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Staring Into the Light

As Ben and I were walking this morning, we rounded the corner and Ben started to whine. He had his hand over his eyes and I realized the change in direction put the sun rise directly into his eyes. It made me think about looking directly into the poverty, homeless and need that exists in our society.

It’s almost too much. It’s too much to consider that another Category 4 or 5 hurricane could hit another part of our country. It is too much to think about the fact that we have food and homes while others don’t and so just like Ben, we often shield our eyes from the reality, but looking away or shielding our eyes won’t change the needs of neighbors.

It will still be there when we open our eyes shaded by the comfort and security of our own privilege. Maybe it’s time to head into the light, as bright as it is because there in the light is where we find Jesus healing those who are sick, eating with those who are outsiders and preaching to anyone who will listen.

 

Why this Labor Day is Different

This Labor Day is different because of the Homelessness Coalition I attended last week where people all over Columbia who felt passionately about helping the homeless came together to learn. We learned about the fair housing, we tried to make ends meet through a poverty simulation (I bet you can’t make it 30 days), and we asked ourselves how we could work together to combat poverty and homelessness in the Midlands.

As a young professional who entered the job market in 2008, I understand the impact the recession had not only on me and my colleagues but also on the baby boomers who were just within reach of retirement only to find out that they had to start all over. I understand the changing dynamics of what it means to work. I also understand the negative impact of the myth of the American Dream.

The average worker has to work one month in order to make what a CEO makes in one hour. 1% of our population holds 40% of all of America’s wealth. 8 out of every 10 people only hold 7% of America’s wealth. 500,000 youth (18+) are homeless. In fact, America meets all three criteria for qualifying as a third world country: poor distribution of income, government run by the elite, political focus on stasis rather than change.

South Carolina is the 8th poorest state in the US. In order to afford housing that is livable and abides by fair housing regulations, an individual needs to between $12.5-$18.29/hour. The minimum wage in SC is $7.25 meaning that a person who is working a minimum wage job would have to work 120 hours/week in order to afford housing that abides by fair housing regulation. This is physically impossible, but again and again, the homeless population is blamed for being lazy and not trying hard enough. Four out of ten homeless people hold jobs and four out of ten have no savings, so when a big expense in transportation, deposits, or medical bills arise there is no way for them to pay for those surprise expenses.

NPR reported today: “Full-time employees have become the last resort. Companies will do anything to hire part-time, short-term, or contract positions.” In addition: “More and more people who are full-time employees need second jobs or side gigs in order to make ends meet.” Our world is not the same as it has been. The changing dynamics of the economy and the changing idea of what it means to work is changing young professionals.

If communities of faith want to be relevant to young professional, there has to be an understanding of the uphill battle they are facing when it comes to finding work and finding reliable income. Our neighbors are in need. What are we going to do to help?

The Aftermath

We are living in the aftermath.

We’re living in the aftermath of a major universal event that many have never experienced. 

We’re living in the aftermath of protests that ended in death.

We’re living in the aftermath of the storm that has destroyed a major city and left thousands stranded and homeless. 

We’re living in the aftermath of a statement from an evangelical group who claim to know what God says about marriage and what isn’t marriage in God’s eyes.

We’re living in the aftermath in which people are waiting for you. They are waiting to see how you will respond. If you will respond with statements of support. If you will respond with donations. If you will respond with silence and awe. If you will respond with a theological crisis. If you will respond with an identity crisis. If you will respond by continuing to live unimpacted and unchanged.

We are living in the aftermath; the ground shifting under us, inviting us to change, inviting us to new insight and new understanding. Will you accept?

The Ghosts of Our Past

I just finished reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved part of my commitment this year to read more books by women authors, authors from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and authors of different ethnicities and races. Morrison weaves a devastating tale of African Americans trying desperately to find freedom from slavery. Her main character Sethe is beaten when she is pregnant to the point that she will wear scars on her back for the rest of her life. In a pivotal moment, Sethe’s old owner finds her in Ohio and intends to claim his property back: her and all four of her kids. What is she supposed to do? That moment of decision plagues her for the rest of the book. Ghosts from her past keep her up at night, make her question who she is, and make her wonder whether she is a good mother.

I’ve often said I wish I could go back to the community of faith I grew up in now that I have found my voice and speak into the sexism and spiritual abuse I encountered. I wish I could stand up to that power and privilege protecting the hierarchy and often times missing opportunities to meet the desperate needs of the community. These ghosts of my past keep me up at night, make me question who I am, and make me wonder whether I am a good mother as the theology I grew up in taught that a woman’s most important role was to raise her children, not share God’s word, especially from a pulpit.

This weekend, we saw the ghosts of our past as a country in broad daylight in the violent protests of Charlottesville, VA. We saw the hatred and enmity as one woman was killed and nineteen others were injured. We saw the racism, sexism, and elitism that are usually subtexts and passive aggressive comments broadcast in public. We were confronted with the reality that our country was founded on the backs of treating people like property and animals. We discovered there are still some who believe that the past is not only ok but the way things should be.

The thing about ghosts of our past is that we don’t want to seem them. In fact, most of convince ourselves that ghosts don’t exist brushing aside the missed opportunities to offer a helping hand to someone in need, excusing the privilege we have enjoyed with defenses of why we deserve what we have (forgetting this means others don’t and can’t have what we have), and forgetting that what we saw this weekend, we helped create.

But being confronted with the ghosts of our past reminds us of where we have been and challenges us to ask the question who do we want to be. Do we want to be the kind of people who try to ignore the racism, sexism, and elitism that abounds in our country limiting the possibilities of other people? Are we going to brush aside people’s stories of racism, sexism, and elitism when we hear them blaming the victim? Or are we going to be the community that surrounds these ghosts of the past and exposes them?

At the end of Morrison’s book, there is a beautiful scene of the community gathering at the edge of the property where Sethe lives. They sing, they pray, they stay until she comes out of the house and they stop her from repeating her past. This is the power of community.

We can’t face the ghosts of our past alone. We need the power of community to help keep us accountable and courageous to become something more than who we used to be.

On Laying Low

Yesterday, The State Newspaper released an article on the interactions between the homeless community and the new residents of the Main Street community. The article was supposed to report on aggressive interactions between the homeless and these new residents, but the residents who were interviewed couldn’t think of any incidents in which they felt threatened. The article has received pushback for overgeneralization of a population comprised of unique individuals and unique circumstances as well as being poorly researched.

In my experience with the homeless population, I think the question was correct but addressed to the wrong population. The reporter should have asked whether the members of the homeless community had ever had an aggressive interaction with a member of the population who live in homes and apartments (this sounds odd to generalize all the population who live with a roof over their head into one big category, doesn’t it?). His article would have been filled with the stories of people desperately trying to survive and save for a hotel room, an apartment, or a room at a nursing home facility being victimized again and again. Not only do people who are homeless experience aggressive attacks, but then shame and guilt are heaped onto them for “getting themselves into this position.”

But that’s not what the story concluded. Instead, it reinforced the false belief that people who are homeless are homeless because of their choices or laziness. It reinforced bias of a group of people filled with unique individuals with unique situations. It failed to mention that the homeless population in Columbia is comprised of individuals and families who are chronically homeless, situationally homeless, and seasonally homeless.

The bi-product of this article is not only the reinforcement of bias but a reminder to The State readers that they are released from the responsibility of caring for their neighbors in need. The article will have ripple effects for non-profits who are working in and with the homeless community. They will see more critique, reduced funding, and lack of participation. The article will also serve to send a message to the homeless community to lay low: they are being watched. But more than any of these effects, the article will reinforce the privilege laced into our society that created the haves and the have nots.

Until we can come to the understanding that some of us have been given opportunities others have not had and will not have, we will continue to thrive as a people and as a society by exploiting and oppressing other people. 51% of children in SC will continue to be food insecure because they live in low-income situations and over 17,000 people in SC will continue to be homeless 20% of whom are children.

You might be able to sleep at night in your bed when it’s raining outside and not think or worry about the people and children who are trying to find a warm, dry place to sleep. You might be able to look at these statistics and understand that over half of our population in SC is living in low-income situations and say you deserve what you have because you worked for it and they deserve what they get. You might be able to drive by someone begging for money without wondering if they are begging because they didn’t get picked for the limited day laborer pool or because it’s raining and they can’t work construction, paving, or painting today. These realities might be ok with you because they are the realities in which you have a place to sleep and food to eat without concern.

These realities are not ok with me. I think there’s enough for us all. I think when we believe we deserve what we have, it clouds our vision to what we could do if we worked together and shared our resources.

I am only one
by Edward Everett Hale

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.

 

On the Road Again

I glanced at the notification that popped up on Waze. “Congratulations! You’ve driven 500 miles this week.” 500 miles? I thought to myself. That can’t be right, can it? I thought back to Saturday where I drove to Asheville and back to Columbia with two tired girls who had just rocked a swim meet. I thought about Monday where I had the honor to lead Bon Air Baptist in The Privilege Walk and a Bible Study related to their work with Palmetto Missionary Baptist Church in the Myrtle Beach area. Then I thought about the annual worship gathering for Baptist Women in Ministry in Atlanta.

What a week.

It was the kind of week that has left me road weary. Although it was refreshing and inspiring to lead the privilege walk with this group of youth, I know there so many who don’t want to engage or examine their privilege much less use their power and privilege to help others. Although it was refreshing and inspiring to gather with Baptist Women from around the country, there are still only 6.5% women who hold senior pastor or co-pastor positions in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

There’s still so much work to do and so few people who are willing to do the hard work of breaking down privilege and breaking down gender stereotypes. There are even fewer people who are willing to acknowledge their privilege (rather than defend their privilege) and use their voice to dismantle institutional sexism.

Even though I’m road weary, I’ll keep driving, keep teaching, keep worshipping, and keep writing for the women who have survived sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace and have been in tears this week because of the blatant reminder that America is still a culture of sexual harassment and sexual assault. I’ll keep driving, keep teaching, keep worshipping, and keep writing for those in socioeconomic situations whose voices are ignored and whose healthcare needs are decided by power and privilege. I’ll keep driving, keep teaching, keep worshipping, and keep writing for those two tired girls and their younger brother to have a healthier, more whole way of living and being themselves.

Fairy Gardens

I can’t believe LC just turned 7!  We have dubbed this her fairy, magical birthday because so many of her gifts have to do with fairies and magic, and I am loving it. The idea of creating a fairy garden to hold your dreams to escape from this world and to gain perspective is important for her at this age. The idea of tending to something like beans and wheat grass everyday to remind yourself to care for some other living things is powerful. But more importantly to remember to imagine and dream and wish and believe in something that you can’t quite understand or put your finger on is so important.

We ask a lot of our girls who travel between homes and communities. We ask them to be strong and brave and resilient. We ask them to be flexible and adaptable in a way I never was asked at 7 and they have stood strong.

But sometimes, they just need to be kids and imagine a world full of fairies and magic dust and wishing stones and dream stones and mystery.

On Finding New Hope

A year ago, I was in the throws of the pastor search process with two churches, both full-time, benefitted positions; both a part of what I thought was the next step in my ministry. As I waited between the first and second interviews, I began packing boxes in our house convinced that we were moving to a new phase and a new place. By the end of June, one church  went completely silent. There was no communication after months of scheduling interviews, emails back and forth, and meeting people in the church. Then, nothing. Not even a response to emails. Just silence. The second church called to let me know that they were calling another candidate, a great choice for them,  someone I knew and respected.

I was left dumbfounded and shocked. I had been so certain that I was being called to full-time ministry and a different place. It was so strange to be in the midst of dreaming and visioning what was next in exciting, new ways and then to find out so close together that neither of those were a possibility. No one told me about the hurt and disappointment that the pastor search process brings.

While I was in the search process, waiting to hear from churches, I started doing pulpit supply at a CBF church start in town called New Hope, a great community of people. I kept telling them that I could do another couple of weeks as I waited and they kept asking me to come back. In the midst of my shock and disbelief that what I thought was next was not in fact next, I kept coming to a community founded on hope, new hope.

Their story was one that was filled with their own stories of pain and disappointment as they moved from different communities of faith to form something different. They had been hurt by the church and yet they still believed that the gospel could change and transform lives. They clung to hope even in the midst of their pain and suffering. In fact, the verse they decided was the foundation of what they were creating was 1 Peter 1:3:

By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

And I just happened to be doing pulpit supply for this community of faith as I encountered the uncertainty and chaos of transition in ministry.

The image of the wilderness is not one that we can ignore as ministers. God called God’s people out of slavery into the uncertain future of the wilderness. Abraham was called away from his home to the wilderness. Jesus before he began his ministry was tested in the wilderness, but it’s not something we often talk about as communities of faith.

The wilderness teaches us that there really is no way for us to plan our future if we are following God. God is always calling God’s people to new journeys, new names, new identities, and new life just when we feel we have our feet on solid ground. But in communities of faith, there is a theology of comfort and security running wild, rather than the people of God running in the wilderness.

For me, the journey in the wilderness lead me to new hope in the form of a community passionately clinging to hope as their foundation rather than comfort and security. I’m not sure I could have found this new hope had I not first experienced the disappointment as I wandered in the wilderness of the unknown.

Thanks be to God, for continuing to upset and disrupt this minister’s life in truly miraculous ways.

Reversing Your Running Path

This morning, I knew it was time, but I didn’t want to.

I didn’t want to run the 3.5 mile course I run on Fridays in reverse. I didn’t want to because I knew it would disrupt and disorient me. Yes, I know all of the reasons as a runner why you should reverse your familiar paths. I know that if you don’t then your shoes wear down in very specific unhealthy ways. I know if you have a nagging recurring injury that reversing your running path can reverse the negative impact on that injury and reorient any compensating behaviors you’ve accidentally taken on. I know this, but I just didn’t want to.

I knew it would mean not seeing my familiar markers, knowing exactly how much further I had to go. I knew I’d encounter the shortcut option 2/3 into my run instead of 1/3 into my run. I knew that I wouldn’t know the exact number of blocks I had to run before the next turn because I wasn’t as familiar with the path from another angle. More than anything I knew that it would mean encountering a hill that rose incrementally and steadily rather than a steep short hill where I could clearly see the end in sight.

But I knew this was good for me and so I did it reluctantly.

As I ran from the safety of the sidewalk, I realized I couldn’t see clearly what was coming towards me, but rather that I heard what was coming first. As I ran I depended on my ears rather than my sight. I could feel my nagging right hamstring relax with relief as my left hamstring took on more. And I began to realize that reversing my running path was very similar to the discipline of renewing my mind as Paul reminds us in Romans 12:

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual[b] worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

As someone who experienced spiritual abuse, it is so easy when I encounter something challenging to fall back into the familiar path of dogmatic, closed theology where everything has a reason and everything has an answer. It is much, much more difficult for me to reverse that pattern of thinking and lean into the disorientation of not having the familiar markers of known answers to the unexpectedness of life, but this doesn’t produce growth. This produces an unhealthy attachment to the theology that doesn’t fit and isn’t applicable at best and theology that hurts and maims at worst.

As I rounded the corner to the end of the run, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was finished. Done with reversing the path. Next week I could return to the familiar, known path. I looked down at my watch. I ran 25 seconds faster each mile than I had last week on the familiar, known path.

Maybe disruption and disorientation is what produces strength and growth as it wakes up our other senses and other muscles to something new.

Uncovering Spiritual Abuse: Stealing Power

As we were watching Sing this weekend with our kids this weekend, we laughed as Mr. Moon climbed up and over to the neighboring building when his theater lost power in order to plug into the power from his neighbors. The scene reminded me of the beginning of one of my year’s of teaching. The school had undergone major HVAC renovations over the summer, which required a corner of the classroom to be dry walled to contain the new equipment.

In the case of my classroom, this eliminated the only working outlet in my classroom in which I was supposed to teach technology and plug in a laptop cart. The other outlet in my classroom was shorting out pencil sharpeners, so plugging in the laptop cart could have been disastrous. The solution became to procure a large surge protector with a long chord and to steal power from the connecting classroom. Not a good long term solution, but in the short-term, it solved the power issue.

The lectionary passage from John’s gospel this week talks about Jesus appearing to his disciples, but there’s something in the passage that I haven’t noticed before. Jesus breathes on his disciples, much like Creator God the creation account breathes into the dust and brings that dust to life.

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The power of the divine breath giving new life to disciples paralyzed by fear. Re-creation with the divine breath.

As disciples of Christ, we have all ended up in times of fear of paralysis. Times when hiding behind a closed door seems like a much better option than going outside to see what has happened and what it means to walk in the aftermath of a loved one dying; what it means to walk in the realization of a terminal illness diagnosis; what it means to walk with a new identity that we never meant to receive, divorced, homeless, unemployed.

In those moments, we feel completely powerless. Our fear and uncertainty has sapped any reservoir of power we had saved up. In those moments, we can’t find an outlet that will give us the power we need to get up and go out. Again and again in communities of faith and in family units, I see people who are in the midst of crisis trying to sap the power from other people. They try to steal the power that others who have walked through difficult times have found by becoming co-dependent, by taking and taking and never giving anything back.

This is spiritual abuse.

Our power should not be stolen from other people. Although in the short-term it can solve our power issue, it’s not an effective long-term solution. You will have to move from person to person, community of faith to community of faith, sapping people and communities of their power until you are left alone. Our power to overcome our paralysis of uncertainty can only come from Creator God and the Risen Christ who have breathed the divine breath into our dustiness and our fear and transformed us into new creations.