Friday, August 26, 2016

Free Shipping Fridays: A Bouquet of Encouragement

Dear Readers,

I'm shelling out the big bucks this week, because having flowers delivered to your door ain't cheap. But here, for your reading enjoyment, is a mixed bouquet of all the random encouraging websites I've come across over the past couple of weeks. Many of them have been languishing as an open window in my internet browser, so I apologize if they're a bit wilted. Hopefully, they will still brighten your day.

If I had to answer some cheesy ice-breaker question if my friend Maggie "were a flower, which flower would she be?" I'd have to say a Southwestern cactus flower. Hot pink, super pretty, but with enough spines to take care of business:

My friend Pam would definitely be one of the first daffodils coming up at the beginning of a Canadian spring (so, you know, in June). Sweet smelling, dainty looking, but not even weak because she's thriving amidst all that snow:

I'm running out of clever (read: silly) flower analogies here. I just love this story about some CFA folks understanding the true meaning of the Sabbath, and loving the way Jesus loved. Ummm, so roses maybe? Rainbow colored ones? (SOMEONE PLEASE STOP ME I'M OUT OF CONTROL)

Okay, Imma bring things back from over-pollinated syrupy-sweet land with this article. But if I had to  pick a flower to represent Ruth Haley Barton, one of my favorite authors, I'd have to say an iris. Mostly because they are one of my favorite flowers, but also because they're deep and classy (WHY WON'T SOMEONE STOP ME ALREADY):

And here's an actual bouquet, of one of my favorite flowers ever (delphinium) because why not:

Monday, August 08, 2016

To a Sweet Baby Girl

Dear Sadie Margaret,

I'm angry right now. Not at you, little one. At life, and circumstances, and death, and--if I'm honest--at God. Because this isn't supposed to be how it turns out. You're supposed to go home to your brothers and sister. You're supposed to keep growing big and strong, and we're supposed to get to keep you in the church nursery, and take vows along with the entire church family at your baptism. To say that we will help your family as they guide, love, and even discipline you a little. We're supposed to get to watch you grow into toddlerhood, commiserate with your Mama and Daddy at how fast time is flying by. There are supposed to be funny stories to be heard over dinner and proud moments to celebrate together, like with your siblings and our kiddos.

But there aren't, and maybe there won't be, and I'm just angry. I know that if you leave us, you'll be going where there's no more pain. I know you'll get to, as your Mama said, "look at Jesus face-to-face with those big, brown eyes." I know you'll look up at our heavenly father, and say, "Daddy, I want a pony." And he'll say, "Here, sweetheart. Have five ponies."

And I know that it's better to be with Jesus, and that I'm terribly selfish to want you to stay, and that the Holy Spirit is convicting me even now. But I am just so angry, and sad, and helpless. And I think that God agrees that death and pain are something to be angry about. And I think that someday that all of us who love you will get to a point where we aren't so angry at God anymore, but I'm sure not there right now.

I'm angry for your family. I'm angry for the thousands of people around the world who have been praying for you and cheering you on. I'm angry for all the little girls and boys who have been praying their sweet, earnest prayers: "Dear God, please help Sadie Margaret get better. Please heal her."

And I'm trying to focus on that ultimate healing that all God's children are ultimately headed toward. I'm trying to rejoice that maybe you'll never really know sin or depression or even anger. That what fear and pain your little body and soul have gone through will be replaced with a peace and joy and life that I can't even really imagine.

But did I mention that I'm so angry?

Perhaps focusing on being grateful for you will help. And I am so very grateful. How many saints have been driven to their knees in prayer over these past months? How many of us have been strengthened by seeing God's incredible sustaining of your family? How many people, that we may never even know in this life, has the Holy Spirit spoken to while they watch your Mama and Daddy celebrate what a little fighter you are?

Your Daddy shared a sweet thought: that even if you leave us soon--someday, how long the line will be in heaven to see you. So many of us, even as we joyously greet our own lost children and other loved ones, will run to see you and join you in basking in the light of the glory of our God on his throne! And we'll say, "Sadie Margaret--you're healed!" And you'll say, "Of course, dear one. Welcome home."

Striving to choose gratitude,
a Loving Aunty

Monday, August 01, 2016

To Those Who Want to Do More

Dear Friends,

I've been asked to compile a series of tweets I recently did about how a majority culture person can, once they've started to feel some of the pain of minority folks' stories, move past inevitable shame into making a difference. Because my heart breaks for my friends who have started to see their own racism and now feel so helpless, like their majority status keeps them continually complicit in injustices, and that they can't help but be oppressors. I do not believe that is so. Quite the opposite. I believe that majority culture folks can be powerful advocates for the Other, leveraging their privilege for the good of others, to the glory of God and the growth of the Kingdom.

When Jesus says, "to whom much is given, of him much will be required," he didn't mean that privileged people will be required to feel much shame and paralyzing guilt. That's not the gospel. The gospel is repenting of sins--personal, corporate, cultural--and then acting on those convictions, following the Holy Spirit in the work he is doing in people's lives and the systems of the world. Shame just wraps us up in ourselves and satan's schemes.

So let me first off all say, thank you, King Jesus. None of us, without common grace, without the touch of the Holy Spirit on sinful minds, realize any of our sins and wrong attitudes, much less do anything to change them. This is Jesus' work. That truth is simultaneously a huge challenge, because God is so very perfect and holy, and also a huge relief. Because dredging change up in ourselves is not what the Holy Spirit is about. He's about showing himself mighty in the feeble work of his children.

Second, let me make it clear that I, too, am racist. I have blogged about this before. I was raised by a black man, but I still find myself shying away from unfamiliar black men in most circumstances. I am working on this. The Holy Spirit is working on this in me. I am seeking to have the lies of the media/culture be replaced by the truths of God. I am repenting and actively trying to change the way I look at others. I am not writing this post (nor was I writing those tweets) to people who aren't interested in racial reconciliation. This isn't supposed to be a post guilting you into confessing racism and changing everything. It's supposed to be a post to encourage already like-minded folks who desire racial reconciliation but don't know where to start. So if those tweets or this post grieve you, I apologize, and hope you can bear with me.

Thirdly, there is something important to being willing to sit in feelings of shame and helplessness. That is actually part of the journey in identifying with the minority. "Triumphalism" of which the majority culture church is often guilty means wanting to move past the bad things without lingering. To merely slap a "Come Lord Jesus" on things as a band-aid, as if we're not in the here-and-not-yet, as if God himself doesn't weep and mourn and lament and understand what it means to be truly ashamed and helpless. Cry out "How Long, O Lord?" like the Psalmists did. Please don't jump past the grief, the wrestling, the muck and mire of the weight of what sinful people can do to each other because of what we think about each other. I know it sounds terrifying, but trust that if God leads you in sinking down into the grief, he will meet you at the bottom, where he has condescended to dwell with us helpless creatures.

Having said that, finally, let me say that it is true that we who believe in Jesus do not weep as those without hope. We know Jesus will make all things right someday. We know he's at work even now. And the crazy, absurd miracle is that we get to be part of that. We get to fight to see the imago dei in each person as we have our eyes recalibrated to see as Jesus sees. We get to do the good work of reconciliation between humans because God has done the great work of reconciliation between humanity and himself.

So here are some ideas to move past shame. Some ideas for little next steps that just might a big difference. And please, have grace for yourself, friends. You will mess up. We all do. You will say awkward things and hurt people. I think it's better to do that in good faith, and to learn, and grow, then to say nothing at all. Find friends who can help you understand. Other bridge builders. Minorities who aren't so exhausted just by existing in a majority culture that they can't explain things kindly and patiently (and over and over again). Let humility and grace guide you, not thinking about what you think is "right" or about your "rights." Believe that God is big enough to guard the truth in your heart. Remember that it's not about our rights, it's about the rights that Jesus laid down for us, so that we could be made right with him and each other. We're all in need of repentance and we're all in need of renewal. Praise God that he's willing to help us walk through both.

Don't traffic in stereotypes, but you can find good ones (or generalizations about what is hurtful/helpful) and learn more about where they come from. Find people who defy those stereotypes from all walks of life, and learn more about their stories. And you can also apply this to Native Americans, to women, to whatever minority it is that God is drawing you toward.

So here are the tweets, with a little more explanation in parenthesis. Some of the explanations are long. Yeah, there's a reason that tweets are limited to 140 characters...

Idea to move past shame: say thanks to black folks in service professions, w/ respect like for white servers. See sacrifice & imago dei.
(Sometimes we have to work harder to be nice to people who aren't like us. It's a fact of life. If you aren't kind to any folks who bring your food, take your trash, and watch your kids, then that's another discussion!)

Idea to move past shame: listen to black musicians-not w/cultural appropriation but w/joy, as w/ white musicians. See gifts & imago dei.

(I was raised on Motown. It's hard not to appreciate and understand some of the issues that a culture experiences when you're listening to music being made by folks in that culture.)

Idea to move past shame: admire black sisters--fab. hair texture (DON'T PET), leadership, etc. as w/ white women. See beauty & imago dei.

(But seriously. DO. NOT. PET.)

Idea to move past shame: sit next to a black person in a drs' waiting room. Don't assume he/she wants to mug you. See needs & imago dei.

(Okay. This one caused some controversy on FB. Yes, I truly apologize for the snark. Perhaps what would have been better would have been to say, "Prove that you don't assume he/she wants to mug you. Break stereotypes on both sides.")

Idea to move past shame: cheer black folks & don't act surprised at successes--celebrate like w/ white folks. See contributions & imago dei.

(It's the "don't act surprised" that keeps this from becoming a microaggression--from becoming awkward and hurtful. What's surprising is when a person of color defeats all kinda crazy odds to get the recognition that his or her accomplishments deserve. But it is not surprising that a POC is actually smart, or talented in something other than sports, or is articulate, or funny, or hardworking. That's God's work in each of us, and we should be looking for it in others.)

Idea to move past shame: buy black art. Explore diff. textures, colors, styles. Display like you would white art. See beauty & imago dei.

(Again, not as cultural appropriation, but as fair representation. There are some amazing black artists out there, who just don't get as much exposure/don't have as great a network as do their majority culture peers.)

Idea to move past shame: find black leaders to place yourself under. Respect/serve as you would white leaders. See strength & imago dei.

(Anybody remember the #DearWhitePastor hashtag from awhile back? POC sharing what they wish white head pastors would know/do? This was my response. Don't just hire a token black person on your staff. Find a way to make them a leader. Maybe even the new head pastor...)

Idea to move past shame: give black dolls/action figures/books to your kids. Play w/ as you would white toys. See reality & imago dei.

(I was the only kid in small-town New Mexico with an Orange Blossom doll [Strawberry Shortcake's black sidekick]. But it was important that my toys reflected reality--that not everyone is white. What with characters like Doc McStuffins, Tiana [The Frog Prince], and Keena Ford [books], along with a spate of new black superheroes, you don't even have to settle for the sidekick anymore.)

Idea to move past shame: invite black friends to meal, calmly & winsomely. Welcome as you would white friends. See uniqueness & imago dei.

(I said "calmly and winsomely" because there is nothing a minority loves more than being fawned over and lovingly harassed by well-meaning people who are SO FLIPPING EXCITED TO SEE A MINORITY THAT THEY CAN BE FRIENDS WITH and maybe also one of the first minorities they've seen in awhile. So don't make a big deal out of it. See their unique cultural needs, but perhaps more importantly, their unique personal needs. Try to know that specific person and how he or she communicates, what he or she feels welcomed by, etc. Which is different for different people, not even just different types of people. And if you got weird and overly clingy, apologize, and keep trying. I know that's a lot to ask, but it's also a lot to ask of someone else to come with you for a meal when you're obviously crazy. :) I think we're all just hoping we are each other's kind of crazy, and that true, deep friendship can come out of that.)

Idea to move past shame: support black campus ministers. Ask about ministry as you would white campus minister. See passion & imago dei.

(Or black non-profits, if that's more your speed. I'm speaking to a mostly Christian audience here, but the point is to get excited about what a person of color is doing, to find out what they are passionate about and hop on board.)

Idea to move past shame: tell black girl she's beautiful & mean it. Celebrate her value as you would white girl. See mind & imago dei.

(Black girls need to hear they are beautiful, inside and out. Because I'm not even tryna deny that they get fed a lot of lies both from the majority and minority cultures--especially hardcore rap. So would you tell a white girl she looked lovely in a similar situation? Then tell that mocha beauty, too. Would you praise a white girl for her grades? Then please do say something to a sista. Would you complement white parents about the way their daughter acted? Then don't be weird about it, but let the black family know, too.)

Idea to move past shame: sit next to black colleagues; showcase ideas. Partner with as you would white colleagues. See talents & imago dei.

(It really is good stewardship when you, as a majority culture person, have the listening ear of colleagues and can point out other coworkers who might get lost in the shuffle. It really is a work of the Holy Spirit to foster humility for us to be able to intentionally partner with folks who may not get the attention or resources we might have. Don't feel guilty that you got that promotion. Use it to raise up other leaders. Don't feel ashamed that you had better educational opportunities growing up. Utilize your higher income to make a difference in a child's life. Grieve the uneven playing field, repent if you weren't aware it existed, and then do something about it.)

Idea to move past shame: hold door for elderly black folks. Defer as you would for white elderly folks. See wisdom & imago dei.

(I know this is partly cultural, and may seem like a no-brainer, but I have two thoughts: 1) I truly believe we are programmed by society to not see those we value less. So we don't pay attention to the elderly like we should, and we don't respect folks with dark skin like they deserve. 2) It's triply-sad when you factor in that in the South, at least, many elderly black men with grey hair are old enough to have been called "boy" by white children and many elderly black women with grey hair remember a time when the rape of a black woman was rather standard and overlooked. So go out of your way, friends. Show a fellow human being some kindness, where a little will go an especially long way.)

Idea to move past shame: appreciate black history makers. Study as you would white history makers. See valuable contributions & imago dei.

(Our history books are incredibly biased, which is a shame not only for race relations, but just for amazing stories about amazing people which don't get told in the majority culture. Take advantage of Black History Month or new books which feature POC history-makers. Dive in.)

Idea to move past shame: make eye contact with young black man, nod/say hi. Engage as you would young white man. See dreams & imago dei.
(I know this is hard. But chances are, anyone you meet around town is not a "thug," or if they are, they don't really care what you're up to. If it's a majority culture public area in the middle of the day, you're probably safe. Try to remember that they are just tryna get where they're going, too. And you breaking that stereotype--proving you're not afraid or disdainful--could mean a lot to that young black man. Your nod/hello could actually speak to the fact that you believe his life matters. If nothing else, being polite is a reasonable thing to do.)

Idea to move past shame: read black poetry with an open mind. Engage as you would white poetry. See heart cries & imago dei of authors.

(Especially if art isn't your thing, poetry---and this includes rap lyrics--can really open your eyes to another person's perspective. Read this poem. Try some Lecrae lyrics. My go-to is Langston Hughes, every time. Maya Angelou, all day long.)

Idea to move past shame: see little black boy playing & don't shy away in fear. Engage as you would little white boy. See joy & imago dei.
(The little boy in the "Dinosaurs in the Hood" poem above? The one playing with plastic dinosaurs and dreaming big dreams? He exists. And his life matters because he was made in the image of God. And so he is beautiful, even though he may seem older than he really is, or more aggressive because of our cultural lenses. I want to really see him, and to see him thrive.) 

And an idea to move past shame, which I didn't tweet before but probably should have, is to see your own imago dei, and rejoice in how every little move towards Jesus lets your light shine through a little more clearly. Be kind to yourself as you're trying to be kind to others. See your heart transformed by Jesus, the ultimate imager of God.

Moving past shame,
A Fellow Image-Bearer.