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Where I Come From

This December, I have been immersing myself in local authors. Most of these authors have written and recorded what it was like to grow up in a mill village. I didn’t know my hometown was so centered around mill life until I started working as a second-grade teacher. My principal took the time to take all new employees through the apartment complexes and neighborhoods where our students lived.

I remember when he drove through the mill village and how all the houses looked the same. He told us that since the mill closed down 5 years prior, the demographics changed from 80% white and 20% African Amerian and Hispanic to 80% African American and Hispanic to 20% white. He also explained that because the mill owners moved out from the area, the mill village became low-income housing, owned by someone outside of the state and very rarely maintained. In other parts of the city, mills were being renovated to office buildings or restaurants or commercial buildings, but in this part of the city, there was no renovation planned.

It matters where we came from both in our family history and in the culture and heritage of the place we reside.

Here are the stories I read:

Read about where you came from. Learn about the stories your city, your family and you are built upon.

Expectation, Anticipation, and Revelation

As we worshiped together during the first Sunday of Advent yesterday, I shared with my congregation how difficult it sometimes is to manage the expectations of what this season is supposed to be. This is the season of love, joy, hope, and peace and we are expected to eagerly await the coming of the Christ Child and yet for so many of us the season brings only expectations of grief.

I have struggled against the expectations of how I was supposed to behave as a woman raised in a conservative community of faith. When I expressed a call to live out my faith, I was met with the response that I would make a great minister’s wife and that my calling as a teacher was just as important as a call to ministry. Underneath these comments were the expectations of what I could and couldn’t do as a woman. Those expectations didn’t fit who I was and who I was called to be.

And as this Advent starts, I am feeling the weight of expectation to bring hope, peace, love, and joy, but as I shared yesterday I am filled with grief this season. I am filled with grief for friends and family who are celebrating this season without loved ones who they have lost suddenly over the past year. I am filled with grief for my youth who have lost classmates and encountered unexpected death much too soon. I am feeling grief and disappointment that the expectation we had that this Advent season would bring the birth of the Christ Child and another child for us will not be realized.

While I hold this grief for us and for those we love, the anticipation of the Advent season is beating in my soul. This anticipation can only be held alongside the expectation of grief because of the revelation that the Divine is among us and indeed with us. The Divine is still whispering that this season is a special season of revelation of how God is with us. God is with us in our grief. God is with us in our disappointment. God is with us in our joy. God is with us in our peace. God is with us in love.

And God is with us in hope.

Hope that invites us to shed the expectations of how we are supposed to act, what we are supposed to say, how we are supposed to worship, what we are supposed to sing and who we are supposed to be in this season. Hope that instead invites us to simply experience the presence and wonder of the Divine. Hope that anticipates without fully understanding what we are anticipating.

May this Advent upend our expectations with the anticipation of the Christ Child, the revelation of the Divine here among us.

A Day of Reckoning and Sexual Harassment

In light of the allegations of sexual misconduct by famed Today show host Matt Lauer and long renowned voice actor, Garrison Keller, apocalypse language has entered into more and more news reports. People are beginning to understand the vast and pervasive nature of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. This does not occur in only one profession, in one race or in one socioeconomic status. It is everywhere in our culture. To be sure more and more reports will surface as victims begin to understand that their voices are being heard finally.

This week I preached in chapel from the little apocalypse in Mark 13:

24 “But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
    and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

I have to be honest, in my teaching and preaching, I have shied away from apocalypse literature because of all the sermons, Sunday School lessons, churchwide movies that emphasized the Rapture and the end of times. Recently, though as I’ve studied the prophets and the gospels and Jesus’ own words, I have realized that apocalypse literature is a very important part of being God’s people. Indeed there will come a time when we are all held accountable for our actions and the way we treat each other here on earth. That day is coming for many who have abused their power and used their privilege to sexually harass, sexually assault, and sexually abuse co-workers. That day is coming for those who have used their power and privilege to oppress, shame and guilt others.

But before we rejoice and revel in the fate of those who have met their day of reckoning, let us remember this day will come for all of us. We will be held responsible for the poverty and homelessness that we walk past and the times we ignore our neighbors in need.

Stay awake to the Divine moving in this world urging and inviting us to join something bigger and more powerful than the powers and forces here on earth.

The Difference Between Persecution and Accountability

I’ve heard the cries of some U.S.  evangelicals claiming that they are in the midst of persecution. I don’t pretend to know exactly what another person is going through, but I wonder if perhaps what they are experiencing is not persecution but accountability. There is not one of us who revels in being held accountable for our actions when we know what we’ve done is wrong. I see it in the face of our ten-year-old and hear it in the fierce defense of our seven-year-old.

But we must be held accountable when our actions, our decisions, our theology harm children. Our most important calling here on earth is to protect and foster our children. We aren’t doing this well. 1 and 6 children live in food insecure environments in which adequate food supplies cannot be obtained at some point in the year, resulting in food quality or quantity being greatly reduced. 1 in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday.

When I read stories of people supporting men who have abused children for political office and the attempt to use theology to justify child abuse, I know we have a long way to go. We cannot divert attention or responsibility by calling accountability for our actions “religious persecution.” Religious persecution is what the pilgrims were experiencing when they feared for their lives, took a harrowing journey across the sea, and tried to build a life with next to nothing in a new world they had never seen. Religious persecution is NOT being told that you should not harm a child or that you will be held legally responsible because you have harmed a child.

The number of people who attend a weekly worship experience has steadily declined according to Pew Research Center and not just for the people who identify as “nones.” Church attendance has declined for those who still claim to be Christians and this has left a serious gap in accountability. In the absence of weekly teaching and worship, a do-it-yourself theology has arisen that allows an individual to find justification for his or her actions without the accountability of living in community with other people.  My decisions and my interactions are different because I know the stories of the people in our community of faith who are suffering loss and serious illness. My decisions and my interactions are different because I know the couple who was homeless who come to our church for food, prayer and comfort. My decisions and my interactions with children are different because of our policies about how to keep our children safe in our church community.

We need more accountability, not less. We need more people who are willing to engage in communities, and who will challenge them and remind them how much work we still need to do to create safer communities for our children. To be certain, as our children grow and mature, they will be the ones who hold us accountable for what we have and haven’t done to protect them.

That’s not “just John Doe.” That’s Sexual Harassment.

Sexual harassment lives in systems like workplaces, family, and communities of faith because systems always aim to keep homeostasis or a place of stable equilibrium. If there is something that threatens that stability or equilibrium by asking for changes, a system resists those changes.

It’s why in systems like families, workplaces, or communities of faith, it is common to hear comments that are sexual harassment responded to with, “That’s just John Doe.*” It may be a co-worker or an uncle or a grandfather, but almost always John Doe holds a position of power in the system. Therefore, questioning or challenging John Doe would be detrimental to the individual who challenges John Doe.

But that’s not “just John Doe.” That’s sexual harassment.

When sexual harassment goes unanswered because of the position of the person who sexually harasses, we teach those who are victims that if you have enough power and privilege, the rules don’t apply to you. The issue of sexual harassment in our culture is so prevalent that it is going to take a concerted effort to eradicate it from our systems, from our families, and from our speech. This can’t be done by single individuals. This has to be all of us working together to challenge systems harboring and protecting sexual harassment.

Together we can do this. We can imagine better systems. Systems that protect creativity and kindness. Sytems that change the world for the better.

 

 

*John Doe is a placeholder name.

That’s Not a Joke, That’s Sexual Harassment

I was filling my car up with gas, when I heard a car drive by. The male driver yelled, “Hey, hey can I take a pretty Mama to lunch?” My back was to the car as it drove by, so I didn’t turn around. I was worn down. I didn’t have the energy to face sexual harassment, name it, and fight it in the parking lot of a gas station.

Sexual harassment is defined as:

harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.

But too often when I have pointed out that a comment is sexual harassment, the response I’ve received is, “It was just a joke. I was only kidding.” It’s not a joke. It’s an attempt to make a person feel uncomfortable and unsafe. It’s testing boundaries of professionalism to see how someone will respond and react. And it’s always directed at an individual, usually a woman, to exert power over that individual.

It’s not a joke. It’s sexual harassment. It’s sexual harassment when it’s spoken out loud. It’s sexual harassment when it’s sent in a text message. It’s sexual harassment when it’s sent in a DM on social media.

Until we, as a society, can be brave and courageous enough to name sexual harassment when we experience it and when we hear it, we will continue to have 1 and 3 women who report that they have been sexually harassed in the workplace. We will continue to have to wrestle with the fact that

Every 98 seconds someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. That means every single day more than 570 people experience sexual violence in this country.

We have created a culture where sexual harassment, violence, and abuse is normal. It doesn’t get us riled up. It’s so common, we just gloss over it, explaining, “We all make mistakes.”

I want to create something new. I don’t want this to be the culture my children grow up in. I don’t want to have to tell my girls that they should report these incidents, but they probably won’t have any action that follows the report.

Thanks be to God, for good people working and hoping that we can together create something better.

 

When We Change the Rules

Yesterday as I was running errands back and forth across Columbia, I encountered five different drivers over the course of the afternoon who pulled a U-turn or three-point turn across a double line. I don’t mean they went up to a stoplight and turned around. I mean they pulled across a five-lane highway in one case, a two-lane road, a three-lane road, a four-lane road downtown, and in one case held up traffic on both sides of the road as they made a three-point turn in the middle of the road.

I was flabbergasted.

If anyone can understand missing a turn or getting turned around, I certainly can. It happens to me frequently because of my terrible sense of direction. When I miss a turn or miss my opportunity to change lanes in order to turn where I need to turn, I turn at a light, loop around a block and make my way back to where I was trying to go in the first place or pull into a business off the road and turn around.

It says something to me to encounter this number of people who not only put themselves in danger but also other drives in danger. I can’t help  but wonder whether we are living in a culture in which people believe the rules don’t apply to them or don’t apply to the particular circumstance they find themselves. Insisting that where we are going is so important that we can’t take the time to take a proper U-turn signifies tunnel vision in our own experience and agenda. It leads to an unwillingness to reflect on how our decisions impact other people and indeed a community. When we see patterns of complaint and patterns of ignoring rules meant to keep drivers safe, we forget the way our actions and decisions create ripples in the waters of our community.

The only way I know how to combat these phenomena is to be kind. Not nice, but kind. It is so easy to fall into bad habits and patterns whether it’s when we are driving or as we are interacting with people at work, school, or in a place of business. It takes active engagement and forethought to renew our minds and create new patterns: patterns or love and peace, patterns of respect and empathy.

I can’t think of a better time to start.

This is the Day the Lord has Made?

Part of our morning routine includes singing:

This is the day, this is the day.

That the Lord has made, that the Lord has made.

We will rejoice, we will rejoice

and be glad in it, and be glad in it.

This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.

In the middle of our singing this song this morning, I heard the news that over 50 people had been killed and over 400 injured and that those numbers would climb throughout the day. I read accounts and listened to interviews knowing that the people who experienced the horrific tragedy in Las Vegas last night would never, never be the same because The Body Keeps the Score of trauma.

This is the day the Lord has made? Certainly not.

This is the day we have made. We have made this day by insisting, demanding, and defending on protecting and preserving our own rights without reflecting or acknowledging how those rights can be transformed into massacre and madness in the hands of certain people; not willing to sacrifice our rights and our privilege for the sake of the common good so people can enjoy an outdoor concert, so kindergarteners can go to school to learn and teachers can go to school to teach, and ministers and congregants can have Bible study on a Wednesday night without losing their lives.

What most of us don’t understand about privilege is that we also can give up or sacrifice our own privilege for the sake of someone else. It isn’t that we lose our own voices, not that we speak on behalf of people whose experiences we haven’t had, but rather that we sacrifice what we think we deserve knowing that by sacrificing we, in turn, give someone else an opportunity, a chance, and indeed hope.

Most of us aren’t willing to do this.

Most of us aren’t willing to give up our privilege for the sake of other people’s safety or other people’s well-being because we’ve been taught in this individualistic culture that is America to stand up for ourselves, our beliefs, and our rights, which requires competing and ultimately trampling other people.

I have a right to bear arms as an American, but I give up that right.

I give up that right out of respect for the families who lost their children at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the ones who survived and relive that trauma in their dreams and in their flashbacks for the rest of their lives.

I give up that right out of respect for the families who lost their loved at Bible Study and the ones who survived and relive that trauma in their dreams and in their flashbacks for the rest of their lives.

I give up that right out of respect for the 59 people killed last night and over 500 people injured, fighting for their lives, and for the ones who survived and relive that trauma in their dreams and in their flashbacks for the rest of their lives.

I give up that right to try to solve the problem of gun violence and the fear and division it causes in our country.

What will you do with your right?

A Culture of Complaint

I didn’t sit outside today at the coffee shop, but rather at the point in the store where customers pick up their drink. I see the barista behind the counter working hard trying to keep up with the influx of Friday morning orders. I see him trying to smile as not one, but one after another, four people walk up and complain about their drink.

“Is this how this is supposed to be?”

“This was too milky.”

“This was too bitter can you sweeten it?”

“Why don’t y’all put the sleeves on the cups anymore? I don’t like having to do it.”

“I ordered light ice. This has too much.”

And I wonder how he does it. Person after person complaining about being served a beverage they didn’t have to make. I wonder about the customers too. Why did they order a drink that was full of espresso rather than sugar and then complain it was too bitter? Why did they order a latte and then complain it was too milky? The cynical part of me wonders if they are just trying to get two drinks for one since the barista patiently remakes and remixes drink after drink while new orders pile up.

We live in a culture of complaint. Our first reaction is to express what we don’t like before we express gratitude to the person who has served us. We expect that when we don’t like something or something differs from our expectations for someone to solve that without question.

Our first reaction is to express what we don’t like before we express gratitude to the person who has served us. We expect that when we don’t like something or something differs from our expectations for someone to solve that without question.

“I’m a paying customer. I deserve…”

Even as communities in Mexico City work together to search through the rubble; even as communities in Puerto Rico wrestle with the reality that they may not have power or water for six months or longer; even as people are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases, we complain about our coffee.

Thanks be to God for a lectionary text about a complaining prophet this week who is angry when God spares a people. May our eyes be opened to our own anger and complaining and give our mouths gratitude first.

Shadow Ships

As I was reading Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, there was an image that struck me. She was giving advice to someone who was wondering what her life would be like had she taken a different path and she suggested that the other life was a ship on the horizon. We can see that ship and sometimes it haunts us because of the possibility that isn’t our current reality.

Then I thought about our shadow selves. The ones that are revealed to us in the dark night of our souls. When we don’t wrestle with our shadow selves and come to terms with the best of ourselves, but also the worst of ourselves, then we can’t become fully whole. We have to come to terms with our deepest desires, our deepest passions, and our deepest, most fatal flaws.

But these shadow selves aren’t the only things that can impede us from living full and whole lives. It’s also our shadow ships. In those moments when our realities are so difficult, we long to be aboard another ship, another reality. We fantasize about what that life would be, the one floating on the boat over on the horizon. When we dwell on that boat, we only see the light cascading off the perfect facade, we don’t see the work required to keep that boat afloat.

Our shadow ships have to be sent out to sea. We have to bid them bon voyage when our realities get difficult. Those shadow ships are on a different body of water heading somewhere else and when we try to get to them, we risk capsizing the reality we are in. Rather than pining away for passage on them, be thankful for the journey you are on, no matter how difficult and how different than what you imagined.