It’s Friday. Period.

It’s been over ten years now since I fell in love with Friday. I had been entering this suburban sanctuary for a couple years on Sunday mornings, and then Wednesday evenings, full of questions, doubt, pain, and anger. Then, I took a short-term position filling in for an administrative assistant who was on maternity leave at church, and it happened to be during the period of Lent.

Lent.

What an unfamiliar word.

I had never heard of it, let alone the traditions that typically accompanied it.

Everyone else on the staff was giving up something for Lent. It felt like I should too. So, for my first spiritual fasting experiment, I decided to give up sweets.

At this point, I was more hungry for a God that could handle the current state of my  heart than I was for sugar, but I was only beginning to find him.

I started to wonder about this idea of letting go of something with an open mind toward what could come instead now that I had made some space.

To me, it was a beautiful and expectant metaphor.

I told some friends from my home church about it. I got a speech about how Lent wasn’t biblical, so I should be careful participating in any man-made tradition not prescribed in Scripture.

It wasn’t my first introduction to fear-based spirituality.

At least by this point, I was coming to understand the beauty in spiritual traditions outside my own, so I kept plotting away, undeterred.

Then, after several weeks, came Good Friday. I made my way back to that sanctuary and joined the darkness.

It was heavy.

Hopeless.

Full of death.

It was Friday, and it was familiar. 

At that time in my life, death was something I couldn’t get away from.

It was the first time I had ever understood what Friday was all about. I mean, I knew cognitively that it represented the day Jesus died. But I had never really felt the power of bringing all of my internal “Friday” to join Jesus in his.

It was like a deep, resonating, settling breath.

That Easter was like none I had ever experienced before. I had always known that Easter was about resurrection, hope, and new beginnings.

But resurrection after death is different than resurrection.

Hope after despair is different than hope.

And beginning after ending is not the same as starting from scratch.

It was all so freeing and full of life that I started to wonder why my spiritual tradition never introduced me to Good Friday growing up. My church had never even had a service.

Then I realized that in the church, it wasn’t just Good Friday that didn’t have a place. Though there were some individual exceptions for whom I will be forever grateful, I had an equally hard time getting the church at large to interact much about those internal Fridays I was experiencing either. When I talked about them, there were plenty of invitations to interact instead with resurrection, hope, and new beginnings, and not as much space for death, despair, and ending.

Good Friday taught me that there is a place for those. Like an actual stopping point in the story of God where we pitch our tent in the spiritual morgue and wait, and it’s exactly where we are supposed to be.

So, today is the death day. It’s about darkness.

And we are all talking about how Sunday is coming.

But today is the day where we learn how to be in our own Fridays and in other people’s Fridays with them.

Friday is uncomfortable and unsettling. It can make us want to usher in Sunday as a way to rescue ourselves.

Of course, we do experience Friday with knowledge of Sunday. We do not grieve as those who have no hope.

But knowledge of Sunday isn’t an excuse not to fully experience Friday. 

So, let today be what it is. Bring all your despair to the Cross, sit a while at the feet of Jesus on the day of his own despair, and know that you are in it together.

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Feminist Mommy sat on a bed, reading the bedtime tales. Along came some thoughts that settled inside her, and made her want to bail.

Growing up in a private Christian school, I learned to dissect. Of course there were frogs in formaldehyde, but they weren’t the only thing we were tearing apart to inspect.

We were taught to cut into words, to pull them in pieces and put them back together again, to see how they fit into the body out of which they came.

It was all a part of being able to interpret our most important textbook: the Bible.

From that process, I learned to think critically about layered meanings and veiled allusions.

And this is precisely the part of my brain I am having trouble turning off when I read nursery rhymes to my children.

Therefore, I extend the following confessions from a feminist mommy trying to get through bedtime.

First, the gender stereotypes in these little stories are just unacceptable. Women are weak enough to need buns first instead of being expected to share them, fragile enough to be scared of a spider while sitting around eating curds and whey, and impressionable enough to fall down a hill simply because a little boy fell down first.

Incidentally, Jack got up, went home and took care of his wounds with no mention of him needing help from anyone. This story doesn’t say anything about whether Jill even got home (which isn’t as surprising as it should be). According to Wikipedia, there is an optional verse about Jill in which she gets whipped by her mother for causing Jack’s “disaster.” Figures. Women are responsible for saving men from their own disasters after all.

The rest of the rhymes have women making some tarts, caring for lambs, flying around on a broom, and riding a horse.

Let me remind you of some of those verbs one more time: scaring, eating, sitting, falling, causing, eating again, making, caring.

Sounds pretty passive, unless you count flying around on a broom.

Passive, and full of food. Leading to one of my personal favorites: “Jack Sprat could eat no fat; his wife could eat no lean; and so between them both, you see, they licked the platter clean.”

Could eat no lean.

Enough said.

But what of a woman who has a mind of her own, who is doing more than scaring and eating and sitting, and falling?

Well that appears to be the situation Peter the Pumpkin Eater finds himself in. See,  he had a wife and couldn’t keep her. So, naturally, he put her in a pumpkin shell and there he kept her very well.

Woah, I mean, we were just talking about some misogyny here, no need to escalate on up to a felony domestic. Not to mention, kidnapping your wife and storing her in a gourd may not make her want to stick around.

So other than holding hostages in pumpkins, what are the rest of the men up to? Well, with the exception of one who takes a great fall, it seems they are ordering around women. Or ordering around someone. Calling for tarts. Calling for pies, calling for bowls, and calling for fiddlers three (but at least he was a merry old soul).

And then what of the children?

When they escape the falling from cradles as babies, they are falling down hills, going to bed with stockings still on, stealing tarts (and getting beaten “full sore”), loving plum cake and sugar candy, and eating a Christmas pie. NOTE: All the above children are boys. There is also one boy who has found some competency in jumping over candlesticks, but the rest of them sound a lot like boys who will grow up calling for tarts.

Which puts in perspective the dilemma of Little Tommy Tucker who sings for his supper. “What shall he eat? White bread and butter. How shall he cut it without a knife? How shall he marry without a wife?”

Sounds pretty essential to survival. Ya know, being able to cut bread. And ensuring you have a wife.

I get it. To whom else would he call for tarts?

I’ll leave behind my commentary about the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker needing to be “turned out” after being found together in a tub to close with a couple of more disturbing wonderings.

Adjacent on two pages are the following:

“Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry, when the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away.”

Why is there a boy who kisses girls until they cry and then runs away when given the opportunity to play with boys (or be observed by others?)

I vote for a second verse about a little girl that kicks little Georgie’s ass for not asking before he touched.

It’s called consent people.

And then this:

“Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town, upstairs and downstairs, in his nightgown; rapping at the window, crying at the locks, ‘Are the children in their beds, for now it’s eight o’clock!'”

A guy running around town in his pajamas trying to figure out if the children are in bed, crying at the locks?

It always makes me want to ensure “Wee Willy Winky” gets added to the national sex offender registry.

Just in case.

 

 

 

 

 

Revenge (Part 2): #JUSTICEFORRYAN

I keep wondering about him.

All I really know is that he is African-American and was wearing a dark hoodie that night, according to the witnesses.

I wonder how old he is, and what his life was like until now. I wonder if he was born into poverty or if he had enough. I wonder if he felt an early sense of belonging and security, like his needs would be met by someone he could depend on. I wonder if he lived in the same place all his life or in whatever spot a roof was available for tonight. I wonder if he had stable adults in his life, or if one cycled in before he ever really grieved the loss of the one before. Or if the one before was even worth grieving. I wonder if he had a hungry tummy or if he never thought to question that he would be fed. I wonder if he had a parent or caregiver who shot baskets with him at the park, or played ball in the yard, or if it was really even safe to play in his yard.

I wonder how he learned to make sure he had enough power to feel safe in life. I wonder how those in his life who had power carried theirs. I wonder what he learned about his needs, and whether or not they were important, and whether or not he could count on them being met through trusting others. I wonder what he believed about what he deserved and what he was capable of achieving.

I would who hurt him and how he truly feels inside about being someone who is also a hurt-er.

Because it really could go either way.

We don’t have to look very far to know that excess can create entitlement. Children raised with too much believe they deserve what they have and shouldn’t have to live without what they want. They can grow up ready to use others to meet their needs because they have never been forced to trust themselves. They have never had a chance to find out what they are made of.

But not having enough can do it too. Children who grow up without what they need can feel entitled, like they are owed what they never had. They can grow up willing to use others to meet their needs, especially others whom they perceive already have enough. And sometimes they use power to protect the little they feel they can count on.

The bottom line is, whatever his story, he is entitled. He is selfish. He is exploitative and his power trips are deadly.

I know this because he walked up to a car with a gun in his hand and shot my 22-year-old cousin multiple times, ending his life.

My cousin was a college student in his second semester. A family man who shared care of his children with his fiance so that she could work and he could go to school without the children needing to go to daycare. He was the kind of guy that was usually home with his family at a reasonable hour, which is why that night when he wasn’t, they immediately knew something was wrong.

I say all of that knowing that even if he wasn’t a student, a fiance, or an involved father, his life would still have mattered.

But an entitled and incredibly selfish human being with some hand-held power took it all away.

This man is a killer.

I would bet, if all the layers were pulled back and exposed, he is also terrified, insecure, and traumatized.

I would bet he imagines no other plausible life for himself than the one he has.

From a clinical perspective, I am confident that if I could hear his story, the whole vulnerable and honest mess of it, it is likely layered with attachment wounds, trauma, violence, racism, and deep, deep pain.

And now, so are a few more lives.

There are three brothers who shared all kinds of bonds only they will ever understand. In Ryan was hidden memories and moments they can never get back. They have lost the person who could understand them and see their needs without them having to say a word. They lost the one they thought they could count on even when the rest of life fell apart, and now it’s in pieces and he’s not there. They will work hard in life to find friendships but nothing will ever build the kind of intuitive flow that exists between boys who lived it all together.

There is a finance who built a life with Ryan. They dreamed and schemed together about the what else they would build over time. They were madly in love and now she is left with an empty bed and an aching heart, never again to see the sparkle in his eye when he looked at her, never to walk down the aisle and become his wife, never again to watch him play with their children and feel her heart so full of love.

There is a little two-year-old boy out there who keeps asking for his daddy and cannot understand why daddy isn’t coming home. It’s a deep attachment wound, a trauma, caused by violence, and a symptom of a racial brokenness that goes deeper than our society understands or cares to admit. It is pain–deep and gnawing, even for a child.

There is a little baby girl whose daddy adored her. His loving eyes will never again mirror hers. She will grow up without knowing his deep love and unconditional acceptance of her, other than through a few photographs captured before his life was tragically taken from her.

There are grandparents who supported and fought for this boy unconditionally every step of his life, who sacrificed so much to give him the best chance they could, only to have someone else step in and steal all they had worked to provide for him. They are left with deep grief and suffering, knowing they will never again hear his voice, see his face, or give him a hug.

There are so many other cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends who have been forever imprinted by the impression of Ryan on their lives and forever marked by the excruciating pain of his loss.

And there is a mother whose life has always been bonded to her son’s since the moment she knew he was there. Her breath, in and out, brought him what he needed to survive. As he grew, their breath was still connected. She watched it fall in and out of his chest while he slept at night as peaceful child and then heave intensely through his nostrils on the basketball court as a young adult. He heard her breath rush in quick when she thought he was in danger and catch in her throat when she was most proud of him. Their breath has moved in harmony to the music of life but someone has stolen the song, leaving her literally gasping for air.

Think about that.

A pain so deep an emotional expression cannot contain it.

A literally physical pain.

It is unbearable. 

_____________________________________________________

All of this makes me wonder when it is going to end.

And how it ever could.

I don’t even know what change would truly require.

But what I do understand is why change is so hard.

I mean, change would mean that someone would have to do something different.

Because what feels right, in the sense of fair and just and equal, is to find him and ruin for him all he has ruined for Ryan.

Right?

It doesn’t hardly seem fair his own children, if he has them, get to see him tonight and that his girl gets to fall asleep with him again and again and again.

He doesn’t deserve that.

So, revenge.

It really seems to make the most sense.

Except, that it makes us into him.

It makes us into people who are entitled, who cannot live without doing what we feel we deserve to do, who will take power into our own hands to accomplish our own goals even if someone has to die.

And since revenge always escalates, it means we would be creating more and more and more recycled trauma.

That’s how powerful revenge can be. It can take on a life of it’s own. It can multiply. It can become a force no longer under the power of the one who originated it, a spark that becomes engulfing flames and burns up more than it was meant to kill.

It’s scary to think about really. A world in which this kind of Russian Roulette is our only option.

It was scary for Jesus too, I think.

I think he knew there had to be a different way.

I think he knew it enough to stay present, here, while some humans who thought they had a right exercised their corrupt power to torture him beyond comprehension.

The urge to enact the extraction plan had to be overwhelming.

And yet, something more overwhelming kept him here.

I’m not sure what that something was. But I think it had something to do with our desperate need for justice and redemption.

See, revenge can only right one wrong.

And it always creates more wrong that will need to be righted.

But, justice, the Cross kind of justice, can right all the wrongs.

And beyond that, revenge cannot buy anything back. It can only take away from someone else what you perceive they have taken away from you.

But redemption, the Cross kind of redemption, can restore, can bring back.  It can reverse.

For Ryan, bullets have been drawn back out and wounds sealed over. Death has been renounced and life has again come. The terror of his final moments has been traded for a peace that passes all understanding.

But, for us, his body is in the ground. Death has claimed a lifetime of unmade memories and unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and the unrelenting terror of loss is near.

The family is left trying to prove to the world the importance of Ryan, looking for a way to show the breadth of his impact and the depth of injustice perpetrated against him.

Make no mistake.

The courage of justice takes more strength than the power of revenge. 

And allowing space for the redemption of Jesus is far more bold and brazen than a young man in a hoodie with a gun.

So while a killer waves around death, we will wave around Ryan’s life.

Ryan’s story isn’t going anywhere.

What might look like surrender is actually strength.

Strength that burns brighter and stronger than the flames of revenge.

Strength we will leverage to continue fighting for #JUSTICEFORRYAN.

 

 

 

Revenge (Part 1)

I don’t like everything in the Bible.

There, I said it.

Like take this little gem for example.

Judges 14 and 15.

The story starts out like this: “Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, ‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.’”

As if she was something to own.

Samson’s parents say what parents say in these situations: Can’t you find someone more like us, instead of choosing one of them?

Sampson says what sons say in these situations: No really, she’s the one. I have to have her.

At this point in the story, my blood is boiling. This young woman is not an object to have–she is a unique human individual with worth and value and purpose all her own. 

But then comes this minor little detail, in parentheses: “His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.”

Just perfect.

We’ve made the all-too-natural slide from objectification to exploitation.

She is to be had because God has a job to do. 

So, she’s being used, but never fear, God is using her.

Then, the rest of the story unfolds as follows. Sampson goes to find her but he encounters a lion first, so naturally, under the power of the Spirit, he rips it up with his bare hands. But he keeps that a secret. Probably a wise choice. Then, he goes and talks to the girl, and decides he likes her (notice this was not a factor in whether or not he had to have her–that part was already decided). Then, he returns some time later to marry her, but, for old times sake, visits the old lion carcass, where he finds bees, and, therefore, honey. He takes the honey to eat, and brings some for his parents, but doesn’t tell them where it came from.

His violence has turned sweet.

Sampson throws a feast and tells the guests a riddle. He places a bet with them, so they want to solve it, but they can’t. So, they threaten to burn his wife and her whole household if she cannot coax it out of him. So she does. But he’s a sore loser, so he goes and strikes down 30 of her people (all in the power of the Lord, of course) and returns home angry. Meanwhile, the wife is discarded, given to one of Sampson’s friends.

He leaves her there.

Objectification.

Exploitation.

Deception. Half the truth.

The temporary taste of sweetness, of being satisfied.

Power.

Threats.

Betrayal.

Revenge.

Isolation.

It starts with an us and a them and it ends with just a me.

It ends with a man, intent on his own satisfaction–in relationship only as a means to an end.

It ends with a woman who was an individual, a person so unique that Sampson could notice her, go find his parents, return to her town, and pick her out of a crowd. But now, her identity is lost and reduced to just another member of her people group.

She is one of them.

_____________________________________________________

Chapter 15 begins with Sampson, around the time of wheat harvest, going back down to visit his wife.

What use for her he has this time is unclear.

He is then informed by her father that the family was under the impression Sampson hated her, so they gave her to someone else.

She was a hand-me-down.

Even though he is offered another woman in her place, Sampson is angry: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.”

A right.

Really?

No personal responsibility at all? Obviously, giving your wife away wasn’t your choice, but can you at least own up to creating some of the context?

Let’s rewind.

You selected her like ripe and juicy fruit at a market, married her, told her an answer to a riddle, wished you hadn’t, struck down 30 of her people, and left her, and you are justified in your revenge because you have been wronged in return?

I mean, giving away your wife might be awful, but this isn’t an isolated decision. It had context.

It didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened in a system.

And thus begins a deadly and torturous pissing match.

Sampson ties foxes together and lights them on fire and sends them to destroy the Philistines crops. When they find out it was him who lit foxes on fire, they light people on fire and kill his wife and her father. When Sampson finds out they did that, he kills many of them and retreats to a cave. The Philistines come looking for him and so all of Judah is now threatened and waiting on an explanation from him. How could he have put everyone’s safety at risk?

His answer: “I merely did to them what they did to me.”

His people give him over to his enemies but God gives him a power boost, he breaks free, and uses a donkey jawbone and kills a thousand men.

A thousand.

Violence multiples quickly.

Then he was thirsty and God made sure to give him water in exchange for all his hard work (which is another topic for another time).

From one man who couldn’t have the woman to whom he felt entitled to thousands dead.

Because, as Rob Bell observed in his sermon Forgiveness is Personal, revenge always escalates.

Revenge always escalates. 

And it takes out those who had nothing to do with it anyway.

_____________________________________________________

Thousands of years later, humans have finally figured out how to build tall towers.

Two of them are knocked down by them flying planes.

Another plane is flown back down into the land.

2,996 people died.

2,996 lives lost.

It was and continues to be staggering.

It was a terrible and evil decision.

And it was a decision made made in a system, not in a vacuum.

It was an act of war, brought to our soil by those who witnessed our war fought on theirs.

It was inexcusable.

And then we acted like we didn’t create any of the context.

We said, we’ll take your 2996 lives and raise you 150,000.

That’s right, according to the website www.iraqbodycount.org, the total number of civilians (not including combatants) who have been killed as a result of the conflict begun in 2003 is over 150,000.

Now, I understand that the United States may not be responsible for all of them, but that’s 50 times the number of deaths in 911.

50.

Because we saw what they did and we had a right.

Because revenge always escalates.

____________________________________________________

There were houses full of boys.

A boy who was 10 in 2003 would be 22 now.

They spent their childhoods with pounding hearts and vigilant eyes, huddled at home, full of the trauma all around them.

Developmentally, the only way they knew how to make sense of it all was to make us into a very scary them.

Now, they are ready to take their power back in a pissing match all their own. These boys whose childhoods were sacrificed are eager to get their own revenge.

Many of them are willing to give up their lives to get us back.

So, for Christians everywhere, Muslims have lost their individuality.

Muslims are now a corporate they.

Acts of violence are justified. Students are called on to carry guns, to be ready to take life at any moment because of what THEY did to US. 

And my first reaction is shock. I think How could all these people actually think this is the way of Jesus? What could possibly motivate that idea?

And then I read Judges, and it’s a little more clear.

The Bible seems to condone this escalating violence. It seems to justify the defense (and quite frankly the offense) of the people of God in a way that dismisses the entire part we’ve played in the problem.

It seems to suggest that after we are done objectifying, exploiting, and deceiving–after the back-and-forth and all the bloodshed–there will be water.

From God.

For us.

It really does seem to say that.

Or at least half of it does.

But then,

Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Advent, Terrorism, and Women

The story replays over and over again. al Qauda. Boko Haram. ISIS. Infiltrate and invade. Violate and discard women. Kill (or recruit) men. Leave.

Obviously, it doesn’t happen this way every time, but the vast number of widows and fatherless children throughout the middle east cannot be ignored.

It’s such a wild contradiction. Women are so powerful that they must be contained at every level–their bodies covered as the exposure of them alone is powerful enough to “cause” sin, their voices silenced for fear of what they could accomplish through open communication, their education thwarted out of covert acceptance that, armed with information, women are capable of changing the world, or at least the world as men know it.

But, then, in the wake of the slaughter and mass graves, they leave the women behind. Cast aside as though they are worthless, powerless, like they cause no threat at all. No more energy is spent containing all their potential. Instead, the terrorists seem to believe they have stripped these families and communities of their value. They act like burglars who took the diamonds and jewels and left behind the cheap costume jewelry.

The influence they have worked so hard to bridle they now liberate.

What the world is beginning to see is that they have left power in their wake.

Resilient and resolved tenacity.

They have created survivors. 

As Americans, we see these stories and send our prayers and money, but most of us are yearning to hear some sort of solution, hope that this is not the new way of our world.

The sheer vastness of it all can be utterly defeating. None of us has influence over foreign governments, and even those who do cannot seem to use it effectively enough to create change. The soil seems fertile for extremist groups to continue to mobilize within the middle east, and possibly infiltrate countries all over the world.

It’s all so far away. And the problems are all so big.

Any effort we could make ultimately feels like one drop of good in an ocean of evil.

None of us feels like our contribution would matter much in the end.

So, we resort back to the same old tactics the extremists try.

Just as terrorists recognize potential power and shut it down, we begin recognizing potential dangers and propose limits and controls.

Ironically, those who study peace, such as the folks at the Unites States Institute of Peace (USIP), created by Congress in 1984 as an independent, nonpartisan, federally funded organization to provide analysis, education, and resources to those working for peace, have identified one key factor that is necessary, and often times ignored, in the peace process: women. In fact, in 2000, the U.N. Security Counsel Resolution 1325 acknowledged the critical role women play not only in responding to but also in preventing terror.

It is widely understood that, in order to have global conversations about peace, women must be at the table.

Without the voice of women, peace cannot come.

In their 2011 report The Role of Women In Global Security, the USIP quote Søren Pind, Danish minister of development cooperation, as saying, “You won’t find a fragile state that supports the rights of women. You won’t find a stable society that neglects the rights of women.”

This report stresses the importance of shifting “power relationships” to create lasting peace.

Funny.

The key to helping a nation’s leaders share power, instead of resort to hostile takeover, is to teach the men and women that make up the individual communities of that nation to share power with one another.

Novel.

Shared power creates stability.

We Christians aren’t too good at sharing power.

In fact, the vast majority of evangelical America is convinced we don’t have to.

I was reminded of this reality not too long ago in a social situation where my husband and I were out with our 3 children (all 4 and under). He was in a different room performing some sort of task with one of them (probably changing a diaper if I had to guess) and I had some information I thought might be helpful, so I piped up from the next room over. In that moment, I was reminded by someone else present that if I wanted him to take care of the task, I could not tell him how to do it.

Okay, fair enough. No one likes a back-seat parent.

However, my husband and I both work full-time. We both contribute significantly to the overall family income. So, when it comes to raising our kids and taking care of our household, he is just as responsible as I am. He is not “helping” me, he is just doing his part. He is not doing me a favor that I should simply be grateful for.

The idea that just because my husband is the person acting at a particular moment means I automatically lose my voice perpetuates of the lie that only one person can have power at a time. 

So, as an evangelical culture, we stay stuck.

Because we’ve never learned how to matter at the same time without being threatened by one another.

And our division shows up in marriages broken, churches split, and denominations severed.

On this, the first day of Advent, I am reflecting on this Scripture: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Prince of Peace.

As we reflect on the Prince of Peace this season, and long for a world where peace is truly realized, may we practically connect with the ways we can share power in our own sphere of influence and wonder about how we can support the stability that comes when both sides of the Imago Dei can productively partner.

To Whom Much Is Given: A Thanksgiving Reflection on Whiteness

Back when I had a bulletin board, which was back when I had an office, which was back before every inch of my home was filled with children, I had a $5 bill that hung on the bottom.

It wasn’t currency.

It was a reminder of my currency.

In college, I participated in an activity that I will never forget. A group of students, all from different racial backgrounds, were all positioned at a starting line. Then, we were instructed to take steps forward or backward based on certain prompts. We were told that whomever got to the front of the line first won money in different increments depending on who finished first, second, third.

If you have ever been asked to speak on behalf of all who share your skin color, take two steps back.

If you have ever been to summer camp, take one step forward. 

If you watch media and see people who look like you being portrayed positively, take two steps forward.

If you are the only one in your family to ever attend college, take one step back. 

I was surprised by what was starting to happen. The longer the exercise went on, the closer I got to the front.

I found myself taking smaller steps, shrinking back from the exposed illusion that my hard work and innate talent were not the only reasons I had achieved success.

Despite my best efforts, I “won” $5 that day.

It didn’t feel like a reward.

After learning more, I began to understand those privileges and experiences I did nothing to earn have created for me a savings account of sorts, one I can debit from when my current efforts to succeed are not paying off. Those experiences create skills, perspectives, and connections that can be cashed in at a later date.

So, now, as an adult and parent, I do not worry about whether or not the neighborhood I raise my children in is safe. I don’t wonder if the values I have instilled in them and the bond I have created with them will be strong enough to withstand the pressure toward gang membership. The thought that I would need to convince the world that my children’s lives matter has never crossed my mind. 

I did not chose my race, ethnicity, country of origin, family of origin, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or the historical period in which I was born, but they all give me a head start. 

Yes, I am a hard worker. I am goal-oriented. I can chose long-term success over instant gratification. I am proud of those things, and they do help me succeed.

But, I often wonder if there is a minority mom out there somewhere who is living on welfare, or a transgendered woman who is dismissed and misunderstood, who might also have what it takes–who also knows about long-term investments, goals, and working hard–who doesn’t have my life even though there isn’t a single reason why not that she could have actually controlled.

To say that I’m thankful today seems disrespectful.

Of course, I am thankful, but it is much deeper than that.

I am privileged. 

To say I am thankful infers that I was given something to be thankful for, which infers I was given something that others intentionally weren’t, which infers that the giver left others out on purpose, which infers they might not have deserved the privileges I have.

This mentality serves to perpetrate the insidious belief that the “haves” are better, or more deserving, than the “have nots.”

It also creates a picture of a God who is generous, but only sometimes, to some people.

So, why do (White) Christians gravitate so much toward the meaning of Thanksgiving? Why is it so much more than turkey and football to us?

For lots of reasons.

We understand that gratitude is important.

We understand we serve a good God and that the good things on earth come from him.

We understand that staying tuned in to our abundance can also keep us aware of the needs of others.

Those are all true and good things.

Lately, I’ve been feeling something else mixed up in there.

I’ve been feeling pride.

We have gotten being privileged confused with being deserving. 

Being deserving is about us. About how good we are. It makes us feel noticed. It’s comfortable.

But being privileged doesn’t make us comfortable, it makes us responsible.

To whom much is given, much is required.

Being responsible is entirely different altogether.

Responsibility is uncomfortable.

Inconvenient.

Burdensome.

And it requires action.

Thankfulness can be passive. 

Thankfulness can be words we speak around a full table, in a safe neighborhood, with extra money in our checking account.

But thankfulness can also be active.

Active thankfulness is about recognizing our privilege and deciding to leverage it in ways that level the playing field.

What are we doing to to ensure that skin color does not determine a person’s opportunity to make a life worth living in our world?

Maybe today at our Thanksgiving tables, we can share what we are thankful for, because that’s important.

Maybe we could also share ideas for active thankfulness. Not a plan made up of grandiose gestures but rather simple decisions, intentional conversations, and small acts.

Instead of merely being thankful to God, we could create ways to actually be a representation of God’s heart toward the marginalized. 

 

 

 

 

Prayer for Paris

Come, Lord Jesus.

To a nation who will never be able to forget, who will be marked and changed and forever different.

To world leaders with decisions resting on their shoulders–stones thrown in an ocean of violence, the ripples of which are impossible to predict.

To first responders and aid workers who are tired and pressing through.

To the critically injured, whose bodies are working to heal physical wounds that pale in comparison to their fractured emotional reality.

To parents trying to explain evil they don’t understand themselves to children in the face of stolen innocence.

To mothers and fathers who lost a piece of themselves, who need a body to grieve over to feel like this is even real, but don’t have one.

To spouses who woke up two days ago thinking they would have a hundred tomorrows only to have them all ripped away.

To children who will grow up without a mom or dad, forever unable to escape the knowledge that we cannot count on life.

To brothers and sisters and friends who lost the only person that knew their secrets, saw their worst, and loved them anyway.

To desperate refugees, who have experienced fear like most of us have never known, whose only hope is that the terrorists who stole their lives do not scare the rest of us out of offering them a new one.

To young boys who are vulnerable, scared, looking to feel worthy and valuable, who were taught the way of violence by a war fought on their soil and are eager to show us what they learned.

To all who are paying the price for someone else’s pain.

To those hell bent on hope, who are determined to stand toe-to-toe with the worst humanity is capable of and believe that love still wins.

Bring irrational grace.