Earlier this week I had to suddenly and unceremoniously unplug from Facebook. (Troll drama, long story.) Today is day three and, while the withdrawal was not as fierce as expected, I find myself not yet experiencing the promised freedom. Truth be told, I’ll be ready to log back on this weekend. But for today, I am here. In the slow lane.
Serendipitously, over the weekend I had made the commitment to return to this page and blogging. What I had forgotten is that the addicting quality of FB is that you can spend 5 minutes or 50. Blogging takes more time, more commitment; FB will suck in your entire life but also allows for an infinite number of drive-bys. And on school mornings when I’m on the rush, I have just about 5 minutes.
Knowing that the quality of writing improves with time to both consider and edit, I find myself wondering if the quality of content similarly suffers in the endless cycling of social media. I suspect that depth of thought is often shy in my quick morning jots. On the other hand, there is a candor when one has slight time to waver.
My Facebook posting has earned real friends, genuine critics, and a whole lot of head shaking. Curiously, or not so, most of the white men from my old church life have fallen away; my feed these days is genuinely racially diverse and largely queer friendly. I’m struck that the undoctored stream of consciousness has created a space quite different from the one that kept me cloistered (and perhaps uninformed) while serving the church. As I continue to understand call from this side of the door, I wonder if Facebook is for me church or addiction or both.
This morning I have a late start at school and time to complete and edit (briefly) a thought in this space. What I don’t have is a stream of others doing the same, simultaneously sharpening my thought and smoothing the edge. Blogging is a solitary writing exercise. Invaluable, distinct. But I miss the community that both inspires, cheers, and holds accountable.
In this strange new world we’ve entered, I suspect we will need both-and.
[Note: My dear one just gave the all clear to log back onto Facebook. And I think I just might.]
Yesterday I had the privilege of voting for a candidate that I truly wanted to see win, a candidate who shared (at least verbally) values that I cherish, a candidate who (though human) demonstrates leadership that I can get behind.
And she lost. By 888 votes.
Which in most ways of measuring was a historic win.
This is racist St. Louis and the race was for the Democratic ticket in the mayoral race. The city is legendary for racism and this was a race between a white woman and a Black woman – and three Black men (plus a couple on either side who had names on the ballot but no campaigns). There were four viable and actively campaigning Black folk and one white woman. Odds had it that the white woman was an easy win. And though she did, at the end of the night, win… it was a narrow victory and an important lesson.
Not everyone in St. Louis wants the status quo.
Not even every white person wants the Delmar Divide.
In fact there are lots of us, across lines of race and class and whatever other barrier one might erect, that recognize in Tishaura Jones a bold and visionary kind of leadership rooted in racial equity that we can get behind. That we *want* to get behind.
While Lyda Krewson got the narrow victory and the party endorsement, she does not have the will of the people. In fact she received only 32% of the votes within her own party. A technical win, but a clear message. We are ready for change.
Sometimes less is more. Sometimes one is enough. Sometimes the still small voice beckons from deep within.
And this too is very good.
The morning is quiet and I ponder what can be heard when the pace slows. I see the tree still barren even as the earth warms. I hear the rhythm of the washing machine as it cleans up the mess. I notice the anxiety that pops up from the still small space.
This anxiety is part of who I am. It is the energy that makes one drink too many and the bottle not enough. It is the insecurity that makes small talk painful. It is the frightened child who wants to be perfect, and perfectly quiet. This anxiety matters, so I listen this morning.
The world is scary now. In truth it has always been thus. The color of my skin and the situation of my birthing provided privilege that largely shielded me from the most potent portals of evil. But the seed, that fragile place deep inside me that is prey for the tap roots of evil, this is not eradicated with privilege. In fact it is nursed and nourished in places of privilege, my insecurity is the necessary hook for “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (bell hooks) to thrive. And thrive it has.
The urgency of this time is clear, all hands on deck. Yet never have I felt more impotent than as I face the gravity of the evil that confronts us today. In that sentence I see the role that whiteness plays. Once upon a time, when I saw so much less but held the microphone, I felt powerful. Letting go of the microphone, I see so much more but now feel the powerlessness. Discovered, if one dares, is a place of humility, a recognition of limits; perhaps this can be a heart and mind more open to faithful next steps.
Pausing to honor the breath, allowing the anxiety to release, the next right step that is mine will emerge. One tiny step at a time. For the tide to come, each molecule of water must yield to the movement of the whole. Yielding is perhaps the most important work of all.
Relinquishing that which has provided a faux sense of power (uniform, title, microphone, standing), allowing myself to feel the impotence and yet still breathe, this is the call. Here I discover, again and again, a power beyond my own in which I can trust with that scared little monster deep inside. Here she can finally come out and (wtf took so long!) grow up. Here there is healing and, god willing, release from the snares.
Feet firmly planted, anxiety acknowledged, let the footed prayers commence.
When I left the church, I was gifted with a story. The story was of a child leaving her beloved playground and heading, alone, toward the river. The metaphor was rich and one that has continued to unfold with new meaning over time. Not surprisingly I have avoided the two most salient pieces: river, alone.
In fairness, all I had known for all of my adult life was church. It was my family, my social circle, my profession, my meal ticket. Church was life. And walking away from church was the most painful (and graceless) thing I have ever done in my life.
A year ago, a dear friend challenged me to start a new church. I held the call, felt it’s familiarity. For a full year I have looked at this call, prayed, talked with others, wondered aloud, started, faltered, prayed more. Recently I met with another friend who suggest that I spend a month in prayer (the infamous 40 days). I fancied Nehemiah’s writing of the vision and imagined that I would emerge with my own.
As the 40 days came round and I found myself still empty handed I felt cheated. And then I saw what was sitting inside me all along. The story. The story given to me, almost five years ago now, was the story of leaving the playground and heading to the river alone. Not building a new playground. Not replacing my old cohort with a new one. But going to the river, the source itself, by myself.
As I look back over the past four years, I realize that I left the playground and at times ventured to the edge of the water. Most of the time, though, I have sat in the woods and sulked. Transitions suck. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Holding the challenge from my friends pushed me from lethargy; either build a new playground or return to the story. The more I avoided the story, the more I worked on a new playground, the more befuddled I felt.
What I knew to be true as I first left the playground is that the playground is faux. The river and the forest that surrounds it comes from the earth itself, it is real and sustainable. And harsh. People die. The evil that we wonder about and script on the playground plays out with harsh abandon at the river’s edge. Also true is the intoxicating power of fresh air. The source of life itself is nowhere more apparent than at the water’s edge.
As I gulped in this fresh air, I began to see that as religion functions to interpret experience of the sacred it unwittingly provides a veil. Life lived far from the playground is unveiled, there is slight protection from the elements. PTSD is real for those who pray with their feet. The lure of the playground, it’s safety and conformity, is understandable.
But the river beckons.
What I know to be true as I stand against the rough bark of the tree is that I can’t go back and, at long last, I think I am ready to go forward. My life is now is here, at the river’s edge. Without benefit of clergy, liturgy, institution, or external validation save the sound of the creation itself. This is my call, this is my truth.
And I feel as if the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders.
Maybe because it has.
We’re both nice white ladies, liberals who love the Children’s Defense Fund. When a friend suggest that I address you directly, I was hesitant. But after watching (a video of) the speech you shared in our community yesterday, I feel like we need to talk.
You spent a fair amount of your words talking as a Christian white woman, invoking scriptural images and using theologically potent concepts. As a white lady Christian pastor, I appreciated the attempt but also felt the chaff.
Jesus’ teaching does include the infamous “70×7” forgiveness challenge, and it is also true that many deeply devout Black Christians offered words of forgiveness in the throes of grief after the massacre at Emanual AME. But when you or I, white women, pick up those words and hold them up as an expectation to a people bent over with sorrow, there is no balm. In fact, the taking and using of those words and images is an appropriation which serves to salt the very wound you would bandage.
Quite frankly, as white women, even as white women who’s mother’s knew hard times, we don’t get to pretend that we understand what a Black mother’s grief looks like. We just don’t. We don’t know and it is the essence of erasure to pretend that we do.
And because we cannot understand the pain and the loss that confronts Black women in America on a daily basis, we cannot stand in judgement. To nod approvingly, as you did so graciously, is no less judgmental than a scowl of disapproval; the offense of judgement isn’t simply to be found wanting, the offense is in the assumption of power and privilege by the one offering judgement. You assumed a seat of power and privilege as you favorably judged the actions of the grieving community in Charleston. Witness to the insult was that though you had much support during the speech, no one clapped as you heaped praise on the forgivers; the room silently waited as you heaped insult on injury.
Much has already been written by Black women that I trust about the failed rush to forgiveness. While spiritual warriors are often able to detangle themselves from revenge, Jesus also suggested that we are to be not only as gentle as doves but also as wise as serpents. True forgiveness is a process which takes time and one that requires accountability, forgiveness is not a blank slate and a new beginning.
Desmond Tutu offered the prayer that you echoed with your “love is stronger than hate” phrase. He is also an architect of South Africa’s powerful Truth and Reconciliation work. When we do our homework, we learn that this work could not be done until Apartheid was over. The new Jim Crow is not yet over, any rush to forgiveness in America is premature. The other key piece we learn from Tutu’s work is that reconciliation comes only with the speaking of truth; for this too we wait.
Clearly you meant well. You are a politician with ambition, you are also a nice white lady, a liberal like me with good intentions. I understand, all to well, what you meant. But your message failed, and it was, for many of us, deeply offensive. I write in hopes that as nice white ladies, we might learn from one another because, quite literally, Black lives are on the line, now.
when human lives are reduced to hashtags,
every mother’s heart should weep
every mother’s womb should convulse.
but some mother’s son
was on the other side of the hashtag
pulling the trigger
cursing the dying man’s last breath
pounding his skull into the pavement
as life left his body.
and this is the problem for a mother’s soul:
not which side are you on,
for mother’s are always on the side of life
complicated and messy, yes, but
but what is life when you have to ask
where you will find your son;
was your son the hashtag
or the one creating the hashtag,
the one with position and power
or the one crying out.
because we raise our sons,
we all do,
to rise to their greatest heights;
but what then do we do
when their heights are positions of power
in the machinery of the #newjimcrow?
do we love them less?
or do we shield our heart from the hashtags?
and in that moment
that Sophie’s choice
that impossible place
white supremacy triumphs
and our souls begin their descent
Last Easter we were buying baskets with dolls for the two little girls who came into our lives on Easter Monday. While Mike Brown was lying in the street on a hot August Saturday, I was braiding Iah’s hair one last time before they were taken from us and placed in a more “culturally appropriate” home. Our time together was too brief, but plenty long to become fully disillusioned with the system and painfully familiar with the destructiveness of nice white ladies.
Sure, the challenges with the children were significant.
While we were elated to be welcoming two young ones into our home, they were traumatized by the move. Their social worker went to their school on Monday morning, announced that she was moving them, unenrolled them, and dropped them off at our home an hour later with (quite literally) only the clothes on their backs. Though the move had planned for more than a week, the girls had not been informed. They had not been given a chance to bring anything (not even their Easter baskets!) from their family’s home. As long as I live, I will never forget the look of terror in their eyes as they walked through the front door the first time.
They had stories that leaked out over our time together, stories that would make your heart stop, stories that gave explanation if not excuse for any number of challenging behaviors, stories of children of children for whom life had been simply too hopeless and too hard. Our world was at best a mystery, at worst a threat, and never was it easy.
Our relief when the girls were taken, however, had little to do with the children. What was stunningly unmanageable in our lives were the hired professionals who were the children’s legal guardians, the “case manager” and “counselor” and their boss. In retrospect, the “tension in the team” (bosses report to court) was likely a result of two privileged white women expecting too much from a system designed to do as little as possible. We wanted services, the system wanted us to be quiet. And so it went, for a long painful summer.
As I scan the horizon in the rearview mirror, with the perspective of #Ferguson, I am aware that the entire scene was macabre and racist as hell. Every one of the social workers were young white women, well intentioned but totally insensitive to the needs of the children entrusted to their care.
As the trio of white women were preparing to remove the girls, the first round of tear gas was being thrown at protestors in Ferguson. Not on the front lines yet, I was cooking dinner as I listened to the white women cluck in our living room about “them” in Ferguson. My body still shakes as I remember that blatant burst of unexamined racist rhetoric that filled the air in my home. My dear one told them to leave, and they did. But with their racism laid bare, the tragedy of the failed placement became clear.
Today we are empty nesting and using our time to be on the streets in Ferguson and beyond. Instead of buying Easter baskets this year we joined a group of (mostly) Black queer and trans folks to reach out to the #BlackChurch. As I watched beautiful children dancing into church on a sunny Easter morning, I missed the girls and deeply. But as I paused for a bit of nostalgia, the bitter lessons from the nice white ladies came flooding back. I tried to type them, but the micro (and not so) aggressions are probably best left to obscurity.
What is worthy to note is the love that I felt in the gathered circle this morning, empowering and at the same time challenging. As I stood in the circle, basking in the love made manifest, I was also keenly aware of my whiteness. It’s complicated, being a white woman in the movement. The relationship between Black women and white women is especially messy owning to the systems of white supremacy that white women rarely challenge.
And why would we? Until we’re parenting children of color. And we begin to see how charity is just another word for oppression.
Worse, we see white women unmasked for the role that is ours where brown skinned children are segregated from birth and groomed not for the halls of power but rather for the #newjimcrow. White women rarely see this; we raise our white sons to carry the guns, we teach the classrooms that fuel the pipeline, we work endlessly to make it all look and (please God) sound nice.
Let me be clear, I am not ashamed of the melanin (or lack thereof) in my skin or the straightness of my hair. In fact it is not shame that I feel at all these days. What I am aware of is a heightened sense of disgust, disdain, and even anger. This isn’t personal, this isn’t about good or bad people. What galls me about whiteness isn’t personal, it’s the systems that are specifically (if covertly) designed to advantage one group (whiteness) and discredit another. Where I experience disdain is in conversations designed to ignore or (worse) deny what is so blatant in our midst. I am not crying or fragile, I am angry and finding my power.
The sun begins it’s descent and I consider the routines that shifted since I last smelled the lilies. I offer a quiet prayer for two precious children as I give thanks for the incredible women that have come into my life this year… Black women and white, queer, trans, lesbian and straight… an audacious and vivacious cloud of witnesses. I can’t help but think that this too is #Resurrection.
It’s curious for a pacifist to read the headlines that link my activities with violence.
To be sure, I’ve become accustomed to the violence of the police. In yesterday’s earlier march we, a totally peaceful group, approached the Ferguson police station’s front door (in broad daylight) and were met with police in riot gear. Police shaking their batons at me, bringing out the dogs and the pepper spray, attempting to intimidate with state sponsored violence – this is common place. Tragically common.
Last night was very different and very important.
The protestors (as a group, a family, trained and dedicated) had not even arrived on the Delmar Loop when the police were executing a capricious curfew ordinance. It’s rumored that the action was a response to a (single) fight somewhere on the multi-block strip. Maybe so. What I witnessed as we happened onto the scene for our unrelated (or not so) gathering was a racially specific sweep. The kids that were being rounded up and removed were chatting with one another happily, shopping at the convenience store, and causing no harm whatsoever. Nor were they accused of doing anything wrong. They were being evicted solely (we were told) because of their age.
Of course there were others not evicted. It’s the not even hidden in plain sight truth. Young people who were dressed a certain way, holding certain skin privilege, and/or hanging out with others that had privilege were NOT evicted. Not only were they evicted, the violence with which they were removed (having committed NO CRIME) was unconscionable. Dogs, handcuffs, taken to the station, terror.
What happened next is sadly predicable and gratefully no one was seriously hurt.
The protest which would have been slight suddenly grew. Protestors weary from the events earlier in the day came out. Youth that had been evicted returned through the side streets and joined the protestors. Middle aged white folk enjoying their dinners left their tables and went to the streets. The streets belong to the people and the people took them back.
Enough is enough.
And apparently some of the kids (not from the protest group) did have a fight, apparently one had a gun. Let me be clear: no one wants kids to fight, no one wants kids to have revolvers. But for either of these tragedies to be the headline only undergirds the compounded tragedy that the mainstream media are missing the story entirely. What the youth need is not more violence (state or otherwise), they need respect, justice, and a safe place to gather.
Violence begets violence. If we insist on state sponsored violence, the results are predictable.
Enjoying the early morning quiet of a Sunday morning in an empty nest, I am aware of sadness for the losses. The gift of life’s second half is perspective, the curse is the pile of losses that make possible the view. My journey may have more or less than yours, but all of us have stories to tell.
In this sacred space, with the sound of my dear one sleeping, the birds singing of coming spring, and warm coffee with milk, I am also aware of healing as life unfolds on a path quite unexpected. Despite our best laments, the sun rises and time marches on. It’s been more than two years since I left the church, and I realize that grief has been replaced by wistfulness. After a quarter century of Sundays dominating the week, I savor this moment of quiet and take note of that which no longer catches my breath.
Curious is the role of justice work, indeed civil disobedience, that preceded my time in seminary and has come back into my daily routines. Throughout my seminary days, I fancied that my call was to prophetic witness and in my ordination even chose the text from Luke’s gospel quoting Isaiah. But almost immediately I became a servant of the church, my bread and butter about filling pews, organizing potlucks, making flyers, and meetings.
In my last years in the church, I was passionate about expressing a theological frame that was itself progressive. Often we find socially liberal churches with traditional theology (or the reverse). I suspect this is somewhat inevitable for white folk in America because the texts and traditions that we have adopted were written by and for communities oppressed. There is a dissonance inherent in our reading and a need to do critical (self reflective work) unless we flatten them (read: impose tradition). I was jazzed about working to articulate a theology that was relevant, challenging, and empowering. The path was pretty much unchartered and at points contentious, but worth the effort. And it was great fun, until it wasn’t.
The point of parting is still painful. The words spoken, the letters shared, the allegations levied; these haunt. Cruel, but without which I would not have released my grip. Perhaps I grieve the necessity (my grip) as much as I grieve the series of events themselves.
As I sit on this quiet Sunday morning drinking coffee, the sun now full in the sky, I see the path that is mine today.
While my gratitude has many layers and covers a wide berth of life experiences, as I ponder that which is sacred this morning I am mindful of all that I’ve seen and heard and felt on the streets in #Ferguson. I’ve learned more of what it means to be white, and the importance of #whitefolkwork if we really care about justice. I’ve met Jesus in any number of incarnations, Black of course, and often queer and usually a woman. As I’ve prayed with my feet, I’ve learned that my words get in the way and I’ve had incredible opportunities to listen. The veil is lifted as the sacred dances in the street.
The early morning light is now gone and the busyness of the day calls. There are lesson plans to gather, laundry to start, and a protest to attend (#BlackBrunch).
As Obama declares that, though we have much to do, race relations are clearly better than they were 50 years ago, I am struck by the two Americas in which we live.
Clearly some aspects have improved, and dramatically, as Obama’s election bears witness. Diversity is in vogue, and everyone (except the hardcore racists) want a sprinkle of diversity in our otherwise white lives. Anecdotes abound about the “hard working” Black man that made it in corporate America, allowing the myth of meritocracy to reign. To be sure there are opportunities that did not exist 50 years ago for some Americans but the systems that privilege white lives (at the expense of others) are perhaps even stronger than they were on Bloody Sunday.
The baseline struggle for a Black child born in America is stunningly unchanged. Poverty is crushing, malnutrition is high and healthcare scarce. While childhood poverty crosses lines of race, our public school resources do not appear to be so color blind. The disparities in funding are immoral and so too the disparities in punishments (suspensions). Given that suspensions literally remove children from the classroom, the loss of education based on race is underscored. To be sure there are children of color at the fancy private schools, like the ones where Obama’s daughters attended, but this is NOT the norm for children of color in America. Our public schools are actually MORE segregated than they were 50 years ago.
While the years since Bloody Sunday brought us our first Black president, these same years also provided a cloak for the “war on drugs” and the “prison industrial complex” and any number of euphemism that have created the #newjimcrow. Not only do we have an incarceration rate that is utterly ridiculous, it is quite literally the highest in the world. Do we really believe that Americans are more dangerous or are we simply more vengeful or (my personal hunch) we’ve become dependent upon the prison-industrial economy. And in this unconscionable system, we fill our prisons with Black and brown skinned boys (who become men behind bars). Not only do we charge and imprison dramatically differently along lines of race, we have also created an elaborate system to ensure that even upon release “convicts” are stripped of economic and civic privileges, denied their human rights.
And, of course, our schools function as a pipeline to the prison system… the whole damn system is guilty as hell.
I have deep respect and true appreciation for our President. But I am equally disappointed in his failure to act at this pivotal place in history. Appealing to the American dream when children are quite literally being gunned down the streets is as morally bankrupt as the revivalist’s promise of an afterlife to the child who is hungry.