Waking Up is Hard to Do

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you are white, like I am, and if you are someone who has become more aware that there is a problem with systemic racism in this country, then you have been going through some growing pains like I have been. People of color already know that our nation has been built on racism and has racist systems running through its veins. But, for some of us who are white, it’s ben a shocking time as we are confronted with the fact that, no: racism is not dead in the U.S. It is alive and well and now, has become downright acceptable. How did this happen, we wonder? We cry out with protest and surprise, because it feels as if we’ve been wakened from our cozy fantastic dreams where all is well — and it feels like the wake-up call has been accomplished with a bucket of ice water straight to the face.

Many of us have taken to social media, flooding it with shocked and frantic ideas of how we can change the terrible tidal wave that has hit the nation. We have just now discovered what black people and others who face injustice have known for a long time — racism is real and it sucks.

Personally, I admit that I lived in a fantasy for most of my life. Yes, I hated racism and was appalled by horrible jokes that I heard people tell, and nasty KKK attacks on people who didn’t deserve to be hurt or terrified. But, I am a lover of fantasy, and I actively seek to hide my head in the sand when confronted with realities that I don’t like. I am not proud of this, but, honestly, it is the truth.

I will never forget when I lived in South Carolina and the lessons I learned there about the realities of racism and how disconnected I was from the truth. Two incidents stand out to me that I now look back at and shake my head over.

In the first, I, as a civilian working with the Army I had once served as a soldier, wrote an editorial in the paper condemning what I saw as the glorification of hate groups on talk shows. I was a journalist, but I was incredibly naive at how my published work would be received in this place. My editorial was blistering and insulting to skinheads and the others who had been invited to appear on television to “raise awareness.” This was soon after Geraldo Rivera had his nose broken by a chair thrown after he had invited white supremacists AND civil rights leaders onto his show. It had been bedlam, and Geraldo seemed to eat it up. My point, in the editorial was that I didn’t believe these shows were beneficial in exposing these groups for what they were because none of their representatives ever really answered questions honestly. My view was that everything we needed to know about them was already known (that they were all idiots.) I was just plain stupid in writing this and having it published. I may have even been just as guilty as Geraldo now that I think about it. This editorial was me, venting in public. And, it was not smart. All the grief I got over it, however, was minor compared to what others suffered for broadcasting similar sentiments. A telephonic threat was it. It could have been much worse.

Another incident that shines like a beacon onto my white oblivion was when I helped take a soldier I worked with to the car repair shop to pick up his car. I loved this guy and his family so very much. And, he had his newborn infant daughter with him, so when he went inside to pay and get his keys, I was privileged to hold this darling tiny girl. Before he went inside, however, he startled me and warned, “don’t let anyone see you holding my baby.” I laughed and said, “Why?” He said, “Just trust me.” I did as he said, but, I wondered how anyone could object to me holding this lovely child? Maybe they shouldn’t object, but the fact is, there are plenty who would have objected, and who still do. I was naive, but he was not. He knew more than I ever could understand.

I am still fighting my own ignorance when it comes to race and society, and it is a never-ending journey. I know that in our white ideal world, many of us want to believe it has ended already because we have had a black president. But, it hasn’t ended. In fact, in many ways, it has gotten worse.

I know it’s disturbing to think that it is still alive and well. It’s even more disturbing to realize that we have done little to oppose it and in fact, have, by our ignorant bliss, helped it grow and gain power. White people who refuse to face the truth and do something about it have let people suffer great harm as they become victims of a system that we benefit from. I am one of those white people. I must admit it in order to move ahead.

Think about this.

When a police officer stops us, we don’t really worry if we’re going to make it through the encounter alive. We even think that the reason for this is that we’re polite and really, that’s all anyone has to do to get along well with law enforcement. But, I know white people who are anything but polite to police and they have never been attacked by them.

Yet, I also know of black folks who have been polite and compliant who have been attacked and even killed by police. But, when we are white and want to remain comfortable in our society, we cling to the idea that police are always heroic, and anyone stopped by an officer is probably guilty of something deserving full armed response.

If we were even half awake, we’d be able to see that this just isn’t true. It’s blatantly obvious that there is something wrong, and yet, so many of us just refuse to consider that the system is rigged against people of color. It is a messed up reality that makes us squirm if we face it (and our role in it), but it destroys lives, so to ignore it is to be complicit.

We don’t like to admit that our nation was built on the backs of slaves. I never owned a slave, but, like it or not, I and my kind benefit from their forced sacrifices even today. We love to applaud soldiers who were killed as having given their lives for their country, and rightly so. But, where is the acknowledgement that slaves gave all to this nation even if it was against their will? Many grandchildren of slaves have served this country in battle, by the way. They were noble enough to volunteer to serve a nation that oppressed them, and their ancestors so horribly. Why do we fail to recognize this? Why do we focus on every negative stereotype we can about people of color and completely ignore all that they have given to this nation?

Racism didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation, by the way. It is only the start of a very ugly, real racist path that people of color have been forced to walk all these many generations. For every stride that black folks have made (many of which we wrongly assume we benevolently gave to them), white systems push back and make them pay. Black civil rights leaders and workers (some white too) gave their lives to gain rights that we want to take credit for giving them. The indignities and persecution of the black race (and Native Americans, Latinos, etc.) have suffered are so many that I cannot thoroughly cover them all here. Anyone who really cares can find these things out themselves with minimal effort (think Google).

My point is that I am starting to wake up and I understand the urge to just go back to sleep. I understand that it’s easier, and more comfortable to just keep going on as if everything is fine. Sure, we suffer too (and that fact comes up so often as a defense against the idea of white privilege), but, how many of us fear the police? (And, before you argue that all anyone has to do is comply, I can give you so many examples from my own life that this isn’t true. Once again, think about any white people you know who aren’t polite to police. I can think of some. None of them has been attacked for it. Or Google it, if you really want to be honest and know the truth.) How many of us white citizens of the U.S. know someone who is doing time (and is white) for a minor offense? (Again, Google and you will find out all about unfair sentencing in regards to race, profiling, etc.) If the police want to arrest you for something, they can always justify it, by the way. (And if they want you convicted? It isn’t that hard.)

We have to admit, if we are honest and actually take time to find out – that we are beneficiaries of an elevated social status due to being white. I mean, ask yourself. Would you want to be black in this society? Would you be willing to change places with a person of color? Of course you wouldn’t.

I hope you realize that slavery was just the start of black injustice in this country. Because even after slavery was “ended” we had Jim Crow laws classifying black folks as lesser individuals who shouldn’t dare to taint the spaces white folks inhabited. We have had lynchings, where mobs of angry whites decided which people of color deserved to die horribly for perceived crimes (or more accurately, demanding civil rights or violating Jim Crow laws.) White people were allowed to beat or kill black people without any fear of prosecution. White mobs would often start an evening of hate with a lynching and then move on to swarm over black neighborhoods, destroying property and even lives. People were actually burned alive. But, hey, at least they weren’t slaves, right?

People classified as negro, or black, weren’t even allowed to vote until the 20th century and even then, white powers that be (supported by white citizens) did everything they could to prevent black voting. This is still happening today, but this fact can easily be dismissed if you are white and want to avoid facing it or claim ignorance to how political candidates and parties can, and have, manipulated black votes to nullify them. If you want to know truth, it isn’t hard to find it, but waking up is so hard, isn’t it? Think about how hard it is to be a person of color, in a group of folks that must fight hard for every right, only to have it pushed back again. People died so that those of their race could vote, but, that right is so easily denied when we pretend as if there is nothing wrong. All is a level playing field now, right? I mean, we have let them have their black president, haven’t we?

Waking up is hard because we don’t want to let go of power. We don’t want to admit that we should never feel we are “giving” black people anything, because we haven’t. On so many levels this thinking is wrong. But, we still think of ourselves as lords and masters, benevolently “giving” these lesser people rights out of the goodness of our hearts. But, these are people and citizens who DESERVE every right that anyone has here. And, for another, every right anyone of color has was won at great, great price by activists and people that our race has killed, imprisoned, criminalized, fought against, and hated and yet we STILL want to deny them equality. Wake up to that, because it is truth. And, it should hurt.

There are so many layers and layers of racism on which our society rests. It takes a lot of work to uncover them and it is painful to admit the truth and to face the facts that your failure to recognize the problem has led to the great harm that has been done to people of color in our nation. We are not innocent just because we have not burned a cross or intentionally discriminated against anyone.

Yet, the point of waking up to our roles in perpetuating the system of racism that hurts people is not so we will hang our heads and carry unbearable guilt. For too long, history in this nation has been all about US. But, we need to wake up to the fact that our guilt (or our lack of right action) should not be the focus here, because that only perpetuates our belief (and our society’s structure) that everything is about US white people.

How about laying aside our preoccupation with ourselves altogether? How about focusing, instead, on what is happening to the other? That is where change and good can come from. We need to wake up that the situation is dire for people of color in our country. People are dying from this poison of racism every day, whether in body, or in spirit. It has to stop and we can stop it. We have the power to make a change if we only open our eyes and close our mouths for awhile.

It is an uncomfortable journey because we are not used to humbling ourselves and letting someone else have the last word. We don’t want to give up control. And, really, ending racism doesn’t seem to have that much benefit for us, does it? We are just fine with things the way they are. There is nothing to be alarmed about if you are white, is there? Maybe we worry about terrorists or our pocket books and bank accounts. But, we don’t really worry that our kids will be killed by police when they go out to play, or take a train to work, or drive in the wrong neighborhood. Not really. So why should we wake up and why should we care?

I cannot answer that for you. But, for me, it is important for many reasons. First, there are people I dearly love who do worry about their kids, with plenty of reason (and the reason isn’t that their kids are thugs either). There are kids I love who I worry about. They are good kids. But, what if the wrong police officer sees them out and gets the wrong idea about them based on their skin color? What if they find it easy to target them because they don’t know them and they have made assumptions that they shouldn’t have made because they have been raised in this nation with implicit bias? I cannot imagine the pain of that, but sadly, I can imagine the reality of it. That chills my bones. Secondly, I don’t think I could live with myself knowing that I could be a party to willfully discriminating against people based on skin. (I was going to say as superficial as skin tone, but then, I thought – no, because in reality, different skin tones are so beautiful and are part of who a person is, so it is not superficial.) I don’t want to be looked back on as someone like the slave owners of old, or the German people who ignored the Holocaust. And, I feel as if that is what future generations will see when they look back at us and wonder why we sat back and let people be executed by police (no jury trial for them!) who are supposed to represent justice, or why we let a school to prison pipeline be set up for black lives (where we once again put them in slave labor situations). I cannot really live with myself, or contemplate one day facing eternal judgment, if I just turned away and say nothing when black boys and girls are taught that they aren’t beautiful, smart, articulate or capable because they aren’t white. I just cannot go back to sleep, though I would never say I am fully awake.

I still have a lot to learn, and I make mistakes. I have been raised privileged and biased, whether I want to be or not so that is bound to affect my vision. So, there will be missteps and there will be times when I fail to see. There may even be times when I look away. But, in the end, I pray, that I will keep going forward to stand with those who are oppressed. Jesus stood with the least. How can I refuse to do so, even if it is uncomfortable?

My comfort is not the most important thing in the world after all. Justice — that is important. That is worth waking up for. It is far less comfortable to put myself in the shoes of those who suffer racism every day. They are the ones who feel the real pain. My pain is nothing in comparison. Besides, I think the real joy is in working for truth and freedom for all. What about you? Can you see the light, can you hear the cries for help, and will you get up from your pillow and do something?

D.A.R.E. to Be Peaceful

document

When I was growing up, I watched shows like Dragnet, Adam 12, The Rookies and Mod Squad. I grew up believing that police officers are heroes. And, in many cases they have been. That’s one reason that being made more aware of police brutality against African Americans, Native Americans and others of a non-white skin hue has been so disturbing. Where are those heroes? Why are police so angry and over-the-top violent? Why are they so afraid?

When my daughter, Amber, was alive and in junior high, she had to take a D.A.R.E. class. She was excited. She, like me, believed police were heroes. That class taught her, and others, about the dangers of drug abuse, and how to avoid using violence in conflicts, among other things. She was so proud to graduate from the course and get her T-shirt.

If police departments and community leaders believe it is so important to teach children how to negotiate and use words instead of violence, why are there so many situations where police resort to violence over even minor disturbances? Why can’t they use the tactics that are taught in D.A.R.E. themselves, instead of violently slamming young girls to the ground for non-compliance? I have seen many people state unequivocally that the only thing people need to do is comply with police orders and there would be no problem. But, why should a police officer be allowed to demand unwavering obedience and then be sanctioned to meet resistance with brutality? That is not what trained adults should be doing with our children. Is it? That is what domestic abusers do. You say no to an abusive parent and you get attacked.

From D.A.R.E.’s own website it says: D.A.R.E. envisions a world in which students everywhere are empowered to respect others and choose to lead lives free from violence, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors.

So, how are police modeling respect for others, and steering clear of violence?

Another quote from the D.A.R.E. website states — The safety and health of children is the highest priority of the D.A.R.E. program. No one deserves to be the victim of bullying.

And, again I ask, how is the police system in our nation modeling this? Perhaps there are officers who need to take the D.A.R.E. courses themselves. I don’t know what the answer is to stop the rise of police violence against certain groups of people, mainly those who are not white.

Yes, there are wonderful, heroic police officers all over the country. There are police who do make a difference, who do care. When the church where I work was burglarized, the police were extremely helpful and have been wonderful to work with. I appreciate everything they do.

But, in order to uphold the status of heroism, police have got to begin respecting all people, and if they have issues with hating people of non-white skin, then they shouldn’t be allowed to have such sensitive jobs and access to firearms and the authority of the municipality. No cities should have racists representing them as police officers. Police are sworn to serve and protect, not just some people. Who is going to protect minorities from the police if the police cannot be trusted to properly interact with them? As I’ve said before, every person of color I know has stories of police harassment, and these friends of mine are not thugs or criminals. They are citizens who deserve respect.

I don’t know what all of the answers are, but things will only change if we demand that they do. So, we all have to hold our police departments accountable. When they commit crimes against citizens, they need to be prosecuted and properly punished, not given vacations. Police work is stressful, but, that is no excuse for unbridled violence. I was in the Army, and when I was put on guard duty, against terrorists who had done many acts of violence, I was given magazine rounds wrapped in plastic. The reason they were so wrapped, I was told, is to keep us from panicking, slamming in magazines and firing on people without thought. It seemed silly at the time. After the guard shift was over, you had to account for every single bullet. If one was missing, that was cause for a full investigation. The last thing the Army wanted was for a guard to get scared and accidentally shoot a citizen.

If the Army was that careful with what it allowed its guards to do, knowing that they could have been targets of hostile violence, why can’t police departments be that vigilant?

I only pray that things improve in the future, but I don’t think they will until people in our country feel as if even the lives of black and brown people matter as much as the lives of white folks, and those dressed in blue. Police officers get paid to take risks and are trained to deal with threats. Perhaps the training needs to be better about when to respond with violence, and when other tactics can be used. But, nevertheless, it’s the job of police to protect the populace and they can’t do that if they are the threat instead of the protection. I D.A.R.E. police to learn peaceful ways of de-escalating situations without immediately turning to violence.

To read about what D.A.R.E. stands for, click here: D.A.R.E.

The Hardest Blog Post Ever

Selfie!

Selfie!

This has been the hardest blog post I have ever tried to write. I have written it over and over and over again. Most recently, I’ve been struggling with how do I communicate with people I love who don’t understand where I’m coming from? How do I put into words the turmoil within my heart, mind and conscience? How do I express that I might disagree with them about politics and religion but that I still love them very much? How do I help them understand why this is so important to me?

I could go on with the questions forever. But, here goes. This is my 1,819,816,116th time of trying to put into words where I’m coming from.

It’s been a complex process, so that is what makes it so tough to boil down into a few paragraphs. Where do I even start? How about here?

Change is painful, but it is always necessary. Change is growth. Comfort is the enemy. Lies are comfortable. Truth is not.

Time to unpack these statements. I hate change with a passion. I love comfort even if I have to live in a fantasy world to achieve it. Sometimes, I don’t want to know the truth. Change is a constant part of life. Not only have I changed, but my world has changed over and over again. Everyone I know has changed in one way or another. We have no control over the advance of time, but, we do have control over whether or not (and how) we let our minds grow and change. Knowledge is change, and knowledge is good. Ignorance kills. Just think of how we’ve advanced in medicine, for instance. Before we knew about germs (when we were ignorant), people died of infections and had all sorts of strange procedures done to them in hopes of curing them. Think leeches here people.

In my own life, I once thought one way, but since experiencing more life, and more pain, I have changed and grown. It’s because I have been forced from my comfort zone that I’ve seen and heard things that have changed me. I think I’m changed for the better. Some might argue, but, that’s not my problem. I want to please everyone. That’s a bad habit I deal with. But, I can’t – so I won’t bother.

The thing is, I have seen, and continue to see, that this election – the election of Donald Trump – threatens the safety and happiness of people I love and care about.

So, what does the election of Donald Trump say to me? It says this — a lot of people are comfortable with racism being a part of the fabric of the United States’ government. This candidate, soon to be president, was the most openly racist candidate I’ve seen in my lifetime (besides George Wallace), and still Christians voted for him. That tells me that they don’t care about racism very much. But, I think Jesus cares.

My Jesus was dark skinned, from the Middle East for starters. I wonder if Jesus were around today, what he might say about Donald Trump? I don’t think that I could look Jesus in the face and explain to him why I voted for Trump, if I had. And, I certainly don’t think I could look him in the face after I’ve elected this man and then gloated about it all over social media and called other people names who are understandably worried.

But, since I’m not Jesus, I have some explaining to do now anyway. You see, up until this election, I had always voted Republican too. I thought just the same way as many of my friends and family do. If things hadn’t changed in my heart and life, I too might very well have voted for DJT. So, I shouldn’t be too hard on anyone else.

I used to think Fox News was a prophetic voice, in line with godliness and right thinking. I used to think that gay people chose to be gay and that they were dishonoring God. I used to think that’s what the Bible said, so there was no arguing with that. I used to think one could love the sinner and hate the sin. I really did. I bought it all, hook, line and sinker. I couldn’t even imagine a Christian voting Democrat. What about all of those unborn babies?

I get it. I do. I still care about unborn babies – in spite of the fact my stance on abortion has changed. I still don’t want to see abortions happen, but I don’t want to outlaw it either. I want to create a society where the need for it would be rare. That is a discussion for a later day, however.

The reason I brought it up is because I want to explain that I do understand where people are coming from, to an extent. But, I have changed. Dramatically.

When you’ve lost your only child, the one you cared for 24-7, day in and day out, and you know what it feels like to have your sunshine go dark, then you will understand the kind of authentic reality you need from God. I can’t follow the same God I once did. I am barely clinging to life as it is – at least that is how it feels. At any moment, I could be swept away into darkness and despair. It’s ever looming over me. That’s why I need a God who is light. I need a God who brings me love, who is real. The God of hate is not real.

I refuse to believe in a God who would teach us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies and care for the least of these, and then turn around and support Donald Trump. Some have even suggested that God chose Trump! I can never believe that. That is not the God I serve.

Jesus is my lord – and I will follow him even if it means I go a different path than every single person I know and love. He is my life raft on this stormy sea. And, I will not close myself off from other people based on who they love, what color their skin is, what religion (if any) they follow. My God loves everyone, and has grace for them all. He is not petty in the least. My God is the one who holds me when I cry myself to sleep and feel that I have nothing to live for. My God is the one who tells me I do still have things to give. My God is also the one who is there in the darkness as a young gay teen cries himself to sleep and wonders if he has anything to live for. We have to be the ones who reach out in Jesus’ name and tell him that he still has things to give, and he is beautiful just the way God made him. My Jesus is also there when a young black man wastes away in prison for the same crime a white man did no time for, and he’s weeping over that situation because it is so unjust. And, we have to be the ones who stand against mass incarceration and throwing people away.

I have overcome a lot of pain in my life by following the Jesus that loves me enough to push me out of my comfort zone into new horizons. I devote my life to following that Jesus, wherever he leads me – to eating with (and loving) gay and atheist friends. I also follow the Jesus who shows up at protests against the systemic racism that threatens the lives of innocent people. My Jesus doesn’t think that black folks are less than white folks and he doesn’t ignore the pain of his children of color when they are threatened. My Jesus will come to their defense, and I will be there with him every step of the way.

(None of these sentiments make me noble. My gay friends and atheist friends honor ME by accepting me the way that I am. I am doing nobody any favors by standing against racism either. That is only common decency. I am still stumbling through life like a lot of people. But, I have to start somewhere.)

A True Example at Standing Rock

peacedoveblue
Like many of you, I’ve been following developments in the struggle of Native Americans protestors, also known as Water Protectors, to peacefully resist the building of the North Dakota Access Pipeline through their lands. They have been trying to protect the water from the contamination that pipeline spills bring with them, and to keep the pipeline from desecrating their sacred burial sites and lands.

They have been met with violence, though they have committed no violent acts. They have been seeking help from the government, and people in their struggle. And, they have received help. Most recently, 2000+ veterans of the Armed Forces in our nation have made their way out to Standing Rock, the site of the protests, to help protect the vulnerable Native Water Protectors. I am a veteran, and know one person who was going to go out to participate. After getting information from her, I was privileged to be able to round up some donations and meet with someone so that these supplies could go out to Standing Rock. Being able to do just that one small thing brought me a great amount of joy. It was a significant act for me, because I felt compelled, as I was praying about this situation, to donate my late daughter’s wool poncho to the cause. This is an item that my girl, Amber, wore most of her life because she was wheelchair bound and it was a good way to add warmth since traditional coats were often too bulky to fit her in her chair. My mom got it for her in Mexico. She was wearing it when we took her into the ER the night/day that she passed away. I held onto it for these few years since her death because it felt like I was holding on to her. It was a sacred reminder of Amber’s presence in my life. But, it was now time to let it go, and let it be used for something better than sitting on a shelf. I know that Amber would approve.

Just a few moments ago, I read a story about the veterans at Standing Rock, kneeling before an officer of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and asking for forgiveness for war crimes and genocide committed against native tribes by the U.S. military. What a moment! What a moment of pure godliness. To me, it is a glimpse at what the Kingdom of God should look like – repentance, as John the Baptist preached in the wilderness. The kingdom of God is near, when there is this sort of humble spirit, asking for forgiveness and bearing the fruit of real involvement to try to change the world for the better. The offer of forgiveness was accepted by the tribes there, and then the tribes asked for forgiveness for any hurt caused by the Great Sioux Nation’s victory over the 7th Cavalry.

The entire article can be found here, and it is amazing.
Veterans at Standing rock shock tribe members

Out of the struggle, out of the ugliness that has been thrown at people who just want to protect their homes, comes beauty. The pinnacle of this event came, IMO, when all who were there, veterans and tribe members, joined in crying out for “World Peace!” Yes, Lord, we cry for peace in this world.

Sometimes, the people who claim they stand for the Kingdom of God look a lot less like Jesus than the people who don’t claim it, but show by their actions that they understand what the kingdom should look like. It should look like this – a place where people are brothers and sisters even though they may have different ethnic, religious or national backgrounds. We are all one in God’s kingdom, where there is neither man nor woman, Jew nor Greek nor slave or free. In the kingdom of God, nobody is an illegal immigrant. All are welcome. In the kingdom, nobody wants to take away another’s right to life or happiness even if it means lining their own pockets. In the kingdom of God, the Earth is respected and cared for. In the Kingdom, there are no political parties and no jockeying for power over others. Because in the kingdom, the last shall be first, the master is the servant, and Jesus’ face is found in the least of these. There are no enemies in the kingdom, only people who are loved.

Thank you, veterans, for your fine example of what true heroism looks like. Thank you, for showing the world what America should stand for (or kneel for)- for righteousness, for justice and a quest for peace. I have never been more proud to be a veteran than I am now. God bless this nation, in the face of what many (and I am one) see as an impending federal government focused on money, power and self protection. May we work together to show those who have lost their way, that there is a better road to travel. We travel the road of peace toward the kingdom of Heaven. We travel with the Prince of Peace, whose grace rains down upon all people, even the ones we might not approve of. Let’s work to make this kingdom of God shine brighter than any nation ruled by greed, or corruption. May we stand, with love in our hearts, hand in hand with our brothers and sisters, to stand up for their rights, peacefully, but, truly. Let us not grow weary in doing GOOD. Let us remember what goodness really is, by looking at the life of Christ, and his death. Make a way for him this Christmas, by throwing off the dead works of darkness and shining together for something better.

Thankful for Perspective

Ambi5
Recently, I’ve struggled with sadness. Holidays always bring some sadness as I miss my daughter. But, this year, there’s something else that has been weighing me down. Someone I love and admire is moving away. Yeah, I am a mushy person and this has been bumming me out. I’m going to miss her.

Last night, however, as the sad thoughts of my friend and Amber move in on my emotions, I pray for help. Within a moment, I am given a new perspective and wonder why I didn’t think of it before. Instead of being sad because a special time is ending, I should be thankful that I had the special time in the first place. The reason I have the sorrow about something ending (or seeming to end), is because previously, I had been blessed so greatly with such love, such goodness and awesome fellowship. Now, change is coming and you know what? If nothing had ever changed in my life, I would have never had my awesome daughter, and I’d never have met the wonderful person whose presence I will miss for a time.

I came to the realization that I had to ask for forgiveness from God for looking at things from a negative perspective, when in reality, I had been blessed. All of life is a journey and a transition. Instead of bemoaning what is in the past, I really need to embrace what is ahead. What is now my past was once my future.

This isn’t to say that I won’t still miss Amber. I will. But, looking at things through the lens of thankfulness, I have a weight lifted. One of the greatest things in my life has been the joy of discovery, and of having my mind expand and my experiences grow.

I feel so blessed to have had a daughter with a smile like the sun and a laugh like music. And that hasn’t ended, it’s just gone somewhere else for awhile. Amber is safe. Amber is free. That’s a great thing.

I have been blessed with having known such special people in my life, but when life changes and I, or they, move on, I have to see it as a chance for rejoicing, not sorrow. I rejoice that I’ve known them closely, and that even if there is distance between us now, love does not die, or diminish.

I thank God for helping me gain a new perspective this year. Maybe this will be the year that I can finally put up that Christmas tree again.

I Am Thankful for Myself

meKYes, that sounds quite arrogant. Have I gone over the edge? Perhaps.

On Facebook, I’ve been trying to focus on what I am thankful for as a way of fighting the fearful and depressing feelings I could fall into given the state of our world. I’ve shared the typical things – thankful for family, friends and nature.

But, today, I’ve gone off the deep end and am sharing that I am thankful for myself. To people who don’t know me, that might sound haughty. But, to people who do know me, it’s a step I have not taken in life before. So, bear with me.

I have never been able to say this, growing up in a world that places little, if any, value on female life.

But, through the support and leadership of other women, through counseling and being open (or maybe desperate) enough to look for reasons to love myself, I am starting to see that I do have value. I have been given talents, a disposition, and uniqueness that make me someone who brings good things into the world. And, I have chosen to use what I’ve been given to try to make the world better. I have survived a lot of sadness and trauma, and I have not given up. I have been blessed with the ability to see the injustices others suffer, and to care about them.

This is not to say I don’t have flaws. I do, like everyone.

But, in this life, where I’ve been taught to hate myself, I realize that this is a sin. For, if I am to love my neighbor as I love myself, then what will happen to my neighbor if I hate myself? Nothing good, that’s for sure. At the very least, I will feel disempowered to help my neighbor and at the worst, I might even harm my neighbor. So, loving myself and being thankful for my life and my being is not the same thing as pride. It is, in fact, a God-given ability, for you see, God loves me. So, why shouldn’t I love myself?

This year, as I’m thinking of the things I am thankful for, I will have to add “myself” to that list. Thank you, God for making me the capable, loving, strong, kind, creative person that I am, and thank you that you are constantly working to help me not only recover from the harms dealt me by the past (and a society of patriarchy), but you are helping me find ways that I can stand up against the sorts of things that condition others to devalue themselves. That is something to be thankful for.

Lords and Masters — or Servants?

washing-feetThis is what seems evident to me — Donald Trump’s rise to power is the result of Christians wanting to be masters instead of servants. For so long now, the church of the United States has wanted to run the country and make sure it runs by their rules. But, is this quest for power really what God wants for his church?

When I read the Bible, and I get to the teachings of Jesus, they look nothing like the church of today, at least a major portion of the church that seems intent on clinging to political power. I see no love in this church at all. I don’t see people making sure they have taken the logs out of their own eyes while trying to get a speck out of the eyes of “sinners.”

Oh, they will accept sinners within their doors (or how else would they get in?). But, only certain kinds of sinners (ones with church-approved sins like gossip or gluttony). They will even let greedy people in without so much as batting an eye at them. In fact, many follow the greedy, preachers who build up wealth for themselves on Earth and teach others that all they have to do is name and claim wealth and they’ll have it because God wants them all to have big houses and fancy cars.

But, they will by no means accept those they deem to be beneath them – ones who don’t follow the spoken and unspoken laws like those who are gay, transgender, questioning who they are, those who aren’t sure what they really think about God, those with doubts, those who are poor and on welfare (because those folks are lazy) or liberals.

I don’t remember Jesus ever turning people away. I don’t remember reading that Jesus had any condemning words for anyone, except for the self-righteous who claimed to know the truth of God but cared nothing for others. So, when God judges our nation, our church, just what sin do you think he’ll judge it for? Sex sins? Abortion? Or, do you think it just might be he’ll judge the nation for being vengeful, corrupt, unjust, and unloving? Will he judge the church for completely ignoring the teachings of Christ about loving enemies, loving neighbors (and that’s everyone), ignoring the “least of these” and becoming completely irrelevant?

What did Jesus tell his disciples to do? Didn’t he want them to proclaim that the Kingdom is at hand? Didn’t he want them to fish for people? Didn’t he tell them to follow him? Making disciples doesn’t mean forcing people to believe, it means teaching them, like Christ taught his disciples, about what God really requires of us, what God really offers the world, and what love really looks like.

Why are we so focused on gaining power in this world? Why are we trying to force man-made rules that we say are God’s rules, and not caring about the souls or hearts of people who need God’s love? Why are we known for who we don’t love rather than for loving all people? Things have gotten so twisted, it seems. Our focus has become so narrow. You say it’s loving to be honest and call sin what it is. It’s not our job to convict people of sin (that’s the Holy Spirit’s job). How loved do you feel when someone constantly points out what they think you are doing wrong? Is it such a terrible thing to let go of the reins of the world and let God have them? I never will forget the day I wanted to argue with someone about God, thinking I was doing God some big favor by “defending” him and I felt him put a hand over my mouth and say, “I don’t need you to argue for me. I’m big enough to take care of myself. This person needs a friend.”

I’ve been told that I pick and choose what parts of the Bible to believe – by the very same people who are picking and choosing to somehow focus on a few verses in scripture that seem to condemn homosexuality, to the exclusion of the teachings of Christ, the teachings about love from Corinthians and the letters of John, among other numerous passages about loving others, not seeking revenge, being content, and being humble. I admit I pick and choose. I choose the words, teachings and example of Jesus, and I try to use that as a lens to view the rest of scripture. I follow Jesus who broke the rules about the Sabbath, and taught that the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. I follow the Jesus who washes feet and eats with sinners. Focusing on rule-keeping is not abundant life. It offers no light to the world. Why do we sing about a loving God on Sundays, and then turn around and condemn people on Mondays?

Think about it, pray about it, and ask yourself, “Am I wanting to control and be a master over people? Or, do I seek to serve God and love my neighbor as I love myself? Whose feet would I wash?”

Fear is the Beginning…

179194_10150947648104718_826082155_n

Fear has been one of my most-suffered, longest-lived companions over the course of my life. It’s a weight that has made everything more difficult. I feel it so constantly that I am not sure what it feels like to not have it. I would love to know.

(Be warned, my friends who are not believers — this is another post about God. I can’t help it. That’s where my thoughts go. Please do not be offended by what you read. I mean no disrespect to you or your ideas.)

But, as I was unloading the dishwasher (the best ideas come while doing chores it seems), it hit me.
I can be free of fear, and fear is not something God wants me to have. As I stood there, stacking plates, I remembered how the Bible says that the only one anyone should fear is God, because nobody else can mess with, or change, your eternal life or destiny. And, then, my mind remembered how it says in Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 1:7). And, then I remembered all of the times some supernatural being (either Jesus or angels) said, “Fear not…” I remember Jesus saying “Peace be with you” and I remember how 1 John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out fear. I puzzled for a few moments over what seems to be an inconsistency. Does God want me to fear or not?

Then it hit me that the verse in Proverbs says that fear of God is the BEGINNING of Wisdom. The BEGINNING. I realized that it is right to be in fear, or in awe of God, and it is wise. It’s wise to recognize his holiness, majesty, mystery, might, power and awesomeness. But then, as you journey on, you see that even though he has ultimate power and authority, his purpose in interacting with us (unless we are being total evil monsters who need scaring) is not to terrify us, but to bring us peace and love.

Now, there are people who should fear (as I alluded to up there ^^).

John 3:19-21 Common English Bible (CEB)

19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”

James 2:19

It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear.

But, for people who love God, there is no reason to fear. Faith is what we use to drive it away because we know God has made us his children.

Romans 8:15

You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Remembering all of this gives me peace, re-ignites my faith and helps me stand and face things that would make me tremble otherwise. I was once told, years ago, by a dear lady who worked at my Army Public Affairs Office, that I was the strongest person she knew. I remember being so shocked because I do not feel strong at all. And there is where I realized that God is bigger than my fears, and he shines through me as strong, even when I am feeling so very weak and afraid. I trust that God will continue to do this – and that I will someday feel what it is like to have a day free from the feeling of fear. No matter what I feel, though, I KNOW that I am not a slave to fear. I am God’s child. Fear should be afraid of me.

Do These Politicians REALLY Believe?

matthew5_43-45
I have been so upset by what I see happening around me in the news, and even more by the responses of people to the tragedies. I’ve argued, raged, cried and begged people to see another view, to consider the feelings of others, to listen, but I feel like it’s useless. Maybe it is. Maybe the only thing that will rescue a people from an oppressive government are laws to make people be decent.

My mind keeps going back to the fact that politicians LOVE to use God in election campaigns. They love God, God loves them and what they stand for, God, God, God. This is a Christian nation they say. It was founded on Christian principles. But, I really do not know what God they are talking about, because so many of their positions look NOTHING like the ones that Jesus espoused while walking the Earth, as recorded in Scripture. It’s almost as if they think Jesus is just too naive when it comes to running things. But, if you are a Christian then aren’t you supposed to believe that Jesus is God? Who better to know how to run things than God? If you believe in God then you realize God has been running things forever.

But, no. They claim God so they can have some sort of “holy” stamp of approval on the terrible, vicious things they believe. They don’t believe in loving enemies, as Jesus taught. They believe in killing them. They don’t believe in turning the other cheek, they believe in the annihilation of all opposition. Forgiveness? They haven’t got a clue what that means. Caring for the poor, the least of these, love for all, that kind of talk just gives them fits. When Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan as an example of who is our neighbor (the ones we are supposed to love like we love ourselves), these “godly” seekers of power choke on their caviar. Jesus taught the parable about the rich man and Lazarus, where Lazarus, the poor man with sores all over him, lays outside of the gates of the rich man’s estate, begging for crumbs. The rich man eats and is satisfied, giving no thought to the suffering poor man outside his gates. After they both die, the poor man is taken to the bosom of Abraham, while the rich man goes to a place of torment. Abraham tells the suffering rich man that he had his good things in mortal life, while Lazarus suffered. Now, Lazarus has comfort, and the rich man is begging for a drip of water. Wonder how that story goes over at some high-powered political prayer breakfasts.

But, no, this is a Christian nation. This nation, which is seriously thinking of electing a man who encourages violence against enemies, talks about destroying even the families of suspected terrorists, wants to kick Muslims out of the country (when I was a stranger, you welcomed me?) just looks the other way and acts as if this politician is somehow holy because he’s Republican.

And, then there is the little (or rather HUGE) problem of racism in this country. How, in our wildest dreams, do we think we can look Jesus in the eye while people of color are being terrorized and killed by police with no repercussions while the white people (the people of privilege and power in this nation) sit back and refuse to even consider that the powerful police forces might be wrong?

I sound angry. Yeah. I am. I suppose I’m angry at myself at the bottom of all of this. I’m angry that for so long I didn’t see how blind and privileged I was. When I’m holding the baby of a black Army colleague and he tells me to be careful who sees me, I am surprised that it would be an issue. He knows better. He lives it day by day. When I hear that another Army friend, a man of darker skin, is heckled and assaulted with beer bottles just for having the audacity to take his Army camera to take pictures at Darlington Speedway, I can’t believe my ears at the tale. Sad thing is, he wasn’t surprised but he was hurt. He had a right to be there, same as anyone else.

And, as I hear story after story from my good friends of color (who, by the way, are not thugs, lowlifes, or disposable) I get angrier and angrier because I am seeing things that they live with daily. And, it is not right. And, what is worse than that is seeing the denial and deflection done by white Americans when faced with even the clearest of facts. This is a racist country. We need to change that. Just because black people are not slaves anymore doesn’t mean they are treated equally. Just because we have a black president doesn’t mean that all racial injustice has disappeared. Far from it. It feels like it has intensified because there has been a black president that people of racist inklings cannot endure.

We are a Christian nation? We were founded on Christian principles? Do you know that many white supremacist groups claim to be Christian? But, this nation was founded on people of white skin proclaiming they are godly, while all the while enslaving, brutalizing, and destroying the lives of black people and natives. People used the Bible to justify that slavery, in spite of the fact that Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves. Our forefathers must have really HATED themselves based on their treatment of non-white folks as they built their empires on the sweat, blood and tears of oppressed people.

This country has never looked like the kingdom of heaven that we, who are Christians, pray about constantly – “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” So, in heaven, we’re going to have racism? In heaven, we are going to kill people we fear? In heaven, it’s okay to rob the poor and get richer and richer, ignoring the cries of the needy? Hmmmm. That’s not my idea of heaven. So, when are we going to start being an answer to the prayers we pray – because as it is, our words are empty and meaningless.

Perhaps it is time for people to just admit that they don’t really think Jesus had such great ideas after all. Or, maybe, hopefully, they can actually think about what it means to live in step with Christ’s teachings in the real world. I believe Jesus was the ultimate authority and expert on how a government should be run, and I think the world would be better if we followed those teachings. As it is now, I would much rather spend time and put faith in people who are atheists and who live the teachings of Jesus anyway by their service to others and their common decency, than I want to spend time with people who claim Jesus with their lips but deny him with their lives.

If you’re a Christian, then act like it. Vote like it. Live in step with Christ’s teachings. Otherwise, maybe you need to examine your lives – because when I think of anti-Christ, this is what comes to mind – those who claim Jesus, but live completely opposite of what Jesus stands for. I’ve had enough of that stuff. How about you?