SixEight Life


Archive for the category “Justice”

Confessions + Conversations

Photo credit: wikipedia media (creative commons)

Photo credit: wikipedia media (creative commons)

My heart is so broken for our country right now. The pain and anger reflected in protests and social media posts is tragic and so painful. As I’ve been watching news coverage about Ferguson, I’ve found myself staring at the screen at disbelief while tears sting my eyes. It’s sobering and disheartening to think about the eruption of hate spewed in our society since the grand jury results were read.

I think one of the reasons the events of the last 48 hours hit me so hard is that they serve as a reminder. They remind me of the journey I’ve been on as I’ve sought to understand what it’s like to be black in America. I’ve been trying to understand how it feels to be consistently stereotyped, discriminated against, and profiled. I’ve been trying to understand the fear that mothers have that their child will be the next victim, because there have been many, many victims.

The journey has been painful. I grew up sheltered. I didn’t know anyone of a different race until I was in sixth grade, and I remember not knowing what to think. Race was not a discussion in my family, because we were surrounded by people who were just like us. But the underlying messages that society spread were there. They permeated my understanding throughout childhood and adolescence. And the offhand jokes and comments about minorities made in my presence were ingrained in my consciousness throughout my life. I think deep down I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t really know what to think.

Photo credit: RecycledStarDust (Creative Commons)

Photo credit: RecycledStarDust (Creative Commons)

There were several turning points, but one stands out as a painful and shameful wake up call. It was about 7 years ago (or 6, or 8- I really can’t remember the date). I was headed into Old Navy. As I walked across the parking lot, a young African American man was walking to his car, headed towards me. He did not act intimidating, he wasn’t dangerously close to me. But for some reason, my grip on my purse tightened. Or, maybe I shifted it to my other side. I don’t remember what went through my mind, it was almost instinctual. And perhaps my thought process wasn’t centered around race at all. But I’ll never forget what happened next.

The young man smiled at me as he passed and said “Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything to you.”

The memory of that encounter still brings tears to my eyes. I haven’t shared it with many people, because I felt so much shame after the fact. And like I said, maybe race wasn’t an unconscious factor in my mind. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the young man noticed what I was doing, and he assured me that I didn’t need to be afraid. He likely noticed because more than likely, it had happened before. It’s quite possible that he was even used to the fear and suspicion that his presence evoked in people. I wish I could find him, give him a hug, and apologize.

I think the journey really took off at that point. I’ve struggled with grasping the concept of white privilege- the reality that by simply having white skin, I have privilege that I truly can’t fully understand. I found myself bristling during difficult conversations about poverty, race and privilege in grad school. “It couldn’t possibly be true” I’ve thought. But it is true. I’ve watched fellow students in a Christian Community Development class say to African American students in response to their claims of profiling: “I hear you, but that can’t possibly be happening.” I watched firsthand as two African American men were the ONLY ones in a van full of social workers who were questioned when our group was stopped at the US Mexico border. When I expressed my frustration at the blatant discrimination of the action, one of the men (who happened to be a DC Police Detective) shrugged and said “I’m so used to being profiled it just doesn’t bother me anymore.”

This is not okay. None of these things are okay. But they are the reality. Even if we take Ferguson out of the picture, these issues are still real, and they are still happening. I imagine none of you reading this were in Ferguson when Michael Brown was killed, so we don’t truly know what happened. And as sad and tragic as his death is, to me, it is a moot point to pour over details of that case. What isn’t a moot point is the opportunity to have raw, honest, and productive conversations around the issue of race and discrimination in our country. These emotionally charged situations are an opportunity to band together and move forward. I’m especially talking to my fellow Christians. We are all in the body of Christ, and we must work together to be peacemakers.

But peacemaking won’t come from social media posts, news reports, or even blog posts like these. Peacemaking comes from sitting down and breaking bread as we delve into those conversations that must happen. Peacemaking comes over a cup of coffee or tea as we look each other into the eyes and say “I don’t understand, but help me understand.” Peacemaking comes when we pause, take a breath and listen. And then, we join together to speak truth over our communities and our nation.

I feel like I’ve been silent about this issue long enough. There are too many people around me in pain to continue in my silence. It’s time to have those conversations. I, along with a couple of my friends, have a plan to get some conversations going. If you are interested, please email me or comment on this post and I’ll share information as we develop it.

We can create change. We’ve come so far, we just need to continue to move forward towards peace and equality, one small step, one small conversation at a time.

A Million Steps Away

Parumsheela and me. Mumbai, India

Parumsheela and me. Mumbai, India

Take a journey with me. Walk down a dirt, trash lined path in Mankurd, Mumbai, India with me. The smell is pretty strong at first, but after a few minutes your nose gets used to the unusual scents. To your right, a man naps on top of a table with his goat. Up ahead to the left, a few women in brightly patterned saris squat outside small wood and aluminum huts, washing dishes. Their dexterity and ability to keep such a steady flat footed squat to do chores is astounding. You watch them for a moment before you nearly trip over a small grove in the side of the path. That was a close one, that grove houses all sorts of dirty water and sometimes waste. You realize where that smell is coming from. You’ve been walking for awhile when you finally arrive. There they are. A crowd of little ones run towards you. Some are in school uniforms, others in street clothes, but all are excited. And amidst the crowd, Parumsheela emerges. Her big brown eyes and wide smile bring a smile to your face. She grabs your hand and guides you to the small schoolhouse. The journey was worth it, just to spend some time with her and her friends.

The picture looks a little different in another part of the world. In Kajo Keji, South Sudan Nancy wants you to walk with her to get a little water in jerry cans. The walk is a couple miles through a winding dirt path with thick brush on either side. You aren’t as concerned about waste or human hazards on this trek, but your eyes scan the thick brush for any signs of snakes. You’ve been told that an encounter with a snake in Southern Sudan usually means that you’re in deep, fatal trouble. It’s sobering to think that this walk is normal for Nancy and so many other little girls in Kajo Keji, a several mile trek daily just to get some meager water for her family.

Precious Nancy, Kajo Keji, Sudan

Precious Nancy, Kajo Keji, Sudan

Another plane ride would take you into a community of tents and partially collapsed buildings. A short ride in an SUV and you’ve arrived in Kampung Mulia. You walk past the shell of a mosque and up a small rock lined hill. A few more steps along the bank of a muddled river and you’re at a small shack built from mismatched, warped wood. Everything in this community was destroyed by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, but a couple families came together to build a coffee shop out of driftwood. Rupiah equal to about a quarter gets you a steaming cup of black coffee with a little sweetened condensed milk mixed in. It’s pure bliss, but the company makes it all the more better. Nurul approaches, excited to see you. You do what’s customary when you visit: you hand her your digital camera and away she goes. The pictures she and her friends take tell a story words can’t adequately tell.

These sweet girls are a part of my story and I was recently reminded of them. I just finished reading a new book by one of my heroes, Gary Haugen. “The Locust Effect” comes out tomorrow, and I was thrilled to be selected as part of a ‘launch team’ of bloggers to read and review the book. The book is incredible, and as I flipped the pages, engrossed in the stories and concepts laid out, I couldn’t help but think of my sweet girls. You see, this book reminded me that they are at risk.

Nurul and me, Kampung Mulia, Aceh Indonesia

Nurul and me, Kampung Mulia, Aceh Indonesia

My sweet friends Nancy, Parumsheela, and Nurul are a mere step away from becoming victims. They walk a delicate line in their communities of relative safety and extreme exploitation and victimization. Their families may be one small loan away from complete slavery. They could be one short walk to a well away from being raped.  Their lives were challenging but still so innocent when I met them. Even Nurul had innocence about her. She had lost everyone and everything in the Tsunami, but she still hoped. She still dreamed. She still loved to pose for pictures and play dress up. Parumsheela loved to play tag and jump to pop bubbles. Nancy could spend hours braiding my hair, wrestling with its unfamiliar texture and many knots.

After finishing The Locust Effect I feel even more inspired to action. I was reminded that while these girls are a mere step away from systemic violence, you and I are a million steps away from the painful stories of many who are just like them. We need to step closer to them. A million steps is too far, we need to walk alongside and take the journey with people around the world who are desperately poor, and desperately vulnerable. This post is just a teaser for the meat of the book. It comes out tomorrow, and this week I’ll be featuring it. My tweets and at least one more blog post will be dedicated to discussing the concepts and lessons I learned from the pages of  “The Locust Effect”. And, I’ll be giving a book away to one reader at the end of this week. So stay tuned my friends, let’s dive into discover how “the end of poverty requires the end of violence”.

War on Christmas

colorful_christmas_messageFor the past several years I’ve heard the term ‘war on Christmas’ tossed around. Shoppers are offended that store clerks wish them a “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas. People are up in arms about keeping “Christ in Christmas” while wracking up the credit card debt to buy numerous presents. I’ve written about the culture wars in our society before, and the “war on Christmas” is yet another battle within this nasty culture war. But guess what?

I don’t really understand the up in arms about this so called ‘war on Christmas’. Christmas happened, no one can take its truth away from us.

And the Christmas we celebrate in the United States really isn’t a reflection of the way Jesus probably would want his birthday celebrated. We are stressed during the holidays. We spend too much money buying way too many obligatory gifts for too many people. We run from place to place, push through crowds of people and are generally in such a rush that we can miss out on the truly important things in life.  And in the midst of the chaos, we get mad at the over worked, underpaid store clerk who doesn’t wish us a Merry Christmas. To be perfectly honest, I don’t want the word Christmas to be associated with the chaos in the malls and the billions of dollars spent on excess and materialism. As a Christian I don’t want to force my holiday on the Jews, Muslims and Hindus that live in the United States. They don’t force their holidays on me, so I shouldn’t force it on them. This pettiness is not what Christmas is all about.

But before you call me a scrooge and roll your eyes at me, let me tell you what I think Christmas is really about.

Christmas is about the birth of a little baby who grew up to save us all. He lived a life in poverty and healed the sick. He raised the poor up and was a rebel against the ruling authorities of the day. He made statements that flew in the face of human nature and gave his life for us. He gave the ultimate gift. Christmas is about Jesus. Jesus, who loved the outcasts and the sinners. Christmas is about spending time with the people we love. It’s when we take the blinders off and look around at the people who are hurting in our world. It’s about giving gifts that give back- things that truly matter. It’s about serving the poor and being sensitive to the needs of the brokenhearted.

Photo credit: thebettermom (creative commons)

Photo credit: thebettermom (creative commons)

I hope we can focus on the eternal things of Christmas. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t buy gifts for the ones we love (Gift giving is my love language so I spend plenty of time planning those perfect gifts for family). I am saying that the gifts, the shopping, the spending shouldn’t be our focus. I’m trying to personally take time over these next couple days to sit and be still before God, thinking about that beautiful holy night thousands of years ago. I’m going to read the scriptures and think about Jesus. I’m going to look for more opportunities to serve others. I’m going to reach out to friends who are hurting to make sure they know that I care. These are things we should be doing all the time, but the holiday season is a great time to start this habit.

I’m certainly not perfect at all of this, but I’m trying. My heart has been heavy for the hurting this season and my mutiny against excess has me frequently thinking about people who are in need. Much of this season has flown by, but there are still a few days left to turn this holiday season around to where it focuses on the things that truly matter.

What are you doing to keep the focus on the truth of Christmas this holiday season?

A Little bit Liberal

Image Credit: Ron Cogswell (creative commons)

Image Credit: Ron Cogswell (creative commons)

Consider this my confession: I’m a little bit liberal. It probably comes as no shock to some of you, especially if you’ve had any lengthy policy discussion with me lately, or observed me and my husband discussing politics.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider myself a Democrat, or a Republican for that matter. I’m a moderate independent, which essentially makes me a bit liberal. And where I come from, liberal might as well be a four letter word. I grew up in one of the most conservative cities in America (George Bush Sr. paid Woodstock a visit in the early 90’s cause it had the most per capita registered Republicans in the country, or something like that)

So this has taken a lot of bravery on my part. I’ve been working towards this point in my life for seven years and have been writing this post for two months.

I thought about spending the next six hundred words by explaining a few of the political opinions I have that result in me falling into the happy middle of the road zone on the spectrum. I was going to rant about the Farm Bill and minimum wage and give you my opinions about welfare reform, abortion, the death penalty, gay marriage, taxes, war- the whole nine yards.

But then I thought, why?

Why do I feel so inclined to explain my political views in detail? What am I trying to prove to you? So I figured I’d just talk from my heart about this whole messy political issue topic.

For years I’ve grappled with my opinions and felt judged. I’ve read posts on social media from fellow Christians that called me an idiot, stupid or a pagan, just because of some of my opinions, my questions, or who I voted for. Likely they didn’t know that they were addressing me, but it still hurt. I kept quiet, because I didn’t want to cause a fight. But those posts aren’t making me change my opinions. In fact, they’ve made my passion stronger. I am a moderate, and I am a Christian. I follow the words of Jesus and pray over my decisions and opinions. I know conservative and liberal Christians who do the same.

I’ll never forget the Sunday after the 2012 presidential election. I went to church, and one of the first things my pastor Louie said went something like this:

“Some of you are really happy today because of what happened on Thursday. Some of you are disappointed. You probably prayed about your vote and really felt like your guy was the right person for the job. But remember, there is probably someone sitting on the same row as you who prayed too and felt like the other guy was the right person for the job.”

I don’t remember word for word, but that’s essentially what he said. And it was so good for my soul. I have voted for candidates from a variety of parties in the last ten years, and it was so refreshing to be affirmed from a church leader that we are about Jesus and making Him famous. Politics are just another component of the world, God is so much bigger than that. And Jesus was not a white middle class Republican.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all different. Some of us are traditionalists, some of us are charismatics. Some of us are Calvinist, some are Armenian. We represent every race and nearly every tongue. And some of us are conservative, and some of us are liberal. We are different, but our differences make us beautiful. They make up the body.

We are not representing Jesus when we yell at each other, either in person or on social media. We are not representing Jesus while we twiddle our thumbs and demand for reform without working towards it together. We are not representing Jesus when we devote more lip service to arguing about politics or theology than we do sharing Christ’s love or advocating for justice.

However, we are representing Jesus when we set aside our differences and serve the poor. We are representing Jesus when we advocate for justice and listen to a neighbor’s painful story. We are representing Jesus when we think outside the political agenda and understand that political parties are man made and are flawed. We are representing Jesus when we come together to work towards social reform that is Biblical, even if we don’t always agree on the other details.

You can have your opinion, and you can feel strongly about your political party. But please don’t confuse politics with faith. And please remember that there are probably other followers of Jesus who believe a little differently than you. Remember your insults and the things you post and say can either point people to Christ or away from Him. Let’s keep the conversation going, let’s ask the tough questions and dig into the deep issues. But we can also keep it peaceful.

 “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom 12:18)

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