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It’s almost over y’all. We made it to the end of 2017. For all the bad/crazy/WTH, there were good moments too, yes? I don’t know about you, but I’m already marking up my 2018 planner. Action comes much easier than reflection for me, but in the spirit of action/reflection, here are some tops from 2017.
Top Blog Posts
I didn’t write nearly as many posts here as I have in past years but the posts I did publish were longer, more thoughtful, and felt much more ‘me.’ I’m ok with that. (and even proud of it)
There are six books in no particular order because I couldn’t narrow it down to just five. It should be noted that The Hate U Give is the first fiction book I have read in twenty years. It is Angie Thomas’ debut novel and it is PHENOMENAL. I think you should read all six of these.
Dear Daughters – When I look at you I see the hope of the whole dang world. You are light + laughter + loveliness swirled into a feminine force field. You are Rahab and Ruth, Esther and Anna. You are the triumphant song of Mary’s magnificat and the jangle of Miriam’s tambourine. You come from a long line of fearfully and wonderfully made women. Your cloud of witnesses is great.
But my precious girls, the world will not often see you this way. It will tell you to tone it down, watch your mouth, and speak when spoken to. It will say your curves are too curvy and your hair too wild. You will be objectified, terrified, and should you, God in Heaven forbid, ever cry out #metoo, bona fide ignored.
The persistent widow’s blood runs through your veins, and your voice can not be taken. You belong to the Most High King and yours is the Kingdom. Raise your voices and your fists as a sweet aroma unto the Lord. He does not forget us, though the trials here are long and weary. Though things are not as they should be. Raise your voices and your fists. Be counted among those who stand with the last, the least, the lonely, and the lost. Raise your voices and your fists in power and in praise. Raise them, and when you are tired, let your sister hold you up.
Be fierce in love and bold in prayer. And always, remember your sisters, the two of you and the ones around the globe. Say their names until all the world hears. Remember, when they come for one of you, they come for all of you. Do not ever forget you are your sister’s keeper. Give a damn girls. Lots of damns. More damns than anyone.
In response to the Alabama special senate election, there’s been lots of talk on the interwebs about “listening to black women” or “thanking black women.” There are plenty of articles already written (by black women) about why these ideas not only fall short but perpetuate the idea that black women are indestructible and here to save us from ourselves.
As Deidra Riggs said on Twitter yesterday, it’s not enough to just “pay attention” to black women. Attention doesn’t pay their bills. (I’m saying that part.) Buy their books, read them, write reviews about them. Invite them to be the KEYNOTE speaker at your events and conferences. (Start with Deidra’s latest book, One: Unity in a Divided World.)
There are also MANY black led organizations worth your dollars. SUPPORT THEM. SHARE THEIR WORK. SUBMIT YOURSELF TO THEIR TEACHING & LEADERSHIP.
Here are a few of my favorites. My world is small. This list is clearly not exhaustive but it’s a good place to start. Please add other organizations, authors, etc. in the comments. (If you’d like to financially support missionaries of color, I have InnerChange coworkers I can put you in touch with.)
The (&) Campaign is coalition of urban, biblical Christians determined to engage the sociopolitical arena with the compassion (&) conviction of the Gospel.
The Voices Project, influencing culture through the training and promoting leaders of color.
Jude 3 Project‘s primary mission is to help the Christian community know what they believe and why they believe it. Distinctive in its strong emphasis in equipping those of African descent in the United States and abroad.
Hope Mob is a community of generous givers funding leaders and communities of color. Far too many qualified, gifted & committed leaders of color are grossly underfunded as compared to their white peers – who are often serving in the same communities.
You can be part of the changing of this narrative.
When you join @HopeMob your monthly, tax-deductible donation of at least $10/month (or more) helps bring sustainable funding to leaders of color.
Freedom Road’s mission is to help communities shrink the narrative gap, by identifying core issues and building community capacity so they might work toward common solutions for a just world.
Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.
Faithfully Magazine amplifies the conversations, issues and events in communities of color. They report with a faithful yet ecumenical approach to include a breadth of Christian perspective on sexuality, justice, life, theology and more. The quarterly print and digital magazine includes insightful Q&As, inspiring features and timely social, political and cultural commentary, from a Christian worldview.
The Witnessis a black Christian collective that engages issues of religion, race, justice, and culture from a biblical perspective. The Witness is changing the way Christians engage the church and the world by challenging them to think and act according to the holistic message of Christ.
Truth’s Tableis a podcast by black women and for black women. (No worries, there’s standing room for the rest of us, it’s just not our table to sit at.) As Black Christian women who love truth and seek it out wherever it leads, Truth’s Table has unique perspectives on race, politics, gender, current events, and pop culture that are filtered through their Christian faith.
Starting right now, you can put yourself under the leadership and theological teachings of the women of Truth’s Table through their daily Advent devotional.
I hate our house. And I hate the privilege it requires to be able to hate something so many do not have and desperately seek. We are in their midst, but our proximity has not prevented me from feeling embittered about our living situation.
Topping my many dislikes is the lack of windows or doors facing the street. You could be inside our house and be anywhere in the country and you’d never know the difference. It does not feel like we are living in the neighborhood we moved 1,100 miles to live in.
Our family is in a season of – words fail me here – huddling up? Resetting? Healing? All or none of those things, I am not quite sure. Maybe once the season ends I will be able to name it, to put words to the pain and purpose and purging taking place. But for now I cannot. I can only tell you we have been here before and we have survived. If there’s anything I know about the six people I share this damn house with it is that they are strong and fierce, and if there’s anything I can tell you about our God it’s that he has not left us. He is here, in this not forsaken house, despite my feelings about it.
Since moving six months ago it has been harder for me particularly – and by extension the kids – to be as present in our community as we would like and had grown accustomed to being. The park/pool/library once at the end of our block is now four humid, sweaty, whiny blocks away. “We’ll just have to be more intentional” I asserted when asked about the location of the new house, not yet aware of the storm summer would bring. I didn’t know intentional neighboring would fly out the same window that faces our minuscule gravel “yard.”
Hurricane Irma flooded our city and was the beginning of a drowning inside my own family, my own anxiety, my own expectations and ideals. The streets filled with water and my mind filled with questions I could not answer. How do you love your neighbor as yourself when the chasm between is so wide? What does incarnational living look like when your own soul is worn thin? How do you get the rest you desperately need when the days are long and the needs never end?
Post-Irma our neighborhood library was closed for several days; maybe even a week or two. Since books are a huge part of our schooling, going without the inter-loan library service was not an option. I began having our books shipped to another library, one only a couple miles – but a world away – from our home.
This library, by all measures, is better. First it’s bigger. The children’s section alone is larger than the entire library in our neighborhood. Not to mention its beauty and charm. The glass walls and gorgeous stone. The pillars and exorbitantly high ceilings. It is exaclty what you are imagining and more.
We’ll just come until our library re-opens, I told myself in September. On our first trip I explained to the librarian we were just visiting from our neighborhood and expressed some disappointment with the staff and security guards there. She shrugged and welcomed us warmly while my five year old made normal five year old noises without being scolded. I exhaled a sigh of relief.
By our third or fourth visit the librarian jokingly asked if they had won us over. I frowned and said something about feeling bad for abandoning our neighborhood library. My five year old ran around the lobby, likely licking something or pushing the automatic door button several times while my head was turned, and the friendly librarian responded, “Well, you gotta do what you gotta do.” I could only muster a faint smile.
But you don’t understand, I thought. I don’t get to do what I wanna do. I’m not here to live for myself, in a house with no windows facing the street or at a library where it’s easy to be. I’m supposed to be here for the common good, most especially my neighbors, who I cannot even see from the inside of my cave of a house. I am not supposed to desert them and go to the next closest and better library. I’m supposed to advocate for the betterment of the library my neighbors and friends are forced to visit.
I didn’t speak any of those words aloud of course, I just grabbed my towering stack of books and walked out the beautiful wooden doors.
I have been thinking a lot about proximity lately. It’s become a hot term and I have mixed feelings about this. While I believe rubbing shoulders with people who are not like us is a good place to start, I think it falls woefully short of what Jesus calls us to in the sermon on the mount and all throughout scripture. The book of John does not say the Word became flesh and blood and came in close proximity to the neighborhood. It says he MOVED into it. And while this is an unpopular thought, I believe that until the stinging darts aimed at the most marginalized among us begin to pierce our own flesh, we are not fulfilling the greatest commandment.
Proximity allows us to have what we imagine to be the best of both worlds; pictures of soup kitchens and inner-city kids for Instagram and the life of comfort we’ve been taught to pursue. (Never mind our lives of comfort do not remotely resemble the Kingdom of God where the first are last and the last are first.)
I should confess to you, I am writing from the better library. I sit in a comfy, olive green chair picturesquely placed before a floor to ceiling window, watching a palm tree blow in the wind as rain drops fall on the tropical flowers below. It is quiet and there is no tension in the air from security guards and overzealous librarians shushing children who likely had hot fries and fanta for breakfast. I am not torn between my role as their neighbor and a mother figure. I do not have to stop typing to have small talk about gentrification and the duplexes around the corner that were recently demolished. I can sit with my own narcissistic, privileged thoughts in peace. It feels both unfair and necessary and I do not know how to, or even if I can, untangle these feelings.
I am starting to believe the biggest danger for those of us who have relocated, who have moved beyond proximity and are instead seeking solidarity, or what Father G calls kinship, is to seek refuge in things other than the God who was present in our neighborhoods long before we were. Maybe, when it comes to proximity and solidarity, it is not the marginalized I should be seeking, but the God who put on flesh and chose to enter time and space on the margins. Maybe being in close proximity to those who have no housing is a good place to start, but being in close proximity to the One who made himself at home among them is the even better location. The place where Jesus put on flesh to communicate incarnation to us all.
On Saturday mornings I prayer walk through the neighborhood with our teammate Kristin. Usually one of the kids tags along. If it’s Glory I end up carrying her, making a mental note that she’s not quite ready to walk so far. Usually our dog recognizes we’re going for a walk and insists on tagging along. So we head out at 7:30, before the Miami heat and humidity make the outside unbearable.
There are many ways to prayer walk, but for me it consists of asking God all the questions I don’t have answers to. Sometimes I pray out loud as I pass people or places I have some meaningful knowledge of (a friend’s house, the churches, etc.), but mostly I beg for eyes to see where God is on the move in the Grove and how we are to come alongside him. I ask questions, and I try to clear my mind enough to hear the still small voice.
One Saturday earlier this month I found myself walking alone. Kristin was out of town and I crept out the door before being spotted by a child begging to go but still wearing only underwear.
I walked down a “hot” street and notice a duplex had been knocked down. I drive down this street several times a week – it intersects with ours a couple blocks up from this particular corner – and had not noticed any signs of pending demolition. One of the men who sits on this corner daily was already out. I don’t know his name, but he is the only man on this corner in a wheelchair and is therefor easily recognizable.
I point to the now empty lot and ask what happened. “They demolished it,” he responds matter of factly. “Yeah, I know,” I say, remembering he does not see me as one of us, as the insider I wish and sometimes pretend to be. “Do you know why?” I try again. “That’s just what happens around here,” he tells me. His tone is harsh and I accept that he does not want to chat with the weird white lady out walking the streets alone at 7:30 in the morning. He is not interested in small talk about the extermination of his neighborhood, his culture, his community, his very livelihood.
I stand on the sidewalk looking at the excavator with a bit of disbelief. Then I too remember, that’s just what happens around here.
This morning Kristin and I walked down Day Avenue, a heavily gentrified street where eleven duplexes housing original Grove residents have hung on by a thread. Several months ago the tenants began receiving eviction notices, a telltale sign the owner acquired a demo permit.
As we approached the property a couple walked up behind us and noticed as we did, the buildings are now nearly leveled. “It’s about time,” the man said as they held hands and continued down the sidewalk. I am tempted to judge them but remind myself they likely weren’t in a genuine relationship with anyone who lived in those duplexes.
Kristin and I stand amidst the rubble that once housed eighty or so people and wonder out loud, Does it now more closely resemble a graveyard or a war zone? To stand here most assuredly feels like a kind of death. A loss of life in our community. My chest feels tight and it is hard to breath. The three remaining walls simulate tombs, a reminder of what was but is no longer.
This is also certainly a battle field. Our community is under attack and we are each, by way of proximity, engaging in spiritual combat. There is a war going on, both in flesh and blood, in policies and in lack of enforcement, against the image bearers living here. There is a fight to transform housing from a basic human right to a commodity to be won by the highest bidder.
Of course, in war there is loss of life, and the rubble under our feet is a reminder of the cultural carnage. The neighbors who are no longer neighbors. It is both graveyard and war zone.
Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending the Christian Community Development Association National Conference. One of the plenary session speakers, Gregory Lee, said that those on the front lines see how big the problems are and we know they’re too big for us. It was also said from the main stage (by Erna Hackett) that hope feels really risky right now. I have spent the better part of October trying to reconcile these two truths with the realities of our neighborhood, with an eye for the unseen and the eternal.
The beauties of moving into the neighborhood as Jesus did and seeking to live in solidarity with our neighbors are beyond number, but the side effects are also numerous. As we stand shoulder to shoulder on the front lines we are face-to-face with the immense challenges, systemic injustices and oppressive systems designed to hold our neighbors down and push them away.
Occasionally, those same stinging darts graze us and we ourselves are wounded in the fight. We grasp for hope, but if we’re honest, hope feels far off and risky. We are tempted to believe, as my cranky, wheelchair bound neighbor, this is just what happens around here.
The problems are too big for us, it’s true. The dominos of gentrification are falling so fast we regularly verbalize thoughts our team has pondered internally for months: What if? When? How much longer?
I sometimes think it would be easier not to hope. To resign ourselves to the erosion of the Grove. To plan ahead for something else, somewhere else. To stop fighting.
But we cannot – as much as my flesh would like to – we cannot not hope because we’ve drank the same kool-aid as the Samaritan woman. We’ve tasted the water that gives eternal life and we know the one the prophet Isaiah spoke about when he said, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish, till He leads justice to victory. In His name the nations will put their hope.”
We put our hope in Jesus, exactly because because we know this work is too big for us. We put our hope in Jesus, because he is the hope of the world. We put our hope in Jesus, because he knows intimately what it is to be marginalized and mistreated. We put our hope in Jesus, even when, especially when, it feels risky.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know the ludicrousness that is our country and the gut wrenching realities many in our world are living. Puerto Rico. The Dreamers. Collin Kaepernick. Las Vegas. Health care. The California wild fires. And the commentary our president offers every day on Twitter.
For those of us with PTSD, anxiety, depression, or the like, these are hard times. Even if you don’t struggle with an actual mental health diagnosis, life can feel overwhelming. Whether it’s the needs of your family or the refugee crisis, your finances or the genocide of the Rohingya, your sick dog or North Korean nuclear weapons, we are all in some stress right now.
Not long after being diagnosed with PTSD, I met with a counselor friend of mine and he explained the importance of taking care of myself preemptively. He used an analogy of glass of water that I found helpful in visualizing my stress levels and need for self/soul care.
He said the water in the glass represents the stress in my life. When I implement the things below, the water level lowers. When I don’t, the level hovers near the top. A traumatic or stressful event is the equivalent of a pitcher emptying itself into my glass. If I have not been caring for myself well, and my glass is already full, it will overflow. If I have been keeping my stress levels low, my glass can receive the extra water (stress) without spilling out all over the place. Make sense?
At first glance the list below may seem overwhelming. I get it. Why not commit to one thing this week, add another the next week, another the next and so on? I don’t implement each of these steps perfectly all the time, but the more of them I do, the better I feel.
Get theeself to counseling AT ANY COST. Literally, charge that session if you need to. It’s worth the interest. I cannot stress this enough. If you have trauma in your background, an EMDR therapist is best.
Evaluate your schedule with a friend with a radar for stress.
Ask someone you trust to take a look at your schedule with you, specifically examining for stressful activities or just too many activities period. Honestly reflect on each commitment you have and ask yourself, Is it stressful. Is it necessary? Will someone die if you stop doing it? Can you take a break? The goal here is to eliminate stressful activities as much as possible and to create white space in your schedule.
I know, I know. You’re busy. See #2. Also, that body, mind, soul connection is real. If you can exercise at the same time every day, even better.
Daily alone/quiet/God time.
When we take the things out of our schedule that cause us stress, we can replace them with things that really matter, really protect our mental and emotional health, and connect us with God. If quiet time is new or difficult for you, start with just five minutes a day and increase from there.
Commit to the thing that gives you life.
What makes you feel alive? Commit to doing that thing at least twice a week, three times if you can swing it. This is especially important for parents and caretakers. It’s easy to lose myself in the roles I fulfill and forget what actually fulfills me. The Lord planned the days for me, not the other way around.
We were not made to hold all the hurts of the world, and in this digital hyper-connected age we live in, we have access to all the hurts all the time. It’s not good. Maybe you need to give up Facebook, implement analogue weekends, or take a longer period of time away from the internet?
Get enough sleep.
Even if you don’t thrive on routine, having a plan for getting enough sleep is critical for most of us if we’re going to make it happen. Rhythms and rituals help us follow through with our best intentions. Set a timer for when you want your bedtime routine to begin. Light a candle, make a cup of tea, use a special lotion or oil, read a good book and commit to lights out at the optimum time for you. This one is critical for me. When the shit hits the fan, I am not capable of responding with grace and patience on not enough sleep.
Plan ahead so there are options.
This step applies specifically to those of us living in traumatic environments. How will you stay safe? How will you keep your kids safe? When will you call the police? Can you trust the police? What friend or neighbor can you call to help? Do you have a prayer team you can text for prayer in the moment? What can you do to diffuse the situation? Where is the safest place in your house? Where is the closest psychiatric hospital?
Again, I realize these questions don’t apply to most people’s situations, but if they apply to you, I invite you to think through them, write them down, and talk with a trusted friend or counselor about them.*
Accept the invitation to deal with past trauma.
If you are dealing with secondary trauma or anxiety, there may be an invitation for you to deal with past trauma. Why are you triggered by a certain situation? If triggered is not a word you’re familiar with, think about how your body feels in XYZ situation. Does your heart begin to pound? Do you feel short of breath? Are your hands shaky? Are you unable to think rationally? Do you feel out of control? If so, there may be unaddressed trauma in your past. The present is an invitation to face it head on, with the help of a qualified counselor.
I’m typically not a fan of listicle type posts, but given the time on our world clock, I thought these self care encouragements might be helpful to those of us alive right now.
If you have others I’d love to hear them in the comments!
*If you are in a abusive relationship call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.
A few years ago, on the block behind us, a low-level developer purchased a quaint two-story yellow wooden house with a perfect-for-Miami-nights screened in front porch. She promptly removed the doors and welcomed the elements and critters of South Florida, creating an intentionally uninhabitable environment. Eventually the city condemned the once perfectly livable home, and approved a permit for demolition. I stood in front of the house last month, weeping as it was knocked to the ground.
I’ve written previously about the mass evictions that took place last summer (and continue) on the main strip in our neighborhood. Over 200 units owned by a slumlord who intentionally let his buildings fall into disrepair once again prompted the city to deem them uninhabitable – “forcing” him to evict everyone living there. Each of those individuals now bear the unnecessary burden of an eviction on their record, and future landlords care little if it was their fault or (clearly) not.
Overwhelmingly, most landlords simply have a policy not to rent to folks who have been evicted. Application denied.
The same slumlord boarded a few of those buildings while people were still living in them. The tenants previously refused to leave because of the injustice of the situation – they were still paying rent after all – and because frankly they had no where else to go.
Another slumlord in our neighborhood has been raising the rent of his African-American tenants every one to three months for years. He refuses to let them sign leases, then charges an extra $100 a month for not having a lease. He only accepts cash as a from of payment and does not give tenants receipts for the rent paid. The Latino/a tenants are not subject to this same treatment.
It’s important to note, my neighborhood is quite small, encompassing only a 10×10 square block area.
Two years ago, I was shocked by the intentionality with which my neighbors were being displaced. I have come to learn gentrification is always intentional.
I realize some of you may not be familiar with the term, and unfortunately even the definition offered by Wikipedia falls woefully short, but for the purposes here, I am defining gentrification as the intentional displacement of low-income residents due to government entities and developers catering to and prioritizing housing for and the quality of life of more affluent residents.
In his book How to Kill a City, Peter Moskowitz states, “In every gentrifying city – that is, in every city where there is a combination of new coffee shops and condos, hipsters, and families struggling to hang on – you can usually trace the start of that change not to a few pioneering citysteaders but to a combination of federal, local, and state policies that favor the creation of wealth over the creation of community. Usually the policies come in the form of deregulation and privatization of urban services: transportation, education, and especially housing. By the time the hipsters arrive, the political and economic forces that paved the way for them have been at work for years.”
The community services building in our neighborhood is owned by Miami-Dade County. Out of the large, open space built in the late 1970’s, services such as food stamps, energy assistance, and emergency food are offered from makeshift cubicles. On most evenings, it houses meetings where seventh and eighth generation Afro-Bahamians gather in dingy orange chairs around folding tables to discuss the future of their beloved community.
The fundamental component only discussed behind closed doors and in hushed phone calls is what will become of the people currently inhabiting and utilizing those spaces? As one county employee here said, there is no plan for those people.
In a city where two-thirds of our low-income residents do not have adequate housing, our government has no plan for them.In making a way for developers, whoever is in the way will be displaced. This is not happenstance. It is personal.
With local government and wealthy developers acting as accomplices, it is incredibly difficult to get in front of gentrification. Often, as Leroy explained, by the time sidewalks are installed and landscaping is “beautified,” ten-year plans are already in place to completely flip the neighborhood.
In other words, by the time the doors come off, it’s usually too late.
As a person of faith, I am compelled to ask where is the Church in all of this; the answers are uncomfortable. The Church has far too often been on the offending end of displacement. While I am ill-equipped to speak deeply on the subject, we only have to do a broad overview of the history of Christianity in our country (Although a much deeper look is necessary and the responsibility of any Christian.) to be reminded it was in the name of God that Native Americans were slaughtered and African-Americans enslaved. We, specifically white Christians, have a dark and deep history of being the oppressor and it continues today.
Many would argue the intention of white Christians is not to oppress our brothers and sisters of color, however, intentions matter little when our complacency in the face of systems of injustice and oppression and the effects of our behavior are completely out of line with Jesus.
When I asked Leroy about this, specifically why the Church in America is not doing more to prevent to displacement of people of color, he said at the end of the day, we still don’t see African-Americans as human, as actual people. I wish I could say everything I have seen and heard in the last two years of living among people of color invalidates his point of view, but I cannot.
How else do we explain tolerating policies and economics that permit people to be boarded up inside molding apartment buildings just blocks from our clean, safe, dry church buildings where we sit sipping gourmet coffee?
The American Church at large seems to be just as liable as the political system for it’s complicity in valuing the creation of wealth over the creation of community and it is costing our low income neighbors their lives. If we believe they deserve better, what are we doing about it?
If we are to resemble Jesus, we must listen to voices from the margins. We must acknowledge and repent of our complacency and contribution to their dehumanization. We must not settle for Americhristianity. We must not conform to the systems of this world – we must resist them and renew our minds with the transforming power of Jesus. Because the good, pleasing and perfect will of God is surely safe housing for all.
It was a “dog day of summer” and NPR was pumping through the speakers of my sky blue minivan. Michael Brown was shot and killed just a couple weeks earlier, and the fractured race relations of our country were coming into light for many previously in the dark. I drove the tree-lined streets of my midwestern town as I listened to a woman speak of the fear she held for her son – a black, autistic teenager. She was being interviewed at a seminar designed to teach kids on the autism spectrum and their parents how to interact with police.
I passed the two-story, red brick apartment building where my sons lived for a short time with their birth mother. I thought of their stories of lights not working and the refrigerator being bare. I thought about how they were a short five blocks from our home, how we possibly passed them on walks or played at the same park without even realizing it. I thought about how the color of their skin would affect every interaction they have with authority figures, particularly the police, as they grew.
He had been gone for about fifteen minutes, twenty tops. He left something in the condo – a ball, his goggles – I don’t remember what. It’s not until I see my husband walking back to the pool alone I realize something is wrong.
There are moments in motherhood when I hesitate – something in my gut forces a pause. This was not one of those moments. My son asked to go back to the condo to locate his forgotten something-or-other, and I said yes.
“Where’s Malachi?” I shout across the pool. “I thought he was with you,” is the response that floats back over the water. It takes a few more sentences to explain, but I knew immediately: Malachi was missing.
This is another motherhood moment, the one where fear strikes your heart like an ice pick and your insides go hollow. One of my children is missing.
I quickly usher the other kids out of the pool and send them inside with my brother and sister. I run around to the front of our condo building: the eleventh of thirteen completely identical buildings.Of course he got lost. Of course he couldn’t remember which one was ours.
“Have you seen a little boy, he’s wearing swimming trunks and a white towel around his neck?”
“Is he black?”
“Yeah, he was up around building nine.”
I run to building nine and shout his name several times. I ask a women walking by if she has seen a little boy and she tells me no. William is shouting his name. Malachi is nowhere to be found. My phone has 1% battery left. I tell William we need to call condo security.
The 2017 me has watched black teenagers chased through the streets by police, complete with helicopters and police dogs, with my own eyes. The 2017 me is no longer in the dark. The 2017 me is the mother of a black, autistic little boy who looks five years older than he actually is. A little boy who will often not make eye contact, who may not process a command the first time it is given, who may flee instead of freeze or fight.
The 2017 me is terrified to call unarmed security officers to help locate my lost son.
I have friends and online acquaintances who have written beautiful words about autism and their appreciation for it. Autism has made them better mothers, they say. Autism has given them gifts, they say.
I do not feel this way about autism.
I am afraid of losing my son. To autism. To medications that numb his personality. To one of the other diagnosis that trails behind his name and his person. To a fidgety police officer who takes his cognitive delays as non-compliance. I am not a better mother because of autism. I am scared.
I turn the corner around building ten and see my brother walking towards me, nodding. They found him. He is safe.
Out of breath, I climb the steps to the porch and see him standing there, eyes wide, towel still draped around his shoulders. “Are you ok?” I ask. He nods. “Were you scared?” He nods. “I’m sorry,” I say, “that was my fault. All the buildings look the same, I should not have sent you back by yourself.” “I got confused,” he says. “Of course you did buddy, of course you did.”
The complexity of who this little person is – male, black, autistic, image bearer, adopted, bi-racial – and the intersectionality of these identities, is heavy. There is no bow that ties them neatly in the midst of a fallen world. There is only doing the best we can and prayer. But the honest truth is, some days it does not feel like enough.
Some days the weight is heavier than I think I can bear. Some days the air feels thicker-than-August-in-Miami thick and the judging eyes penetrate my flesh. Some days prayers feel unanswered. Some days are hard. Not all days are this way, of course, but some of them are.
Maybe some day I will write my own beautiful words about autism.
This morning I sat on the driveway-turned-patio of our new house and tried to read a few Psalms. The Bahamian immigrants who settled the street over one hundred years ago originally named it Evangelist Street. As more and more Bahamians put down roots and homes and gardens here, they requested the city put in an actual road. The city declined, so they built the road themselves. Now here I sit, getting bitten by bugs and confused by the words of David.
Evangelist Street, now known as Charles Avenue, connects the affluent neighborhoods on the west and east of us. Red BMWs, white Mercedes, and black Maseratis speed down our block, from one stop sign to the next. I grow angrier with each passing car. I have noticed there are no speed limit signs on our street, five blocks long. I have noticed just around the corner, where the rich people live, there are speed bumps what feels like every twenty feet. I have noticed my disdain for the rich growing like the anger in my chest, racing like fancy cars down the street.
We moved in last weekend and I am still not sure what to think of it. Wise people I trusted told me God knew we stood in solidarity with our neighbors in their struggle for safe housing, he needn’t put us through it ourselves. But then he did. (Of course we experienced a pasteled version of the struggle.)
We were told the house we lived in for the last year and a half and planned to buy was no longer available to us. We became the ones with not enough money and not enough power to obtain the house we’d made our home. We became the ones in need of safe housing.
Despite Miami being one of the nation’s toughest housing markets, we quickly found a new place that was a great fit for our family. Large living space for meals and meetings, large yard for kids and dog, large garage-like room for building furniture. We signed a lease and put down a deposit because even though we have committed to living life among the poor, we are not poor ourselves and deposits are something we can do.
Weeks went by and the great fit house underwent renovations. Then one day they stopped. We learned through our housing advocate friends permits had not been applied for. The renovations would not be complete for our move in. Our move that was supposed to take place five days later.
We found another house. It was not great for a family of seven. But we could make it work for twelve months. It was rich in mangos and my kids are troopers and we could walk to the park when the space inside felt too small.
We were in the process of securing the house rich in mangos when my husband ran into our neighbor Seven. Seven was evicted in January. The slumlord who owns his building let it fall into disrepair, at which point the city condemned the building, forcing the slumlord to evict his tenants. This is known as a “constructive eviction,” meaning the cause was at the fault of the slumlord, but future landlords do not care about this. They see “eviction” on a potential tenant’s record and deny them housing.
The owner of the house rich in mangos does not run background checks or credit checks or any kind of check as long as you can produce the rent check. Seven was also in the process of securing the house rich in mangos.
This is the intersection of incarnational living and gentrification. Our family can pass a background check and a credit check and we can write a first, last and deposit check to secure safe housing. A lifetime of privilege allows for those things. While our housing options are severely limited due to our neighborhood choice and family size, Seven’s are nearly nonexistent.
We passed on the house rich in mangos. Seven didn’t get it either. Now we live on Evangelist Street/Charles Avenue and Seven is between housing. I am tempted to think there is not enough housing for all but this is a lie.
The famous Ghandi quote about there being enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed is palpable here. It burns my nostrils and threatens to choke out hope. The vacant lots, fields as my neighbors call them, number over 200 in our small 10 square block neighborhood. Developers are sitting on them, waiting for the Bahamian descendants to be displaced completely so they can sell off to wealthier developers or build luxury condos only the richest of the rich can afford. While developers wait for this, our neighbors are forced to leave the streets built by their ancestors.
I sit in front of our new house and beg God to show me the Kingdom coming here. I jot down thoughts about scarcity being a lie. I pray for Seven to find safe housing. I try to figure out what it looks like to put our roots down into people and not houses, relationships not places, eternity not temporary.
I regularly tell my kids their choices for communication with other human beings are to be kind or quiet.
Now you know why I’ve been quiet since January 20th.
I don’t have much in the way of complete thoughts or organized action steps or well researched plans. I have only this keen sense in the deepest part of my spirit that the marginalized will be the ones to lead us all to a more livable planet. It will not be us, white folks, to lead the resistance against the assault of the imago dei. The last are becoming first before our very eyes.Do you see them? Are you paying attention?
The prophet Isaiah tells us “They will be called oaks of righteousness,a planting of the Lordfor the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined citiesthat have been devastated for generations.” As Lisa Sharon Harper says in The Very Good Gospel, Isaiah was referring to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the prisoners. They will repair and restore the ruins.
If we follow a brown-skinned Jesus, why would we not be willing to follow the brown and black-skinned image bearers among us?
To be very, very clear, this does not mean we sit back, kick up our heals and beg for pictures of puppies on Facebook. While I believe marginalized people will be and are our leaders, they are also targets of the American empire.
This means we white citizens must be ready to put our bodies on the line for our brothers and sisters who cannot do so without risk of losing their lives. Those of us most at risk need those of us who aren’t. God wasn’t playing: we truly are our brothers and sisters keeper. Come for one of us, come for all of us.
Which brings me to this: not everyone’s actions will be the same. That is ok. There’s a part for everyone to play. It’s how God works. Writers, activists, lawyers, mothers, protestors, prophets, priests, taxi drivers, artists, fathers, NFL stars, teachers, and the rest. It will take all of us but know this: your part will not be handed to you. You will not trip into this movement of prophetic resistance.
You will have to do your own research, reading, listening, learning, engaging and following. You will have to show up when it’s hard and admit to not having answers. You will have to be humble. You will have to pray before you speak. You will have to get to the back of the line.
Many of us are asking What is happening? How did it come to this? If you’re asking those questions, you have the privilege of being surprised. (No judgement, I did too.) Our brothers and sisters of color have been experiencing similar atrocities for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Don’t believe me?Watch this.
What does prophetic resistance look like for you? Maybe it looks like signing petitions or calling your representatives. Maybe it looks like joining a protest or feeding some attorneys. Maybe it looks like donating to the ACLU and to the smaller, local frontline agencies as well. It will take big acts of resistance – the Bree Newsomes among us – to scale the walls of white supremacy, and it will take the small foolish things that confuse the watching world. It will take baking cookies for our refugee neighbors and poems. It will take protests that shut down airports and walking our hijab wearing neighbor to the post office so she does not walk alone.
Never again is now friends. Speak the truth of the Bible to power even if your voice shakes. Walk in solidarity even if your knees buckle. Pay attention. Stay alert. And be ready to follow our brown-skinned Savior who laid down his life that we may all have life in abundance. Be ready to follow his lead.