Saturday, January 21, 2017

White Supremacy

I come from a long line of cowards
Who know resistance only as a buzzing gnat
By their ear that keeps them from their livelihood
"We cannot flourish with all this noise."
Head tiled in judgement and disgust,
Nose too high to see that beneath their feet are the masses
A space of supremacy only ever to be occupied by 
An ever-loving, just God,
And never man.
This is the sin we have never named.

I come from a long line of cowards
Who are too proud to admit that they may have messed up
Too proud to repent
Too proud to embrace
My God
I am sick of your games 
And your cowardice makes me ill
If only I might forget that you are
Bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh 
But I cannot.

Once I knew the taste of the air by my tilted nose,
Until one day I looked down
And in the masses swam into clarity the face of my brother.
In curiosity I crawled down,
With the firm, supportive grasps of my neighbors,
Only to see that resistance was the lifeblood of the spirit,
Community the medicine of the soul,
And story the tie that binds.

I come from a long line of cowards 
Who are so afraid of the unknown of our neighbors
That we will grasp (oh so) tightly to the illusion of flourishing
Rather than choosing the courage of repentance, mutuality, and healing.
This is the sin we have never named.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

Building Beloved Community

Building beloved community.

The phrase has been ringing through my head all day. 

I remember during my Mission Year during our National Orientation in Atlanta we walked to the MLK Jr. National Historic Site. There was a flame encircled in brick, forever bubbling from the ground, with a plaque that read "The Eternal Flame symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King's ideals for the 'Beloved Community' which requires lasting personal commitment that cannot weaken when faced with obstacles." 

Building beloved community. 

"I want to canvas on D'vyne's street and bring her coffee," I whisper to Ruth. We were down at the Summit Lake Community Center gathering with other local leaders to hand out flyers to let people know about our community meeting this Thursday. 

Our community council is a crew of unlikely partners, all brought together by a deep care for the Summit Lake community. We've revitalized the monthly neighborhood meetings, with a desire to build greater connection in our neighborhood. And here we were, 9am with Dunkin' Donuts in hand, getting ready to go out in pairs on MLK Jr. Day and hand out flyers.

"LET'S GO TEAM!" I screech in excitement as we walk outside in the cold. My enthusiasm is met by laughter, but I just can't contain it. So many people I respect and care about walking around talking to my neighbors whom I respect and care about about a community meeting that I respect and care about. It's like a Director of Communication and Advocacy's dream!

My team is Jeremy, Ruth and I and we get in my car and park at my house because we were given Long St. as a canvassing route. I'm really excited about it because it gives me an excuse to meet a lot of neighbors I haven't gotten a chance to meet organically, and a chance to visit neighbors I haven't seen in a while. Darren meets us so then we're a team of four, splitting up the street and taking sides. Ruth and I are having a blast, walking from door to door, cracking jokes, making Instagram stories. I watch her be a complete rock star, telling people about our community meeting, the importance of their perspectives, and an invitation to come join us. She leads in confidence at such a young age. 

We visit our Girls Studio friends, I see some AfterSchool loves, and we connect with parents, grandparents, teens--people in our community who remember Summit Lake in many different seasons. We hear concerns for our community and curiosity about the neighborhood association. We are connecting people, connecting story, sharing life. 

Somewhere at the end of Long St. I realize that we are building beloved community.

*  *  *

We're back at the community center and Jeremy and Darren have left and it's just Ruth and I. "I want to go bring D'vyne some of this coffee," I state. Aliyah joins us and we hop in my car with the coffee to bring some to D'vyne. It feels like we're having a mini Girls Studio reunion and I love it. 

We pull up to her house and hop out of the car and stumble onto the porch, rap on the door to see an unfamiliar face opening the curtain, asking who we are.

"We're here for D'vyne--it's Aliyah, Ruth, and Amber." We hear the message relayed to the adjoining room and then we hear an excited scream and D'vyne tumbles out of the house and wraps us in a hug. We're laughing, just laughing, shoving Dunkin' Donuts coffee in her face and she's grabbing her shoes and vanilla coffee creamer and Mama comes out and says she can go wherever because she trusts us. 

All of life is but an adventure.

We end up at Save-a-Lot because it's Aliyah and Ruth's mom's birthday so we decide to make a surprise birthday cake for her. She likes chocolate a lot but there's no chocolate icing so we choose brownies and powdered sugar instead. I grab chocolate pudding, Ruth grabs candles, D'vyne grabs frozen Chinese food and we're hustling through the check-out line. 

Finally we're in my house taking off our shoes and letting out a sigh of relief. This space is a safe place--a place where we've laughed and cried, a place where we've met for Studio, a central hub, a hang out spot. They said they just wanted to chill, and so we chill. We bake a surprise birthday cake. I make us lunch. We take a nap. They do the dishes. We laugh. We live life.

We are building beloved community.

*  *  *

Later in the day I'm at our AfterSchool volunteer orientation, laughing with our incoming interns and volunteers. One is a high school friend of mine, two are interns from Malone, and the third is stepping into being Program Director while I begin to do more Communications and Advocacy work at South Street Ministries. We play a couple of games, eat pizza and wings, and talk about AfterSchool as a program. I think about the AfterSchool families I visited today while canvassing, telling them that program was starting this week (to which one grandma firmly said: "Oh, they'll be there!" as her four grandkids buzzed around her asking question after question). 

In the same day I've connected with AfterSchool families and AfterSchool volunteers. It's such an unlikely partnership, but that's what we're about at South Street. We're about putting people that don't make sense together into relationship because we believe that God is there in those in-between spaces. We believe that shared risks are the vulnerability on which trust, empathy, and healing are built. We believe that renewing our community is a process that is always undergoing and never complete. We believe in Jesus, who taught us to be a neighbor--who taught us to center our lives and decisions to include and amplify the voices of the most marginalized.

After orientation David insists that we go get the mango drink at the taqueria that I rave about. We pile into the South Street van and head to the plaza in Firestone Park, only to find that the place is closed for the day. Thankfully the little grocery store next to it is open, so we walk out with three Jarritos and a wave to the local store owner.  

We are building beloved community.

*  *  *

"Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Mom
Happy birthday to you!"

My heart is so full of the laughter and love for this place, for these people, for this work. 

We are building beloved community as an active verb and not a passive, idealistic noun. 

What a raw, clumsy, tangibly beautiful life. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2017: A Transition

I sit in the Middle Eastern bakery in my Akron neighborhood, gazing out the window at the local locksmiths. Next to it was a bright blue house shedding it's siding like skin, much like the community around it which is always many things at once--both old and new, hope and decay, ebb and flow. 

We are in the midst of the greatest paradox, and we call it life. 

I go up to pay for my lunch, and am greeted by the store owner. She has become a constant in my life. We call one another family, but neither of us has said so with words. We speak through our eyes. 

"Whomever it is that is making you sad," she says, "Is not worth it. I see you over there in the corner, looking out the window. Let them go. Life is too short." She rings up my check and I hand her my card with an endearing smile.

"I hear you," I reply, an honoring nod an acknowledgement that I have received her wisdom. She has many more years than I. 

I open the old frame of the metal door and am hit with a wave of winter, accidentally allowing the door to slam shut from the shock of the gust of brisk needles. I put my hand up as an apology to all inside, and wave good-bye to the owner. 

On my way home, I stop by at the local taqueria, opening the screen door to peek inside at the fountain drinks on the right. I'm greeted by the store owner, wave my hellos, and turn to the right to take a look at the fountain drinks. Pink, brown, and white--no mango. Damn.

"We have no mango drink!" I turn and see the other store owner smile laughing at me. 

I laugh out loud in reply. She knows me not because I come to eat food often, but because I stop in seeking this $2.00 delicious giant mango drink I have no cultural context for. It has become an exchange of endearment between the two of us every time I come in.

The owners speak to one another in Spanish, and the first turns to me and says, "We need to wait until we are out of one flavor. We'll have mango all next week."

"I'll be here!" I smile, waving my good-byes. I take a mental note to eat here next week, too, so they know I'm not just a fan of the mango drink. I walk next store to the small grocery store and get a stock house of Jarritos. I've decided I like drinking Jarritos because the bottle makes me feel fancy. Plus they're delicious.

Once I'm home, I'm cutting potatoes into small pieces and thinking of my year in Philadelphia where my housemate cut potatoes every week, baked them as a skillet, and put them in separate containers as his food for the week. It was his staple, and I always wondered how he didn't get tired of potatoes and chicken, but he didn't. I got tired of everything in Philadelphia, but my spirit didn't respond well to routine and monotony. It was good for a season.

And now I'm here, food for the week in the oven, sipping Kona coffee out of a mug, looking out upon the living room of the place I call home. What a rocky transition to finally feel at home. But I know that this place finally is home. For how long, that I do not know. But I sense I will be staying here a while. 

I've been mesmerized watching videos of poi pounding, watching hands repetitiously fold poi bathed in water. It reminds me so much of dough being kneaded, of my mama's hands folding dough from her grandmother's roll recipe, integrating it upon itself again and again. 

I think our lives are a bit like this, being folded upon themselves in a circular motion as we integrate our new selves upon old selves and new passions into old spaces. We ourselves are in a constant state of renewal and folding and unfolding as the seasons of our lives mesh with one another.

Life is but a paradox.

I am a writer. Even as I write those words I hesitate to proclaim them for they have deep implications. I have wrestled time and time again with claiming being a writer, or an artist, even. I've found much more solace in embracing the identity of "creative."

But I sense that it's time. I sense that it's time and things have aligned so that I may practice the discipline of writing in my day to day.

I am a product of all who have poured into me, and so my words are merely a reflection of all those who have taught me much. I am a product of many teachers of many cultures, worldviews, and experiences, and I seek to honor and esteem each and every one of them in my writing. My hands are open in service.

I am a storyteller who paints with words to expand people's theological imaginations towards an understanding that we can care for one another better.

For such a time as this, may it be so. 

Photo Credit: Sara Fouts

Saturday, November 12, 2016

White Christians: Who are our friends?

I have been quiet.

So quiet.

I haven't sought to speak in the storm, because I am not rain, nor wind, nor shaking earth or crashing waves. I find my giftings in other places, much like the gentle breeze in 1 Kings that causes Elijah to emerge from the cave because he knows it is God. 

And so it is with this image that my spirit resonates, thinking of myself as a breeze that caresses each and every person and calls them to know their Belovedness--and to cast off all that holds back from this Knowing. This is the tender compassion the Lord has given to me--one that seeks to protect the space for the journey of healing in each and every one of us, for we have all experienced trauma and fragmentation in our spirits. 

*  *  *

Once I was in the psych ward and in the room next to me was a woman who could not speak but who would occasionally erupt in fits of terrified screaming. While the rest of us played cards, ate meals, and built community together, she was in a room in a chair. We only knew her presence by the high-pitched screams of panic that would come from the small room.

All I wanted to do was to let her know that she wasn't alone.

My own screams were just within. 

*  *  *

Sometimes I think about this nation as a big house and we're all in different rooms looking outside of a window at the yard ahead of us. 

Some people see tulips, and some see daffodils, and some see a shed, and still others see a fountain of running water.  Depending on what room you're in, the view is different, and each room obstructs some view of the yard.

What if in the attic is the one who has all the keys to the house. They don't have all the keys to the house because they should, but because they are hoarding all the keys from the other housemates. Not only that, but they've been hoarding all the keys for so long that they believe that the keys were actually all theirs to begin with. 

The attic-dwellers rush to their window and see a shed far in the distance. Because they hold all the keys, they know that what they see out their window is true. 

"There is a shed in the yard!" they cry. 

The second floor housemates rush to their windows (in their respective rooms of course), and one says, "Yes, I see a shed from my window, but I see tulips as well!" The other observes that they, too, see a shed in their window, and not tulips, but daffodils. 

The attic-dwellers interrupt the observations of the second floor housemates by once again declaring more emphatically, "There is a shed in the yard!" 

This pattern continues for a few more rounds until the second floor housemates open up their windows and lean out. They see that the reason the attic-dwellers cannot see the flowers is because the attic juts out from the house, blocking the view of the flowers below. They also see that although one room cannot see the tulips from their window, and the other cannot see the daffodils, that both flowers are a part of the same bed.

All the while the attic-dwellers continue to declare, "There is a shed in the yard!" What they do not understand, of course, is that they are only seeing part of the picture, and that their housemates on the second floor are seeing a different part of the same yard. 

It is in descending from the attic they are ascending into relationships that allow them to gain a more holistic perspective, for it turns out that the keys to the bigger picture were never in their hands all along.

The attic is the embodiment of white privilege, and the communication of what we see out of the attic window are our poor attempts at intercultural communication. 

White friends, especially my white Christian family, we can do better.
*  *  *

Today I found myself reflecting on John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, than [s]he who lays down [their] life for [their] friends." 

What is it to lay down one's life? Looking at the Greek word (through Blue Letter Bible), a few phrases stuck out to me: "to place in a passive or horizontal posture," "prostrate," "kneel down," "lay." These words feel like a submission that is rooted in a heart-posture of honor and acknowledgement. 

How beautiful. Like the washing of feet and declaring of dignity. 

Like the brushing of hair behind one's ear and a gentle coo from a babe's mouth. 

Like a communion feast with bread broken for all and a sweet wine that declares that this blood has been shed and so you are all in right relationship with the Creator. 

*  *  *

Lay down your life.

Lay down your life for your friends. 

How beautiful a picture. How beautiful a posture. 

In a race classification system in the United States, contextually it's not too far of a stretch to say that for white people this passage resonates with our privilege. It's not too far of a stretch that to say for us this passage is the laying down of our privilege in love of our friends. In fact, I would argue that it is, without a doubt, a large part of the spiritual work that we must do as white Christians as we relate to our siblings of color, and the world at large. 

Greater love has no white person than this, than they who lay down their white privilege for their friends. 

Greater love has no white person than this, than they who step from the attic and seek to understand the view of the yard through the eyes of their friends. 

Greater love is active listening, greater love is seeking to understand, greater love is hearing the truth that everyone else in the house knows that you're hoarding the keys but you. And greater love is responding to this not in defense, but a posture of acknowledgement and recognition that your space in the attic has obstructed you from seeing a bigger picture. 

Greater love is a giving, but greater love is also a receiving. Greater love is a challenging, but also a being challenges. Greater love is messy and full of paradoxes and contradictions. 

Greater love is complicated.

But who thought that living one's life in a posture of humble, kneeling submission would be?

*  *  *

"Greater love has no one than this, than [s]he who lays down [their] life for [their] friends." 

And who are our friends? 

*  *  *

White Christians: Who are our friends?


Luke 10:25-37  

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"Live in the tension," she said.

I feel compelled to write something, and so I will. Though the story is much longer than what time allots at this moment, I sense that a snippet is needed to share right now at this moment. 

A moment where narratives are held in great anticipation and contradiction:

The Cleveland Indians might win the World Series.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe (and many others) are gathered together to stop the pipeline being built across the nation.

The election is in one week. 

Anticipation. Unknown. Standstill. And yet so present.

How is it that I'm existing among so many contrasting things? What is this space of in-between where I find myself? Why now?

On Friday I fly out to Kansas for "Would Jesus Eat Frybread?," a conference for Native students navigating the intersection of faith and culture. I don't have words for the depth of what it is to have been invited to be present in such a sacred space of processing, healing, and community. And I know beyond knowing that I will come back on Monday changed. I am open to the process. 

As many of my peers belted "Go Tribe!" today, I found myself packing and preparing for the conference. On Saturday there is a time of cultural sharing. I haven't felt much anxiety about going to the conference, but when I read the email which said to bring a gift for the night of cultural sharing, I felt my throat closing slightly. What does it mean for me, a European American, to bring a cultural gift? What represents where I come from? More importantly than that, what kind of gift could I bring that represents where I come from while acknowledging the injustice of how where I come from came to be?

The truth is I never questioned anything regarding indigenous peoples growing up until I became dear friends with an indigenous person. Well, that's not entirely true--I remember being eight and hearing the story of Thanksgiving and stating that it seemed mean that "Native Americans welcomed us and then gave us gifts and then got killed and pushed off their land." The dissonance never quite settled in me, but I never had answers from teachings to fill my confusion. (Manifest Destiny was the goal after all, right?) When dissonance is too great, you just let things go to make harmony within yourself. 

And so I find myself in an entirely different space over 15 years later, packing to go to a conference for Natives who are seeking harmony in their stories of dissonance, too. The narratives are much different than mine contextually, and yet there is a common thread in that we are all seeking. And I find myself seeking with so many questions of the Church and intercultural trauma and healing. 

This weekend all that I am seeking is to show up and be fully present in each and every moment as it unravels in story. 

But in the midst of all of this reflection I am still unsure of what gift to bring. Nothing I can think of seems appropriate, and so I ask the one who invited me for advice. He shares much, but what I take away is this: "Bring something of great value." And all at once I know in my being what to offer, and it is something of great value.   

Encircled around the rearview mirror of my car is a lei. It was given to me by my friend (and former Mission Year teammate from Hawai'i) as I left O'ahu during my visit in June. The lei has been commercialized and caricatured, but it is a sign of friendship, honor, greeting, and celebration. In the case of this lei, it was a gift of goodbye as I boarded the plane for the long flight back to Ohio. During the plane ride the flowers slowly died, and when I got back I chose to hang the strand of dried flowers on my rearview mirror, not quite sure what to do with it, but it's symbolism being too rich to simply discard. 

It is relationship that causes us to care, and relationship that causes us to change. Listening to one another's stories opens us to viewing the world differently, and challenging where we came from, what we believe, and how we view things. In this case, the story of me beginning to understand myself as a colonizer through the eyes of the colonized has been a story of many tears, restless nights, and inability to move forward during a year in Philadelphia and beyond. Yet I am convinced that the way forward is continuing to listen, repent, and partnering as invited into the work of intercultural healing.  

I'm bringing a lei not because I'm Hawaiian, but because it was a person from Hawai'i who embodied the missing narrative that I sought to hear when I was eight and I said "I don't think this was fair." I'm bringing a lei to acknowledge that through this friendship I was invited into healing within myself as a colonizer, and that I am committed to continue the hard work of repentance and healing. I'm bringing a lei because the reasons I care so much for Natives on the mainland is because of the influence of Natives from another land. To me the two are intertwined. I'm bringing a lei because it symbolizes friendship and honor which was given to me, and now I seek to give to others, a commitment to continually sow what has been sown in me as I relate to and am in partnership with indigenous peoples. 

I share all of this to say that the Cleveland Indians might win the World Series tonight, and I'm bringing a lei as a gift to a conference in Kansas for Native students the weekend before the election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. 

Anticipation. Unknown. Standstill. And yet so present.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

I Will Know

"What is intentional community?" he asks, and I find myself at a loss of words.

Words fail to express the depths of the sacred. 

Intentional community is the act of bearing witness to the journeys of a small group of people who commit to practicing the "one anothers" alongside one another as the physical embodiment of the Church.

But I will always know intentional community first experienced as this, not in words, but in pictures:

Buying Calypsos in four different flavors, suitcases sporadically hitting sidewalk bumps on the way to the laundromat, the smell of the musty conflict mediation basement, plastic spoons scraping the last remnants of water ice out of cups during the evening hours, labeled tupperwares and dirty dish rags.

I will know intentional community as water dripping from the underground ceiling as we wait for public transit to arrive, lugging crockpots of black beans across the city, standing on crowded trolleys until 62nd and Elmwood.

I will know intentional community as the routine coffee dates and the dramatic fights, laughter loud and emotions high. I will know intentional community as sisters and secrets, and brothers and banter--game nights and nights out and time together. 

But I will also know intentional community as this:

Holding her together the night she fell apart in grief, our tears covering as a prayer for a journey we all knew was coming. I will know it in the washing of feet and the breaking of bread, communion til the early hours of the morning. I will know it in the hardship and the times when we wanted to give up--and they ways in which there was redemption in the seemingly lost and broken. I will know it how we acknowledged one another's healing in the process of the journey, through sweet letters and gifts and an honoring of story. I will know it in the way we embodied seeing and knowing as the intimacy that is the Church, the Beloved of Christ. 

I will know intentional community first experienced as them.

Let us break bread together on our knees
Let us break bread together on our knees
When we fall on our knees with our face to the rising sun
Oh Lord, have mercy on us.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

When I Look Back

Sometimes I'm in Springfield watching my father's gentle hands gather vegetables from the garden, the breeze on my face from the Lake and the smell of rotting fish a reminder that I am home.

And sometimes I'm at Sawyerwood church singing "God Bless America" on Memorial Day, crock pots and Hallmark cards and protective, secure hugs--Grandma's laughter and the birthday bag and Father Abraham had many sons.
And sometimes I'm deep in the cornfields of Bowling Green, the horizon as flat and open as all of the possibilities ahead of me, a questioning and searching and seeking my spiritual truth. 

And sometimes I'm in Philadelphia where my Black church family taught me of justice and freedom and liberation and healing, where radical embrace sunk deep into my bones a healing I didn't know I needed and a healing I could never forget.

And sometimes I'm in Kapolei near the shores where the sun-soaked sand called my spirit to repentance, where the kalo was pounded on the papa ku‘i ‘ai into communion alongside coconut milk and we all partook of the feast as one Church. 

And sometimes I'm in the sun-scorched dirt of LA where shoots of resilient green in the midst of drought remind me that I am resilient green, too.

And sometimes I'm in Summit Lake, where the beggars and broken take communion alongside the rich and humbled and we call one another family.   

And sometimes I'm in the psychiatric hospital, and sometimes I'm the counselor. And sometimes I'm the Good Samaritan, and sometimes I'm begging for help and

Everywhere I go  
My heart keeps expanding and widening and falling deeper in love
Mystery and ocean depths and a never-ending contemplative horizon that leads me to marvel at--
How wide, 
how long, 
how deep, 
how magnificent 
is the love of Christ our Lord.