Monday, August 14, 2017

To My Fellow Americans (Part 4)

From the cover of "Body Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew?"
by Charles D. Drew, New Growth Press, 2012; under US Copyright Fair Use Laws.
Cover design by Brandon Hill Design.

I know the issue is more than mere political divide, but it's not less than that, either. 

Dear Eighty-One Percent,

I've seen a lot of sympathy offered for those who were hurt in Charlottesville this weekend. Social media is full of calls for "loving thoughts" and prayer for #Charlottesville. Regular folks and celebrities alike are tweeting their condemnation of the violence, with hashtags like #BeKind and #Resist. It's definitely "trending."

There are also a lot of folks who are doing even more than engaging on social media. People of all skin tones and backgrounds are peacefully protesting across the country. Charities are providing the opportunity to help with the legal and medical needs of the victims. Wealthy folk are putting their money where their mouths are, tangible support to match their tweets.

And yet.

Remember the "Occupy Wall Street" protests? Folks also engaged in a variety of ways around that cause. "The One Percent" became synonymous with privilege and being out-of-touch. In the same way that the "1%" of Americans is made up of privileged folks, so too is the "81%" of Evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump. A privilege which, though not based solely in financial wealth, still affords the 81% the ability to ignore the reality behind Charlottesville. To rest in their privilege and stay out-of-touch. So many people are asking, "How can we help?" Will those of you who voted for President Trump actually listen to the answer?

During the election, Christian people of color and minority status said: "We are afraid. This man encourages xenophobia and exceptionalism. His violent message will lead to violent actions." Many of those who would later vote for Trump--the 81%--responded: "No, you're reading into it. Don't be so paranoid. Your fears are unfounded and unreasonable."

As the election progressed, Christian people of color and minority status pleaded: "We are afraid. This man is backed by hateful people in the alt-right, anti-semitic movement. His words and behavior toward the most vulnerable are predatory, disdainful, and dangerous. If he is president, many of us--our children and families--will suffer." Yet Christian folks replied: "Abortion is too big of an issue to let go of! Our next president will choose at least one Supreme Court Justice! The 'least of these' talked about by Jesus were the unborn, and that's it. Your fears are distracting us from the real battle for life."

When the electoral college turned fiction into fact, Christian people of color and minority status cried out: "We are afraid! How could this happen? How could 81% of our brothers and sisters in the church care so little for our well-being that they were willing to ignore the threat of Trump? How could they look the other way regarding his misogyny, racism, and lies? Where do we go when we feel unsafe in our own churches?" And the 81% lashed out: "Our hands were tied. We had an impossible choice. Hillary is evil, and we have to protect babies. It hurts us that you say you feel unsafe. Your well-being isn't threatened by Trump's presidency! Please stop being so divisive."

When President-Elect Trump named alt-right, white supremacists to his cabinet and other important positions, Christian people of color and minority status wept and raged. When Trump took oaths to defend and protect our country, yet policies against the vulnerable began to take shape, sometimes Christian people of color and minority status ran out of things to say. Because fears were being realized, and the damage was already done. If these traumatized brothers and sisters did speak up, far too many of the 81% didn't want to hear it: "Don't say you told us so. This is different than what you predicted. There's not proof these things are related. It's not our business--that's what we have elected officials for. You're still being so paranoid. Hasn't the election divided us enough already? Could we please stop talking about all this and get back to gospel issues?"

And now Charlottesville has happened. Now an act of terror upon American soil by radical dissidents has occurred, and Trump supporters are surprised, horrified, and want to help. Now the blood of the vulnerable has been shed--yet again--and Christian people of color and minority status will raise weary heads yet again, to ask: "We are afraid--will you hear us? Please don't make excuses. Just listen. Please don't vote for President Trump in four years. Please don't assume that we're paranoid and unreasonable. Please start writing and calling your elected officials (of all affiliations) to tell them that not only is this violence unacceptable, so is the rhetoric and permissiveness which has spawned it. Please, brothers and sisters, don't turn a blind eye and rest in your privilege. We don't need you to beat yourselves up for voting for Trump. We need you to listen to the Holy Spirit, repent, and get busy grieving, protesting, and figuring out what God would have you do differently."

So, dear siblings in the 81%, will you listen? Will you lament with us? Will you cling to grace more than a political party? Will you move forward in repentance and in hope at what God is doing amidst the chaos? Will you stop making excuses for the current administration, stop berating those who are afraid, and enter the messy world of vulnerable people where there are no easy answers? I hope so.

Afraid yet clinging to Jesus,
A wounded sister.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

To Those with Influence

Dear Folks in Charge,

I could be writing this letter to many high-profile pastors and theologians. Asking those influential leaders to please reconsider, see reason, or think about how their bold statements affect those of us in the pew. But I'm not. I'm writing to you, Professor. I'm writing to you, Pastor. I'm writing to you, Elder; and you, Chairperson; and you, Dean. I'm writing to all the people that I actually know in some way, who seem to actually care about what I'm thinking. I'm writing to the leaders--in all my spheres of life--who have some measure of influence on these outspoken "rock star" Christians. I'm writing to those folks who seem to still be willing to listen to the average person, as opposed to those whose arrogance seems to be blinding them to listening to anyone other than those they see as equals.

I know that's a brassy thing to say, to classify them as arrogant. I know that it doesn't necessarily lessen the blow to say that you--leaders that I do know in some way--are not as arrogant. I should clarify. We're all arrogant. I'm arrogant. (I think we're all well aware of that.) But I think the lack of humility and God-centeredness (which all humans struggle with) shows itself in different ways. It manifests itself differently in different folks, and it looms large in the lives of leaders whose opinions go unchallenged and unchecked. I know these fellow leaders are your friends, and hearing them or their ideas maligned isn't easy. I know they are, in some ways, also my leaders, and as such deserve respect according to their office. But your friendship with them is precisely why I am writing you, friends. Because someone's got to be willing to say something to them in a public sphere, and that sure isn't me. For several reasons.

Let me be clear. I am not asking you to disown these fellow servants, to throw them under the proverbial bus, or to make a spectacle of them. I know there are some conversations--some of which you are no doubt having--that are best left private for both Biblical and human reasons. But there are two reasons why I am entreating you to openly speak to your fellow leaders--for our sake, and for theirs.

For the sake of the church, we need to speak out against evil rhetoric. You know this. You are very good at doing this in many ways. You speak out against the evils of misogyny, racism, and violence against the helpless. This is, in part, why I so joyfully submit myself to your leadership. I believe in you. You give beautiful, passionate sermons and lectures about pursuing holiness, about the work of God in bringing his shalom and justice. You make it clear what you stand for, and I am grateful. And yet.

And yet you align yourself--in a way that makes it seem wholeheartedly--with those who do not stand against those evils. It seems to me that there is a prevailing thought in leadership that if you just ignore the troubling rhetoric of your siblings, they will cease and desist. I think it's time to speak this truth: they are not stopping. They have not stopped. And until they are called--graciously and lovingly--to account for their theology and how they have caused pain, I do not believe they will stop.

Let me give an example of what I would love to hear. I think we've already agreed that I'm being brazen here, so I'll not hem and haw around what I am asking you to do, dear leaders. If you were to say--publicly (on a blog, in an article, a tweet, a sermon message, a podcast, etc.) and not just privately--"I love this dear brother x. His heart for x ministries is evident. He has been a powerful force used by the Lord for x. For this I am grateful. But his views on women, and what he presents as complementarianism, is not what I stand for. It is not what this organization/school/platform stands for. We believe in the robust support of men and women, in various spheres of influence, as leaders in their fields. Though we support a complementarian view which holds men and women as inherently different and with different, God-ordained roles in the home and the church, this does not play out in a 1950's 'secretaries, teachers, wives, and mothers only' way. Women can be CEOs. Women can be lay leaders in the church. Women can teach, they can engineer, they can innovate, they can minister, they can write, they can speak, they can lead. We support this."

I know there are several responses to what I just wrote. To my egalitarian friends, I apologize. I know there doesn't seem to be a distinction here, between different brands of complementarianism. I can only say that I am sorry for the pain this causes you, and beg you to continue to dialogue with me on this, trusting what you know of me and other robust complementarians to help the conversation along.

On the flip side, to folks who agree with hyper-complementarianism's restrictions and think that I am theologically way off-base here, I'm curious to know why you're reading this blog and allowing me to have influence in your thinking--especially if you're male. I would love to dialogue about this, too. I will say that the bold statement above is only a paraphrasing of what I have heard many leaders say in response to the question of women's roles and what robust complementarianism looks like. These are not radical statements that I made up. What is radical is someone actually calling for these statements to be held over against statements which do not affirm women as any sort of leaders or having any influence over men, ever.

And to the leaders whom I have paraphrased above, who have said these affirming, life-giving things about the roles and leadership of women, you may not see the point. Because yes, you are already saying these important things. You are standing up for those who have no voice in a fallen world. And for that I am really and truly grateful. But I think we are on the same page when I say that we want to see these things changed by the power of the gospel. We want to see less sexism, less dismissive mistrust of women. We are working together to see fewer women grieved by ignorance, abuses, and bad theology in the church. We believe that God is doing these things.

Why then the letter? you ask. Why not just keep doing the good work, fighting the good fight? Well, in addition to the fact that the schtick of my blog is writing letters, I'll answer that the advancement of the cause requires more. It requires more than just two ships passing in the night. Rather than two competing views of women's roles, there needs to be an actual dialogue. And sometimes, an actual conflict. I am asking you, leaders, to say hard things to these other leaders. To say "No, friend. You and I do not agree on this, and I must speak out here, even though I may risk our friendship. I do this because I will stand on my theological convictions with integrity and the understanding that what I say matters to the men and women in our classrooms, our churches, our businesses and our organizations. You and I may even have to agree to disagree, but I will not, by my silence, give the impression that I am ambivalent about this." That is the kind of support I am asking for.

I get called an instigator a lot. Sometimes the accusations are true, and I need to repent. Sometimes, they are wholly untrue, and others need to step back and evaluate themselves. Most often, it is a muddy mix of the two, where I am in need of good leadership to help me listen, rethink, and repent where my attitude is bad. Most often, there is something good to be said in there, mixed in with my anger and heartache and passionate stubbornness. So lead, dear ones. Lead by being willing to speak whenever anyone in your sphere of influence needs guidance. This includes me, but it also includes these other leaders. It must include both, if we are to be as impartial as Paul exhorted us in James 2.

There is room to both affirm the views you agree with, and respectfully speak out against the views with which you do not hold. And there is a way to do that which does not denigrate the person. You know that. You've taught me that. And when it comes to speaking out for the sake of these leaders--no matter the subject--I beg of you, show us some of the "iron sharpening iron" that is such an integral part of the Body of Christ. Hold them accountable, and by doing so bless them with your speaking the truth in love, and us with your advocacy and clarifications. Help those of us in the pew learn how to actually engage one another on hard topics, not how to just "get along."

This really could be about any issue--missions, race, money, anger, etc. I have just chosen one that is especially painful right now. Basically, I'm asking you to stand up for what you already believe in. I do believe you are already working out these issues privately, which is wise and gracious of you. And I'm not asking you to shame your fellow leaders. But please also have some of these conversations publicly, for the benefit of the church. And if you believe that I have sinned in penning this, then I trust that you will tell me, graciously and firmly. I trust that you will make your position clear, both in private and in public. I ask for no less for your fellow leaders.

A fellow follower of Jesus, and one entrusted to your care.

Friday, March 31, 2017

To my Brothers in our Denomination

NOTE: Well, here we are again. My denomination's online presence is in an uproar. Friends of other denominations, I hope this doesn't grieve you too badly. Thank you for your patience. Egalitarian friends, I know this will grieve you, and for that I can only say I'm sorry. That, and thank you for loving myself and other flawed siblings, anyway. Thank you for listening with the same grace as when I wrote this blog post.

Today, I will write to my denominational brothers, some of whom have acted very harshly. I will try to write to my denominational sisters soon.

Dear Brothers in the Lord,

I have been incredibly saddened as I've read ungracious responses to this podcast at Truth's Table. This is not just as a theological debate, it is discourse that affects actual people in our churches. When Christina, Ekemini, and Michelle spoke strongly about the painful experiences of women in reformed circles--the feeling of "Gender Apartheid"--it struck a chord in me. I wept to know that I wasn't alone in my experiences of being belittled and dismissed.  When I saw the responses of some to the podcast--not merely negative, but condemning and hateful--I wept again.

To those of you who are in quite an uproar right now about the ideas from the podcast--by all means, engage it. Critique it. Give Biblical reasons for what you see as error. These wonderful women welcome discussion. They desire to see iron sharpen iron. But express your concerns Biblically. That means without hatred and without vitriol. It means with passion that is restrained by patience and a desire for reconciliation and growth, for the peace and purity of the church.

To those of you who were blessed by it--please speak up. Some of you are in the discussion already. Some of you are blissfully ignorant about all the hullabaloo. Well, brothers, it's time. It's time to take a stand. Not a stand saying, "I completely agree" or a stand saying "I completely disagree." No, a stand saying,

"I completely reject human beings denigrating the image of God in other human beings."
That kind of a stand.

The kind of a stand which might even disagree with some of the exegesis on the topic at hand, but holds oneself and others to a higher standard while discussing disagreements.

Or the kind of a stand which might fully agree with everything said in the podcast, but still refuses to be arrogant and is determined to be open to loving correction.

The kind of a stand that Jesus made.

Because Jesus preached truth. Bold, earth-shaking (literally!) truth. But the truth he preached brought healthy conviction, an invitation to "sin no more," and the freedom that his sacrifice brings. He was hardest on the religious establishment of the day. He was most patient with the marginalized. And he got angriest when he saw people oppressing, misleading, and demeaning others.

So, brothers who disagreed strongly with the podcast--let's talk about why. I wish I had actually had more time to reflect on what I did and didn't agree with in the podcast. But "the gauntlet" was thrown, harsh words were spoken, and suddenly I couldn't just focus on the mistreatment of women as a theoretical idea as referenced in the podcast. Instead, I was seeing it played out before me, in living color and for God and everyone to see.

I won't mention specific names, because at this point, I'm not really concerned with the individual actions of some men. I'm concerned about the reformed movement as a whole. We all need to learn more about our inherently sinful attitudes toward women, many of which have been taught and reinforced and upheld in reformed circles. But I have references if you want them.

Brothers, It is disrespectful (1 Peter 2:17) to dismissively say that the podcast was "mostly [just] the women pontificating," especially when it's obvious that you disagree with what the sisters said. Disrespect for women's voices is evident here.

Brothers, it is hurtful and unhelpful (Matthew 12: 34-37) to show such disgust for other human beings, by saying "If you want your ears to bleed, just listen to the podcast..." When you call it "horrible" and "nonsense," you have made it clear that you do not merely disagree with their opinions, but you also don't respect their intelligence. Did the use of the word "penis" really make you feel "so dirty" that you "determined to take a bath"? Do you not see how hurtful and shameful it is for someone to be told that her speech is "utterly repugnant and a dishonor to the cause of Christ"? Did you really comment about another sister in Christ that she "speaks with the tongue of the serpent"... and think that's acceptable or honoring to the Lord?

Brothers, it is poor reasoning (Romans 12:1-2) to say that because you are "unaware of any church that doesn't let women greet at the door, share their testimonies (not disguised sermons, mind you), and play an active role in ministry," that means those churches and rules don't exist. When you are dismissive of our experiences and the inequalities in the church, you are dismissive of us. And you are teaching the next generation to be dismissive and uncaring, as well.

Brothers, it is unkind and unwise (James 3:13-18) to say that if we "simply celebrated the contributions that women made in ministry in the church already this whole debate on gender roles would go away, because it would be clear that we staunch defenders of gender roles love and celebrate women while refusing to budge on biblical practice." I wonder if the Truth's Table ladies feel loved and celebrated by the harshness of your critiques? I certainly don't always feel that way in reformed circles... unless I'm willing to adhere to cultural, extra-Biblical standards. And to imply that the debate would just go away if you cheered us on shows just how much of the depth of pain expressed has been lost on you.

Brothers, it is dismissive (Ezekiel 34:15-16) to say that someone is "just another pagan" although she has been vetted by her pastor, session, and seminary professors. Even if her statement was problematic, such a flippant response shows not only an absence of love toward a sibling, but also a heartbreaking disregard for those who are lost.

Brothers, it is demeaning (Ephesians 4:31-32) to treat a grown woman like a child, to interrogate her as though she were stupid, and to demand information from her as though she is an enemy and a spy. I simply cannot think that a statement like "... do your elders know you are hosting a podcast? Are they aware of it? Do they listen? What church? Email of your stated clerk please" is anything other than rudeness both to her and her elders.

And brothers, it is unloving and embarrassingly childish (1 Corinthians 13:8-12) to call anyone--let alone a woman--"Holier than thou [last name]" and reply in all caps (the internet equivalent of shouting). As a dear ordained brother said, "It's like this whole discussion validates the need for the podcast."

I could go on, but I won't. But if any sibling who is reading this wondered if these brothers really were being hateful and divisive, I hope this answers your question.

And... brothers who agree with all or some of the podcast--please speak up/keep speaking up. We need you now, more than ever. The brothers above need to know that you are in solidarity with us--the marginalized and disrespected, even if you agree with some of the critiques. Those brothers need to know that their opinions are not infallible, nor are they necessarily the majority opinion. And they need to know that there are consequences to real women (and men) from their actions. They need to know that you see them, and disagree with their behavior, even if you agree with their theological stances. Those brothers need to know that hateful attitudes will be called out just as quickly as will other "troubling" theological ideas. We all need to know that.

We all need to know that Jesus has not gone silent in his Church.

We need to be reminded, again and again, that his Church will prevail, not because she's glorified yet, nor even very sanctified currently, but because God is faithful when we are faithless. We need to know that valuing the imago dei and valuing strong theology are not mutually exclusive; but rather essential to each other. We need to know, and be reminded, how to love each other well.

Striving to serve Jesus with you,
A Sister in the Lord

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Free Shipping Fridays: Being Woke While Finding Rest

Dear Readers,

Lots of good conversations today on social media. Unsurprisingly, I had many opinions. Among the highlights were White Fragility (I've got it, even if only half of me; boy do I have a temper), Black History Month (Sucks that we need it; hate it when Black folk get whitewashed in folks' representations of them; there are so many good resources out there, if only we'll look for them), and the term "woke" (those thoughts below).

There were also, of course, discussions about funny kids and cute kittens and ridiculous politicians (on both sides), and prayer for folks with depression, arrogance (I struggle with both), cancer, and other ailments.

On the topic of being "woke," there's a lot to be said. Is it a legit term? Is it a legit term for white folks to use, or is that just more cultural appropriation? Is it merely divisive and alienating? Is it too either/or, meaning you're either completely aware of racial issues/you have arrived, or you're completely ignorant/hopelessly racist? Has it just become a catchphrase, a badge of honor, an easy way to even pretend to be an activist, without having to actually do anything active?

In addition to all these reasonable concerns, my two cents in the conversation was that I worry that it's 1) dismissive to folks who can't help but be aware of systemic racial injustices, because it's their reality, all-day, every-day (so being "woke" [as opposed to oblivious] is almost a privilege in and of itself), and 2) being woke can become the anti-gospel to finding our rest in the Lord. Because we forget that reconciliation is the business that God is in. We forget that racial reconciliation is God's battle, and that we partner with him in it. Because we get so wrapped up in ourselves and our fight that we forget that we not only can rest--even those in the direst of situations--but we must rest. We must rest in Jesus.

And yes, I do still use the term "woke."

Even in that statement about choosing to rest, I know my privilege is showing. But there are too many activists who have been so woke that they died--sometimes literally--not from systemic injustice and brutality, but from depression, hopelessness, and despair. There are too many folk who are so woke they drown in their own anger and despair. They end up, unwittingly, taking the nooses that society has placed around their necks and tightening them. And that shouldn't happen--especially with believers. We must not stay woke so long that we hallucinate. We must not stay woke so long that we pass out at the wheel and crash. We must not stay woke so long that we lash out at our family and friends.

Y'all know I love puns. And I have this metaphorical "Free Shipping" schtick. So I could throw in a... sleeping pill... or turkey/tryptophan... or even warm milk analogy, but this is too serious (and yes--I'm too tired) to broker in cheap, silly analogies. So here are some links for you, friends. Imma post this and then go to bed.

Rest well, my woke siblings.

Image-bearing men, women, and children--who endured the brutality of slavery--sang this, and we can join them in resting in the Lord:

My dear friend Karen Canevaro blogged about being truthfully gracious and graciously truthful, as a way to not burn ourselves and others out:

Practical, thoughtful, beautiful advice on engaging the world with safe boundaries--H/T Nicole Silva:

More amazing suggestions, from a sister on the front lines:

I want to get this tee soon. Such truth. H/T Cirilo Manego:

If you find this link to be TL;DR, then go with this statement about the importance of grounding our activism in our faith in Jesus, "When they go low, we go deep."
NOTE: in case you don't know, that's an homage to Michelle Obama's instructions to her daughters about dealing with bullies--"When they go low, we go high." I wish he'd directly credited Mrs. Obama, but that's a discussion for another time. Still, really good stuff. H/T Stephanie Holmer:

We all of us need the faith of a child to find our rest in Jesus. Perhaps the "easy burden" and the "light yoke" is not so much doing the good work of the Kingdom but in resting in Jesus while he works in us. Matthew chapter 11:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Free Shipping Fridays: Diving into Depression

Dear Readers,

So I finally posted on social media about my struggles with depression. I've been open about it in real life, if not necessarily adamant nor vocal, but I certainly hadn't gone into it on a platform like Twitter or Facebook. I think I reached a point where I thought, "Pretty much all of my 'dirty laundry' has been aired on social media, so why not this?" And then after I posted, I thought, "Oh dear. I remember the answer to 'why not this?' Because people on the internet can be really horrible."

But I was pleasantly surprised. It was amazing that no trolls showed up to do their hateful, trollish things, and more importantly, community showed up. I was honored and humbled by the number of people who sent their love and prayers. And I was blown away by the number of people who said, "Me, too. I'm there with you." It was beautiful solidarity.

And I also realized, this isn't just dirty laundry to be shamefully avoided. No, depression is real, and actually fairly common, and it doesn't care whether we have time or not for it. Sharing about my struggles isn't airing my dirty laundry, and I'm tired of thinking it is.

So today, for your metaphorical consumption, is a box on your doorstep of clean laundry. Shiny new packages of socks, crisply folded shirts. And some of it yes, is "unmentionables," because sharing about mental illness is vulnerable. It's not showing off a new hat or fabulous shoes. It's revealing, and scary, and I know this analogy has taken a slightly creepy turn. Let me get it back (hopefully) by saying, here's a nice box of new, clean clothes. Let's air them out. Dirty laundry doesn't need to be aired out, it needs to be washed. New clothes need to be aired out, to get rid of that factory smell.

Yeah, I tried to reclaim the analogy, but it appears to have taken a life all it's own. Perhaps I should give up the "Free (pretend) Shipping" schtick, but I'm a sucker for word play and analogy. It's like that one time that I

You know, it may be me that's actually the problem, not the analogy. Which reminds me of

THE POINT IS, I refuse to be ashamed because I'm mentioning things which society deems to be "unmentionables." And I hope the links below will help those who struggle and help those who love them.

A witty, ironic tee shirt for you--a comic artist who illustrates her struggles with depression and anxiety and it's painfully hilarious:

Socks. Multicolored, multi-patterned socks. Practical yet ridiculous--an amazing podcast which will make you laugh, cry, and curse, all in the same 40 minutes:

A pair of comfy jeans that don't even need to be broken in--a website/community with great information and encouragement:

And finally, some underthings. What we all need to put on, and not be ashamed of--go to counseling. It is life-changing, and sometimes life-saving. And if you aren't sure where to start with counseling, please ask. Ask me, ask a friend, heck--this WebMD page might be the one time it actually does more  good than harm:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

To a Princely King, a Self-proclaimed King, and the King of All Kings

"Movement to Overcome," Michael Pavlovsky, Memphis Civil Rights Museum

NOTE: This was supposed to be published for MLK Day. Clearly, it wasn't. I hope it's still an encouragement. I believe it's still timely. I believe discussion of Dr. King's legacy will remain timely for many, many years to come.

Dear Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,

I was first asked to write this piece for The Well. I had it all planned out, especially after reading Michael Eric Dyson's beautifully controversial book about you. In some ways, you were the best of brothers. You fought hard for justice. You spoke for those who had been robbed of their God-given voice. You sacrificed much--most notably your life--for the cause of equality among human beings. You fought for all Christians--black and white--to see each other as brothers and sisters. A dear brother, and much missed.

But in some ways, you were not a good brother.

In I May Not Get There With You, Dr. Dyson talks about why it is important to see your entire story and not overlook who you truly were, the good and the bad. As I read it, I thought, "Yes! What a great word. I'll talk about what a good brother MLK was, then about how he wasn't perfect, and how women in the academy and professions can partner with good, but humanly flawed brothers, as we pursue the best of brothers--Jesus!" It was a great concept, and I was excited to write it.

I researched. I outlined. I drafted. I enjoyed the process. And then two things happened.

First, Trump won the election. And as it came to my attention that MLK Day 2017 would fall just four days before the Inauguration, I began to struggle with writing. Suddenly my neat categories were blown apart. As the time went on from November until the present, the lines between yourself and President (then Elect) Trump were in some ways clearer, but in some ways blurrier. And most of those "blurred lines" (yes, I'm quoting from that horrible song, because sadly, it's applicable here) were in the treatment of women. This did not help my writer's block any.

Secondly, I overcommitted myself to a number of projects, I missed the draft deadline, and I started to not just struggle with what to write, but to actually doubt if I could write it. Procrastination, fear, shame, and exhaustion all combined to make the work of writing about you just too hard. I knew you were flawed, and I could forgive you for those flaws. Until your flaws lined up too eerily with Mr. Trump's flaws, and then I had to re-think everything.

Ironically, it was that wrestling with your flaws that brought me back to writing, and purpose, and ultimately, back to thinking about Jesus--which is where I had wanted this piece to lead all along. Because I realized that you, too, dealt with procrastination, fear, shame, and exhaustion. You, too, made promises you did not keep, and you, too, had to rely on the saving grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ to make sense of things and keep going in faith.

So what do I want to say to you?  It seems a bit grandiose to say "I forgive you" when I never met you, never was affected by your infidelity or your crudeness. And yet, as a woman, aren't I? As a woman living in a culture where women are thought of as lesser, where women are debased, dehumanized, and objectified, don't I bear the burden of every one who has ever (myself included) allowed coarse talk about women? Who has allowed the sanctity of marriage to be cast aside to the idols of convenience and lust? Isn't the point of Dr. Dyson's book that if we are to properly celebrate the legacy of your life, we must do it whole-heartedly, without reserve, and without skimming over the uncomfortable parts?

Many amazing women of the 1960's Civil Rights Era put up with a lot of nonsense from men, including yourself. They persevered. They still do. And God used you to accomplish much for both men and women. God did that, and you and I can (and will, someday!) join our voices in praise of his work.

So I forgive you, Dr. King. I am incredibly grateful to your legacy. Because unlike some other leaders, you did point to Jesus. Unlike some other sinners, you wrestled with your sin, and depended desperately on the forgiveness of God. And that is what it looks like to partner with good brothers, such as yourself, who are also fallen, sinful men. We wrestle with our sin, and we depend desperately on the forgiveness of God.

With incalculable gratitude,
A sister and fellow activist.

Dear President Trump,

I really wrestled with whether to include you in this post or not. When I asked my dear husband, who is one of the most respectful men (of women, and of people in general) I know, he thought I shouldn't even mention you. Shouldn't sully the legacy of Dr. King by in any way putting you alongside him. On the one hand, I agree with this. In the same way that I will not waste my time (or my typing) mentioning the name of the Charleston shooter who took the lives of Rev. Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight other beautiful souls, I don't want to waste this special time of reflecting on the work of Dr. King by entertaining hateful, non-peaceful, anti-gospel work.

But as I studied the life (and times) of Dr. King, the similarities to how you treat and think of women became too much to ignore.

Many would argue that you are far beyond Dr. King in your empowering of women. In fact, you have women in roles of leadership, where Dr. King honestly didn't. That still does not score you a point, sir. Because despite his infidelity, despite his rough talk, and ignorant attitude toward women leaders, Dr. King still exhibited restraint. Whereas you dismissed your crude comments about women as being mere "locker room talk," and therefore tried to justify your attitude, Dr. King had at least some sense of reason, of shame. Though he was both culpable and a product of his times, he was foremost a professing Christian. He was a man who knew he wasn't perfect and who had much to repent for.

Because in the end, what set Dr. King apart from you was the fact that he knew he was a sinner. He knew he needed Jesus. He knew he wasn't Jesus. Your words--where you say that you've never asked for forgiveness, because you don't need it--show that you are not a believer. Just on the level of basic beliefs, you have disqualified yourself. And that doesn't mean there isn't common grace at work in your life. No, far from it. Because I respect God as the ultimate authority, I will respect you. I will respect you as president, because I respect the office and the system that has produced it. Even if I feel like you yourself are not respecting the office nor our country, I will fight to stay respectful in my disagreements. Even as I point out what I believe are facts about your misogyny, even as I protest what I believe are violent statements against the most vulnerable, even as I disagree vehemently with your hateful speech about immigrants, I will do so properly, with gratitude for the privilege of being in this country. Not because I at all agree with you or your tactics, but because Dr. King showed a better way. Dr. King followed the way of Jesus.

Praying for you,
A (fellow) citizen.

Dear King Jesus,

I'm tired, dear elder brother. Worn out from being mad, sad, and everything in-between. I need your rest, for I am weary. I need your sanctifying work, for I am sinful. I need your affirming presence, for I am shamed and belittled. And I need your guidance, brother. I need your perfect example, your gracious welcome, your comforting and radical proclamation as the first fruit of the redemption that is to come. I need you. We need you--your church the world over. Heal us, Emmanuel. Heal our country in a way in which it has never really been. It's been yours all along--all things are--but we ask for hearts to be changed, Lord. We ask for your kingdom to come, on earth as it is in heaven. We ask for you to be exalted, for governments and institutions to cease, for the blessing to come of basking in your light alone. We don't ask for you to fill the presidency, Lord. We ask for you to fulfill the scriptures and magnify yourself. Come, Lord Jesus. We desperately need you.

Your little sister.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Free Shipping Fridays: Understand Our Lament

Dear Readers,

Well, the day is here. Inauguration Day 2017. The installation of our nation's 45th president. A lot of people are happy. Happy because they hate Obama, and/or because they love Trump. Happy because they're politically more conservative. Happy because they realize that political freedom, the peaceful transfer of power, and a (fairly) stable government are all gifts from God.

But a lot of us are grieving today. And some of us are ambivalent, and some of us are torn. Grieving because we/they love Obama and/or because we/they hate Trump. Grieving because we're/they're politically more conservative. Grieving because political freedom feels like a sham, the peaceful transfer of power feels overshadowed by the violence inherent in the new president, and because this fairly stable government feels shaky, especially for the "least of these."

And many of us/them are ambivalent because we're/they're tired. Many are ambivalent because it all feels like too much. Some are even ambivalent because we/they want to focus on the kingdom. (But if I dismissively hear "God is on the throne" one. more. time...)

A lot of folks are torn. Because we/they don't like Obama OR Trump. Torn because we/they are politically conservative, but still want to value the "stranger and the alien." Torn because we/they are politically liberal, but still want to value the life of the unborn. Torn because political freedom comes at a price, and with a consequence. Torn because it's hard to see where God is right now, in this peaceful transfer of power in a stable, but partisan, government.

If you are not in the middle category--grieving--and you want to understand better those of us who are, maybe these links will help. And if you are, like me, grieving AND torn, know that I lament with you. My family and I sit in solidarity, as best we can, with those that will be most affected by the new administration. With those who will be violently affected by the new administration.

And if you're happy today, well... I dunno. I join you in praying for our 45th president, even if the content of our prayers are very, very different.

To help you understand our lament:

To help you understand our rage and fear:

To help you understand the joy we're tryna cling to, like we're drowning (because we are):
(H/T Michelle Higgins)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Free Shipping Fridays: An Apology

Dear Readers,

I owe you an apology. All of you, whether you are fired up about racial issues (on either side), completely ambivalent, or--most likely--somewhere in-between. Because I saw a racially-charged incident today, and I didn't do anything.

I was at the gas station, spacing out and pumping gas, when a car pulled in. A car running on the fuel of stereotype. A car blaring rap at high volume, full of angry young black men, making sure that everybody knew it. I may be fairly woke, but to my old and weary ears, it was obnoxious. I'll admit it.

Perhaps that's a racial incident in and of itself. Perhaps that's the discussion we really need to be having here, the discussion that I wasn't even tryna be... annoyed out of my complacence by their pain and anger. I just wanted to pump my gas and let some caffeine kick in.

So y'all tell me. But until then, I'll continue with the incident as I saw it. The car drove up, I (at least mentally) rolled my eyes, and then someone spoke. Also loudly.

"An ounce of C-4 would cure that noise!"

Imma let it sink in for you for a moment, dear readers. Some of you may already be pissed. Some of you might be confused. Some of you may not think it's a big deal.

I'm pissed, but also confused, and it is definitely a big deal. A big damn deal.

This was not a random thing. It's actually scarily specific. An ounce? Of C-4? Does this guy have some at home, and next time, he might decide to use it? Does he have experience with explosives? Perhaps in some ways it would have been scarier and more inappropriate if he had said something about using a gun, but in some ways, not so much. Because lots of people have guns. And lots of people threaten to use them. And that in itself is an inappropriate threat of violence. A mass murderer of nine black folks in Charleston, SC was just sentenced to death, and such gun violence must be condemned. But four little black girls also died when white supremacists bombed a church in Birmingham in 1963, and I fear that those days are closer than we think.

In a "Trump America," people feel free to speak these threats out loud. And I've now heard it in person.

You might try to tell me that it wasn't racially motivated. We can agree to disagree on that one (even though I think you are completely wrong), because it doesn't matter what this guy's motivations were. The fact remains that a white man vocally relished the idea of ending black lives and thought that was appropriate, even welcomed. He thought the rest of us white folks at the pumps would agree with him. He thought he was in the right, and in the majority, and in charge. That's a dangerous combination.

Please don't try to tell me he was "just joking." I don't care if he was just joking. There was a real threat behind it. Because he had already dismissed those young men as so much "noise." He had already de-humanized them and decided that violence was the solution to ridding this world of that noise. Don't try to tell me that he was picturing taking the people out of the car and then throwing C-4 at just the car. Just don't. Whether or not he would ever go through on it, whether or not he pictured it in detail, is not the point. The point is that he contemplated violence as a way to end an inconvenience to his happiness. The point is that in his mind, black lives don't matter. I guarantee you that he would not have said that if it had been young white men. He probably would have said somebody should have spanked them more when they were little, and I'd have agreed. But he didn't, and I don't.

And did I mention that I'm pissed? Because I am pissed, and more than anything at myself.

Remember when I said I owed all of you an apology? I owe you an apology because I didn't say anything. At first I didn't say anything because my initial response was sarcastic. And that's never helpful in racial matters with strangers. And then I didn't say anything because I was in shock. Who shouts such a thing to the world at large? Did he really just say that? Did I really just hear that?

But then I didn't say anything because I was afraid. And confused. And ashamed.

He drove off, and the "offending" car did, too. And I stood at the pump for I don't know how long, until I realized that my gas pump was done, and it was time for me to get back in my car, and drive away, too. "Wait!" I called weakly. "Sir, come back. I don't agree, and I need to tell you that. Violence is never the right answer to an offense..."

He didn't come back, obviously. And it's probably a good thing. Dude had a hair-trigger temper, probably a shotgun in his truck, and a hair-trigger trigger finger. At best, would he really have been able to hear me? I doubt it.

But maybe it would have mattered that I had said something. Maybe it would have mattered to some of the other folks, who all seemed uncomfortable, as well. And it would have mattered to Jesus for me to stick up for the imago dei in everybody, even that angry man.

So, now for my apology. And "Wait!" you say. "Isn't this a 'Free Shipping Friday' post? Sure has been a lot of YOU talking, Chandra. Where are the recommended links? Where are others' voices, hm?"

Sorry, one more thing to apologize for.

So, I apologize to the sisters in this article:

Charlene, I'm sorry I didn't stand up for the image of God in Black folks.
Nancy, I'm sorry I didn't stand alongside you, as a white woman, advocating for a Black sister.

I apologize to the brother who wrote this post:

Duke, I'm sorry I chickened out. You speak bravely every day, from both a position of minority and privilege, and I had a chance to join you. Pray that I will next time.

I apologize to the sister who wrote this important piece:

Christina, I'm sorry I didn't stand up against further trauma. Further trauma for all of us, further denigration of human beings, further silencing of voices--even my own.

I apologize to the sister who penned this vulnerable, insightful post:

Emily, I'm sorry I didn't stand up for your beautiful brown babies. Your wonderful black husband. Your fabulous so-very-white-lady-but-mama-of-color-and-that-matters self. They matter. You matter. I see you, and I rejoice.

This post isn't meant to be all "Woe is meeeeee... now somebody please tell me I'm good." It really isn't. I'm not beating myself up, I'm picking myself up, and moving forward in repentance. I'm not tryna get your sympathy, or respect, or accolades. Or at least the redeemed part of me isn't. What I know is that confession and redemption are good for the soul--are the very basis of the gospel--so imma apologize first, and ask questions later. I think the more we spend time sincerely apologizing to each other, and the less time we spend questioning (read: interrogating) each other, we'll see more of this kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

I apologize to the hateful, violent guy, for not speaking truth to you. Whether you were in a position to hear it is up to God. But I was in a position to share it, and I didn't. I wish I had, graciously and calmly.

I apologize to you, dear readers. If this post has pissed you off, left you raw, make you feel inadequate, helpless, or just plain antagonized, I'm sorry. I truly am. Can we talk about it? I hope so.

And to our beautiful creator God, I apologize. And I move forward in your truth. Because you are the God of redemption, of healing, of truth, of reconciliation, of bravery, of goodness. My apology is both necessary and also dealt with, because my sin is dealt with. Hallelujah! Hallelujah.