white privilege, prophetic resistance + the moment we find ourselves in

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 Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that 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?

source unknown

source unknown

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.

In the Executive Order Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, section Five allows for immigrants to be deported if they protest the atrocities being committed against them. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, those among us who have arguably been most brave and given up the most for their freedom will be deported for standing up for it.

As journalist Yonatan Zunger puts it in his article What Things “Going Wrong” Can Look Like, “Any protest, no matter how peaceful, will be declared a “riot” and a reason for sharply increased police presence, not just then, but going forward; we should expect to see a lot of very visible marching of cops through the streets, arrests of anyone for insubservience, and so on.”

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. 

howtouseyourprivilege

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.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Letter from a Birmingham Jail 2

Image via CNN

I shared Letter from a Birmingham Jail last year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and could think of no better way to honor his legacy today. Letter from a Birmingham Jail is an open letter written by Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1963 after being imprisoned for coordinating and participating in nonviolent marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. One of the most powerful letters ever written, it is a response to the local white clergymen calling for “patience” and suggesting King should trust them to move the civil rights movement forward. This letter is far longer than a traditional blog post, but, not only could I not bring myself to pick and choose the words from it I felt you should read, I assure you it is worth your time in its entirety.

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

when one word doesn’t feel like enough

 

I wish I could tell you I like words too much to pick just one. I’m pompous enough to think it, but it’s not entirely true.

The one word phenomenon is sweeping the internet. There are dozens of words I like, but none that seem a good fit for all of my life all the days of this year. I’m not anti the one word practice. I just have this growing feeling one word is not enough for 2017.

When one word doesn't feel like enough.Maybe every generation feels this way, has this hunch things are different now. That right now is a unique moment in history and we are about to encounter something unimaginable. Something that needs more than one word.

The post-election reductionist thinking to “trust God” or “pray” first led me down this path. Those are true and good things, but Jesus moved into the neighborhood to dwell among us. He came to know our bad news well decades before he ever started telling people to trust or pray.

///

All the words rolling around in my mind need qualifiers.

When one word doesn't feel like enough.

Resistance is not enough for 2017. We need creative resistance. We need the writers and the painters and the dancers among us to lead. It is not enough to be against, we must actively be calling forth a more just, beautiful world and the creatives (which in our bones all of us are) to show us the way. 

Community is a lovely word, but for many it simply means finding more people who think and look and talk and act like us. It’s the way most humans work. But it’s not how the Kingdom is coming down. The upside down Kingdom is scandalously inclusive. Heaven’s gates swing wide. There are prophets and tax collectors and prostitutes and fisherman. Men, women and children. Black, brown, white and every shade in between. Scandalously inclusive community was Jesus’ idea and chasing hard after it will bring the Kingdom come more degrees of glory at a time than we can imagine.

When one word doesn't feel like enough.

We need hope. Oh how we need hope. Not just any hope will do in 2017. We need sweaty, gritty, dirt-beneath-our-nails hope. We need the kind of hope that leaves Heaven for the ghettos of our country and our own sinful hearts. We need audacious hope, rebellious hope, whimsical hope. 

I want to model the reckless kind of hope others call foolish. I want to be the first and most insubordinate when the least, last, lost and most marginalized are pushed farther outside the city gates. I want to be peculiar. I want to imagine a world that does not exist and work towards it with all the strange people I can bring along with me. I want to be among the odds ones, the ones who beyond reason, dream of the Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

And I want to protestify. I want to earnestly stand against evil while bearing witness to the third way. I want to tear down metaphoric and physical walls keeping people out and with them build tables and housing for all. I want the courage to say to both the oppressed and the oppressor; All are welcome here. I want my life to be a visible objection to the exclusion of image bearers. I want the both/and of God and I call BS on the either/or of this world.

And I want to use words.

housing for all

housing_for_all

I attend a monthly community meeting. It use to be in a fancy building with glass walls with a clear view of new playground equipment and fake grass. The other half of the building is an upscale restaurant. The waiters wear all black as they serve people sitting at little round tables lining the sidewalk.

The first time I attended this particular meeting last spring, the council discussed a new ordinance preventing coconut trees from being planted near sidewalks. A coconut could fall on someone, you see. They can be dangerous. Some people sitting behind me in the glass room were not happy about this, they wanted to know if coconut trees already planted near their sidewalks would need to be removed.

That same week, there was a drive by on my street. The kids who live here couldn’t play outside because a bullet might land on them.

I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.

There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.

Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.

A thing you should know about my neighborhood is: it is HIGHLY segregated. As in, a segregation wall still stands. It divides those the world labels the “haves” and the “have nots.” It divides socio-economically, racially, and in just about every other way you can imagine.

The people concerned about coconuts falling on their heads don’t have to worry about bullets.

Another thing you should know is: there is a housing crisis on this side of the wall. My neighbors will tell you there has been for some time, decades even. Developers buy up singe family homes and apartments – some in disrepair, some not – level them, and sit on the land. The vacant lots are referred to as “fields.” Many of them have been sitting empty for a dozen years. There are several on every street.

field

Currently, landlords are selling their apartment buildings by the block. They refuse to sign leases with their tenants so when the buildings sell, they evict with 15 days notice. Another common practice is to let the buildings run down to unsafe and uninhabitable, at which point the city steps in and condemns them, forcing the tenants to move out with little-to-no warning.

I am doubtful of my ability to communicate the severity of this situation to you in mere black and white, letters on a screen. You, Dear Reader, are likely unable to comprehend the fear and helplessness an eviction notice carries. That’s because 73% of white folks own a home, compared to 45% of black folks. Statistics do not exist for my neighborhood, but I need to look no further than my own block to know hundreds of people are living in buildings being sold right out from under them.

I cannot fully comprehend it either.

The housing crisis is not just that developers are sitting on empty lots OR that people are facing imminent homelessness and displacement with just a few weeks notice; the situation is exacerbated because there is literally no where for people to go. For every 100 extremely low-income renters in Miami, there are only 33 affordable units available.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.”

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

Last month at the community meeting we didn’t talk about coconuts. We talked about housing. I would say the issue has finally reached a tipping point, but I suspect the conversation has ebbed and flowed over the years. I suspect those on the other side of the wall have always pushed down the voices of those on this side. I suppose, when men and women, grandmothers and mothers, fathers and sons asked those behind the microphones to do something, they have always been told to “wait.” But really, I don’t just suspect it, it’s fact.

The council responded to my neighbors who came to the meeting with lots of words. As I sat there in my seat I struggled to understand them. There was talk about zoning, and incentives for developers. FEMA and a special housing summit. The housing summit will happen at the end of January, they said.

I left the meeting in tears. I could not sleep. I said a lot of cuss words. I could not get the words of Martin Luther King, Jr out of my mind. I prayed. The problem with this paragraph is every single sentence begins with I.

but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

That was two weeks ago. Since then, the Lord gave one of our neighbors and mentors an idea, a method of direct action that involves setting up camp on these pieces of land. A prophetic act of protest against displacement and for the beauty of community when all are invited in. Starting today, we will physically stand alongside our neighbors as together we demand Housing for All.

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We have been meeting for months about the housing crisis, discussing which neighbors had been given eviction notices that week, wondering where they would go… I don’t think any of us really knew what could be done. There are so many powerful people playing this game of displacement. The city and county seem to be complacent at best and complicit at worst.

But we know we cannot sit idly by while our neighbors are treated unjustly, displaced at alarming rates, and the oldest neighborhood in Miami (some historians say all of Florida) becomes extinct. We cannot do nothing while the “haves” tell the “have nots” yet again, to wait.

The Lord has brought together attorneys, activists, government officials, neighbors, and police officers as we have planned in the last couple weeks. We are grateful and humbled our neighbors trust us to stand alongside them in their efforts to seek Housing for All.

There are several ways you can get involved and stand with us from afar:

FIRST, you can pray. As there will be protestors on the lots 24/7, we want to cover them in prayer 24/7. You can sign up to pray here.

SECOND, you can donate. We are in ongoing need of supplies such as fliers, signs, tents, water, snacks, etc. to make this happen well. You can give to our CRM Grove Team Fund here or through GoFundMe here. (Giving via CRM is tax-deductible, giving via GoFundMe is not but gets the funds to our team quicker.)

THIRD, you can spread the word on social media. Please follow and share on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The power of social media could allow our campaign to gain national media coverage with the help of people like you!

LASTLY, you can buy a Housing for All t-shirt! These are unisex small – XL shirts. $20 + $7 shipping. To purchase a shirt, please Paypal your money, size(s) and address to wallacemastiff@yahoo.com.

Please be praying for our neighbors. Some are ready to fight for their right to safe housing, and some are very very tired. As we have been researching the unjust housing practices in our neighborhood, we are deeply saddened for the way they have been treated for the last 100 years. Pray for God to move on their behalf, to make his love for them known, and for us to affirm the dignity he has placed in each of them.

[The quotes in this post are from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham jail. The letter is King’s response to the white clergy who call on him to “wait,” suggesting King should trust them to move the civil rights movement forward. You can read it in it’s entirety here.]

for the angsty one

For the Angsty One

Somewhere between Philando Castile and the shooting of an unarmed therapist lying on the ground with his hands up, I grew angsty. I used the word “despair” when discussing the state of our country. I was frustrated and lost. I laid in bed at night unable to sleep. I started emailing friends my own stupid white people questions. I desperately wanted to know what to “do.”

In the past, I have followed the guidance given me by people of color. The marching orders go something like this:

Step One: Sit down and listen.
Step Two: Educate yourself, yourself.
Step Three: Diversify your social circles.
Step Four: Acknowledge your own implicit bias and talk to other white people about racism, systemic injustice, mass incarceration, redlining, etc.

I fear this paragraph coming off as self-congratulatory. I have not arrived, but I have taken these steps seriously. I listen and attempt to educate myself, myself. I have friends of color, I live in an all black neighborhood – I see racial injustice every day. I acknowledge my implicit bias and family members have blocked me on Facebook for saying #blacklivesmatter… and yet, it does not feel like enough. Because it’s not.

The reason it’s not enough is partly because it’s actually just not enough, and partly because it’s not about me.

As it turns out, my desire to “fix” it (fix racism? systemic injustice? hundreds of years of oppression?) is central to my own privilege. I unknowingly made the “fixing” about me, and – NEWSFLASH – it’s not about me. At all.

In case you’re not seeing it – because, you know, privilege – the privilege I’m referring to is exactly what makes me think I can fix things to begin with. I’ve experienced hardship, but overall my position in society  – social networks, education, access to financial capital – has allowed me to bring forth changes when and where I’ve desired them. That’s privilege.

I got over myself and started asking God what my actual role is. I have one.  So do you. We all have a role to play in dismantling racial injustice at a macro-level AND at a micro-level. (Isaiah 58 anyone?)

And I have repeatedly found myself face-to-face with Jeremiah 29:1 – 7.
 
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

 

God tells the people to live their lives. “Do your thang! Build new houses and grow tomatoes and get some chickens! Get married and make more image bearers!  AND, seek the shalom of your city. Pray for your city and in it’s wholeness, you will find peace.

 

The Hebrew word for welfare is shalom. Shalom covers all aspects of peace and wholeness, manifested most clearly in times of persecution and trial. Lisa Sharon Harper, in her book The Very Good Gospel, says it like this;

 

“Shalom is the stuff of the Kingdom. It’s what the Kingdom of God looks like in context. It’s what citizenship in the Kingdom of God requires and what the Kingdom promises to those who choose God and God’s ways to peace.”

 

Practically speaking, what does this look like? This is where I get stuck. I’ve started and stopped writing this post several times. I want you to think me a credible source, but the truth is I don’t know. I’m still figuring out what it looks like for me – I sure as heck don’t know what it looks like for you.
But, us white church folk, we like formulas. Action steps. Meetings and checklists and committees and more meetings. But God says in Isaiah (58 again) he is sick of all our meetings. He says get out there and break chains.

 

I’m not a chain breaking expert; my God is. He is in the business of setting people free and for some crazy reason, his method is us. But here’s the thing – it’s messy. You’ll start and you’ll stop, jump on a bandwagon and fall off. You’ll make mistakes and say the wrong thing. You’ll make mistakes and say the wrong thing. Again. You’ll show up with answers and walk away with questions. Your heart will knit together with people you have but one thing in common – your humanity. And it will be the most glorious display of redemption and beauty you have ever experienced.

 

The list of injustices and wrongs to right is a mile long and we need not all be in the same lane. Maybe you heart bleeds for sex trafficking survivors or the homeless or addicted or mentally ill or the incarcerated or abandoned children or elderly or immigrants. They exist in your city. They do. And what you post about them on social media does not hold a candle to what you do or don’t do for them in your everyday life.

Are you pro-life? Great. What are you doing about that every day of the year that is not Election Day? Are you volunteering at a pregnancy crisis center? Are you resettling refugees? Are you a foster parent? Do you volunteer as a hospice worker? How are you not just being against abortion, but for the actual lives around you?

Do you know any public school teachers? Social workers? Principals? Judges? Who is the police commander overseeing your neighborhood? Who is your city council member? County commissioner? State representative? Do you know what they believe, how they conduct themselves, what their needs are?

For the Angsty One

I want a five step program, and I want to give one to you too. But that is not our God.

We muck all this up when oftentimes, I think it’s just really simple. Who around you is hurting? Who around you is oppressed? Who around you is being displaced? Who around you is dying in the streets? Who around you is neglected? Who around you is hungry? Who around you is homeless? Who around you is blind to injustice or oppression? Who around you is full of fear? Who around you is missing the fullness of Isaiah 58? Who around you is angsty and doesn’t know what to “do?” {raises hand}

Who?

Seek their welfare. Ask the Lord to break our chains. And together we will find peace.

the ministry of words

My friend Danielle and I had vastly different childhoods. She grew up trying to please God, I wanted nothing to do with him. But somehow, a few decades later, we ended up in nearly the same space  – living on the margins of society with our families.

As of yesterday, her first book has been published – Assimilate or Go Home, Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith, is a collection of poetic essays from her decade long journey of working with and living among refugees.

Assimilate or Go Home

I cried when I got Danielle’s email asking if I would be on the launch team for Assimilate or Go Home. It might’ve had something to do with the fact that I was at an airport, which for me is equal or worse to being on life support in the ICU. I’m certain death is eminent.

I digress.

Danielle outlined a few prompts for us to choose from, should we write a post about her book. Of course that’s the point of a launch team, but she’s very unassuming and modest, this one.

No problem. Write a post inspired by a book I’m sure to love? That I can do.

But you guys, I have tried for the last week and I just cannot do it. I have two shitty first drafts, as Anne Lammott would say.. One prompt “the ministry of…” and the other “I use to want to change the world but…” are both things I can write on. Both things I have half written draft posts on, but for the life of me I can’t bring them home.

Last night I realized why.

How do you use words in support of someone else’s words, when words are clearly the gift God has given that person to impact your life and others? When each time you read theirs you sit in awe that there are other humans with similar lives and thoughts and passions and people seeing the world and walking through it in much the same way you are, writing all the way?

Danielle writes often about unrecognized ministries, like the ministry of playing video games with awkward adolescent boys. The ministry of bringing takeout food to people whose baby is very sick. The ministry of picking up empty chip wrappers at the park. The ministry of sending hilarious and inspirational text messages. The ministry of making an excellent cup of coffee.

Hers is baking cake. But hers is also words.

Danielle’s words comfort me like few others do. Her ability to see the world as Jesus does, from a place I believe he would have resided, and put it into achingly beautiful words is a precious gift. It is an unrecognized ministry, but I hope it won’t be unrecognized for long. (And truly, you’ve probably read her writing online before, but isn’t paper fun and better?)

Assimilate of Go Home is now available from My Target (aka Amazon) and can be yours for less than $9. People, WHAT, $9?! If $9 is too steep for you at the moment, I’ll be giving a copy away today over on Instagram.

Thank you Danielle, for your ministry of baking cakes and writing words. For your willingness to cut out a piece of your heart and put it into the pages of a book for all of us to see. Thank you for sharing your own doubts, your own fears, your own brokenness. Thank you for loving your neighbors well, honoring their stories, and inspiring me to do the same. You are moving the Kingdom and writing us all home.

implicit bias and the angry black woman narrative

For the past couple weeks I’ve been reading, A LOT. I’ve clicked every article shared by folks I admire and respect. One such article was written by a black woman to white people. She said we should stop talking to our white friends about their racism, and instead talk to them about our racism.

Good point, I thought. And moved on to the next article.

//

Sunday morning before church we attempted family pictures. I know, I know, small children and large families and Sunday mornings don’t mix, but it was the only chance we had with one of our favorite photographers while in town, so we went for it.

We sat in front of a mural on the sidewalk of a busy street. Our friend/photographer stood in the road, and her assistant/husband stood a little further out, watching for cars, occasionally letting her know one was coming or waving at the cars who avoided her by getting into the far lane.

As I was sitting there on the sidewalk, uncomfortably contorting my legs so two squirmy girls could sit on my lap and one of the boys could smash the blood from my left foot, I saw a red car drive by at an above-the-speed-limit-speed. Our friend/assistant waved at them, and I saw someone in the car wave back. I wasn’t sure if the waves were friendly or hostile gestures, and didn’t care much, until I noticed the red car reversing.

From about half a block away, on a one way street, they were making their way back to our little Sunday morning photo session. As they approached, I could see three people in the car. It looked like a mom and her teenage children. They were black.

I immediately prepared myself for the worst. My mind went to a place in the future where the woman would yell at my friend for waving at her, assuming he was telling her to slow down. I imagined her commenting on our family, saying something about how we don’t have any right to raise black kids. I thought she might tell us we don’t know what we’re doing and aren’t qualified. I imagined my husband trying to calm her down while I distracted the kids from curse words and screaming.

Do you know what she said?

“I just want to tell y’all that looks beautiful! That just looks so good! Is that your family? Y’all are a beautiful family. What a beautiful family!”

Even now, I cannot type those words without tears filling my eyes.

bias2

The narrative I expected to play out was the “angry black woman” narrative. You probably know the one. A black woman gets angry and screams and cusses at everyone within earshot. Turns out, the “angry black woman” narrative dates back to the early 1800’s.

I didn’t know I held that belief about black women until I was sitting there on the sidewalk holding a future black woman.

That narrative was subconsciously hanging around in my mind, waiting to ambush me the moment I saw that red car reverse. And by the way, no black woman has ever spoken any of those words to me. Ever. 

bias1

This my friends, is implicit bias. It is racism at it’s smoothest. It is the undercurrent of our society, writing the narrative we hear in our heads when someone who doesn’t look like us approaches on the sidewalk or appears on the screen. And our screens are a HUGE part of the problem – see video clip below. It happens to all of us. All. the. time.

We owe it to our brothers and sisters of color to actively fight against what our society has tells us about them. As Believers, we must crack open our Bibles to soak up what God says, hold it against the media and stand on the side of God’s Word and His people. 

None of us are exempt from implicit bias, even those of us raising children of color and living in all black neighborhoods, ahem. BUT the good news is, we can change the narrative that plays in our own minds. Not only can we, but we have a responsibility to do so.

I’m praying we are faithful.

 

 

 

(Wondering what your implicit bias is when it comes to dark skin tones verses light ones? This implicit bias test from Harvard can tell you.)

*Photos via Hayley Moss Photography

ask me your stupid white people questions

I’ve had a post rattling around in my head for several weeks now. Was it when I was diagnosed with PTSD? Or when I got addicted to started using Voxer?

I’m not sure, but the post I was writing in my mind was about making my world smaller. About my need to cut out all the noise. I was going to tell you how I unsubscribed from all the emails, because really, I can’t afford to shop those sales anyway. And how I unfollowed almost every brand on Instagram for the very same reason. How I scaled back my Facebook feed by unfollowing (while still remaining friends with!) pretty much everyone. I unsubscribed from blogs that don’t pertain to justice or homeschooling because that’s all the energy and heart space I have time for these days. How I cut back on podcasts. How I just needed less noise because the needs around me – in my neighborhood and in my own home – were enough.

Then Alton Sterling. Filando Castile. The Dallas Five. And there was so. much. noise. The world felt like it just might implode from it all.

And I took advantage of my white privilege.

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I knew, as I typed those words, I was exercising white privilege. My friends of color cannot unfriend racial injustice – they live it in their everyday lives. As the mother of children of color and a white woman bearing witness to systemic injustice in my black neighborhood, I do too. The difference of course, is I can minimize it. I can choose to avoid folly on Facebook. I can unfriend and unfollow and block people whose hatred I don’t want to expose myself to.

That’s white privilege.

A day does not go by when I am not keenly aware of it. Of the fact that my voice gets more airplay then my neighbors, that because my family owns a vehicle, I’m “above” the other mothers on my block. For the love, I homeschool my kids. If homeschool doesn’t scream privilege, nothing does. I give many of my privileges up. But, I’m learning some are so inherent I cannot put them down no matter how hard I try.

I can’t change the color of my skin. Many days I wish I could. Many days I feel uncomfortable in my own skin. But that’s another post for another day.

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I’ve thought a lot in the last week about how I’ve exercised my privilege online. And how I’ve added to the noise. I’ve thought about what can be “done” to unearth the systemic injustice in our country that runs so deep it infiltrates the very land we walk on. I’ve watched as white friends ask over and over what they can “do.” It often feels to me like nothing and everything can be done all at once, but this is what I can do:

I will continue to call out racial injustice for what it is (sin) as I see it, when I see it.
I will continue to love my neighbors and friends of color, both in person and online.
I will continue to listen when people of color share their stories and experiences with me.
I will continue to affirm them by declaring #blacklivesmatter.
I will continue to educate myself on the history of our nation and racial injustices around the world.
I will continue to teach my children about the imago Dei and the inherent value in every single human being because all were made in the image of God.
I will continue to seek justice in the daily lives of my neighbors.
I will continue to be with and not just for my friends of color.

But you know what else?

I will continue to ask stupid questions.
I will continue to piss people off.
I will continue to feel ostracized by both the white and black communities.
I will continue to be misunderstood.
I will continue to feel alone (at times).
I will continue to be called names which shall not be repeated here.

As phrases like “white ally” and “racial reconciliation” float around the blogosphere, I have to admit, I have yet to find an online space where white people can ask stupid questions.

I want to be a safe place for white people to ask stupid questions.

Ask me all your stupid white people questions.

Let me be really clear: I am not an expert on all things color or race or injustice. I am not a historical expert or expert of anything. But I’ve asked stupid questions – lots of them – and I’ve listened and I have been and continue to learn. I’ve seen racial injustice first hand. I’ve seen The New Jim Crow come to life in my neighborhood and I desperately want white people to join the fight against it. I don’t want to watch video after video on Facebook where my friends of color ask where white people are. I don’t want to read the heartbreaking words from my sisters who feel like we white folks don’t care about them. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow to another person’s name becoming a hashtag.

I know this small act won’t change the world, but I do believe it’s a prophetic demonstration. I do believe in being stubborn about hope. I do believe, no matter how dark the world is, that the Kingdom can actually come and God’s plan to bring it through His people is still being worked out. I am going to resist a hostile world which says justice and love and mercy and unity can’t be possible, that hoping and working for a better world because of Jesus is foolishness. I’m going to be stubborn about Love.

So ask me your stupid white people questions. I might not know the answer, I’ll probably send you some homework, and it’s likely I’ll quote the Bible. But I won’t judge you (at least not too much) and I genuinely want to come alongside you. My email is lindsy.wallace@gmail.com.

I would prefer you email me so we can have some back and forth dialogue where you feel free to ask your questions. You can leave your questions in the comments, although I can’t guarantee someone won’t leave a snarky response because, THE INTERNET, but I promise to delete any hateful remarks.

Be stubborn about Love today Friends.

Summer Reads

Today is the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere, which means most of you are now feeling the heat we’ve been feeling down here since, oh, last summer. As temperatures and humidity rise, I hope your schedule is slowing down. We’re preparing to spend a few weeks visiting family and friends up north and these are the books I’m packing in my bag.

(I’ve already read Follow Me to Freedom, and am halfway through a few others, but no, I likely won’t make it through all of these. I just like to have choices.)

Follow Me to Freedom, Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins
This book is a must read for anyone wanting to lead others to Freedom.

As some point, especially as Christians, we say with Paul, ‘To live is Christ, to die is gain…’ If we die, so what? We believe in resurrection. We’ll dance on injustice till they kill us… Then we’ll dance on streets of gold. Many Christians live in such fear that it’s as if they don’t really, I mean really, believe in resurrection. – Shane Claiborne

Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
I gotta be honest, I can’t get into Brene’s writing. I love her quotables, I love her in soundbites, I love her interviews, but her books are not my jam. I’ve skimmed the first six chapters and just can’t, so I’m gonna try to go deep on Chapter 7, Wholehearted Parenting and call it a day.

Turn My Mourning into Dancing, Henri Nouwen
“Solace without platitudes,” I am about halfway through this and really enjoying it. This book has been on our shelves for years and this is my first time cracking it open. As ironic as it sounds, I am thoroughly enjoying this book.

Evangelical ≠ Republican… or Democrat, Lisa Sharon Harper
This is the book I currently cannot put down. Since meeting Lisa earlier this month and having the true pleasure of hearing her speak, I have been tracking down everything she has written and taught. The list is long and this just happened to be the first book that arrived from the library. This book was published in 2008, but incredibly relevant to 2016. I am fascinated by the history of evangelicalism she shares in this book. (I’m looking forward to adding her newest book, The Very Good Gospel, to my early fall reading list.)

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”, Beverly Daniel Tatum, PH.DBeverly Tatum seeks to answer the question, “Is this (cafeteria) self-segregation a problem we should try to fix, or a coping strategy we should support? Using real-life examples and the latest research, Tatum presents strong evidence that straight talk about our racial identities-whatever they may be-is essential if we are serious about facilitating communication across racial and ethnic divides. We have waited far too long to begin our conversations about race. This remarkable book, infused with great wisdom and humanity, has already helped hundreds of thousands of readers figure out where to start.”

“Jesus for President”, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
Because #electionprobs.

The Whole Brain Child, Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.
This is another that has been on our bookshelf for a couple years. I have a hard time with parenting books. I’ve read a LOT of them over the years, and most seem either completely unrealistic or too much rainbows and unicorns. The Whole Brain Child is one I continually hear recommended and summer seems like a good time to give it a try.

Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman
This book has been referenced in about a dozen other books I’ve read in the last year and is credited with “shaping the civil rights movement and changing our nation’s history forever” so definitely a summer read.

Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott
I might not make it to this one, but I figure it would be nice to throw it in for a few laughs.

Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen
I started reading this one last fall because I was disappointed in our home school curriculum’s telling of American history and the lack of representation and acknowledgement of people of color in the timeline of American history at all. At the time, I read along with what our curriculum was teaching to ensure I was passing on truth to my kids. I hope to read it from cover to cover this summer. This is another fascinating book I’m thankful to have come across. I was completely uninterested in American history in high school. Now I know why. (HINT: It was a whitewashed lie.)

What are you reading this summer? Let me know in the comments! 

subversive Jesus [a book review + giveaway]

I find myself encountering an increasing number of folks unfamiliar with our work, requiring me to put our lives into a thirty-second elevator pitch.

After an apparently not-so-great attempt, a new acquaintance, seeking clarification, asked, “So what is your primary focus, meeting needs or sharing the Gospel?”

To which I responded, “Yes.”

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If Tattoos on the Heart is the “who” and “why” of incarnational ministry, Subversive Jesus, by Craig Greenfield, is the “what” and “where.” (And y’all know how I feel about Tattoos on the Heart.)

Subversive Jesus is the story of Craig and his wife Nay’s experiment in putting the most counter-cultural teachings of Jesus into practice. When Jesus said invite the poor for a meal, they welcomed homeless friends, local crack addicts, and women from the street corner over for dinner. When Jesus proclaimed freedom for the captive, they organized Pirates of Justice flash mobs to protest cruise ship exploitation. (Yes, what that said.)

Here’s what I really, really want you to hear me say about this book:

It is an anthem for those of us living and loving on the margins.
It is a gentle invitation to those of us still trying to figure it all out.

It’s both. Beautifully, gracefully, affirmingly, Yes.
(And for the record, we are most certainly, still trying to figure it all out.)

My personal experience with books in this genre is they are often peppered with judgement and condemnation, leaving many of us feeling as if our lives are “less than” or “not relevant” to the upside-down Kingdom Jesus speaks of. Subversive Jesus is not that book. Craig is loving in his reminder that “Jesus is wildly and prophetically subversive, because beyond our affluent comfortable suburbs, all is not right.”

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He recognizes that “from place to place, even Christian to Christian, a radical welcome (i.e. hospitality) will look different” as he encourages us to “widen our embrace.”

Craig explores the idea that Jesus’ teachings represented not just a ticket to heaven but a subversive plan for heaven to come here on earth and gives practical suggestions for how we can overlap our lives with those on the margins, without having to move into the slums. (Although for some of us, that is the subversive plan for our lives.)

Craig is not soft on his belief (which is also mine) that “as Jesus showed us, healing and transformation flow out of relationship – not the delivery of services.”

Yet, he gives room for each of us to discover what this can look like in our own lives, giving us stories and scriptures as we “search for the deepest inclination of our heart and follow it to where it meets the suffering of the world.”

What is the deepest inclination of your heart Friend? Follow it, and there you will find our subversive Jesus, turning the world upside down with radical hospitality, eroding the margins and closing the gap between charity and community, and inviting you to join him.

There, as Mother Teresa says, you will find your own Calcutta.

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I’m excited to give a copy of Subversive Jesus to one of YOU.
The giveaway will run until 12:00am EST Friday, May 13th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(If you don’t win, I hope you’ll purchase Craig’s book. It’s important to note all author profits will go to support the work of Alongsiders in reaching out to the world’s most vulnerable children. Learn more about Alongsiders here.)

*I did receive a copy of this book for review, but the content of this post are my 100% authentic unbiased reflections. Ok, slightly biased because Craig is my people.

When souls shake.

I sat in church when I got the text: several shots fired outside our house. Then another text. And another. Everyone ok. No one hit. The house shook. The house shook. I never thought about gunshots shaking a house. I imagined they could shake a soul but I no longer imagine it. The images of violence in our nation are no longer part of my imagination. Because I chose it. We chose it. And I wonder, why, again, did we chose this? Here where bullets fly on streets as children play? Our children and our children because, remember, there are no other people’s children.

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It’s enough to shake your soul.

I sat in church when I got the text, not for a sermon, no, for Joseph and his amazing technicolor coat. My big boys sandwiched me, eyes open wide as the lights dim low.

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I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain
To see for certain what I thought I knew
Far far away, someone was weeping
But the world was sleeping
Any dream will do

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I tried to enjoy it. Tried to be present. I tried not to think about the fact that for the first time since moving here, I didn’t want to go home.

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I wore my coat, with golden lining
Bright colors shining, wonderful and new
And in the east, the dawn was breaking
And the world was waking
Any dream will do

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The concession stand ran out of pizza two people too soon. We inhaled our Cheetos and candy bars before the lights laid low again, and all I could think was how my husband said he “laid low” with our three kids at home when he saw the muzzle flash. What the hell is muzzle flash?

We slipped back into our seats for Act II of Joseph’s story.

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A crash of drums, a flash of light
My golden coat flew out of sight
The colors faded into darkness
I was left alone

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The lump in my throat grew as we approached the corner where the shots were fired just a couple of hours earlier. I expected it to look different from when we left. It didn’t.

Two neighbors stood outside, their porcelain smiles bright across ebony skin, a light in the dark evening sky. A couple of kids rode croggy on a bike.

I sent the big boys off for jammies and teeth brushing. My husband gave me a brief rundown of the night’s events. “What kind of gun shakes a house?” I ask, not because I don’t already know the answer, but because I don’t want to know it.

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May I return to the beginning
The light is dimming, and the dream is too
The world and I, we are still waiting
Still hesitating
Any dream will do

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The crashing waves of violence-prayer-violence-prayer-violence-prayer are as familiar to our team as the waves of the Atlantic. The push and pull of Light and darkness is ever-present here. A couple of years ago, as a battle raged on the streets and in the heavenlies, one of our neighbors smashed his semi-automatic with a sledgehammer on the sidewalk. An outward expression of inward heart change.

It is in prophetic moments like that one my hope to dream is renewed. After all, it was God himself who said Light would shine out of darkness. 

And when you dare to dream, you bear witness to the Light.
When you dare to dream, families are made whole.
When you dare to dream, weapons are laid low.

And when weapons are laid laid low at the foot of the cross, that majestic and scandalous place where the last are first, where the poor inherit the Kingdom and where boundless compassion swallows our fear? That’s when the shalom of Heaven touches Earth and the Kingdom come is here and now. That’s when the beatitudes break through like the scorching Miami sun.

When we dare to dream that the God of the Bible really is who He says He is and actually is already doing what He says He will do, our souls shake for an altogether different reason. We get to participate in Kingdom work we would never even be able to see otherwise.

Courage is our nature in Christ friends, may we not allow fear to stand in the way of walking in it. 


 

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If you’d like to explore this idea of boundless compassion, I invite you to join me in the first ever Light Breaks Forth Book Club! Starting next month, we will be walking through Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, written by Father Greg Boyle. Father Boyle has lived among gang members in LA for over twenty years, showing them the boundless compassion of Christ. This book is one I continually come back to in my quest for loving others unconditionally and with joy. All the details can be found here and the book is on SALE on Amazon for less than ten bucks!!! I hope you’ll join us!

 


 

 

 

LBF Book Club ::: Tattoos on the Heart

Back in December I had this crazy idea to start an online book club. The next week we painted an entire house, moved cross-culturally, attempted to organize all earthly possessions for seven people, and jumped head first into living among and loving our neighbors.

So it’s March, and the book club is coming alive!

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I’m excited to launch the LBF book club as an extension of this online space AND as a way of joining together with YOU, as we seek to move closer to the heart of God.

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion is the first book we’ll unpack together, and one of the most incredible pieces of art I’ve had the privilege of reading. The author, Father Greg Boyle, has an extraordinary gift of communicating the universal human experience through themes of redemption, shame, compassion, success and love that knows no bounds.

I promise you – no matter who you are, where you are – this book will touch you deeply and teach you things about yourself you don’t even know you need to learn.

Right now, Tattoos on the Heart is on SALE on Amazon for only $9.40! (And now it’s dropped to $9.25!!!) Don’t wait, head over and purchase your copy now! You might be a loyal library patron, as am I, but trust me when I say, you want to own a copy of this book.

DEETS: To make it easy for you to participate, the “club” part of the book club will take place in three places:

First, Right here! Each Monday in April I’ll share thoughts from the chapters we’ve read in the previous week and you can join in the conversation in the comments. For you writer types, there will also be a link up for you to share a post from your own space!

Second, Join the Light Breaks Forth Book Club Facebook Group! Monday evenings at 8:30 pm EST we’ll “meet” to discuss the book. From the comfort of your own home (and pajamas), you can sip your favorite beverage while we dig into the themes of the book and how they are shaping us. If Monday evenings aren’t good for you, feel free to join in any way – Facebook is loose like that and allows for communication anytime night or day, which in this case is awesome.

Third, I’ll be using the hashtag #lbfbookclub on Instagram to share pieces of how the book is impacting me throughout the week.

SCHEDULE: We will discuss chapters one and two on April 4th, chapters three and four on April 11th, chapters five – seven on April 18th, and chapters eight and nine on April 25th.

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Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
~ Isaiah 58:6-8

This verse is the riverbank against which all my writing flows. The books chosen for the book club will focus on moving these commands forward in our own lives. I hope you’ll join me!

Questions? Plan on joining? Have you read Tattoos on the Heart? Wanna read it again? Let me know in the comments! 

Privilege and Education

My neighbor called today and asked if I would home school her. She’s 23.

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Sometimes my privilege smacks me upside the head. Today is one of those days.

Alisha** dropped out of high school in the tenth grade. I don’t know what all has happened between now and then. I’m guessing a lifetime. Now, as a mom of four, she wants to get her GED and I have the privilege of coming alongside her.

You may have seen on Facebook or Instagram, I’m working on a post about homeschooling. It’s woven into my DNA, this deep desire to encourage – particularly women and, more specifically, women who are also moms. My plan was to write a witty little post, busting some myths with the end goal of encouraging women who desire to home school but don’t think they have what it takes. 

I quickly realized how heated the conversation of schooling is, how rapidly and violently it will boil over if left unattended. I took a deep breath, a few days, and came to realize I can’t write that post without first writing this one.

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Anyone who has the choice of where and how to educate their children is making that choice out of extreme privilege. I’m going to bet, if you are actually making that decision and it’s not being made for you based on citizenship, cultural identity, ethnicity, religion, income, or gender, you don’t take it lightly. You are researching and praying and visiting schools and talking to teachers and administrators and other parents. You’re making educated, albeit privileged, decisions about the education of your kids. And you should.

I refuse to argue over the best schooling method. Frankly, I don’t care if you unschool, home school, public school, private school, world school or if you agree with Classical, Charlotte Mason or Montessori methods of schooling. What I care about is encouraging you where you are AND lifting our eyes to the fact that most mamas in this world don’t have the choice of where and how to school their kids, if they have the privilege of schooling them at all.

Education should not be a special advantage granted only to some, but in our broken world this basic human right is not extended to MANY. 124 million children and adolescents have never started school or have dropped out in the last few years. That’s 1 in 10 children worldwide not in school. Around 30 million out-of-school children of primary school age live in sub-Saharan Africa and 10 million in South and West Asia.*

53% of the world’s out-of-school children are girls and 2/3 of the illiterate people in the world are women. Worldwide 780 million adults and 103 million young people (ages 15–24) are illiterate.

According to Compassion International, one of the biggest contributors to global poverty is lack of access to education. Just imagine the barriers illiteracy and lack of education add to the life of a person already living on the margins. Jobs are not likely. You are dependent on the government, if aid even exists in your country, and your chances of malnutrition increase. Your chances of contracting HIV/AIDS increase 75 percent. Your chances of being trafficked increase – you are one of the most vulnerable people on the planet.*

And these effects not only consume you, they consume your future children as well. A child who is born to an educated mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five.

Such a strong correlation has been seen between education and contracting HIV/AIDS that education is considered a “social vaccine” for girls in avoiding HIV.*

Friends, let us not get caught up in the division and diversion of conversations about the best way to educate a child when millions of children are not being given the basic human right of education.

I am not saying don’t be wise. I am saying the arguments over the best way to educate our children are divisive and create a diversion from the millions of children who are not being educated at all.

I spent a week at a training in LA  last month and a bit of time learning how to tell stories well. Stories that invite you, the reader, into another persons reality. I learned stories do a much better job than facts at engaging areas of your brain that release dopamine, make it easier for you to remember the story, experience the same emotions as the people in the story itself and even allow you to translate the story into your own idea.

privilege and education

Here’s the problem: Our stories are sacred. I cannot tell you the tapestry of my neighbor’s life, the circumstances that engulfed her as a teenager and forced her to drop out of high school… Her story is not mine to share, no matter what it does for your dopamine.

But, I do know this: While there are other people’s stories, there are no other people’s children. Let’s not waste anymore time dividing, let’s lock arms and encourage one another to do the best we can, to keep our eyes on Jesus, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-31, ESV

Take a moment to reflect on this passage and how it effects your views on education for children in your own backyard and around the world.

The witty little post busting some home school myths with the end goal of encouraging those of you who desire to home school but don’t think you have what it takes is coming atcha Monday.

**Alisha’s name was changed to protect her privacy.
*Statistics can be found here, here, here, here.

a weary world rejoices [when bullets fly]

When bullets fly, suddenly everything you said about safety being an illusion becomes a mirage you actually want to see. Just tell me what I need to take to hallucinate safety. Cloak my family in that illusion, please-and-thank-you, because I don’t much care for the sight of police cars and caution tape.

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We spent our last year in Louisville “raising support” – meeting with potential financial and prayer partners. With the help of a Powerpoint presentation, we shared our family’s back story, the history of our Miami neighborhood, statistics about poverty and people unreached by the Good News.

As a picture of an AK-47 flashed on the screen, we narrated a shooting that took place last summer. “It’s not a particularly violent neighborhood” we would say, “there is some targeted violence…” (As if bullets contain some sort of global positioning system) “toward people involved in things they shouldn’t be.” (As if somehow being involved in those things makes a bullet intended for those people acceptable.)

Our aim was to calm the nerves of loved ones, to somehow communicate that even though we think safety is an illusion, we’ll be “safe” there, in that neighborhood with “targeted” violence…

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I was warned about culture shock; no one told me it would be this hard to b r e a t h.

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When bullets fly you wonder, Do I really have the power to push back darkness? The spiritually correct way of saying this is: you “question the call.”

But what I’m really questioning is, Do I even want to? Do I want to be light in the dark when streetlights are overpowered by strobing red and blue on every corner?

Do I want to?

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Counting the cost is no one time event. It’s a minute-by-minute decision to choose the margins over the mainstream, the center of God’s will over the illusion of safety, dependence on Him over a steady paycheck.

When the water stops running and groceries are hard to come by and you can’t read the street signs and you find a lizard in your hair you ask…

Do I really even want to be in the center of His will if it’s on the margins of society?

It’s tempting to think plumbing problems and internetlessness and driving miles for groceries and lizards in the bathtub are things that make you a “real missionary.”

I’ve seen the looks on faces as people struggle to understand a missionary on domestic soil. But there is no such thing as a “real missionary” because Jesus didn’t distinguish between Jerusalem,  Judea, Samaria, or the ends of the Earth.

And frankly, anywhere bullets fly on streets where children play, that is the end.

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My friend Liz says this Advent is basically saying, “I’m going to be more stubborn about hope than you. I’m going to be more stubborn about possibility than you. I just am.”

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…

How in the world does a weary world rejoice? I’ve been asking myself all week, or all month, or all year. I’m not sure how long…

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But I am, I am, stubbornly believing Christmas is the shadow of a reality that’s on it’s way.

I’m rejoicing not only because Jesus came once on a scandalous night in Bethlehem, but because HE IS COMING BACK.

And when he does His sword will stop bullets.
His justice and mercy will drown out darkness.
His tattoo will read “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Oppressive leaders will get on their knees.
Those on the margins will be welcomed in.
The weary, the tatted, the bruised, the poor, the hopeless and those at the end – He’ll wipe their tears and put death to death.

That is t h r i l l i n g Good News. It is the hope-giving, rejoice-worthy reality I’m setting my weary soul down on.

And it’s big enough for the whole weary world.

(I came across the below video after having written the first draft of this post. It made me feel right at home and I think it might do the same for you. I dare you to get through it without tears.)

Six Books for the Justice Seeker in Your Life (Also, you.)

You guys, it’s DECEMBER. What in the what. How did this happen? Is it the 80 degree weather and palm trees, or is everyone feeling dumbstruck by December?

(Don’t hate because of the aforementioned weather and palm trees. There are also snakes and crazy drivers and everything is hard here. Really, everything. But that’s another post for another day.)

So BOOKS!

Christmas is my favorite time to stock up on great reads! I have some seriously generous people in my life, and the one gift I never feel guilty about receiving is a good book.

Here are a few of my favorites from 2015:

 

And a quote from each, because quotes are fun.

“The only response to our immeasurable loss is God’s immeasurable love.”
Marcia Owens

“I don’t want my kids safe and comfortable. I want them BRAVE. I don’t want to teach them to see danger under every rock, avoiding anything hard or not guaranteed or risky. They are going to encounter a very broken world soon, and if they aren’t prepared to wade into difficult territory and contend for the kingdom against obstacles and tragedies and hardships, they are going to be terrible disciples.

I don’t want to be the reason my kids choose safety over courage. I hope I never hear them say, “Mom will freak out,” or “My parents will never agree to this.” May my fear not bind their purpose here. Scared moms raise scared kids. Brave moms raise brave kids. Real disciples raise real disciples.”
Jen Hatmaker

“If we are going to be faithful witnesses to the message and mission of Jesus in vulnerable neighborhoods, we must expand our current paradigm of gospel-centered ministry to make certain that it puts the millions of people surviving on the fringes of our world at the center of our concern, because the margins are at the center of God’s concern.
Noel Castellanos

“Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”
Gregory Boyle

“Ours is a God who waits. Who are we not to?”
Gregory Boyle

“The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.”
Michelle Alexander

“The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent—strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.”
Bryan Stevenson

Full disclosure y’all: these are affiliate links. That means when you click over to Amazon and buy a book, a small portion of your purchase goes toward our ministry in inner-city Miami. Gracias!!!

#TBT: From Bondage to Freedom

In the very near future, I’ll be closing the “small biz owner” chapter of my life as I transition out of Johari Creations​.

I’ve thought a lot about the word “failure” as this decision has been looming these past several months. I believe whole-heartedly my stepping out is not a “failure”, but an opportunity for me to discover what it is God’s calling me to in this season. I’ve been able to sharpen my focus and am truly excited to live in our new neighborhood, love my family, homeschool my kids, love my neighbors, and write the things I can’t keep inside.

My business partner and I are looking for a social entrepreneur who can steward Johari well by taking it to the next level BUT in the meantime, we’re liquidating our stock and you can score some killer deals on fair trade, handmade jewelry, scarves and Christmas ornaments over at Johari Creations on Instagram TONIGHT at 9pm EST. You really don’t want to miss it!!!

I’m keeping with the #TBT theme around here and pulling a post from just over a year ago, where I introduced the Johari Urban Bengali Collection from Bangladesh. You can purchase some of these amazing bracelets tonight!

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THIS truly is my heart beat. If you’re new around these parts, read more about it here.

This month we launched our new Urban Bengali Collection from Bangladesh.

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It’s amazing, obviously, BUT the women who make it….These women have my a piece of my heart.

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They have left prostitution and escaped trafficking to seek a new way of life. Through the dignified work of our Bangladeshi partner Basha, the women gain job skills and the opportunity to develop into leaders and entrepreneurs in a healthy, healing environment.

Do you remember when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh last year killing 1,133 people? Rana Plaza is only miles away from our artisans, yet the working conditions could not be more different.

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With this juxtaposition so geographically close, I have to ask, which are we supporting? Which am I supporting? Because each of us has not only a choice but a powerful vote. As the richest women on the planet, our wallets  are megaphones for the type of working conditions we desire for our sisters around the world.

Artisans at Basha earn a living wage and receive medical benefits. They participate in training one hour per day, giving them opportunities to improve their literacy and gain confidence. All employees are involved in decision-making and given a voice. Their children attend day care on the premises, preparing for school, or receiving tutoring or financial support to attend local or boarding schools.

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In a country where 65% of men perceive wife-beating as justified, Basha offers seminars on marriage to the artisans husbands. These women dream of a happy family life, and their jobs and training are making that dream a reality!

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And here’s the best part – because we have Johari Creations liaisons on the ground, we know the artisans who create our Urban Bengali Collection are also hearing the Gospel. Friends, sustainable income is good. Dignity is good. Fair trade is good. But only the Good News of Jesus brings true freedom.

Tens of thousands of women and children are believed to be trafficked each year from Bangladesh. Estimates place the number of women in prostitution in Bangladesh to be 100,000, with another 10-30,000 children being forced into the trade each year. Less than 10% of infants are registered, meaning children can ‘disappear’ with little recourse.

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But God has made a way out for these women and their children. And we can be a part of that. I want to be a part of that. I think we are commanded to be a part of that. We can stand alongside them, from oceans away, and celebrate their freedom and their talent!

These women are my heroes. They are brave. They are courageous. I am honored to wear the Urban Bengali Collection with pride as I celebrate and support the freedom of these women.

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[Don’t forget, tonight. 9pm EST. Instagram. @joharicreations. Mad deals. Be there.]

September R E A D S

A funny thing happens when you give up social media for a month, you have time to read words actually worth reading. And, you begin craving substance instead of empty calories.

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These are the five books on my bedside table this month:

I haven’t started United by Trillia Newbell yet but I am looking forward to exploring the topic of “reflecting the beauty of the last day this day” with a female author of color. With this book, Trillia begs the question “…our churches remain separate but equal. In a time of great progress, why does the church remain relatively unmoved?” #inquiringmindswanttoknow

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin was referenced in The New Jim Crow, and was the title of the book’s last paragraph. I haven’t started it yet but, according to Amazon, “It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.” The New York Times described it as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose.” #sold

I mentioned Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott last month. If you enjoy writing or reading or honesty or humor or words, then you should read it. If you don’t enjoy those things, Why are you here? See, you should read it.

Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle has been on my To Read list for a long, long time. Thanks to this online bookclub, I finally bumped it to the top, and am left wondering “Dog, what the hell took you so long to read this damn book?” There’s something about a Catholic Priest who cusses like a gangbanger and loves them like his sons that leaves my heart smiling. This book paints a beautiful picture tags breathtaking graffiti, of what it looks like to be the hands and feet of Jesus among the hurting and the lost. Father Greg’s stories are poetry mixed with expletives. He explores the humanness of shame and compassion and community in a unique and profound way. It’s a MUST read friends.

I emailed my seminary friend a couple weeks ago asking for a book that explores theological and biblical history on race, what reconciliation looked like in the bible, etc., etc. His response was: I’m not sure such a book exists. But he did point me to One New Man by Jarvis Williams, which, according to Amazon, “aims to liberate individual Christians and churches from their bondage to racist ideologies, from a secular model of race relations, and from their disdain toward different races that arise from both the impact of their respective cultures and from the universal impact of sin.” Sign. Me. Up.

What are you reading this month? Have you read any of these? Are there other similar topics or authors I should check out? Share with me!

This post contains affiliate links. Read what that means here.

Recap + Five Things I’m Learning + Resources

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Hi friends. Happy Friday! It’s been great to hear how helpful this week’s series on racial reconciliation has been for many of you!

Today is the last of our series and there’s no awesome guest poster, just little ol’ me. You guys, I am NOT an expert on race, or for that matter much of anything. But I love to share what God is teaching me, what I’m learning from others, and helpful resources. In this journey called life, I think it’s important to reach ahead to lock arms with someone farther ahead AND to reach back to lock arms with someone else we can bring along.

But first, a recap from this week’s posts:

Monday’s post, A Come to Jesus Meeting on 21st Century Racism from your “Black Friend”, from the beautiful Salem Afangideh. A few of my favorite quotes from Salem…

“Until we can be honest about the racism in our hearts we cannot begin to walk the path of racial reconciliation.” Ouch, right?

And her list of five signs you might be racist? Seriously laughing out loud. What were your thoughts?

If this thought from Salem makes you squirm, “We did not live in a culture that was systematically set up to make sure we stayed at the bottom of the ladder.” I suggest you add The New Jim Crow to your summer reading list.

What did you think of her description of 21st Century racism? Did you give yourself time to sit with it? Take a hard introspective look at your heart? If not, make some time for that.

Tuesday’s post, Action Items for New Allies, came from C. G. Brown. C. G. is a man of concise words that pack a powerful punch. He shared nine action items with us and “2-5. Seriously, believe them.” also had me laughing out loud. Have you ever thought about what it would be like to share your story (or even just a single life experience) with someone, only to have them completely invalidate your story or experience? Can you imagine this happening consistently?

And his #6 “It’s not your fault, and it’s not about you.” and explanation were humbling to say the least. Of course it’s not about us, but in our desire to help/come alongside/bridge build/etc., we can be over zealous and shell shocked when we realize the deep deep history of racism in our country. I know I struggle with responding to current events in a way that is respectful of the grieving that is taking place, entering into it myself, while also balancing my desire and personality type to “do something.” Anyone else?

Wednesday’s post, Four False and Good Starts to Racial Reconciliation, came from Sean M. Watkins. I kinda wanna make wallpaper out of this quote from Wednesday:

“Become “Not Racist” but “Antiracist.” It is not enough when someone says, “I am not racist.” We must become “antiracist.” We must become allergic to injustice and racism wherever it exists—in our hearts, our homes, our churches, our communities. Absence and silence end when we become advocates for those who have been long overlooked and dismissed. When the unheard see people who don’t look like them advocating for them—without having to ask for that advocacy—trust will be built in biblical proportions.”

I want to be allergic to injustice and racism wherever it exists! I want to build trust in biblical proportions! Yes and Amen. I love the hope that comes across in Sean’s words. Did you feel it too?

Thursday’s post, Is That Really Helpful? Considerations for Aspiring Allies, came from Denise Anderson. You guys, Denise BROUGHT IT. I wish we lived in the same city so I could be her real life friend. On some level, I am completely guilty of each of her behaviors to avoid.

After reading her post, I had to email her to apologize for my ignorance to Racial Battle Fatigue. This dance is awkward and stepping on toes is to be expected. But when it happens we can speak it out loud and ask for forgiveness.

“Contrary to what you may believe, you don’t need to engage with people of color to do the work of racial reconciliation. Why do I say that? Because there is more than enough work to be done among other White folks. It is perfectly appropriate — and even necessary — for White people to engage other White people in the work of racial justice.”

Denise was the first person say this to me and I think it takes some of the scary, intimidating pressure off. If you’re white, you know a lot of white people. And there is plenty of work to be done there. Start where you are. Don’t stay there, but start there.

Like I said, I think it’s helpful to share what we’re learning so others can learn to. In the spirit of sharing and learning, here are five things I’m learning:

1. History is important. And I don’t know it. So I’m taking responsibility for that by reading the books recommended to me and listening to podcasts like this one.

2. Online relationships do not replace being with in-the-flesh humans. They just don’t. Online relationships are incredible helpful. (I don’t actually know IRL any of my guest posters from this week.) But connections are made when we look into the eyes of another human. When we can hear the emotion in their voice and see the tension they carry in their shoulders. When we can reach out and touch each other. When we can cry tears together.

3. Listening and learning from one person/group of people does not negate the need to do so with another person/group of people. Meaning, just because I have been listening and learning from certain men and women in my life does not mean I can jump into conversations with other people of color without learning and listening from them first. You guys, I learned this one the hard way. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. Of course each person is an individual. Of course every person has their own story, their own hurts, their own wounds, their own feelings. And of course when I am new to a person/group of people they look at me and see white girl. Who likes to ask questions. When we enter into conversations without laying the groundwork for true relationship, both sides can be misunderstood and the conversation dies. Relationship is the foundation for bridge building. 

4. Not everyone is ready for this conversation. Some white people aren’t ready for this. Move on. Jesus was clear about shaking the dust off our feet and moving on to someone ready to listen. Some people of color aren’t ready for this. As I’ve been told, their pain is too deep, their grief to constant. They are tired. Rightly so. Find someone else to learn from. It’s ok.

5. Grace, grace, grace. I have offended. I have been offended. I have hurt feelings. My feelings have been hurt. I have misunderstood others and felt misunderstood. This is clunky and awkward. We must absorb in grace as much as we can and extend grace as far as it will go. (SPOILER ALERT: Grace never ends.)

Helpful Resources

I was first introduced to Latasha Morrison at the IF: Conference this year. You can view this video of the racial reconciliation round table that took place at IF.

Tasha’s blog can be found here. I also recommend this podcast interview she did with Jamie Ivey of the Happy Hour. I love Tasha because she is full of hope and grace and Jesus. She’s been a real encouragement to me. Go follow her on all the social medias.

Here’s the Perfect Explanation for Why White People Need to Stop Saying #AllLivesMatter

Salem shared this book list with us on Monday and I HIGHLY recommend you start checking those out from your library or hop on Amazon. Book club anyone?

Spend some time reading the #IfIDieInPoliceCustody posts on Twitter and Instagram.

And finally, this video from Evelyn from the Internets. It needs no introduction.

Has this series been helpful for you? What has it left you feeling and pondering? What stuck with you? What is your next step? How can we continue this conversation on the internet and in our real lives?  I wanna hear from you!

Is That Really Helpful? Considerations for Aspiring Allies

You guys, I’m not being dramatic when I say today’s guest post brought me to tears. There is so much truth, so much wisdom, so much grace, so much humility, and so much bold love.

Denise Anderson’s post “Allies,” the Time For Your Silence Has Expired is the reason I wrote about my white privilege and the spark behind this week’s series. When I asked Denise to contribute, I expected her to kindly decline. But she didn’t. And for that I am so, so grateful. Please read her words with an open heart + mind and share them far + wide. As she will conclude, racial reconciliation is holy work. Church, this is for us. 

[To re-cap here are Monday’s post, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s.]

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I’m honored that Lindsy reached out to me after reading a piece I wrote after the massacre at Emanuel AME Church. When she told me about this blog series and what she wanted to do, I had a ton of thoughts. Honestly, I feel I’m at a loss for what to tell White people to do because, well, I’m not White. But I do at least have some thoughts on what I find helpful from my White friends and colleagues in times of racial unrest — and what doesn’t help at all.

With that, I humbly submit some considerations for engagement and some behaviors to avoid for those who would become agents of reconciliation in a broken world.

Let us have a moment. Racial Battle Fatigue is a real thing. When you repeatedly are subjected to or witness incidents of racially-motivated violence, it chips away at your soul each and every time. An attempt to get us to engage — whether it’s expressing regret or asking our opinion on the latest killing of an unarmed Black person — can feel like an invasion. Sometimes we need to retreat to process our feelings. Sometimes we’re at a loss or need to talk ourselves out of snapping. Perhaps that’s not the time to tag us in all articles related to said incident on social media. Maybe post those things on your own timelines and express your own outrage. Maybe you don’t immediately hit us in our inbox and start asking, “What can I do? I feel so helpless. Do you have any suggestions?” No ma’am, and no sir; it is way too fresh.

Job’s friends came to sit shiva with him after he lost everything he had. However, things didn’t go further south until they started speaking. Practice the art of solidarity by shielding (as best as you can) your friends from intrusions upon their grief — specifically your own intrusions.

Don’t ask a PoC to do your work for you. So, about those “Do you have any suggestions?” messages in your Black friend’s inbox…

Black folks have had suggestions for generations, many of which have fallen on deaf ears among even well-meaning White people. The struggle for equal rights predates all of us now, and at this time we’re neck-deep in scholarship, history, and narrative on the matter. Classes have been taught on this stuff since before I knew my ABCs. If you’ve missed the message, it’s your job to play catch-up.

I’m surprised (and even disturbed) that most of the people who ask me this question have advanced degrees. These are folks who know how to do robust research (and are even better at Googling things). They know how to find syllabi from most any course offered at any college in recent years. Why not look up the syllabi of courses on racial justice, sociology of racism, liberation theology, etc? Why not look into the books listed on those syllabi? Why ask an already grieving person to leave their grief just give you a bibliography? Does that not seem at least somewhat insensitive?

Don’t police Black voices. And check other people who do.

It’s interesting to me that right now all the talk on Twitter is about this so-called “feud” between Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. Minaj made a critique about how the music industry ignores the contributions of Black women and Swift took offense to it and spoke out. No one was talking about (or to) Swift. She made Minaj’s experience/perspective about herself and her own feelings. This is, sadly, the experience of many people of color. We express our own truth and are met with the interjections of White people and their self-insertion into our narrative.

When we speak about our experiences, we’re often derided for our tone. We’re not saying things in a way that’s palatable for White sensibilities, so we’re dismissed as “angry”. Our people are dying, we call for change, and we’re met with, “Ask me nicely!” or “Maybe you’re mistaken.” That’s infuriating.

And please resist the temptation to “whitesplain” the world. I really don’t care about Jamal at your office who made partner despite being from “the ghetto.” I’m happy for him, but unless you’re also going to document how his climb was harder than yours, or explain the system that ensures his former community continues to subsist in poverty despite their best efforts, I assure you you’re not helping. (Bonus points if you can do all of that without making it seem like people of color are endemically lazy, violent, or unambitious.) Any would-be ally would do well to validate the anger and frustration of people of color, because these feelings are justified. And on a related note…

Don’t make this about you. So, about those “I feel helpless” messages in your Black friend’s inbox…

I don’t think White people understand how much space they take up sometimes. This is not about you right now. I know you want to express empathy when the hashtags and news stories start circulating, but when a mother has to bury her child and a community is forced to relive the horrors of its past, present, and, likely, its future, it’s not the time to focus on your own vulnerabilities. Your feelings are valid, but I think in those times there are more productive feelings to express, engage and channel — like righteous indignation, for instance. Focus on the feelings that get you motivated rather than paralyze you.

Seriously, just give us a moment. I want White people to have friendships with people of color, and not for the sake of having non-black friends, but to experience mutual love and respect that often leads to deeper understanding. But those friends can’t be sherpas for White allyhood; it’s asking too much of them, especially in times like these.

Contrary to what you may believe, you don’t need to engage with people of color to do the work of racial reconciliation. Why do I say that? Because there is more than enough work to be done among other White folks. It is perfectly appropriate — and even necessary — for White people to engage other White people in the work of racial justice. I’ve been referring people to Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which organizes White people for this work. They also curate ideas and action items for White people to consider doing in their own contexts. SURJ understands that reconciliation can only happen between those on the same footing. When you dismantle the systems that disproportionately oppress and subjugate some of us, then and only then can reconciliation take place.

For me, the word “reconciliation” has theological significance because it assumes something is being restored to its former state. Christians understand reconciliation as the restoration of the relationship between humans and God through the work of Jesus of Nazareth. We also understand that love of God and love of neighbor are inextricable, and it is impossible to love God without loving other humans. Racial reconciliation is, therefore, holy work. It is ministry itself. And if it is indeed ministry, that means that it’s not easy work, but it is work for which the Church has been empowered. May God light the path and the passion of those who would undertake it. Amen.

View More: http://whitneypointephotography.pass.us/deniseheadshots

 

Denise Anderson is a Presbyterian Church (USA) Teaching Elder and Pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church in Temple Hills, Maryland. She’s a proud graduate of Howard University School of Divinity, where she developed her interests in social justice, liberation theology, and feminist/womanist religious thought. Denise blogs at Soula Scriptura and is among the contributors to the RevGals book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).

Four False and Good Starts to Racial Reconciliation

This is the third in a weeklong series on race. If you missed them, head back to read A Come to Jesus Meeting on 21st Century Racism from your “Black Friend” from Monday and Action Items for New Allies from yesterday.

Today’s guest post comes from Sean M. Watkins. Sean grabbed my attention with his Do You Know What Your Pastor Will Say Tomorrow post in the wake of the #CharlestonShooting. I have enjoyed following his writing since and expect the same for you.

Bolt false starts in the men's 100 metres final at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu

Usain Bolt of Jamaica (R) makes a false start as Nesta Carter of Jamaica stays in the blocks in the men’s 100 metres final at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu August 28, 2011. Bolt false started and was disqualified from the world athletics championships 100 metres final on Sunday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

A false start is defined as “an unsuccessful attempt to begin something.” They can occur in a number of sports. A runner or swimmer starts too soon. False starts, however, are most commonly recognized from the game of football.

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When someone makes an illegal action (like this guy running full speed while the rest of team is standing still—epic fail), the entire team suffers and has to move backwards, increasing the distance they had from accomplishing their goal. False starts not only occur in the NFL, but also in the real world.

If the events of this year have taught us anything, it is that our country, and the church, have had a number of false starts when it comes to racial reconciliation. For the few places that are striving toward racial reconciliation—whether ministries, politicians, or businesses—events like in Charleston, McKinney, Ferguson, and Baltimore don’t simply reveal how much more work to do. They are litmus tests for how much true progress has been made, and if we are not careful, how much the little progress that has been made can be lost.

The truth is we are one people. The entire human race. We are one, with all of our differences, perspectives, hopes, fears, and dreams. Collectively, we are incredibly strong. Separated, we are frighteningly destructive. What happens to one—directly and indirectly—affects us all. I was confused why stock analysts were panicking about dollars in Greece at certain points during the last few years. Their economy has implications for our economy. If this is true from a material standpoint, how much more true is it from a spiritual one? We are one body, “made up of many parts” (1 Corinthians 12:12). Any injustice committed to any South Asian person directly and/or indirectly affects the Black community. When our Latino brothers and sisters suffer from systemic injustice, it affects Native American communities, the broad diaspora of White communities, and so on.

False starts with respect to racial reconciliation do not occur simply because one person commits a heinous act against one group. They also can occur when our responses do not promote healing for the hurts that are afflicted (i.e. your favorite athletes when referees make legitimately bad calls). Let me give four suggestions of false starts of racial reconciliation:

  1. Multiple Definitions. Many people use the words but very few have an agreed upon definition on what they legitimately mean. For the dominate culture—I would suggest any context where any group is in the dominate category (economically, politically, ethnically, etc.)—racial reconciliation means “open doors.” Those who were once excluded are now brought in. They have a “seat” at the table and their “voice” is allowed to be heard. For people in the sub-dominate group, it isn’t that simple. There is tremendous pain, wounds, and mistrust that has occurred for weeks, months, years, decades, even centuries. That will not go away overnight. Forgiveness must be requested and given, and trust has to be build. Additionally, many—not all—sub-dominate groups don’t simply want a seat at the table, they are looking for recovery of what was lost or taken away. (That’s not a call for reparations, as much as repairing the damage to communities that suffered systemic long-term damage from legal injustice.) In short, voice is given but without power to affect change. Any and all repairs needed to a community—whether economic, emotional, educational, etc.—lies primarily with the formerly oppressed or marginalized. In our country, generational burdens from segregation aren’t redistributed, just partially acknowledged. Starting with the present while never addressing the past—how this present was made possible—will cripple the conversation before it begins. I remarked to friend the other day who was commenting about the progress of the last 150 years since the Civil War ended. I responded, “If I walk a mile in 45 minutes, some would call that progress; but if I walk a mile in 45 years, I would have difficulty calling that progress.” If racial reconciliation means to some “I hear you,” and to someone else “Repent” or “Change,” we will have a lot of false starts.
  2. Multiple Voices. Eugene Robinson, in Disintegration, states 50 years ago “Black” in the U.S. meant the descendant of slaves. Today, “Black” has splintered into multiple groups: descendants of slaves (ranging in economic power from middle class to abject poverty), bi-racial people who have one Black parent in their DNA with another person of any other ethnic descent, 1st & 2nd generation African immigrants/families, and affluent Blacks that have enough money race isn’t a limitation (Oprah, Jay Z, Magic Johnson, etc.) Whose voice are we listening to when we engage dialogue about racial reconciliation? Depending on who you ask, you could get several different answers. If we are only listening to and looking to one group to speak for the broad diaspora of “Black,” there will be gaps. This is why Ferguson and Baltimore had peaceful and violent protests, CNN’s Don Lemon asked questions that infuriates many in the Black community, Fox News has Black commentators that support all of their views, and the list goes on. The community is splintered and if we have selective hearing, we can assume progress when there has been little made for if true progress had been made, our responses to national racial tragedies would not be as wide and varied. The same is true of the Asian Community. “Asian” in America means Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin speaking), Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Taiwanese, Indian (South Asian), etc. When it is said, “We are reaching/want to reach the Asian community,” to whom are we referring? We can easily assume progress, when in reality, it could be a false start.
  3. The Silence of Adam. Genesis gives the Creation Account for humanity. In Chapter 3, Adam and Eve eat a piece of fruit they aren’t supposed to and ruins the rest of the book! Historically, Eve gets all the blame, but the Bible does say, “She gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Gen. 3:6). Scripture records Eve’s conversation with the Serpent, but Adam who is present, is silent. It is chilling to consider he was present at one the most pivotal moments in human history, and he settled for being an eyewitness over engaging. Whatever hopes, aspirations, visions, sermons, tweets, Facebook posts, friends of any color we have, when silence is the only thing heard during times of racial tension, it dissolves any progress that may have been made. If people have limited cross-cultural experience, then much of what they receive about other people is from the news and media. If there is a continuous loop of white police shooting unarmed Black people, angry Black protesters screaming for justice, a 15 second loop of Mexicans crossing the border illegally into the United States, it will influence us—whether we believe it or not. When there are no positive examples to contribute to one-sided news reports (i.e. white pastors calling for justice, Black pastors calling for peaceful protests, Mexican families interpreting the hopes for those families, etc.), the narrative in most our minds is filled with what was said in the past…and the past has far more negative comments than good ones. (A catalyst for advocating for racial-reconciliation in my life occurred when many white leaders reached out to me and my friends to grieve terrible racially charged events on campus. It gave me a picture of what health can look like. I have been chasing it ever since.) It is saddening to watch friends have an endless sea of comments on LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, Tom Brady’s Deflategate, Avengers: Age of Ultron, favorite restaurants, and everything else we post but to hear or see nothing when it comes to issues of race and ethnicity. Silence is violence, not reconciliation, and it will always produce a false start.
  4. The Absence of Adam. In Genesis 4, when Cain kills Abel, Adam’s name is nowhere in the account. Only the two brothers and the mom are mentioned. The only other man on the planet is absent when his two sons fight to the death. Absence is similar to silence, but slightly different. Silence breaks cross-cultural trust, but absence means being not caring to the point of being oblivious. Granted, we don’t know what we don’t know. However, if we want to be committed to racial reconciliation, we cannot afford to be oblivious. I can never be oblivious. A non-Black person can get a Bachelors, a Masters, and PhD without ever having to encounter a Black person or their culture. The reverse, however, is that I as a Black man cannot get a GED without being exposed to white culture. I am never oblivious. If I can return to my comfort zone and reduce my awareness of events, true racial reconciliation will not occur, but a false start.

Let me give 4 practical steps to embracing true racial reconciliation. These will not solve all our problems, but they are steps in the right direction and ensure false starts will stop occurring.

  1. Come to Terms. In our organizations, on our leadership teams, and in our own hearts, we need to agree to what a true definition of racial reconciliation truly is. It will not be easy—some can’t agree on what’s for lunch—but it will be worth it. Ask your team: “How you do define these terms? How do we want to define them and live them out?”
    If I may suggest, if we are serious, whoever is “the least of these” should have the dominate voice in deciding on the definition. If a group has been historically unheard and doesn’t have power in conversations like this one, it is a guarantee that won’t feel heard or valued when that vision or definition is defined. We must also give each other time to discern what racial reconciliation means and what we are willing to commit to. At best, we will be in one accord. At worst, we may lose some people because they are looking for something more or different, but at least we will know.
  2. Get a Hearing Test. Whose voice is not being heard? Who is absent from the room? Who has a voice but not power to affect change? The health of our churches, our communities, and our country is not in a place where “voice” or influence is enough. To reduce the unheard solely to “influence” roles without power assumes they will suddenly be heard without any measure of accountability for the hearers. It must be coupled with power, whether temporary or permanent, to see legitimate change occur. Develop discernment to affirm who is being heard and to affirm those who are consistently overlooked and marginalized. (Side note, gender is monumental here, too. In and outside of ethnicity, we still struggle to hear women equally.)
  3. Become “Not Racist” but “Antiracist.” It is not enough when someone says, “I am not racist.” We must become “antiracist.” We must become allergic to injustice and racism wherever it exists—in our hearts, our homes, our churches, our communities. Absence and silence end when we become advocates for those who have been long overlooked and dismissed. When the unheard see people who don’t look like them advocating for them—without having to ask for that advocacy—trust will be built in biblical proportions. Challenge “those” conversations, actions, and attitudes. Ask questions. Seek to understand if injustice has occurred. Defend the cause of the overlooked and unheard. Don’t just cast it out of your heart, but your house and your neighborhood, too.
  4. Develop a Ministry of Presence. Henri Nouwen said, “It is not always about saying the right thing or doing the right thing, but simply being present can mean the world to someone.” Being present means listening to the hurting without correcting, presenting data to give hope, or any other means to recolonize someone’s thinking in the midst of grief. Sometimes people need space to grieve. 24 hours after the Charleston Shooting, news reports and leaders were calling for healing, progress, and gun control. The Black community needed—and still needs—space to mourn the continued history of racist attacks because of the color of our skin. Our community, especially the church, is high off of hope—not biblical hope. True hope comes from balancing lament and praise. Without proper space to process and mourn, true progress cannot be made. So sit with us and listen. Love. Learn. Lament. With us.

These are not answers, but hopefully steps in the right direction. There are no easy answers in the midst of difficult situations, but we must speak into them and walk through whatever valleys life throws our way. We will either move forward together or pass our lack of progress on to the next generation.

Let’s break the cycle and move forward.

No more false starts.

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seanSean M. Watkins is a Christian minister, trying to figure out how to follow Jesus and help others do the same. Sean’s goal is for people to remember Jesus, not him.
God has blessed Sean to see, believe and work to live out the Biblical vision of multi-ethnicity. Within that vision, Sean has a tremendous heart for Black people. He believes God put him on the earth to be an agent of change in the Black community, one life at a time. You can follow Sean on Twitter and on his blog. 

Action Items for New Allies

This is the second in a weeklong guest series on race. If you missed yesterday’s post, head here to read it.

Today’s post comes from C. G. Brown. I’m excited for you to read his words because, A. He’s brilliant & B. He’s a man and there’s far too much estrogen on the internet sometimes.

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First, thanks Lindsy for inviting me to share your space. The work of dismantling our country’s flawed views on race is hard, and requires many voices. I’m glad to have yours, and to have the opportunity to share mine.

I’d like to set a couple of ground rules before we begin. First, we will assume that “systemic racism” exists. By systemic racism I mean a framework that enforces rules and mores that benefit one racial group over another without any single individual being required to make a blatantly racist choice. For many, even this concession is a bridge too far, but I’ll talk a bit more about why this matters later. Second, I will use the terms “white people” and “black people” to refer to Americans who are of European immigrant descent and African slave descent (or people who look like either group) respectively. No capital letters, no conversation about the made-up-ness of the whole mess.

The past several years have given the lie to the belief that race is a problem that is behind us. We in America come from vastly different perspectives on the issue, but from the language used to describe people on opposite sides of a bullet to the opinions formed on sparse or false information, it’s obvious that we’re not seeing clearly.

A number of white people are interested in dismantling structures that keep us apart and promulgate injustice. As my friend Judy Wu Dominick has pointed out though, the revelation that systemic racism is a real thing can be a traumatic, identity challenging event for white people. That trauma can be so difficult to process it leaves those who awaken to it in a sort of “analysis paralysis”, liking friends’ Facebook posts or tweets, but unsure of how to act. If you’ll permit me, I’d like to suggest some action items for white people who want to do more, but don’t know where to begin.

  1. Believe what black people tell you about their experience.

Your friend that you went to college with. Your co-worker. Your fellow church attendee, if you attend one of the relatively rare multicultural churches out there. The more similar experience someone black has had to yours, the harder it may be for you to believe that they lived in a parallel world with challenges you never even contemplated. However, this belief is the cornerstone of coming to an understanding of how to respond to issues of race.

2-5. Seriously, believe them.

Your instinct will be to not believe. You’ll seek facts and figures to bolster your old view. You’ll tell them that they must have been imagining. If you’re particularly irritated, you might tell them they’ve been listening to too much Al Sharpton or liberal media. When you say that though, think about what you’re really saying.

You don’t know your own mind.
You’re making up an experience to feel like a victim so you can get special treatment.
You can’t come up with your own perspective, so you need the media to teach it to you.

How would you feel if someone said these things in response to some experience you had? So assume they’re telling the truth, at least their truth.

  1. It’s not your fault, and it’s not about you.

It’s important to separate your demographic experience from your personal experience. The trauma of recognizing systemic injustice arrives in two common forms: shame and resentment. Shame tells you that you’re an awful person and you should wallow in despair for the subconscious wrongs you’ve done. Resentment bristles you up and tells you that you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for the actions of others, especially people who died before you were born.

Both of these are wrong. It’s not your fault that racism exists, but it’s not about you either. Shamefully despairing over bad choices or hardening your heart in resentment makes the entire issue of the ongoing oppression of millions of people an issue of your personal feelings. Instead, take a learning posture. And if you’ve followed steps 1-5, people will have lots to tell you.

  1. Confront your friends when they say racist things.

I know this is hard because I think about how hard it is for me to confront my friends (or myself) about anti-gay or anti-woman comments. But letting racist comments slip by creates a climate of indifference that lets evil flourish.

Once you’ve had some practice reining your friends in, take on some big game; talk to your family when they say things. Of course, you can use some discretion here; there’s the old uncle who rants about everything and doesn’t listen, and he’s probably not worth your time. But your parents, siblings, cousins, and more receptive elders may benefit from some real talk.

  1. Seek to serve rather than to lead.

A significant number of aspects of our culture tell us that white voices are the most important and must be heard, even at the expense of black voices. We see this frequently in media. For instance, the movie Selma came under fire for not portraying a heroic LBJ, even though the president’s portrayal was consistent with history. People were infuriated that a Rue, a fictional character from The Hunger Games, was portrayed by a black person, because she was important and likable.

Where this plays out is when we have dialogue about how to proceed. Your instinct may be to  take your newly synthesized knowledge and take over the conversation, even going as far as educating the black people who don’t have the same conviction or who haven’t done as much research as you. Your voice does have a lot of weight, but direct that voice outward toward people who truly don’t understand. It’s tempting to see disenfranchised communities as in desperate need of guidance or assistance, but a helping hand doesn’t always come from on high. Sometimes, it’s just another laborer for the harvest.

  1. Recognize the intersectionality of the battle.

Each of us comes from a nexus of privileges and disadvantages that leaves us in a certain place on the playing field. Race is significant, all the more so because we refuse to deal with it in this country. But gender, sexuality, and class all feed into each other and into race as well. In some circles, a well-educated, well-off black person may be viewed as a more desirable friend than a poorly-educated, poor white person. However, racial biases may still add tension into that preferred friendship.

Understanding intersectionality will also help you get over the problems outlined in step 6. Many white people object to the notion of racial injustice because they say, “I grew up poor and I had to fight for everything I got!”  Through an intersectional lens, it’s possible to simultaneously recognize the privilege you experienced as white while recognizing the disadvantages you had growing up poor. This works in other directions as well; I realize that growing up with two loving parents in an all black middle class neighborhood gave me privileges people of various races with different adjectives before “parents” and “neighborhood” didn’t have. At the same time, when I walk down the street, people don’t see my upbringing or education first.

I hope that you find these thoughts useful as you take this burden you feel to pursue justice with humility and grace. You are most welcome in this fight.

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C. G. Brown is too lazy to keep a blog. But he does think a lot about current events, racial reconciliation, and technology. He makes a living by writing and helping people manage software. He makes a life with his wife, friends, and occasional musical instruments in Atlanta. You can follow his musings at http://www.facebook.com/cgbrown or occasionally on Twitter at @brokenbeatnik.

A Come to Jesus Meeting on 21st Century Racism from your “Black Friend”

Today is the first of a weeklong series of guest posts on race and what white people can do as racial reconciliation allies and bridge builders. If you have been reading and praying and learning and listening (online and offline) and are asking yourself “What now?”, then this series is for you!

I’ve reached out to a handful of friends and asked them to share their advice and guidance with us. I recognize it’s unfair and inaccurate to ask one person to speak for an entire group of people BUT I have a responsibility to steward my platform (however small) well and my attempt to do that is inviting friends of color to share their experiences with you Dear Reader.

Today’s guest post comes from Salem Afangideh. Her words are laugh out loud funny and grab your journal introspective. I know you’re going to enjoy her!

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You know how everyone claims not to be racist because they have a black friend?! I am that black friend, so get comfortable and let me share with you a few thoughts that your solo black friend has running through her mind. The first 5 things I share with you may not necessarily be nice and comfortable, but until we can be honest about the racism in our hearts we cannot begin to walk the path of racial reconciliation.

On that note:

  1. If you have only one black friend (not including the inner city kids that make you feel better about yourself after serving them once a week) you are most likely racist.
  2. If you have more than one black friend but they are Africans, you are also most likely to be racist.
  3. If the only black people you have respect for are “black excellence” – the Obama’s, the black professionals, or black people in ministry. You are most likely racist.
  4. If you find your pronoun use in an “us” and “them” battle when talking about black people, you are also more likely to be racist.
  5. If your only knowledge of black history is limited to trans-Atlantic slavery and segregation, you are also most likely to be a 21st century racist.

Well, you are still reading – so i’m guessing you are not too deeply offended, but even if you are – sorry, not sorry.

See friends, I can go there because at some point in my life I have been that list.

I have been the person to say “well black people just need to move on from trans-atlantic slavery because it did not happen to them.” I said those words (in a safe space, to my family) and my mother helped me understand that (1). I was being racist. (2). It wasn’t that easy to move on from oppression when systematic injustice still existed.

A little back story; my family is from Africa so we are black, but have an entirely different culture from American black culture, and an entirely different history from black history. We are descendants of the Africans that were not sold into slavery. We have an entirely different world view. We don’t speak “ebonics.” We grew up in schools with people who looked like us. We saw black excellence. We did not live in a culture that was systematically set up to make sure we stayed at the bottom of the ladder. We did not have people stare at us when we walked into a store thinking we would steal things just because of our skin color. We did not have anyone thinking we were “thugs” even though I have some cousins that probably could have fit the description.

In many ways, i grew up with privilege and there is nothing I can do to change that. I am still very grateful for my childhood and half of my teenage years in Africa. In many ways I can relate with a lot of my “white friends” because I am not fully a part of American black culture. I am privileged.

And privilege does something to you. it makes you blind to systematic injustices all around you because you did not experience it. 

Privilege makes people racist.

21st century racism may not be as extreme as Dylan Roof who burned the black churches because he stated in his blog that white is the superior race and someone needed to be brave enough to destroy the savage races.

21st century racism is subtle.

It’s systematic.

It’s behind-the-scenes.

It’s automatically assuming that a young black girl with a kid is an unwed mother. 

It’s automatically assuming that the young black college student your daughter hangs out with is going to hurt her.

It is desperately wanting an integrated church but not having people of color on staff or on the leadership.

It is automatically seeing my 6’1 super-bulky, workout fanatic brother crossing the street and looking to see if your car doors are locked. 

It is seeing the black family on welfare at the grocery store and immediately getting upset.

Friends, I can go there, because I have been there. Praise the LORD I see things very differently now.

“I once was blind, but now i see” – Famous lines from the famous hymn Amazing Grace.

Did you know friends that John Newton, the lyricist behind the song Aamazing Agrace was of the beliefve that people of African descent were not humans?. He was completely blinded to the humanity of people who were just like him in every way except in their culture and their melanin content.

Until he met the LORD.

I believe strongly in my heart that the body of Christ is the key to racial reconciliation.

I believe that there is a lot of work to be done, so lets get moving!!

Here are three suggestions that worked to heal the racism in my own heart, and opened my eyes to the continuing effects of slavery in black culture and to the sickening systematic racism in the culture today.

  1. Get educated. Get some books about race and culture written by black voices. I have a list to help you get started
  2. Be inclusive in your spaces. Invite that black family in and get to know them on a real level. Maybe even have these hard conversations with them. Ask them about their experiences. Tell them you want to share yours. No more superficial relationships.
  3. Put yourself in black spaces: Go visit a black church. Watch a black movie. Get to know black culture intentionally, and not as a “missionary” to change or “fix” black culture – but as a friend with curiosity and humility.

There will always be a divide in culture and the good news is you don’t have to be a Rachel Dolezal and completely change your race to fight for racial reconciliation.

I am still African.
I will never be talented enough to speak ebonics.
I do not do fried chicken
I worship better to Hillsong thant Gospel music, and
I am not the biggest Beyonce fan.

But there has been a growth in the past 4 years in understanding culture, policies, and being an advocate for issues that transcend race and culture. So here is a promise from your black friend; as long as you are willing, there will be a growth in you too.

In your growth, you will no longer be blinded to the humanity of people with a different amount of melanin than you. In your growth, your family, your neighbours, your church, your children, and the law will be impacted and the natural overflow of YOUR growth will be racial reconciliation.

 

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Salem Afangideh is a creative stuck in the intellectual brain of a lawyer. She lives to love God deeply and to love others well, while sprinkling light and hope everywhere she goes. She is a dessert-first kinda girl that loves to adventure, laugh, teach yoga, talk about the hard things, and do life big. 

 

 

You can find her blogging on The Warrior Princess Blog, or on instagram as afro_princess.

A Story, a Cycle & an Invitation

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There once was a young girl whose father was absent. Whether it was addiction, apathy or another woman, he was nowhere to be found. Her mother was unable to care for her because of her own brokenness so, after years of witnessing violence and experiencing physical and emotional abuse, she and her siblings went into foster care.

A nice-enough woman showed up one day along with a couple police officers. The young girl was placed in the backseat of a police car and watched through tears as her house got smaller and smaller and smaller… until finally she couldn’t see it anymore.

She entered “the system”. Scared. Heartbroken. Bruised.

A home able and willing to care for her and her all of siblings could not be found so they were separated. The young girl carried a garbage bag filled with her belongings up the steps of a house she had never before seen, and walked numbly into the living room of complete strangers.

Alone. Scared. Heartbroken. Bruised.

She stayed in that home for a little while but, for reasons her young heart couldn’t understand, they “couldn’t keep her.” So, she packed up her garbage bag and moved to another stranger’s home. And then another. And another. And another.

Alone. Scared. Heartbroken. Sometimes, still bruised.

All of the sudden, she’s a teenager and labeled as “too much”, among other things. She found herself in a “Residential Treatment Facility” with other teenage girls. Dozens of them with similar stories. Stories of abuse and abandonment and loneliness and broken families.

She got better. Went to therapy. Took her medication. And went back into a stranger’s home.

Then she got pregnant. And became a statistic.

{Teen girls in foster care are more than twice as likely
as their peers not in foster care to become pregnant by age 19.}

Soon she dropped out of high school. And became another statistic. 

{Roughly 50 percent of the nation’s 500,000 foster kids won’t graduate from high school.}

Then she “aged out.” Left the foster care system. Alone. Scared. Heartbroken. No support system. No one to help her find an apartment. Or a job. Or a car.

Her baby was born and though she loved her, she had no idea how to care for her. How to nurture her. How to show her love. Because she had never experienced it herself. In nearly two-dozen foster homes, she had never experienced healthy family. So she couldn’t create it.

And because she had no one to help her navigate the real world, she became homeless. Another statistic.

{Nearly a quarter of foster youth are homeless within a year of leaving care.}

She surfed couches as long as she could. Stretched her food stamps as far as they would go. Made some bad decisions. Made some mistakes.

And then, another pregnancy. Another baby she loved as much as she could, in the ways she knew how. But it wasn’t enough.

One day, an all-too-familiar social worker showed up at the homeless shelter. Says they got a call. Says she’s not keeping her kids safe. Says there’ll be a court date soon.

There she sits. Alone. Scared. Heartbroken. Bruised.

Her kids entered “the system”. Alone. Scared. Heartbroken. Bruised. And the cycle repeats itself. Again. And again. And again…

I wish I could say this story is fictional, but it’s not. I have witnessed similar versions play out over and over and over again in the foster care system.

Friends, THIS is the reason we are moving to Miami. We simply CANNOT stand by while this cycle, this epidemic, repeats itself.

More than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father.  Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent.  If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency. – National Center for Fathering

We MUST come alongside at-risk families as friends and a support system. We MUST model healthy, biblical family for those who have never seen it. We MUST work for healing broken families. We MUST give them the skills and tools and resources to stay together. 

How do you break a cycle? One Father at a time. One Mother at a time. One Family at a time. One conversation at a time. One prayer at a time. One day at a time.

One Partner at a time.

Would you join us in this urgent and important work of breaking the cycle of broken families? Would you to commit to giving $10 a month for the sake of advancing Gods Kingdom in Miami? 

$10 may not feel like much. Or maybe it feels like a lot.

But here’s what we’re learning about Kingdom Economics: God takes all of our small things together and makes them BIG.

For more information and to join us check out our current #smalltogetheristhenewbig campaign.

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The effects of broken families and fatherlessness are immense, but together we CAN make a difference.

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My White Privilege

I’m not afraid of talking about race but I didn’t really plan to write a post on the current events of our nation. Mostly because other, better, more educated writers have already done it. Writers of color have lamented through their keyboards in ways I can’t. White writers have shared facts I don’t know. So I wasn’t going to say anything here.

But this:

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Silence is not only not stewarding my influence and platform, however small, well, it’s also in essence saying it’s ok. Everything’s ok. Our country is ok. The American Church is ok. And it’s very much not ok.

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So I’m here. And I’ll screw up and say something wrong and piss someone off. I’m ok with that because this is a conversation I want to be part of. 

If you still believe what happened at AME Church in Charleston was not racially motivated, I cannot help you. If you think it was an isolated incident, I cannot help you. But, if you are ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty for the sake of pursuing racial reconciliation for the Glory of God, may I offer a suggestion:

Start with your own heart.

You might think that because I have a few black and biracial children, I don’t see color. You would be wrong. You may think that because my son will grow into a black man I have zero prejudice thoughts when I encounter one on the sidewalk, you would be wrong. You see, there is sin in my heart because I was born a sinner. And there is racial profiling happening in my mind because I was raised in America. 

When I interviewed my friend T.C. Taylor for this article on Race, the Gospel, Raising Black {+ White} Kids & the Imago Dei, he made a comment I haven’t been able to shake. He said white people got a “400 year head start” on people of color when it comes to education, jobs, equality, culture, etc.

Here’s the work I need to do in my own heart: I don’t really even know what that means. I know there was slavery and the civil war and Martin Luther King, Jr… but that’s about it.

I have no idea what my brothers and sisters of color endured for hundreds of years. I have no idea the atrocities my ancestors committed against them. I have no idea the history of African-Americans and the weight of oppression they have been forced to operate under because I didn’t have to know it. I have been able to live 34 years of life without having any idea of it.

My life has never required me to learn it, let alone try to understand it. Beyond memorizing and regurgitating some facts for a history test back in junior high, the plight of African-Americans, the history of racism and the role my ancestors played have occupied no part of my brain.

The freedom not to notice our lack of knowledge about people of color is another privilege that is afforded only to white people.
– Francis Kendall, Understanding White Privilege 

I have gotten on just fine without knowing any of it. And that’s not ok.

(Let me be clear, I recognize I can never fully “understand” racism and the injustices that have taken place against African-Americans for hundreds of years because I did not experience them. I can take full responsibility for my apathy and ignorance. I can still get in the fight, however late I may be.)

I feel certain everyone reading these words can look at Dylan Roof with horror. Disgust. Judgement even. We have no category for that level of hatred.

But we won’t send our kids to “that school” or move to “that part of town”, because why? Because we hate people? No, probably not, but we perpetuate the idea that people who don’t look like us or dress like us or talk like us are inferior. And we pass those ideas and judgements onto our kids and racism continues.

There is a time for learning, a time for listening, but in the words of Denise Anderson, the time for silence is up friends.

At this point, I’m not interested in your listening. I think the danger in this listening posture is, while it seems like the mindful and conscientious thing to do, it can also be far too convenient. It’s a great way of doing nothing. For the sake of finding the right action, you take no action instead. – Denise Anderson, Soula Scriptura

Those words have straight up seared me since reading them over the weekend. So here I am, hoping they do the same for you.

I don’t know what the action is for you because I don’t know what’s in your heart. Maybe it’s speaking up the next time your co-worker makes a racist joke. Maybe it’s educating yourself on the history of this country. Maybe it’s joining conversations that make you uncomfortable. Maybe it’s asking your pastor why he didn’t mention the #CharlestonShooting from the pulpit yesterday. Maybe it’s unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of white privilege in your own life.

I do know this, I’m going to start with my own heart. I’m going to get in the fight, late, flawed and sinful, and refuse to be silent.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

I want to introduce you to my new friend

Last night I stayed up late for the first time in quite a while. It’s only March ya know, so my resolution to Rise Early is still hanging on, if only by her fingernails.

I planned to write a post for International Women’s Day and, while my heart was to sit at the keyboard and bleed, instead I found myself jumping around the internet encountering organization after organization working in many different ways to better the lives of women around the world.

Lord willing, the post on IWD is coming your way in the next couple days. But the Lord used one organization, specifically its Founder, to bring me to tears, rock me to the core, and keep me from falling asleep and well, I want you to feel that too. It’s loving, really.

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Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself is a nonprofit clothing brand built on the promise that for every item you purchase, they provide clothing to someone in need… with 100% of the profit.

That last bit, about 100% profit, caught my eye. Really? We’ve all heard of 10% give back or $7 for every item purchased but 1 0 0 per-cent? Really? So I spent some time on their website, which isn’t hard to do with its captivating photography and sharp and simple design.

The story of CYNY began when founder James Barnett chose to become homeless and live on the streets for two years as a response to the humility of Jesus and a desire to understand poverty. So this James guy and I were friends as soon as I read that. Watching the video below made us BFF’s, he just doesn’t know it yet.

It’s a little long in comparison to other videos you might come across today, or for how much time you have right this minute but, I challenge you to watch. I promise it will not be minutes wasted.

Our Story with Founder James Barnett from Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself on Vimeo.

“Jesus says to invite the poor into our homes but we’re afraid they’re going to steal our stuff so we point them to a shelter. Jesus says to feed the hungry but we dangle some loose change outside of our window because we’re too afraid to have them over for dinner and become friends. Jesus said the world will know you’re christians by our love, not our ability to come up with alternatives or point people to something that looks more like the church than we do.” – James Barnett, Founder Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself

Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: “I’m/We’re/My kids are colorblind.”

I truly hope this short series on race has only begun or contributed to the conversations that will continue in your homes and communities and churches forever and ever amen. If you’re just joining us, you can read the first three posts (including two thought-provoking interviews) here and here and here.

As I said in the opening postI know very-little-to-nothing about race. Being the adoptive parent of children of color does not make me an expert. In fact, it provokes far more questions than I have answers for.

Before diving into this conversation, there was one thing I did know: the remark that “I’m/We’re/My kids are colorblind.” never set well with me. Now I know why.

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Before I share what I’ve learned these last few months, let me first say, this post is for all of us.

Unless you grew up on an island where all people are treated equally and live together in perfect harmony without judgement of sex or color or education or physical beauty or anything else, then this is for you.  (If you did grow up on such an island, please let me know, I’d like to visit.)

My focus is on God’s Word because I believe that’s where it should be, but logically, if you are colorblind how can you celebrate other cultures? Or for that matter, your own culture?

If you don’t see color, race or ethnicity, how can you delight in ways unfamiliar to you? How can you revel in the unique creativity with which we were all made? How can you enjoy the rich heritage of a foreign land if you don’t see it?

What I’m arguing is, you do see it, and when you say you don’t see color, what you really mean is, “I’m not racist.”

Not being racist is a good place to start, but it’s not where God wants us to stay. Our sin tells us to hang out with people like us, our Savior says pursue all nations for the glory of God. (Paraphrase from Mr. Curtis Woods.)

Friends, this idea that we are colorblind is not biblical because God LOVES color.

This is important: if God loves color, we cannot pretend it doesn’t exist. Our Bibles and our cultural reality are screaming this. Jesus has been modeling it from the moment he met the woman at the well. (The first cross-cultural evangelical encounter from Acts 1) The movement from Judea to Samaria demanded the early Christians cross longstanding ethnic, religious, and cultural boundaries. And we must follow.

We have the ability and the authority to change culture, to cross those same longstanding ethnic, religious, and cultural boundaries. I’m not suggesting it will be easy. It most certainly will not be. 

But, as my friend TC said yesterday, we have a responsibility as Christians to be changers and influencers. To live in the freedom of the Third Race given to us as the body of Jesus.

“The bible does not begin with the creation of a special race of people. When the first human is introduced into the story he is simply called adam, which means ‘humankind.’ …Adam and Eve are not Hebrews or Egyptians or Canaanites. It is incorrect for the White Church to view them as White or for the Black Church to view them as Black. Their ‘race’ is not identifiable. They became the mother and father of all people.” – J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race

In Revelation 5, the Elders declared to Jesus the Lamb, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Emphasis mine.)

This conversation is holy ground. Let’s take off our shoes, shed our pride, and enter it as Learners. Wiling to be wrong, willing to be challenged, willing to forgive and seek forgiveness. The blood of Jesus has already crossed the chasm that exists between us. Crossing it ourselves is necessary if the church of Jesus Christ on Earth is to ever look like it does in Heaven.

{ Resources for the Road }

A Beautiful Design sermon series form the Village Church. Sermons 1 & 2 are particularly helpful in unpacking the imago dei.

From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race from J. Daniel Hays

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race from Beverly Tatum

The Souls of Black Folk from W.E.B. Du Bois

Revelation 5

Revelation 9

What White Women Raising Blacks Girls Should Know

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing my friend Alaina!

I hope her words and experiences help us all dive deeper into the conversation and tension of race in America, particularly as it relates to our role as parents. I’m praying for us to enter this conversation as Learners, gaining wisdom from women of color to raise our black girls, and ALL of our children, with intention.

{If you missed yesterday’s introductory post, Let’s Talk About Race,
it would be helpful for you to start there.}

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What stereotype do you think is assigned to African-American women?
I believe black women are viewed as aggressive, argumentative, difficult, having constant attitudes and negative dispositions, intimidating, threatening, disrespectful and loud.
In having to work twice as hard as our counterparts to position ourselves to receive the same opportunities, we can also be seen as bossy and aggressive.

 

When it comes to raising kids from other races, as adoptive parents we are taught some “best practices” – engage same ethnicity mentors for our kids, ensure they have diverse friends, churches, neighborhoods, etc. What advice do you have for families who do not live in a diverse area and, because of job or other reasons, can’t move into a diverse area?
First and foremost, i believe that all people have some sort of “thoughts” and questions about other races that should be addressed before bringing home a child of another race. if not, those thoughts/bias/legitimate ignorances/etc will surface in unspoken or apparent, unintentional ways. (ex: having to use oils or creams in a black girls hair and while a white mama is trying to comb her hair she is apprehensive, grossed out, or irritated about having “grease” on her hands. an UNDERSTANDABLE feeling as that’s a situation she’s never had to experience but consider how it could make the little girl feel about her hair and who she is…. and, that’s just hair.)

 

I would suggest the parents attempt to form authentic diverse relationships prior to their babies coming home. if there is a lack of diversity in the hometown or city, make an intentional effort to take trips outside of your community to expose that child to diversity and people of color.

 

Could it be a hassle? would you rather not spend hours on the road driving… possibly, but for your child’s well being – do it as much as possible.

 

We’re also aware that extended family may not share the same thoughts and feelings about other races, i would suggest having sincere talks about plans for interracial adoption and the expectations for when that child arrives. Then, if those expectations of how that child is treated aren’t met or if he’s mistreated, defend, affirm, and protect that child. learn the cultural history of that child and teach them intentionally.

 

i can imagine all of this can be a lot, but considering the child is missing out on a piece of their culture that cannot be emulated by anyone other than others from that culture, you have to consider how hard it’s going to be for them. I’m black and don’t always quite fit in with other black friends because of things as simple as tv shows I didn’t watch that were staples in a lot of my friend’s homes. music choices, churches, food, etc. that are ingrained in a family/culture are missed and you don’t want them to feel completely out-of-place all the time.

 

These best practices seem to not even begin to scratch the surface of preparing our Black girls for the real world. What would you add?
life in america as a black woman is, i believe, a lot easier than black men. the stories i hear and see of how our black men are treated on a daily basis are horrible. black men are taught they aren’t looked at as equal and that they have to work twice as hard to get what others are getting and often have to fight for that.
it’s difficult to battle against the stereotypes. i’ve had white women say to me “you don’t act black” or “you’re not like other black people” or “you’re pretty for a black (or dark-skinned) girl” which, in their eyes, is a compliment. but what does it communicate about a standard of beauty or acceptable behavior?

 

I’ve experienced black teachers putting much more effort into me as a student than white teachers. you’re judged much more harshly on your appearance. we are taught to leave the house looking our best at all times… why? perception. i can’t leave the house in Uggs and workout clothes and be treated the same as my white friends.

 

What don’t we know as white parents?
from a broad perspective, i’d suggest walking into the situation with an open mind. i personally believe a lot of whites see the world behind rose-colored glasses and believe that racial injustices and prejudices are no more – which is understandable because it’s no longer as blatant as it used to be and they aren’t on the receiving end. if someone is making your child uncomfortable – investigate it. if you get a mama sense about a “coincidence” that continues to happen – don’t excuse it away. appearance is huge – please comb/brush hair every day. don’t fall into the traps of stereotypical black hair that you see on tv or anything like that…….. lol…. do what works for your family but also consider perception and how she WILL feel around other black children/families.

 

i went to majority white schools my entire life. i’ve worked at my mother in laws charter school for almost 5 years and this has been the first time i’ve been in an all black working/school environment. the first time ever. and, things are just different. from how parents interact with teachers to how children behave.
my best friend in high school was white. i didn’t have a lot of black friends because i didn’t quite fit in with the black girls and in some ways felt more comfortable with my white friends but didn’t quite fit in with them either. i can imagine black children adopted into white families will feel the same way. because they are loved and comfortable in their white families, they may believe that all white people will love them and they will fit in with all white groups. that isn’t true and they have to be prepared for that.>

i was called an oreo, it was said i talked white, i was white -etc. prepare them for possibly not quite being accepted by all groups but things will get better. i wish i would have gone to a historically black college. i know a lot of families attend the same universities – understand that your black child could have a very different experience at your alma mater than you did. sororities and fraternities are exactly the same. in a parents eyes, their child is their child and they want to pass down traditions, but consider how your child may be treated in your historically all white sorority. it’s different.

 

What should we be teaching ALL of our kids about Ferguson?

 

it’s hard. raising a black daughter is hard. one of the things we, as black girls, are taught is that our black men have a hard enough life outside of the home, don’t make their home life hellacious. they need support, respect, love, and an understanding companion. so when things in ferguson occur, our natural response is to defend our men, defend their/our humanity, and seek justice.
i would suggest talking about what happened in age appropriate ways, how justice and equality are being sought and how anger/feelings are being communicated. allow them to have a voice and listen to their feelings about the situation without bias. understand that in reality, many news channels (such as fox) are truly bias and not so covert in their bias.

 

which brings me to another point…

 

politics and the news.

 

again, many news and radio programs are racist. especially radio. consider what you’re listening to and ingraining into your children. Some of the things that are said, specifically, about our President and other black politicians is horrid and crude and surpasses political conversation and is specifically based in prejudices.
again, when you grow up in an all white community, there are norms that will be difficult to see – building relationships with other black and even other race families will help broaden perspectives on race relations in all areas.

 

remember that this is parenting and it’s tough. give yourself grace – not excuses! we all have our own biases and ignorances about other cultures…… do your best to learn and expose yourself and your family to other cultures in an authentic way! and, that it’s okay to say “black”!
lola
Alaina is a married woman, approaching 5 years into forever-dom in January! She teaches second grade at her family owned charter school and has struggled with expanding her family for almost four years. Alaina has detailed their journey through infertility at her blog, Unashamed Growth. After fertility treatment attempts and failed adoptions, Alaina and her husband spontaneously and surprisingly became pregnant with twins this past May! They are expecting twin girls in January!

Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: “God’s Timing is Perfect”

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Today’s post comes from my soon-to-be friend Carrie. Carrie and I are in the same adoption world and she shared her thoughts on Facebook yesterday about my post on God’s timing.

When I first read her comment I thought, “Amen, I agree with that! Wait, did I say something contradicting to that, because, I agree with it?” So I messaged Carrie and asked her if she would be willing to share a bit more here. I LOVE what she shares AND how the Lord is working out things in her that are similar to what He’s working out in me yet it’s unique and personal to each of us. 

 

I’m excited to say Carrie and I are going to be partnering together on a series entitled “Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say”! Stay tuned for more.

 

I know you’re going to appreciate her words.
Every major area of my life has seen major blows…finance, kids, health, relationships, faith…it’s been a wild ride for the last 8ish years. God has been working out lots of things. One of them is the Christian “answers” we give to people who are looking into the face of suffering.

 

Things like “God has a perfect plan”, “God’s timing is perfect”, “just focus on your blessings and give thanks.”, etc.

 

It’s isn’t that these things in and of themselves are false. Of course God’s timing is perfect. He is perfect so there can’t be any flaw in Him. But that isn’t what we mean when we say that. What we are trying to say (most of the time) is that “it’s all gonna work out just right.”

 

It’s supposed to help us not worry or not feel so bad or not focus on our suffering, like God is some genie in a bottle who will pop out and make everything better right in the nick of time.

 

That just isn’t who God is and it isn’t what the Bible promises us.

 

The Bible promises us suffering. It tells us this world is not our home…we are sojourners in a fallen and broken world. He is always WITH us. So in that way, yes, He always shows up just in time, because He is always there. We have 24/7 access to Him.

 

He met the woman at the well just where she was…at the well at noon, but this isn’t an example of Him making everything better for her just in time. It’s an example of how He comes to us. How He meets every spiritual need we have.

 

So, sometimes that house sells right on time, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes that bag of groceries shows at our door or that check comes in the mail and is just the amount we need and sometimes it doesn’t.

 

Does that mean sometimes God’s timing is perfect for some and not for others??? That can’t be true.

 

I think what is really happening when that house sells, those groceries show up or that check comes in the mail, is Him showering or lavishing His amazing grace on us. He is doing more than He promised us.

 

But what we can also count on that the rest of the world can’t, is in our fallen world, in our brokenness, in our suffering, He is going to DO something with that.

 

He is going to redeem it and use it for our eternal good and His glory. THAT is what makes Him so amazing. The unbeliever has no hope for that. The best they have is experiencing the aftershocks of His grace to us here. He doesn’t leave the believer alone in their suffering…to sit in it and waste away with no hope. He is WITH us and will mold us and change us into something more complete (James 1).

 

He loves us so much He will not waste one single moment of suffering.

 

Our children won’t come home from the DRC one day and we’ll say “geez, that was perfect timing.” We are so past perfect here on earth…it went out with the garden. We live in broken. We live in fallen. God is perfect and God is love and in His love, He works all that not perfect timing and not perfect plan for our eternal good and for His glory.

 

He has a plan and we can’t mess it up (praise Jesus), but His plan is now worked out in our fallen, broken world making us long all the more for heaven.

 

I dare not look in the eyes of my adopted child or to the woman in the heart of Africa who has lost so much and say, “God’s plan and timing for your life was just perfect.”

 

No, I will look at them and say, “God will use this. He will redeem this. He loves you so much that He will come to you just where you are and crown you in glory when you get to Him. He suffers here with you. He knows sorrow and intercedes for your soul! He will make all of this have so much meaning…He will DO something will all this pain and brokenness.”
Carrie
Carrie is a follower of Jesus working out her faith one day at a time with much fear and trembling. She’s a mother of five – three biological (two at home, one living with the Savior of the world) and two adopted from Congo. (one still living in Congo) Carrie’s been married to her childhood best friend for 13 years. She’s a self-identified homeschooling, artist, farmer-wanna-be.

 

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Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: Part One is the twenty-third in a thirty-one day study on followership. View the rest of the study here.

Drive-bys, Peacocks, & Prayer

Today’s post comes from my friend, business partner, and co-laborer in Miami, Erika Philip. Erika and her husband Michael planted the InnerChange Miami team over nine years ago and have spent their adult lives living and loving amongst the poor in Rwanda, Uganda, and Miami.

Early Saturday morning I laced up my shoes for a long run, kissed the girls on their foreheads, walked past Isaac’s room while he was sleeping soundly, and let Michael know I was leaving. “Whats your route?” he asked and I told him my normal route. “Ummm, Erika that is right in the middle of it. Maybe you should drive to another place to run.” I nodded and walked through my back yard to Kristy’s home (my co-worker) to let her know Michael wanted us to drive to a safe spot instead of run through the neighborhood. She agreed it was the wisest thing to do; but did we really have to do this in daylight?

On the way out of our neighborhood, we talked about the events of the week and shared our sadness, anger, fear, and thoughts about the murder of an 18 year old boy in broad day light only blocks from our homes, the subsequent retaliation drive-bys, and our kids’ school code-red lock down because of a shooting a block away. ALL IN ONE WEEK!

We drove across the “color line” into the wealthy side of the Grove, turned the corner, and had to stop in the middle of the road because a peacock was taking his time crossing. I made a joke about the irony of conversations about drive-bys and peacocks. What a strange world we live in.

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Even though I made a joke, I was actually really wrestling with questions of injustice, inequality, racism, and violence. Issues blaring on many of our TV’s shout from my back yard and the street corners of my neighborhood.

The further I travelled into wealth and safety, the angrier I became. Though I enjoy peacocks and the vast amount of incredible natural beauty that surrounds AND encompasses our tropical, urban neighborhood, today these peacocks were a symbol between the haves and have nots.

Respectable people were out on their patios enjoying coffee and the sights and sounds of peacocks, parrots, and lush gardens, while just a few blocks away, respectable people were rising from another sleepless night, restless, afraid and shaken, preparing to tell their children they couldn’t play outside yet another day because of the uncertainty of impending gun violence.

I put on my headphones and started running.

I was mad and restless. I listened to soft, peaceful worship music hoping to find some solace in the lyrical rhythms. Half way through my run it wasn’t working so I turned on a little “Holy Hip Hop” as we affectionately call it. Lecrae it is.

And indeed I found solace in the beats as he poured out his heart about the boys on our streets, as if he knew them by name, in his song Just Like You.

And my heart broke. Sweat and tears were dripping down my face as I remembered the cry of the fatherless – the very cry I heard when I was called into missions 21 years ago.

Broken, I called out, “Lord, I hear the cry of this fatherless generation. Break my heart, take away my fear, and fill me with compassion. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Bring your Fatherhood to the fatherless.”

I entered back into my neighborhood deeply stirred in my heart… changed.

Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Ephesians 6:10-20

After nine years of ministry in Miami one thing continually brought into focus is this: prayer must precede before we proceed. We must claim the promises of His Word and He will release blessings upon our community. I cannot remember a time in the last several years this has felt more urgent. It is born out of desperation, palpable throughout our neighborhood, an urgency in our hearts that comes with the immediacy of death and eternity. As we have been praying about how to respond to the violence and general hopelessness God has been making it clear that IT. IS. TIME!

It is time to stand up and be counted, time to step forward in faith, to volunteer not only in theory or word or concept but to bodily and boldly move into the spaces that Satan has long held and claimed as his own. It is into those places that God has been calling us to…take…one…more….step.

Yes, prayer in silence and solitude is valuable and powerful and real but God is not calling our Miami team to remain there. He wants us to take the initiative, and new ground, in His name and for His glory. We want to respond to this, we do not want to live in fear, we must walk in victory or our sacrifice becomes empty and our so called obedience dry and brittle.

So what does this look like? Short answer: we don’t know exactly.

What we know for sure is the Holy Spirit is prompting us to pray, actively and aggressively, and He will lead us into more and deeper transformation in ourselves and in our community.

This calls not for a static type of prayer done in private. (Though that will and does play a vital role.) This calls for us to go on the offensive in prayer. We must devise new ways to take prayer to the streets, to the homes of our neighbors, and into the hardest places of our neighborhood in a new and bold way.

For our team in Miami this means we will be prayer walking, going out in prayer teams to key homes, calling for large gatherings of public prayer, and even simply praying for and blessing individuals whenever and wherever we meet them. This means we will “pray on-site, with insight”.

For the last 5 evenings we have been sending prayer teams of 2-3 into homes to pray peace over our neighbors. And guess what? God has shown up!

We plan to go next into well known spiritual strongholds in our community and pray in force. We plan to continue this every night for at least another week (or until God tells us otherwise) in addition to our regular prayer times and random prayers of blessing on people as God prompts us.

Not only do these actions give us amazing prayer interactions, it also opens up opportunities for Christ to be made real to people. Many of our neighbors have said they want to believe in God but it is so hard because they cannot see Him or touch Him – one of the mysteries of the gospel. But if we take Him at His word then we are His Body, and an actual representation of Christ in the flesh. When we join other neighbors who are Believers it deepens the texture and beauty of this physical presence even more and invites others to experience God in an authentically fresh way.

As we have responded to God’s prompting He has answered. People we have prayed with have reported back that God has provided financial relief, deep penetrating peace has come over their homes and persons, courage has been increased, and people are passing it on to others. Prayer has increased and God is on the move.

Downward, Party of Seven

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Jen Hatmakers revised and expanded version of Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity could not have come at a better time. In less than three weeks, my husband will leave his job at a mega church and raise support for our family to move into an at-risk neighborhood in Miami. Basically, he’ll be unemployed while we fundraise our tails off and wait for God to provide financial support for our family of s e v e n.

I probably don’t need to mention it’s both terrifying and exhilarating to leap from our mountain of self reliance into the hands of a sovereign-yet-risk-taking and radical God.

We RSVP’d for seven to the Journey of Downward Mobility. We’re moving to the “wrong” side of the tracks, or actually, the segregation wall that. still. stands.

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Dividing Wall (1)When given the opportunity to read Jen (& Brandon’s) account of asking God to “raise up in me a holy passion”, I jumped at it. {Quick side note – Jen quotes John Hayes and his book Sub-merge as one of her Heavy Influences. John is the founder of our mission organization InnerChange and has overseen our team in Miami for the last five years. He’s had dinner at our house so Jen and I are practically BFF’s. #7DegreesofSeparationfromJenHatmaker.}

If you aren’t familiar, Jen was a writer and speaker of all things Christian and women, her husband a pastor over spiritual development in a booming Texas church. Jesus wrecked their comfortable Christianity which led them to follow Him onto a whole new stage. Brandon quit his pastor job with no leads on next steps. Jesus beat Jen over the head with His love and grace and truth and Interrupted is the transparent, convicting, relatable journey towards the life He’s called them to live.

Here’s the thing: it’s also the life Jesus is calling you and I to live. The location may be different but the direction is the same: downward.

“We stand at the intersection of extreme privilege and extreme poverty, and we have a question to answer: Do I care? Am I willing to take the Bible at face value and concur that God is obsessed with social justice?”

That’s the question friends, and each of us will answer it. We can choose to answer now, or we can wait until the day we stand before Jesus as Judge and King. Jen points out that in Matthew 25, Jesus builds his case for kingdom priorities and, as the disciples gauge what counted and what didn’t, Jesus hits them with this grand finale: “It will only matter if you are a sheep or a goat. The blessed and the lost will be separated based on one principle: the care of the oppressed. The end.”

If you aren’t familiar, Matthew 25 is the parable of the sheep being separated from the goats, the King (Jesus) then taking the sheep to their inheritance. He tells the sheep they fed him when he was hungry, gave him something to drink when he was thirsty, invited him in when he was a stranger, gave him clothes when he had none, and visited him in prison.

Jesus says the righteous will ask, “When did we do these things?”, their memories apparently fuzzy to such life changing service and the King replies, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brother and sisters of mine, you did for me.” As Jen says, “Jesus threw all His weight behind those at the very bottom of the pile. His highest rank on behalf of the lowest class.”

I could quote Jen until the rapture, which feels quite close actually, but this is the crux of the book. The epitome of our lives as Jesus followers. Without answering this question, we cannot go where Jesus wants us to go. We must pause here. We have to wrestle, offer up our own prayers for holy passion, and spend quality time on our knees. If we don’t, the whole thing is wasted.

Friends, I share in Jen’s honest words – downward mobility is hard. I’m standing only at the beginning of this journey and concur “It will hurt and people will probably criticize it and you might cry.” Jen and I both have.

But we need not go into this thing blind. We might not have all the answers but “we can follow Jesus to every dark, scary, broken place He just insists on going, determined to heal and restore people, because He is a good Savior and we can trust Him.”

In the City, For the CIty is a section of the book that spoke straight into my bones. Jen talks simply and boldly about living on mission where we are. It’s not revolutionary, as she teases out, but missional living will transform your faith journey. “Discipleship was never simply about learning: it was constructed on living.”

So what does living in the city, for the city look like? For our family, it looks like selling half our stuff, moving into an at-risk neighborhood, becoming minorities (well, 4 of us), and loving people with the goal of preserving vulnerable families and introducing them to Jesus. I admit that sounds vague and half-formed. There are details we’re unsure of. I can relate to Brandon when he says, “the journey was not only about something new but also about being willing to go, even before we knew where we were going.” (Emphasis mine.) Or for us, exactly what we’ll be doing.

As she promised, Jen’s a gentle guide and reminded me there’s no magic to living on mission. You don’t even have to move, you can do it right where you are. It will look different for each of us but the mission is the same. “Speak the language of the people you’re sent to; that’s pretty much it. When you can, conform innocently, value what they value, enjoy what they enjoy, go where they might go, think as they might think. Connect with them on their terms, not yours. Decode the love language of the tribe around you and speak it. It’s not rocket science. Win them over to you and you’ll have the best chance to win them over to Christ.”

So the question, let’s boldly answer it together, as a generation who is ready for a holy passion, ready to get our hands dirty and ours hearts exposed for the good of the Gospel and the sake of our cities. Jesus is obsessed with social justice and the world around us is crying out for it. He’s already working in the cities, let’s join Him there. We are His plan to share His good news with His Beloved.

“Serving people is not heaven’s requirement,
only a response to heaven’s mercy.”
– Jen Hatmaker

I’ll let Jen tell you in her own words what she hopes for Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity to give you.

Did I mention I love this book? I do and I’m quite sure you will as well. Interrupted
is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Tyndale House Publishers.

If you’d like a visible reminder of this holy passion, Jen’s friend Emily Lex painted this downloadable watercolor for Interrupted.

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I’m linking up with Jen today but she’s apparently sleeping in, or getting her five kids ready for school, or working up some amazing DIY project from repurposed bricks. Link to come. HERE.

*This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a book from one of the links, a small % of money will go into our adoption fund. Gracias. Read more about what that means here.

From Bondage to Freedom

You guys! How is it I have one of the best jobs on the planet?! I don’t often post about it here, though I probably should. I’m still figuring out how to have an online business and a blog and keep them separate yet connected… I don’t want Light Breaks Forth to be all about Johari Creations. (just like I don’t want Johari Creations to be all about Lindsy…)

I digress. Because THIS truly is my heart beat. If you’re new around these parts, read more about it here.

This month we launched our new Urban Bengali Collection from Bangladesh.

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It’s amazing, obviously, BUT the women who make it….These women have my a piece of my heart.

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They have left prostitution and escaped trafficking to seek a new way of life. Through the dignified work of our Bangladeshi partner Basha, the women gain job skills and the opportunity to develop into leaders and entrepreneurs in a healthy, healing environment.

Do you remember when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh last year killing 1,133 people? Rana Plaza is only miles away from our artisans, yet the working conditions could not be more different.

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With this juxtaposition so geographically close, I have to ask, which are we supporting? Which am I supporting? Because each of us has not only a choice but a powerful vote. As the richest women on the planet, our wallets  are megaphones for the type of working conditions we desire for our sisters around the world.

Artisans at Basha earn a living wage and receive medical benefits. They participate in training one hour per day, giving them opportunities to improve their literacy and gain confidence. All employees are involved in decision-making and given a voice. Their children attend day care on the premises, preparing for school, or receiving tutoring or financial support to attend local or boarding schools.

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In a country where 65% of men perceive wife-beating as justified, Basha offers seminars on marriage to the artisans husbands. These women dream of a happy family life, and their jobs and training are making that dream a reality!

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And here’s the best part – because we have Johari Creations liaisons on the ground, we know the artisans who create our Urban Bengali Collection are also hearing the Gospel. Friends, sustainable income is good. Dignity is good. Fair trade is good. But only the Good News of Jesus brings true freedom.

Tens of thousands of women and children are believed to be trafficked each year from Bangladesh. Estimates place the number of women in prostitution in Bangladesh to be 100,000, with another 10-30,000 children being forced into the trade each year. Less than 10% of infants are registered, meaning children can ‘disappear’ with little recourse.

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But God has made a way out for these women and their children. And we can be a part of that. I want to be a part of that. I think we are commanded to be a part of that. We can stand alongside them, from oceans away, and celebrate their freedom and their talent!

These women are my heroes. They are brave. They are courageous. I am honored to wear the Urban Bengali Collection with pride as I celebrate and support the freedom of these women.

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Seeking Justice {A New Series + First Steps}

The term “justice” seems to be growing in popularity. I’m no culture expert or even a very astute student so I won’t pretend to give an explanation for why this is the case, but it excites me nonetheless.

The Hebrew word for “justice,” mishpat, occurs in its various forms more than 200 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Some (ahem, Jen Hatmaker) explain it to mean “to set right”. When we think of injustices, our thoughts turn to crisis’ of mass proportions – human trafficking, global poverty, HIV/AIDS, orphans – problems seemingly too big to wrap our minds around.

“I can’t make a difference in fill-in-the-blank.”
“I’m just a insert-the-label-you’ve-given-yourself, I can’t do anything about that.”
“People suffering from name-your-injustice are on the other side of the planet. I can’t help them.”

If you’re reading this, chances are on most days, you want to do good. You want to come alongside our bothers and sisters around the globe and set right the injustices they face… But maybe you don’t know how.

Maybe you don’t know what it looks like to seek justice for the poor as an overwhelmed stay at home mom.
Maybe you don’t know how to fight human trafficking as a single gal just trying to be content with your current season of life.
Maybe you can’t imagine changing the life of an orphan because you’ve never left your home town.

I don’t know all the maybe’s but I do know this – God does not command us to do anything without a way for us to do it. If there is a command in scripture, there is a way in Him.

micah

 

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Thanks to the thoughtful questions of one of my lovely readers, I’ve felt led to start a new series here on Light Breaks Forth about seeking justice and what it looks like for different kinds of people in different stages of life. Because here’s the thing, what seeking justice looks like for me will look different than it does for a college student. And that will look different than for a dude. And that will look different than for a single mom. But I truly believe that each of us, with what we have, where we are, can live out this command in our own lives.

So, here are a few first steps to tide you over until the first guest post is up. {Disclaimer – I have a list of people to approach but no timelines or schedule for this. I’m moving forward anyway and giving myself grace because I believe those things will come.}

  1. Read the 7 Experiment. This book by Jen Hatmaker is a great place to start – not only does it help you to evaluate where your treasure is but it also gives very tangible ways to set it right.
  2. Be a compassionate consumer. In light of the 7 Experiment I expect you will have already evaluated your needs and wants and realized most things we covet in this country are really wants. There are also things we need and they usually have to be purchased. After deciding it is something that has to be purchased consider the following questions: Can it be purchased secondhand? Can it be purchased ethically? I’ve come to learn that with enough planning, the answer to at least one of those questions is almost always yes. Here’s a great article with a shopping diagram to help with your purchasing.
  3. Pray. There are so. many. ways to get involved with setting right the injustices of this world. Once you come to terms with the fact that you can in fact make a difference, the next question becomes an overwhelming one –  Where to start? There are a million reputable and amazing organizations you can get behind. Pray for discernment about which one is a good fit for you.

What about you? How are you setting right the injustices of this world where you are in life? Do you know someone I should interview for the new series? Please leave your ideas and suggestions in the comments. We are in this together friends!

 

Be Fair Friday: Falling Whistles

When we were deemed unfit to parent an Ethiopian child, we switched pretty hastily quickly to the DRC program. I knew very little about the DRC and Falling Whistles was one of the very first organizations I came across.

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Captured by Nkunda’s rebel army, some boys not big enough to hold a gun were given merely a whistle and put on the front lines of battle.

Their sole duty was to make enough noise to scare the enemy and then to receive – with their bodies – the first round of bullets. Lines of boys fell as nothing more than a temporary barricade

Those who tried to flee were shot at from behind. The soldiers called it “encouragement” to be brace. Without a gun to protect themselves, the smallest boys were placed between the crossfire of two armies – forces fighting for reasons far beyond their ability to understand.”
Journal entry from Falling Whistles Founder Sean Carasso

Sean begins this section of his journal entry with the sentence, “When these boys told me of the whistelblowers, the horror grew feet and walked within me.” and there are no other words I have to describe the special kind of anger and deep sadness that rises up in me when I think of these boys. The horror grows feet and walks within me.

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Worn here with the Johari Creations Acai Rope Necklace.

Falling Whistles is working towards the end of the deadliest war of our time. They are building a global coalition to demand peace and investing in Congolese visionaries.

They channel their focus into three main areas:

Coalition – Building local chapters in cities around the world to work with us toward peace in Congo

Investment – Investing in Congolese entrepreneurs working to solve the most challenging issues of their time.

Advocacy – Channeling the voices of whistleblowers and Congolese partners into the halls of power, promoting justice, accountability, and transparency in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

I’m wearing my whistle as a symbol of protest and ask you;

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Will you join me as a whistleblower for peace? Get yours here.

 

 

The Belief in the Other Man’s Wallet

Imagine you’re walking through the park with your kids. Across the way, you notice a small boy is drowning in a pond. You could wade into the pond and save the boy but you’re wearing a $200 pair of shoes and would rather not ruin them. So you pass by the child, allowing him to drown.

The reasonable response to such a story is moral outrage. But noted philosopher and Princeton Professor Peter Singer argues we’re just as guilty when we purchase luxury items.

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In his 45-minute documentary, The Belief in the Other Man’s Wallet, Peter Garriot explores our moral responsibility to those living in poverty. The film includes interviews from some of the top experts and philosophers on this topic of giving and good intentions, as well as aid workers and Haitians still displaced more than four years after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

Garriot’s film is thought-provoking and eye-opening, offering a glimpse into the American psyche when the world asks for a hand up and all to often our response is a hand out.

I was able to ask Peter a few questions about his film, particularly what we can do if we believe  we have a responsibility to those living in poverty.

What prompted you to create The Belief in the Other Man’s Wallet?

In a college philosophy class, I read a few articles by Peter Singer that challenged the reader to buy less and give more. Singer argued that buying a luxury item is no different from refusing to save a young child drowning in a pond, because you could have given the money to an aid agency that works to save the 7 million children who die each year from preventable diseases.

While the analogy is a bit extreme, it always stayed with me. Whenever I would purchase something, I would wonder should I be buying this? Would it be better if I donated it to a non-profit instead? The more I examined the question, the more I realized this was not just a simple question about donating money. It was a question about the proper life we should live.

What do you hope to accomplish with this film?

The average middle-class American lives a lifestyle that no one else in history has ever lived before. Our easy access to food, communication, technology and education is unprecedented. So first of all, I hope the film is a reminder of how incredibly blessed we are, and that we have a much greater capacity to help the poor and needy around the world.

Secondly, I hope for people to think twice when they do engage with individuals who are struggling with poverty. Many times we project our own ideology on to other people. A common example of this is clothing donations. There have been millions of articles of clothing donated to countries in Africa, which was done with good intentions. Unfortunately, this resulted in local clothing manufactures to shut down, because they couldn’t sustain themselves with the amount of free clothing in the marketplace.

We are materialists. We thought it was a materialistic problem with a materialistic solution, but that wasn’t the case.

What are some practical next steps viewers can take?

There was a bit by Steve Corbett that was unfortunately taken out of the documentary for the sake of time. One of his recommendations was to find an organization that you’re passionate about and commit to giving to it every month. Sure, giving money to a celebrity telethon after a big disaster is great, but what’s better is monthly giving. This way, the organization can depend on your monthly contribution to hire indigenous staff and plan for the future, because whatever issue it is, it’s not going to be quickly restored. It’s going to take months, years and decades.

The analogy Dr. Peter Singer shares is a stark one; what would you say to those whose response, either in word or action, is “I didn’t put the child in the pond”?

First of all, I think it’s important to remember that all analogies fall apart eventually. There are definitely differences between a child drowning in front of you, and child dying from malnutrition on the other side of the world. With that said, I would argue that it’s largely irrelevant if you were not the one who put the child in the pond.

Our response to the question is generally an emotional one, but Peter Singer also phrases it as a logical argument, which I think is helpful:

1. Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.

2. If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.

3. By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important.

Sure, some may argue the third statement is invalid; there isn’t a clear cause and effect between the money we donate and the suffering that is prevented. But if anyone spends the time to research aid agencies, they will find NGOs that do impactful work. So, I think it’s largely irrelevant if someone claims, “I didn’t put the child in the pond.”

The Belief in the Other Man’s Wallet can be purchased for $5 here.

{I was provided a free viewing of The Belief in the Other Man’s Wallet but all thoughts are my own.)

Why We Should Care About Fair Trade {the great risk to us}

January is Human Trafficking Awareness month and I feel completely inadequate to write on the topic. Although I may one day share here how human trafficking has touched our life, it feels so big and so dark and so evil. And it is all of those things.

BUT, I feel responsible to shine my flawed and sin-tainted light on it based on God’s word:

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”
Isaiah 58:6 – 8  (Bold emphasis mine.)

 

“Modern day slavery” is not a term that rolls off our tongues often, yet there are more slaves today than at any other time in history. 

 

There are an estimated 30 million men, women, and children enslaved today.
In 1850, the cost of a slave (in today’s dollars) was $40,000. In modern slavery, the price of a slave is $30 – $90.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second-largest criminal industry in the world.”
Human trafficking generates $32 billion dollars a year.
The majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age.
An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year.*

What is slavery?

A slave is anyone who is forced to work without pay, being economically exploited, and who is unable to walk away. Human beings are trafficked for all kinds of deplorable reasons – sex, bonded labor, forced marriage, child labor, international adoption, organ harvesting…



The purpose of Be Fair Friday is to focus our hearts AND our wallets on providing fair trade and living wages to workers in this country and around the world.  According to Not For Sale, “Slavery is wrapped up in almost every industry’s supply chain, tainting the food we eat, the clothes we buy and the electronics we love. While sex trafficking is often at the forefront of our awareness, slave labor and debt bondage are more common.”

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Seventy-six slaves work for me. How many work for you?

 

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Friends this is not an issue we can afford to stay ignorant or remain silent on. We must, the bible compels us, to educate ourselves and to act. If we believe everyone is made in the image of God and that He is Creator of LIFE then the 27 million people trapped in slavery are His creation and His heart must be breaking at the thought of their physical bondage.

Is modern day slavery a social justice issue? Yes.
Is it a biblical issue? Absolutely.

Here’s the thing, in addition to the truth that these people were formed in their mother’s womb by God, Jesus is the only one who can set them free. 100,000 years from now it will not matter if a woman making t-shirts in a Bangladeshi sweat shop is rescued if she is not offered the spiritual freedom only Jesus can give. And do you know who He set apart for this good work?

Us.

We must embrace those who are most in need because this is what Jesus did. He showed special attention to those who were the weakest. He modeled this for us. We must, oh we must.

There is great risk to those who are enslaved if we as Christ followers remain silent. But, there is also great risk to us.

“When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
Matthew 25:37 – 40 (The Message, Emphasis in bold mine.)

“We, as consumers, and ESPECIALLY as Christians, have a responsibility to use our purchasing power for good.  Where we spend our money communicates our values in the marketplace.  If we continue to spend money on things that are produced by forced labor, we are devaluing our brothers and sisters and saying that our saved pennies are more important than their spent lives.” ~ Elizabeth Bricknell

This issue is so big it threatens us into apathy but we must not let it. We must educate ourselves and we must do our part to set the captives free.

Here are some ways to start:

{educate}
  1. There are several books on my Recommended Reading page on this topic. Read a couple. May I suggest you start with 7?
  2. Visit the websites of the International Justice Mission, The End It Movement, Made in a Free World, The A21 Campaign, Love146 and others.
  3. Follow the blog Let’s Be Fair – “focusing on ethically sourced, fairly traded and life impacting purchases.”
{act}
  1. Get the Free2Work app for your phone and learn the story behind every barcode. 
  2. Commit to less.
  3. Buy fair trade and second-hand when new items are truly needed.
  4. Join the campaigns of the organizations mentioned above and give all that money you are saving to support their efforts to eradicate human trafficking.

There are MANY different ways to shine your light on this dark and evil crime. Pick one. Pick your way and shine it for them and for Him.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 4:18 – 19 (NIV Emphasis in bold mine.)

*Statistics found here and here.

Learn to Do Good ::: Water is Basic

Today’s guest post comes from Stephen Elder, the husband of my friend Wynne from Gloriously Ruined. I saw what Stephen is doing for his birthday on Instagram and was immediately inspired – I think you will be too!

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It is hard to imagine what life would be like if we had no running water at our house. When I first became aware of the worldwide water crisis I was in shock. I thought most everyone in third world countries could just dig a shallow hole and find water. I was ill informed, yes I was.

Water is essential to everything we do. Literally everything you do from flushing the toilet to brushing your teeth. We use water and LOTS of it in our daily lives. Unfortunately, I take all of it for granted. Yes, I take it all for granted.

The average person in America uses around 50 gallons of water a day… that is a lot of water! I was in shock to learn around 800 million people lack access to clean water. Then I learned a nasty statistic – about 5,000 kids die everyday from water related illness.

Let that sink into your skull.

Why the heck is this happening? This is happening because people in third world countries don’t have any fresh water wells or freshwater systems in place. They fetch water from rivers, lakes, and ponds – anything that is within a reasonable walking distance. This water is contaminated, dirty, nasty and not safe to drink. But they drink it anyway because they have no other alternatives.

Thirsty and desperate enough I would do the same thing. My heart breaks for these people. They are walking miles upon miles carrying huge cans called Jerry Cans that hold up to 6 gallons of water. These cans are heavy once filled with water and the women and children are responsible for fetching the water, not the men. This makes me sick.

So what can we do about this water crisis? You can help fight this injustice by joining my campaign. For my birthday, instead of receiving gifts and money, I want to give the gift of clean water. I turn 31 on August 5th and I am asking you to donate $31 to my birthday campaign. All the money raised will go directly toward clean water projects and drilling new water wells in South Sudan and Burundi in Africa.

You might not think $31 is a big deal. It is. $31 can change the life of 9 people and provide them clean water for up to 20 years.

As part of this campaign I have been carrying a full jerry can 3.7 miles everyday to raise awareness of the women and children who do the same thing each day. If you’re feeling extra generous, you could make a dollar for dollar match to the miles I have run – 116 miles thus far. My goal for this campaign is 160 total miles.

Go here to donate to my birthday campaign.

I would love to talk more about the water crisis. If you have questions email me at jselder05ATgmailDOTcom

God Bless
– Stephen Elder

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Pretty amazing right? Did you know those water facts? Can you help?  Did this spark any ideas for ways you can give your birthday away for a cause dear to your heart?

Action Against Hunger {in the DRC}

Acute malnutrition afflicts 55 million children worldwide—19 million of whom face outright starvation—and results in some 3.5 million deaths each year. Approximately 24,000 children will die today from acute malnutrition and related illnesses. This loss of life is all the more tragic because acute malnutrition is predictable, treatable, and cost-effective to treat.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one in seven children will not live to see their fifth birthday. Think of seven children you know, maybe yours and your nieces and nephews or a few friends. Now imagine one of them not being alive right now simply because there is not enough food to eat.

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This weeks Sevenly cause is fighting acute malnutrition and hunger in the DRC. Watch this short video to learn more about Action Against Hunger.

Are you ready to do something about this? Me too!

Here’s one thing you can do right now ~ purchase a shirt from this weeks campaign and provide 21 meals to a starving child in the DRC. Sevenly shirts are wonderfully soft and this weeks design is stunning. These are a few of my favorites but visit their website to see tons more and order one for yourself.

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FGM {LEARN to DO GOOD}

learntodogoodToday’s post comes from a physician friend who will soon be leaving these United States to serve in the Horn of Africa. Due to the location and nature of her work, her identity will not be revealed. WARNING: There is semi-graphic medical language used in this story.

 

In my last week of work at the clinic, I saw a refugee who suffered from terrible cramps every month during her period. The pain was so excruciating that she would miss two or three days of work every month. Tablets for pain relief were useless. I asked her to prepare for a pelvic exam, and she was incredulous. I thought her hesitation resulted from her modesty and her desire to remain pure for her future husband. Gently explaining that I would not use the speculum did nothing to allay her fears.

 

I knew that as a Somali woman, she had likely undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa. I knew that most women in her culture not only had certain portions of the female anatomy removed, but also much of the genital region sewn together in the belief that this maintains the woman’s purity and marriage potential.

 

The woman said, “Even your finger will not enter.” As I examined her, I observed a tiny opening, able to admit barely a Q-tip, by which urine and menses left her body.

 

UNICEF reports that more than 70% of women living in the Horn of Africa have undergone FGM. Not surprisingly, some of the highest death rates for mothers and babies in the world occur here as well. Long labors can lead to infections, bleeding, and even death.

 

There are two informative documentaries that share more about this practice (both available on Netflix). Half the Sky depicts stories of women’s oppression around the globe. The first chapter of episode 2 follows Edna Adan, a nurse midwife and internationally recognized advocate to abolish FGM, in Somaliland. She has built a maternity hospital and nursing school to help care for and educate women. A Walk to Beautiful follows three Ethiopian women as they seek healing from VVF (causing constant urine/feces leakage), one of the major complications of FGM. Neither is very medically graphic, but they are emotionally weighty.

 

I anticipate that this topic will become very familiar to me. I imagine this will not be the last time I write about FGM. As I anticipate my work in women’s health in the Horn, as I consider how to teach doctors and students about dignity and purity, I know this issue will be looming like a dark cloud.

 

Wow. I truly cannot imagine this horror.

My “doer” personality had to know what could be done and this was my friends response, “I think it is such a culturally entrenched topic that our wagging our fingers and saying, ‘shame, shame on you’ won’t get us very far. I think that Edna Adan, an insider has more permission to deal with this ghastly practice.”

You can learn more about Edna Adan University Hospital and make a donation here. Another organization working towards the abandonment of FGM is Tostan. Learn more about them here.

“And, of course, a grace-filled redeemed heart for Jesus wouldn’t dream of doing something like this to one’s daughter.” And, of course, my friend is right. This means we can be praying for those hearts. Both those who are committing this horrific act and those who are victims of it.

Were you aware of the horrors of FGM? Are you familiar with other organizations working to abandon this practice? Please share them in the comments. Let’s LEARN to DO GOOD together friends.

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Welcome to Light Breaks Forth!

I am so excited to introduce you to my new online space: Light Breaks Forth! Before I explain why the big switch, I want to share the inspiration for this place:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
~ Isaiah 58:6-8

Just as the Lord slowly opened my heart to orphans and His command to care for them, He has slowly been opening my heart to other forms of injustice and what His word says my response should be.

And I keep coming back to Isaiah 58.

I’ve felt the loving-yet-uncomfortable nudge of the Lord on my heart. I’ve heard Him say to me, “It’s not enough. Your religious activity. Your quiet time. Your neat and tidy Sunday morning worship. It is not enough. I am calling you to more.

And it has been scary and exciting and I’ve had to look into the pain others are facing when I want to run from it. I’ve had to get real with myself about the dichotomy between what’s really going on in my heart and what His word says to me. I’ve repented over and over and over for my selfish ways. I am fighting for the blessings and restoration that come from loving God and serving the hungry, the poor, and the naked.

I don’t want to do this thing along. I can’t do it alone. I don’t know everything there is to know about Jesus or justice and I’m guessing you don’t either. We need each other.

The heart of Light Breaks Forth is to cultivate a community of Believers – compelled by Jesus and consumed with justice – eager to fight against wickedness and oppression, empowered to share our resources with the hungry, the poor and the naked.

Friends, His promise to us is this: the glory of the Lord will be our rear guard. Do you hear that? He’s got our back. When we let go of our selfish motives and our desire for clean and tidy families and lives, when we submit it all to Him and step out of our comfort zone, when we practice radical hospitality and get our hands dirty – He’s got our back. The glory of the Lord is behind us. Oh how I long for that. For my light to break forth like the dawn.

So that is how this place came to be. The Lord is calling me to more and I believe He’s calling us to more together.

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My type-A-perfectionist-detail-oriented-self is having a hard time hitting “publish” just yet. This place is far from perfect, or even “ready” in my eyes, but it is time. Hopefully I’ll get the hang of things soon and figure out how to align photos and move widgets and edit Plugins. (What does a girl have to do to get a line break around here? Can I get an Amen?!) PS. It looks much prettier in Internet Explorer:-(

You’ll notice several pages with info “Coming Soon!” I hate it but that is where I am. Imagine it like this: My house is under construction. I am renovating because I think that’s what the Lord has asked me to do in order to be a blessing to others. So I invite you in anyway. I want to share life with you amidst the sawdust and the paint. I want to share how He is leading me in the middle of the mess. Because this renovation, it’s happening in my heart.

Will you join me?

You can subscribe by email or follow me on Bloglovin’ up top. You can also “Like” the Light Breaks Forth Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram. All those little buttons are up top.

Grab my new button and share it on your blog.

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Thanks for journeying with me friends. I’m excited to see what the Lord has in store!

BBOY for LIFE (the movie)

I’m straying from the normal theme around here but only by a hair…

Our friends at Nadus Films are working on a kickstarter campaign for their latest film BBOY for LIFE. Before I get any further, you MUST watch the trailer. The footage is serious eye candy.


Why would I be asking you to support a movie? (Which is what I am doing by the way.)
What could a movie possibly have to do with caring for orphans, or the poor, or the least of these?

Well, if you watched the trailer you should be on to me by now.

Nadus Films makes films that make a difference all over the world. In places few filmmakers dare to go, telling the stories of innocent people with HUGE hearts and connecting them with strategic partners who can lift them out of poverty.

The latest project, BBOY for Life, has the same goal as previous films.

So far in Guatemala, the Nadus crew has provided scholarships for the main characters in the film. Chiz, Gato and Leidi.are going to school because of the work of Nadus. They will be off the streets. They will be improving their futures and the future of their families.

The Poker Crew, with the help of Nadus, are teaching kids in the ghetto to dance while also tutoring them. How cool is that?!

AND, if that isn’t enough, Nadus is partnering with Hope Renewed International working in the ghettos, dumps and prisons providing job placement, scholarships and homes for families living in the dump.

SO, I know a lot of us are fund raising to bring kids home from places just a hard as Guatemala. But these kids in Guatemala, they can’t get out. They need someone to come in. Nadus Films is doing just that. Won’t you please check out their kickstarter page and support them? The campaign ends this Saturday!