Friday, April 14, 2017

Saturday.

What does one do when God is silent?
What does one do when one begs and begs for a word
Any word
And instead receives


Only. 

Silence. 


It's maddening, this Holy Saturday. 
The space of unknown, denial, grief. 

All hope dashed in the form of a cross
Four nails
Two beams
One death
All death
Why death?--my God
Whose God
Is there a God
What is God 
I don't know.

Why don't you answer to the pounding at your door?
Do you not see earnest hearts in grief?
Do you not hear our cries and wailing?

Silence is the taste of abandonment
And hope dashed against the rocks.

It is the whimper of a spirit in mourning with no one to turn to. 


 

Good Friday: A Question









Jesus
are my wokeness and my Whiteness
both held in mercy by your outstretched hands
pierced by Empire?













Monday, April 10, 2017

Palm "Galley Boy" Sunday


I didn’t go to church on Palm Sunday. I didn’t have it in me to celebrate a “triumphal entry” of Jesus and wave palm branches and cry “Hosanna!” I’m a fan of Palm Sunday, don’t get me wrong. I love a good celebration and a good spontaneous party. I’m just also an introvert so the only party I’m probably gonna show up for is one where Jesus is actually processing again and we’re not playing re-enactment cuz I don’t have energy for that.


I don’t know if you know the story, but Jesus comes into Jerusalem and the people are really hype about it so they lay their coats on the road and wave palm branches from the fields and cry “Hosanna!” and welcome him and it’s pretty cool. The religious leaders are in a tizzy, but everyone else is enjoying themselves. The religious leaders wanted a Messiah (Savior) who rode in on a majestic horse or something…I can’t remember. All I know is they didn’t want a donkey and they were like “This Jesus guy is not cool enough/right enough/fit in our boxes enough to be the one who is going to set things Right.” BUT HE WAS and that’s the kicker of the whole Gospel thing is that Jesus was the underdog who was actually the top dog that got executed by the state but that's a whole nother story I digress. 


But I was reading the story and I was like “What…The Triumphal Entry?” (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19:28, John 12:12) Like, triumphal entry for whom? I’m not sure why it’s called the triumphal entry because I’m pretty sure a majority of people were not down with this whole procession thing and it’s further implications. I mean the guy comes in and basically says he has street cred and totally challenges the framework of the place. He challenges Empire. He challenges the very essence of the city. And that never makes the status quo happy. Especially when your whole life work is spent maintaining something and this bro comes out of nowhere and starts eradicating boundaries and laying down a new law for the land.


Like, today. I’m waking up, taking it easy, looking out my window in Summit Lake and wondering what it would look like if Jesus did that whole procession thing in Akron. Okay. First off, there’s a lot of problems with this idea. One, we don’t ride donkeys. There’s no way two disciples are gonna come in Akron and find a donkey to bring back for Jesus to ride downtown. He’s just gonna look waaaaaay strange. Two, we don’t have palm branches that we found out in the fields. I wish we had palm branches. Again, it just ain’t gonna happen. This is a city in the Midwest. Three, we don’t have cloaks to lay down in the middle of the path, nor do we have paths that we use for transportation. How could Jesus even have a procession in Akron?  


So I start to think that maybe Jesus actually sent his disciples to the Metro station to borrow a Greyhound. Their logo is a dog. Dog, donkey—close enough. So the two disciples are drivin’ this Greyhound bus they borrowed (sorry fam who’s about to miss your bus, but trust me you won’t want to miss this procession) trying to figure out how to get back to South Akron where Jesus is but the construction is a mess and so they end up running over a few orange cones and cursing a bit and going down the wrong way of a one-way street but they FINALLY make it back down S. Main St. and out of the city.


Jesus hops in at the faaaaarrr end of S. Main and maybe the disciples put streamers on the back or maybe there are signs saying “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee!!” but Jesus ain’t that flashy so he probs just gets on the bus and invites people who are walking down S. Main to hop on cuz they can’t afford the bus. Actually, no. I’d like to think that maybe these walkers are the ones who are actually running ahead into South Akron and Summit Lake, frantically knockin’ on doors and gathering a crowd to welcome the slow moving Greyhound bus.


I dunno. Anyway, I’m probably chillin’ in my house in Summit Lake thinking way too intense about life but I hope there’s a knock at my door (probably from a neighbor-kid) shouting at me “JESUS IS RIDING DOWN BROADWAY IN A GREYHOUND BUS COME QUICK” and I’m like “Wut. Who’s Jesus?” and I hop up and get my shoes on tho sometimes I’m slow moving so it may take a while and I’m running out there with everyone and their mother from the Peter Maurin Center and Save-a-Lot and the strip clubs and the take out stores and Long St. and Main St. and Archwood and Church’s Chicken and South Street and the auto shops and the random buildings that I don’t know what’s in them and all the spaces in-between and we’re in a tizzy trying to sort out what this slow moving bus is about but you best believe we know this is no joke so we show up.  


The crowd is quickly gathering and slowly moving down Broadway and we’re rushing to fill all the potholes with dirt ahead of Jesus and move all the orange cones so the ride isn’t so terrible (cuz this construction is a mess.) We don’t have cloaks to extend on the path, but we do have a deep sense of Midwest hospitality and we know potholes are the worst. We edge closer to South Street, to Thornton, people coming from Summit Lake and South Akron, streaming from the varying buildings offering social services, social support—ALDI’S. THERE IS A CROWD COMING OUT OF ALDI’S. SOMEONE’S BRINGING A CHEESE PLATE! It’s a scene! We pass the Metro station and hit University housing and students join. I hope some bring protests signs because it wouldn’t be a good crowd without a protest of some kind.


We’re entering downtown and we don’t have palm fronds but someone had the foresight to bring hundreds of Galley Boys from Swensons so we’re tossing bags and waving our burgers to welcome Jesus to Akron. IT’S A PARTY IN DOWNTOWN ON BROADWAY. CONFETTI EVERYWHERE. GALLEY BOYS ARE FLYIN’! HOSANNA! HOSANNA!  YAY JESUS! SO MANY RANDOM AKRON-ITES GATHERED TOGETHER AROUND A GREYHOUND BUS!


After Jesus is welcomed into the city he goes to the temple to check it out and sees that people are sellin’ stuff there and he get super upset and flips the tables and drives the sellers out. Holy space is to be kept holy. The priorities of the religious are out of line with the heart of God, and Jesus flips the tables to bring light to this dissonance. That is the role of a prophet—to bring light to the dissonance and challenge the powers that be.


I don’t really know what that looks like to contextualize this part of the story to Akron. I’d like to think that maybe Jesus meanders the procession down to King James Way. I like the dissonance of that—Jesus being in the space where we welcomed another proclaimed King (James) with a giant procession.


I’d like to think he stands on the stage at Lock 3…and just stands there. Maybe all my neighbors from Summit Lake and South Akron are still there, finally eating the Galley Boys, taking a break and resting from a long walk. Everyone else probably left, having more self-proclaimed important work to do.


I’d like to think that Jesus finally opens His mouth to teach, on a sunny April day at Lock 3, and he speaks the words he spoke when he first began his ministry in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”


Ooo…Yes. That is a triumphal entry, indeed. 






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.”