and that I will rejoice as each one of you graduates, not because I'm glad to see you go, but because I'm happy for your successes. (Because let's be honest, it's going to be awhile until I graduate. As many of you have come and gone before, many more will do so before this part-time student/part-time ministry staff/wife/mama/church member earns enough credits to graduate.)

Especially to those classmates from when I first started seminary, thank you. Thank you for putting up with my outbursts in class, my then-terrible study habits, my newness to graduate school and formal seminary education. Y'all were very patient with me, and I'm truly grateful. I hope putting up with me prepared you well for those difficult congregants and counseling clients, etc...

A Fellow Pilgrim

Dear Jesus,

You've called me, claimed me, and made me a co-heir in your Kingdom. You are with me everywhere I go, including school. So thank you for being my perfect brother in seminary. Thank you for humbling me, teaching me, leading me, growing me, and loving me through it all. And thank you for doing so in community. May my studies be glorifying to you, O Lord. May I learn from your perfect example and rely on the grace of the Holy Spirit to see me through grad school and all my endeavors. And may I labor not for my own glory, but for yours, and to see new brethren added to the Kingdom.  ... And may I please graduate before I retire?

A Child of the King

Monday, September 28, 2015

To A Fellow Mama

Dear Lady in the parking lot,

You stopped me, holed up in a parking lot in my air conditioned car and white middle-class world, looking at my cell phone because I am trying to do better about not looking at text messages while driving. And you tapped on my window and I rolled down the glass and in that moment I felt so many things. Frustration, because I was already running late. Worry, because I don’t know who you are and what you want or why you’re breaking the majority culture norm of leaving people alone in their cars. And shame, because I’m in here, living my privileged life, and you’re out there, begging strangers for money, and food, and dish detergent.

So I got out of my car. I made it clear that I didn’t have any cash (and wouldn’t just hand it over if I did), but would be willing to buy you and your “hungry babies” lunch. And we walked across the street to Little Caesar’s Pizza and I felt so many things. Embarrassment, because here I was a white lady buying some underprivileged black woman a meal. Frustration, because did I mention I was running late to a meeting? Wariness, because I lived in the heart of Atlanta long enough to know that people’s stories are usually made up. And sadness, because the real stories behind “my babies are hungry, I’m homeless, I lost my job,” are usually much more complicated and more heartbreaking than the panhandling spiel given. I wondered what might be the underlying brokenness behind your story. What abuse, mental illness, unwise choices, or mis-education led you to where you are today? Do you have any community, opportunities, hope? Do your children have access to healthcare, good education, safe places to sleep at night? Do you have somewhere where you can sleep, shower, and go to the bathroom without fear and with dignity? Is there a way to ask these questions without being presumptuous? Without being arrogant?

And you asked if I was a good person, and I replied that I try to be. And you told me you weren’t “no bad person, just trying to get by.” And I asked about your babies, how old are they? And you told me, with embarrassment, or defiance, or surprise, that they’re 4, 8, and 13. And I forgot to ask your name, or their names, or introduce myself. And I forgot to mention Jesus, not in a preachy way, but in a way that says, “I am actually not a good person without Jesus. And he’s the reason I’m buying you and your babies lunch. And I want you to know peace, and stability, and dignity.” And I thought to myself, I can think of five people I know who would have done so much better if they were here. And I felt so many things, and I forgot to wonder what you feel. I forgot that you are a complex, nuanced human being, and I felt most of all the helplessness, as if seeing us through a stranger's eyes, of us two women being walking stereotypes, me with my business clothes, late for a lunch meeting; and you with your sad story, and just trying to get by.

I wish I could know your name. I wish I could know your story. I wish I could know how you feel about being a mother, and about God, and white people, and your favorite type of pizza, and all the million and one things that make up your story. But I don’t know any of that, and sometimes it's hard to remember that God does. And I pray that there are people in your life that know your story. Because really there’s not so much difference between you and me, fellow mama. Except that I could get in my car and drive away, leaving you and your feelings behind. Leaving you and your problems behind.

I hope the pizza was good, and filling, and that it won't be all you have to eat for awhile. I hope you know Jesus, and know that he knows you. That he created you, and loves you and your babies. You don't need me to tell you that for it to be true, but I wish I had, regardless.

Another Mama, trying to get by, too.

Monday, August 24, 2015

To My Fellow Humans

Dear Person of Privilege (from one to another),

When I first heard what you did, I laughed. What an audacious, ridiculous thing to walk up to the Black Law Students' Association and ask, "Where is the White Law Students' Association?" But once the initial shock wore off, I grieved. I don't know what's worse--if your actual intention was to be belligerent, or if you really don't understand why there's a Black Law Students' Association.  

Look around you, lady. The White Law Students' Association is everywhere. It's the status quo. It's the institution of law in the United States itself, which has been dominated by the majority culture from its inception until now. White law students as an entity don't need a group to belong to. It's built in.

I'm pretty sure you didn't go up to the Women's Student Bar Association and ask where the Men's Student Bar Association was. Because you probably understand why there's a need for a safe space for women to encourage each other, to share stories, to strategize, and to not feel so other for awhile.  

I hope I misheard, that you were joking, that you didn't really bully those other students like that. Not for them, but for your sake I hope it's not true, because it's heartbreaking if you really feel that way. But it honestly doesn't matter if you did say it, because someone has said something similar at one time or another--and meant it--and someone will again.  

Which is why we have a Black Law Students' Association.

Best wishes on your 1L year.  I hope you find what you're looking for.
A Fellow Human

Dear Person of Privilege (from one friend to another),

I know you're out there. I pride myself (though maybe that's the problem) on having a diverse group of friends, and of course the interwebs/Facebook is the land of plenty. So I know at least one of my friends will read this and truly not agree or understand. Would you please--for me--try to understand? Really take a second, and examine the possibility that we whose skin is not brown (tanning doesn't count) have an inherent privilege?

I'm not saying that women haven't been marginalized throughout the ages--of course they have. I'm not saying that poverty doesn't affect all ethnicities--of course it does. And I'm not even saying that there aren't folk of color who live better lives than majority culture folk (of course they do).  

What I am saying is, if all other things are equal--socioeconomics or gender or education or behavior any other extenuating circumstance--if all other things are equal, we in the United States (and in other countries, but I can only truly speak from my own experience, and oh, that Slavery Thing) value life more when it's a fair-skinned, majority culture person.  

I don't even know if I can agree to disagree on this one, friend. African-Americans were brought here in chains, and many of their descendants still live in them. 

As far as I can see, there are two logical explanations. Either 1) there is systemic injustice, and the game is just plain rigged, or 2) it is each and every individual's fault, each and every time something bad happens to a person of color, and thus there really is something wrong with black folks. 

Are you willing to say that the reason that although African-Americans make up less than a quarter of the population, more than half of prison inmates are black is because black folks are more criminal? Because I feel like that's where the logic of the second thought takes you.  

Are you willing to say that the reason that so many blacks are in poverty, drop out of school, and have unplanned pregnancies, is because they're just lazier, stupider, and nastier than white folk? Because I can't work the logic of the second thought to any other conclusion.  

Maybe my statistics are wrong. I mean, statistics, right? But I know too many people of color who truly feel that the reality in our country is that when #BlackLivesMatter, it's the exception, not the rule. I do not know of any persons of color who say the opposite, that their normal experience as a minority in the majority culture has been one where their life is valued as a matter of fact.  

I'm bracing myself here. To hear the responses of people I love who just don't think there's a problem.  I want to hear your objections. I want to honor your thoughts though you say that it's not really a big deal. But I could not say it wasn't a problem to my father who was physically thrown out of a diner for absentmindedly sitting on a bar stool while waiting for his food. I will not say that to the young black men in hoodies that even I have reflexively flinched away from. I know better. But--and this is one of my sources of greatest shame--I've bought into the stereotypes. I've let the majority culture/mass media/my sinful heart convince me of the otherness and threat of black folks I don't know. So I will not say it's not a problem to fellow mothers and fathers who have comforted their children when they have to have The Talk--not about sex, but about what the n-word means. These people aren't statistics. They are people that I love--or should love--just like I love you. And I want you to understand--especially in the church--that their pain is our pain. Or at least it ought to be.

I hope conversations come out of this. I am open to having my own prejudices pointed out, and I'm not saying I don't see the grief and pain of others in a multitude of situations. I'm just saying that until #AllLivesMatter really truly means that, and does not function to undermine the grief of black folk, please don't turn away from the pain and the heartbreaking circumstances of fellow human beings.  

With Much, Much Love,
Your Friend 

Dear Black Lives,

I am so so sorry. I confess that I don't value you like I should. I confess that I have pre-judged you, absolutely on the color of your skin, and not on account of your character. I confess that I've listened to lies. I confess that my implicit biases and associations are sinful, hate-filled, racist ones.  

Yes, I'm multi-ethnic, and a woman, and grew up without much money. But I am trying to realize the reality of my privilege and to repent--not of things I don't control--but of how I've let those things shape me.  I am so sorry that in the midst of my reasonable grief over the awkwardness of being multi-racial, I forget how much privilege I still have.  

To those who are strangers, I won't ask you to forgive me, because I have not earned that right. I don't know you, and you don't know me. All I can do is say that I'm ashamed and I'm clinging to the grace of the Gospel to change my heart and mind and eradicate the ugliness inside.

To those who are friends, who are family, please forgive me. Forgive me and pray for me. Pray for all of us who don't carry our otherness so clearly on our skin. Thank you for the mercy you have already shown me, and please know that I do love you. I do value you, and I want to value you more. Your life matters, and not because I or any other person says so. Your life matters because you were made in the image of God and so you deserve dignity and respect and a chance. But you already knew that. May we all know that better.  

Lamenting with You,

Dear Fellow Image Bearers,

I'm weeping. The last two weeks have been full of changes and griefs and struggles and exhaustion, and I'm. just. weeping. Weep with me, frail people of this earth. Weep for the brokenness in the world, and sit with me, as Job's friends originally did, in ashes and in wordless grief, and weep with me. Not because I'm Job in this story, but because we all are--and some of us more than others.

Weep for the children who senselessly die before birth, and for the children who endure living deaths in neglect, in poverty, in slavery, in abuse.  

Weep for the mothers and fathers who have no hope for a better life for their children, who are trapped and stewing in circumstance.

Weep for people of color--black folk and brown folk and all sorts of colors--who are marginalized and abused and so they weep as a regular part of their lives.  

Weep for people who feel guilt, overwhelm, and shame because of who and what they are. Weep for those with no rights, no advocates, no one to protect them from evil. 

Weep with me for those who are seen as bad merely because of their appearance, and weep for those who remain the unseen, the uncared for, the untouchables.  

Weep for those who are caught up in addiction, for those who are lonely, for those who are desperate and hurting. Weep for those who seem to have it all together, who are poor in their wealth, who are caught in their own selfishness.  

Weep because of war, because of poverty, because of injustice and every sort of terrible thing we as humans can do to one another.   

Let us weep together. We must learn to grieve together before we can ever have hope of healing together.  

A Fellow Human 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

To My Ethnicity (and some of those that have shaped it)

NOTE: I wrote most of this several years ago now. Don't know why I never published it.

Dear Thai Part of Me,
     Sawadeeka! We've come a long way since grade school and being asked if we know Kung Fu. (Still don't, for anyone wondering.) How desperately we wanted to blend in, not look different, get eye surgery, not be a freak. And how tragic that just when we finally wanted to look different in High School, our eyes rounded and freckles appeared! For so long I wanted to get rid of you, or at least to tame you. And then I wanted to be Thai, whatever that meant, and I chased my own tail as I struggled with issues of faith, family, and ethnicity. (Still do, if anyone's curious.)

     But what a journey to where we are now, to a new level of peace and understanding about who we are and what that means. On the one hand, I have that "exotic look" (meh) that makes perfect strangers ask, "so what is your ethnicity?" as though they expect me to say some alien species they've never heard of before. On the other hand, my Thai language skills are lousy-to-nonexistent, garnering me the familial nickname of "Mem" (foreign woman). Yet somewhere in the chaos we exist--a person who loves tom kha and green curry and grew up putting nom pla (fish sauce!) in just about everything (even spaghetti). Not a Buddhist, but with a genuine desire to honor my family's roots and beliefs, while honoring the one true God that I serve, who calls those from every tribe, tongue, and nation to himself. Neither the honorific "egg" (white on the outside, yellow on the inside), nor entirely the slur "twinkie" (the exact opposite).

     Instead, some sort of easter egg, with a thin yellow shell... that is more pale in spots... and apparently, somewhat dipped in chocolate...

     Yes, the analogy breaks down rather quickly, doesn't it.

     Anyway, to the little girl whose birth certificate says (brace yourselves!)--

     "Race of mother: white"
     "Race of father: yellow"

     (ah, small-town New Mexico in the 70's!)

     --I want to say, you aren't "Asian enough," nor are you "White enough." That is not the point. You are you, and that is a beautiful thing--no matter what the kids on the playground say.

Chan ("me")

Dear Coon Pa,
      Most Honored Birthfather. Sawadee ka! I wish I could have met you, thanked you for the heritage you gave to me, learned more about you. It was amazing meeting my half-sisters, my aunts, uncles, cousins, your mother--my Coon Yah. Seeing so much of me that I never knew is so Thai just because it came from my genetics, from my family! I'm not very good at being calm and I sometimes forget to point with my whole hand or not show my feet, but I think and hope you would have approved of my mai pen rai, my sense of adventure, and my love of all things sanuk. Thank you for my most honorable heritage. I am so proud and grateful.

With love and respect,
Norng Mem

Dear White Part of Me,
     Well, hello there. I'm sorry I haven't treated you well in the past. We've had a rough road, haven't we? It's hard to appreciate the good parts of my WASPy self without getting overwhelmed by the injustices done to those of darker skintone. But I have learned to be respectfully fond of you, oh white bread and mayonnaise. I have even come to terms, grudgingly, with my freckles. I've enjoyed hearing stories about my grandparents and seeing pictures. It's been good to reconnect with my aunt. Most of all, I'm learning to not merely see you, oh European heritage, as a placeholder. Instead, I'm learning to appreciate the unique experiences and privileges I've had as a light-skinned person. I don't still understand it all, but I'm trying. And I thank you for the privilege.


Dear Mom,
     Thanks for raising me to appreciate people of every ethnicity, every socioeconomic status, every walk of life. I am so grateful that I am a pretty open-minded person (although of course I have my prejudices that I'm working on) and that I learned that from you. And thanks for the freckles. I think.

Your Pookie (ugh :)

Dear Black Part of Me,
     What up, yo? I mean, am I allowed to say that? Where does adaptation and contextualization turn into mockery and presumption? I just naturally pick up a particular way of speaking when I'm around all the South Carolina relatives. It's mostly subconscious--clearly, because I actually get more polite to my mother, using "ma'am" often. Sadly, not something I would probably consciously choose. So what does it mean to be black, anyway? President Obama has certainly challenged the stereotypes on both ends: he is neither "ghetto" nor a sell-out. Praise God for that, because it's a tough trail to blaze. But that leads us back to the question, what exactly is the black part of me? I mean, it's not genetic. If we say that being black means a shared struggle, shared injustices, shared experiences, then no, I haven't ever had to use a separate bathroom or been thrown out of a place because I had dark skin. But--and I say this not to trivialize the experiences of African-Americans under systemic prejudices and out-right racism--I have experienced a small bit of what it means to be the "other." To be the "black guy's kid," to look different, to feel the stares at our family when we would go out. I know that I don't have to carry that around with me everywhere, and that from a distance I look "white" and possibly normal. (Although that's still up for judgement.) But I do have black family, and I do identify with them and am grateful that they so totally accept me (and my awesome lumbering white boy of a husband). So it's a good question to ask, again and again--what does it mean to be a part of this black family, and how can I contribute to racial reconciliation and the downfall of racism? And I think it's okay to ponder this while eating greens and fatback (well, maybe not fatback) and slipping into the vernacular a little. After all, if you can't be relaxed around family, who then can you be yourself around?


NOTE: I wrote the note below before Dad passed away. I miss him. I hope he knew that I'm grateful for the heritage he passed on to me.

Dear Dad,
     Thanks for feeding me enough years that people actually say I look like you! I love that. Thanks for being the "black sheep" in the family, for being willing to be the "other" in our small town. Thanks for teaching me about potted chicken and Motown, as well as how to ride a bike and change a tire. Thanks for being so much my dad that I forget we don't share blood and sometimes accidentally list your health history on forms. Thank you for raising me!

Your Kid

Dear Sundee,
     Thank you so much for your book! For sharing your experiences and helping me to really start my own journey into better understanding--and praising God for--my ethnicity. Thank you for helping me to be grateful, for the first time, of my mixed heritage, and not merely tolerant at best. Thank you for inviting me to walk this path with you.

Checking All That Apply,

Dear HR,
     I'm glad we finally sorted out the ethnicity thing. I'm sorry my ethnicity messed with your system. Thanks for adding a "check all that apply" option instead of making me choose. And thanks for all you do to keep me hired and supported!

That crazy staff that is 50% Asian, 50% White, 50% Black, 50% New Mexican, 50% Atlantan, 50% Mississippian... and 100% InterVarsity (but 0% mathematician!)

Dear IVP,
     Why oh why is Check All That Apply out of print?!? Thank you for printing it in the first place... can we please, please, please get another edition out there? I've bought up most of the copies I can find floating around the internet, and I'm running out of copies to give away to people!

Love and Spell-check,

Dear Redeemer Church,
     A place I belong. Finally. Where there are so many families and people who are multi-ethnic, appreciate diversity, and are willing to share privilege/become the "other." While certainly not a perfect place, a place of healing and worship and challenge for me. What a precious gift, here in the Deep South, of all places! What a joy to be part of this local body of Christ.

Chandra & Co.

Dear Kennan,
     You love me for who I am and are so great about navigating multi-ethnic waters with me. All the families love you--Thai, white and black--for who you are. Thank you for being adventurous, for loving to go new places, try new foods, meet new people. I am so glad Annabel (and now, Emmaline) is half you and half me, which makes her an odd duck but a good one. She has inherited a wonderful history of ethnicities and nationalities and experiences from all sides of the family, and I so enjoy watching that play out as she grows.

Your Ch

Dear Future Children,
     Well, we're done with "belly babies," so if, God willing, we get to adopt more precious little ones, your ethnicities will be unique and possibly very different from mine. I hope you find joy and acceptance in our family. I pray we'll do a good job of honoring your stories, your ethnicities and birth families. I know your ethnic stories will be extra tricky to navigate as adopted children. All your Dad and I can do is rely on the Lord (as we already must do for your sisters!) and strive to honor all parts of you as we entrust you to him. I hope the racial reconciliation that you will need to find within yourselves will be an act of worship and fueled by grace. Already we love you. Already we praise God for you and dream of cuddling your little selves and marveling in your wee toes and enjoying all the colors that you will be.


Dear Chandra Louise Vitwadee Ampawasiri Mem Wood Garrett Crane,
     Never a dull moment, eh? Thanks for being you.

Much love,

Dear King Jesus,
     Sometimes it's hard to believe that you know what you're doing and especially that I (with all my muddled-up ethnicity) was carefully planned, and for a reason. I hope my life is glorifying to you. Thank you for helping me to grow in my ethnic personhood, in my understanding of what diversity is and should be, and for helping me to repent of the ways that I am prejudiced, wounded, and in desperate need of grace. Thank you for being the ultimate person of mixed ethnicity, who took on flesh and dwelt among us, embodying both the saving God and mankind in such desperate need of a savior. Be glorified in the life of your body, Lord. Thank you for calling us from out of every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Relying on your mercy,
Your child

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

To My Fellow Americans (Part 1)

Dear Friends, Americans, and Countrymen,

     I know I'm late to the game regarding the entire Coke "America the Beautiful" scandal, but that whole thing has been percolating in my thoughts for the past week, along with some other timely tweets, posts and happenings.  It's been a lot to think about.  And I tend to think a lot. (NOTE: this is an old post from early 2014.  I'm finally finishing it now.)

     Though I often don't think enough before I speak/type, with an issue as sensitive as race/ethnicity/identity, I'm actually measuring my words carefully on this one.  I had a number of reactions to the Coke ad drama, in quick succession: anger, confusion, exasperation, guilt, shame, sadness, judgement.  With a side of craving sugary Coke thrown in, for good measure.

     So I guess what I want to tell you, my fellow Americans (and please pardon me in my delusions of Presidential grandeur), is this: when you judge someone, you may be (unwittingly) judging me.

     I know it's easy to judge someone, especially a stereotype of someone.  I judge the Yankee, the Republican, the mega-church attender, the vegan, the home-schooler, the Georgia fan, the other.  All the things that (I like to think) I am not.  I see someone who displays traits that I don't like or I don't understand, and I make assumptions.  I assume my preference is normatively right.  I assume I am not like him or her.  I assume that I am seeing that person for who they truly are, and thus I am allowed to judge.  I assume we have nothing in common.

     And that is such a lie.

     Because I hope you notice that list above is a peculiar one.  It is not people who are all alike, who fit the same stereotype.  As a loyal Georgia Tech fan, I don't like Georgia fans (or at least the part of Southern culture they seem to represent), but I don't like Yankees, either.  I am certainly not a vegan, but I do enjoy more than just meat and potatoes.  I support public schools, but I have many good friends who home-school, and I recognize that I have the privilege of being in an excellent public school system.  Etcetera, etcetera.

     I like to think I'm the middle ground, the sensible one, the one with all the answers.  And that is also a lie.  Yet it is true that no person, no personality, is really just one thing.  We are not monolithic creatures (though we may present ourselves as such).  Even when we align ourselves to a certain religion, political party, or any number of shared interests, we are walking contradictions.  Even those who portray themselves as one distinct thing are so much more.  Many people self-identify with one main ideology, religion, or interest.  Yet if you find yourself agreeing with absolutely everything that everyone around you says, every time, it might be time to wonder if you're in a cult.  Or at least need to branch out a little.  There are many good Southern folks who embrace different cultures, who support immigrants, who chose to surround themselves with diversity.  There are many folks from the North who don't have a diversity of friendships and who aren't hospitable.  And the majority of folks from all over the country fall somewhere along a spectrum, in every category imaginable.

     So when you rail against Liberals, or immigrants, you in part are railing against me.
So also when you judge those with "traditional values," or Southerners in general, you are judging me.  Some might say that makes me confused, or inconsistent, or just plain weird.  But I think that's the point I'm trying to make.  When we examine ourselves, truly and honestly, we find things that don't make sense.  We find things in ourselves that don't toe the party line.  We find ways that we are different, even from our own norms.  And if you really really can't get past some of my beliefs or habits that seem incompatible to you, let's talk.  Because the whole point of this is to understand one another better, not to further entrench our own stereotypes.  Because I need to push myself, too.  I need to grow in my understanding of other people, not group them into "folks that I agree with" and "folks that I don't."

     I know not many Americans will actually read this.  But I hope that of the tiny percentage that do, you will be encouraged in two ways:

1. Try to see past the immediate issue/stereotype/image at hand.  Dig deeper into someone.  Find something that you actually agree with that person on, and strive to see others as less "other."  Push yourself to see someone in a different light than what has been presented, and assume that there is more to their story.

2. Don't be afraid to show more sides of who you are.  Redefine stereotypes by being more than one interest, political stance, or idea.  Look at the conflicting sides of who you are and figure out how that makes you uniquely you.

     Yes, we are a land of immigrants and natives, a land of whites and blacks (and every color in-between), a land of little and of plenty.  We truly are America the Beautiful, not despite our differences, but because of them.  Even those who hated that commercial have more to their story than merely one opinion, and I am trying to remember that truth.  When we let things polarize us, the chance for real community only decreases.  When we force ourselves to know, understand, and even love those who seem so very different from ourselves, we find out how very much we all have in common.

     I'm not saying let's sing Kumbaya and all just get along.  I'm saying, let's not assume the worst of each other, not settle for thinking that because we disagree on one distinct issue that means we can write each other off and move on.  My good friend Anthony told me that "the one you think is weird was made by the same, supreme One who made you.  Can't say you have nothing in common."  Oh, the grace we can extend to each other if we'll remember that truth.

From Sea to Shining Sea,
A Fellow Citizen

Friday, June 19, 2015

To My Fellow Americans (Part 2),

Dear Friends and Countrymen,

I've started many blog posts over the past couple of years.  Including a "To My Fellow Americans (Part 1)" that I still haven't published.  Perhaps I will soon.  But I am determined to write this out, to get it down and then hit publish TODAY, even if the wording doesn't feel quite right, even if I want to edit it further.  I need to write this out, for my own processing and grieving; but also I want to publish this to encourage others in their own grieving processes.  And perhaps even to help someone understand a little better.

Over the past year, racial events in the country (and the world) at large have come to a boiling point.  Several times.  Over the past year or so, my personal experiences regarding race and multi-ethnicity have also been very poignant, and very formative.  I've tweeted a lot ("micro-blogged," if you will) but never managed to finish a longer blog post.  In the wake of the Charleston massacre, things have better come into focus for me.  And what I want to say is this:

We live in a fractured house.  A home that is full of violence, of bloodshed, of brokenness.  A dwelling place taken forcibly from the original owners, all in the name of progress.  In March I listened, with tears running down my face, to a Native American coworker who said that Native folks are like the old woman in a house who built it originally but has been shoved to a back room and left there to rot. Her beautiful home has been taken over, and violence has begat violence.  Bloodshed has led to more bloodshed.  And while the early sins of slavery and the modern sins of systemic poverty are true and heartbreaking, no one remembers the people who first were brutally displaced to make way for a foundling country.  "See us!" my coworker cried out.  "Please just see us." 

I remember (more tears!) as an African American coworker apologized, on behalf of the Black Campus Ministries portion of my organization, for being so (understandably) caught up in the events of Ferguson, New York, etc. that he had failed to see, as he put it, that although black staff had thought they were on the bottom rung of the ladder, when they finally looked down, they realized that they were stepping on the hands of Native American brothers and sisters clinging desperately below them.  

One thing especially stuck out to me in Jon Stewart's monologue on Charleston: the phrase "racial wallpaper."  Racial wallpaper.  Stained, peeling wallpaper that some people don't even notice anymore.  In some rooms it's been painted over.  In others, enough gilded pictures have been hung on top of the racial wallpaper that it's easy to pretend it's no longer there.  A black President!  Diverse celebrities!  Shiny, pretty pictures of "Post-Racial America!"  It's not that those pictures are entirely fake, but that they don't tell the whole story.  I see the racism plastered everywhere around us, and am reminded that it always has been there.  This house, this country, was built on--and is still steeped in-- racism, classism, favoritism.  The hallways reek of it.

Am I suggesting we level the house, or even just move out?  Beyond the fact that I've taken this analogy far past reason, obviously starting from scratch or literally moving elsewhere isn't an option.  And it need not be.  There are truly reasons to rejoice.  There are wonderful things about our country.  I'm both grateful and proud (most of the time) to be an American.  There are ways in which things are better than they were in 1864, in 1963, in 2008.  But there are ways in which things are no better.  And to ignore them makes it even worse.  

Our house--our country--is broken, friends.  We need to see this.  We need to see each other.  To weep with each other, to lament together, to speak truth about the good and the bad.  Will things ever be perfect?  Will our country ever be truly healed?  The Emanuel AME victims waited--with Christian brothers and sisters the world over--for the triumphant return of Christ when all things will be made truly well and completely new.  Yet we start to see the Kingdom come now by weeping, praying, and worshiping together.  By refusing to turn a blind eye to what is going on all around us.  This house--our country, and indeed our entire broken world--belongs to him.  To the God who welcomed those beautiful souls home and who is breaking down barriers and boundaries and sin, all in the death of his own body.  This is the reality of where we live, friends.  The poor we will always have among us.  Yet do we notice?  We must see our brothers and sisters who are shoved to the back rooms, to the crawlspaces, to the basement.  In this act of seeing--and then through acts of mercy and justice that flow from truly seeing each other--is God glorified.  Clean our house O Lord, and make our hearts your home.  That is our one hope. 

From one broken person to another,
A half-Asian, adopted-half-black, half white, from New Mexico, but full American Christian