Category: Faith

Begin Real Reconciliation with a Conversation

I started a blog post at the beginning of this year that I never finished. It was tentatively titled “On Speaking Up in 2014” and it was inspired by my friend Osheta Moore. Osheta wrote a fantastic viral blog post that called for white Southern lady-bloggers like me to use our voices to validate the experiences of non-white women who did not have our same privilege. Osheta wrote (and I agree) that white women writers must realize that their ability to choose whether or not to speak about an issue is directly related to their privilege in that situation: by saying nothing, they lose nothing because they already have everything. In early January, I told myself that I would spend this year of “ATTACK” speaking up; I wanted to practice taking risks in small ways so I would be ready for the big moments when they arrived.

But speaking up is hard work, and a number of internet scandals and real life disasters have come and gone since the New Year and I haven’t even gotten around to publishing the draft blog post that says I want to practice participating! It’s pretty cozy over here on the sidelines, where I can roll my eyes at internet crazy from a safe distance.

I’ve ignored that inner voice a lot this year, but over the past week it came right out and surprised me. I saw something that I thought was wrong, and before I could count to ten and calculate potential liabilities and decide not to get involved in a messy situation it was too late. I was on the record saying THIS IS WRONG. THE PEOPLE WHO ARE HURTING ARE PEOPLE I LOVE. THEY MATTER. MAKE IT BETTER.

My words didn’t necessarily bring about a better result, but I received a surprising number of private messages from women who were afraid to speak until they heard my voice, who told me that they felt braver and stronger because I went first.  They began to share their opinions too. The opinions were all different — of course we did not all agree — but we had a dialogue that was mostly healthy and that I was proud to participate in. This week was sad and stressful and there have been a couple of personal emergencies and family health crises on my mind. Each of the notes I received and each instance of robust and impassioned dialogue I witnessed has been special to me. I enjoyed seeing women I respect disagree well. It was beautiful.

And so, I pulled this draft blog post out and I’m dusting it off a bit. I’ve learned this year to get right to the point in my writing so here it is:

We often think about oppressors as them. But sometimes the oppressors are us. Sometimes we are the ones whom we should be speaking against. When the people we love and respect are the ones committing wrongful actions (whether it is a relatively minor power imbalance or something big and terrible like systemic racism or institutional poverty) it is so much harder. Because then we have to not just speak out for the weak, but speak against those we love. That is WAY WORSE.

But even when we disagree with those we love, staying silent doesn’t reconcile or redeem.  We may think it is noble to stay silent to preserve relationships; we may even call this “peacemaking” and claim our special place among the Blesseds.  It is not.  It is not noble to protect the feelings of the majority at the expense of the minority.  It is not peacemaking to sit quietly and watch evil or fear or prejudice or injustice run the world. That is just plain old self-interestedness, the kind that reinforces majority status and others everyone else.  And really, there are enough people reinforcing majority status and othering everyone else.  It’s time to be real reconcilers, real peacemakers. We can do that by starting a conversation.

This is about religion. Sorry, not sorry.

Here’s the thing. I don’t really believe the Bible is inerrant the way a lot of people do. And I know that writing that down and publishing it on the internet means some people who share my faith tradition will lose respect for me, but I need to start there. I think that reading the Bible brings me closer to God, and helps me to know him better — but reading the Bible also reminds me of the ways people have [mis-]used Scripture to silence me and to silence my brothers and sisters on this planet.

It’s a complicated relationship, for sure. I want it to be less complicated. I want Scripture to bring only joy and not pain, but that just isn’t where I am right now. I haven’t been there for a few years, actually. Life is a journey, and I do not believe we are called to check all the boxes while shutting down our brains. Faith shouldn’t have to be a mental power struggle, where we refuse to acknowledge our thoughts and feelings and confusions and doubts and scream out an unthinking “YES” to all the things they say we have to believe. For me, right now, it’s an ongoing effort to seek God’s love and pursue relationship. To follow Jesus. To find the arc of redemption moving in our world and to follow it, and to hope for the redemption that we believe will come. So, while I’m often frustrated or unsure about where I stand with the Bible, I trust that if I am seeking God and trying to follow Jesus, that one day I’ll be in a better place with the Bible too.

I still think I’m a Christian.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I spend every minute of every day seeking God and trying to reconcile with the Scriptures. Because I don’t. Reconciliation with Scripture and communities of faith is something I think about often and hope for. Scripture and faith communities are intrinsically linked to my childhood and my understanding of the world. But I’m not necessarily doing that full-time right now. I think about a lot of other things too.

I still think I’m a Christian.

The internet makes it harder. I read blog posts and articles and comments saying that if you interpret differently the meaning or application of one or two sentences of a certain translation of the Bible, you are throwing out the entire gospel narrative and you can’t be a Christian anymore. And I’m stunned because, holy cow, I wish it was only one or two sentences that I didn’t interpret literally. I wish it were that simple.

This week, with all of the World Vision USA hullabaloo, I read your words, and I felt even more that I didn’t belong. Here I am: I grew up in your world, I followed all your rules, I learned all of your Bible verses, I went to your camps and I graduated from your college, and I don’t belong. I still think I’m a Christian, but if I told you the truth, would you agree? Would you say that it’s okay to be different, to not understand the world in the same way as everyone else, that God is bigger than our doubts and our questions? I’ve heard that before.

But I wonder sometimes — is God only bigger than my doubts and questions because I am a straight, white, married female?

I want to hear you say that the world is full of nuance. I want to hear you say that we can all work with people, live in community with people, shop at grocery stores with people and bake cakes for people who believe different things than we do. I want to hear you say that you don’t believe everyone who thinks differently than you about the world, or religion, or the Bible deserves to live in constant fear of poverty because they cannot find or keep employment. I want to hear you say that each of us finds God and faith on a different timeline, and that it isn’t up to us to save people. That we pray and wait for the Holy Spirit to move within us and our neighbors, and that we love each other while we wait.

Instead, I’ve been hearing you say that a Christian organization that decides to stop excluding certain groups of people from its hiring pool has thrown away the Gospel. The entire Gospel. Now that they’ve changed their minds, I’m hearing you rejoice, slapping hands and taking credit for standing your ground. For the Gospel. And I wonder, what would you say about me, if you knew my doubts and struggles?

Well, now you know.

A Christmas Wish

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“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

— Scrooge’s nephew addressing Scrooge, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Let us remember, this Christmas and every day, that we are all fellow-passengers in this life and treat each other kindly, with generosity and respect.

A very Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Why we do what we do: a crisis of [blogging] faith

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This is that moment we talked about, when I told you why I was hesitant about taking on a daily blogging challenge this month.  This is the night when I argue with myself between choosing not to post today and accepting that every single day on my November blogging calendar would be bright pink with content except for November 12th; or, on the other hand, whether I should post content today even though it is later than normal and chances are it won’t be read at the same frequency content posted in the morning would be, and probably isn’t of the caliber I would prefer be treated as a sample of my best work, just so that I can fulfill a commitment I made to myself and to you.

As much as “real” bloggers write for “an audience” to provide “quality content” to their readers, I oftentimes write here for myself. Do I really think that the internet world needs to know that eating tacos at a certain restaurant may or may not give you a severe case of taco stomach?  No.  Do I really think that you need to know the shallow struggle I face between acknowledging I am a satisfied and successful professional and wanting to be being considered “successful” by my peers?  Not necessarily.  But do I think that we are all on a journey where understanding people different from us helps us to better understand ourselves?  I do.  And also, it’s nice that my friends and family can stay close and know about our life even when there isn’t always enough time in the day to regularly phone all of the people I care about so much. Even when the sentences I write here are silly or cliché or describe photos of food, they serve their purpose.

This week a blogger I sometimes read in the Christian blog world wrote that bloggers who blog for themselves and not for the “glory of God” are stupid and should die.  [It was a tiny bit milder than that, but only a tiny bit.]  And here’s what I’ve been thinking:  why do we really ever do anything?  Do we really do things for the glory of God?  Or does God already have all the glory he needs, and we say we do things for the glory of God when we really mean we do things for the glory of saying we did things for the glory of God?  How is having a calling and pursuing it with abandon different from having a thing that you really love to do and doing that thing?  How do you actually differentiate those things in your actual heart?

This is something I’m learning about right now.  And also something I don’t fully understand.  Today I’m giving you these words, which aren’t necessarily clear or interesting, but fulfill my commitment to share content here each day this month.  This is where I’m at right now.

 

Thoughts on Easter Sunday

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  1. Please, Lord have mercy, for all the treasures in this world and the next, please stop making us sing-a-long to the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of service.  It is terrible.  No one can sing it — not even your best choir members — and it goes on FOREVER.  Trust me, I’m an expert on these things.
  2. When I have a baby I am going to dress it in a Superman costume on Easter Sunday.  Because seriously, that was awesome.  Way to go, America.  You never cease to amaze me.
  3. I think I’m going to go shopping for my own striped tights to wear with a coordinating polka-dot dress.  Kids are styling these days.
  4. Reese’s has these new peanut butter eggs that are INCREDIBLE.  Make time tomorrow morning to purchase every single remaining peanut butter egg (of any size, really, but the small ones are surprisingly wonderful) on clearance at your local CVS/Rite-Aid.
  5. The best church to go to is the one where your  best friends are. 

Thanks guys for a wonderful worship
service and great lunch-time company. 
I don’t know what we would do
without you.

Two new things

It’s Easter weekend and I’m a little homesick — my holiday memories are jam packed with work and church work and in my heart all holiday songs are sung by my parents. We have new traditions now that we are grown, and I love them, but I miss the old things too.

To spread the love, I taught a coworker how to make the kind of ham that puts a ring on your finger, and I’m gearing up for some cooking and celebrating of my own. Both of H’s brothers are in town, a few favorite friends will join us on Sunday morning, and I’m taking a Good Friday vacation day. Which means that it’s the weekend right now and that is awesome.

And to spread the love even further, I have two photos to share with you. These photos show two firsts —

  1. My first French 75 — new favorite cocktail made with gin, champagne, and lemon, and
  2. My first viewing of the new statue of Rosa Parks inside the Capitol.

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When others are hurting

When one of my advisees received shocking news of a death in her immediate family on Saturday evening, my heart broke with her pain and sadness. When the next day another advisee lost another close family member, I wasn’t sure how to prepare to meet the chapter’s needs. I pulled out my resource kit to reexamine how to talk about religion in a sorority where members are of different faiths (or no faiths at all) — to be supportive and honest and encourage them to lean on each other as they searched for meaning in this difficult time.

In my heart (or is it your head where you compose a prayer before you pray it? Are pastors praying when they write the prayers or only when they read them out loud during service?) I planned a bit of what I could say, if it was appropriate or needed, not knowing if it would be tears or nerves or short tempers or friendship that would be the most apparent when I entered their environment.

We don’t all call out to God by the same name — and some of us do not believe that he is there at all. We come from different backgrounds, different faith communities and different families, and we don’t have all the answers. Today, it feels a bit like we don’t have any answers. But together, we believe that sacrificial love — that true friendship and caring for our neighbors and reaching out to those around us — can cover the darkness. That in the end, love conquers evil. And so, while we don’t understand why these things happen, we look to each other for friendship and compassion as we move forward together.

My thoughts weren’t needed. I didn’t have to make any sort of religiously sensitive, diversity-aware faith statements or offer any deep counsel. The women were focused on their tasks at hand and depending on each other for support. They are hanging in there, and they certainly didn’t need me to make any kind of grand moral statement on the meaning of the world.

And so I came home, glad. I didn’t really think I had the emotional intelligence to handle that conversation anyway.

And then a distant friend of my family, a woman only one year older than me, was hit head-on by another driver, while she was in the car with her mother, her three-year-old daughter, and her two-week-old son. Her mother passed away during surgery, she has been in and out of surgery multiple times already, her two-week-old son has a broken femur, and her three-year-old daughter is barely hanging on. Her daughter may not be with us through the night.

And my heart is broken again. How is all of this possible? How can so much darkness fill this world?

And I still don’t know why. But I am convinced, certain, that sacrificial love conquers evil, and that true friendship is our way of exhibiting this love in our dark and stormy world. And so, I tell myself this again, hoping it will take. I worked so hard to get the words right for everyone else, but it looks like it was always meant for me.

Megan, my dear, our heartfelt prayers are with you and yours. You are loved.