Why We Must Stop Being A Voice For the Voiceless: Thoughts on Privilege and The Single Story

Throughout my past eight years of engaging in social justice, I’ve been drawn to people who have uncanny ideas. Ideas that peace and unity can exist. Dreams that Heaven can indeed be experienced on this planet. People who are unafraid to raise hell and create peace in every single breath.

But often times, in these circles, a buzz phrase kept coming up: “Being a voice for the voiceless.” This phrase is used in many circles, from large Christian NGOs to CNN. It likely means something different to each person. When it comes from voices in the faith community, it’s often rooted in the words of  the prophet Isaiah: “Speak out on behalf of those who have no voice, and defend all those who have been passed over” -Proverbs 3:18.

While I never believed in being a voice for the voiceless, I’ve had my fair share of ethnocentrism. As I boarded a plane for South Africa in 2007 on a service learning trip, I asked the white woman sitting in front of me what she’d be doing in Africa, as though everyone on the plane was going for a visit like me. “I live there,” she replied, flatly. “Oh.” I nodded, suddenly aware that I was projecting my view of Africa as a place where black people lived, forgetting entirely the ugly history of colonialism and apartheid. Because I had what writer Chimamanda Adichie would call a “single story” view of Africa, with a dash of do-goodism naivete.

But behind our do-goodism and voice-for-the-voiceless-ism is a something much harder: checking the place of privilege we’ve come from to be in a position that we can speak for issues without having to experience these issues firsthand perhaps because of where we live, the education we’ve had, the safety we experience, the family we come from, the healthcare we receive.

When we accept speaking for people as a solution to complicated issues like poverty, health, and human rights, we avoid having to ask ourselves hard questions: “If some people’s voices aren’t being heard, WHY aren’t they being heard?” “I am being heard. WHY am I being heard while others are not?” These questions can lead us to uncomfortable things like understanding our power or privilege.

Everytime we label an entire demographic as voiceless, we strip such individuals of their dignity, robbing them of the privilege of being heard. We re-iterate a message of powerlessness, as though to say, “You are voiceless. No one can hear you. No one is listening to you. They might listen to me though. Let me talk instead.” We accept our tongue as an acceptable transaction. We accept our voice, intonation, and inflection as a more suitable microphone while viewing others’ voices as taken away, incapable of talking, much like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, not by poverty, but by power.

Power, as defined by Chimamanda Adichie, is “the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”

She continues, “That is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become. Of course, Africa is a continent full of catastrophes: There are immense ones, such as the horrific rapes in Congo and depressing ones, such as the fact that 5,000 people apply for one job vacancy in Nigeria. But there are other stories that are not about catastrophe, and it is very important, it is just as important, to talk about them. I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

Instead of speaking for people, using our own words and interpretations of people’s struggles and joys, we can do something so much more beautiful. We can create platforms for more people to tell their stories. Or better yet, we can simply listen. Because sometimes we’ve done so much talking that it’s difficult to decipher what information has truly come from the people affected, or if we’re hearing someone else’s interpretation of others’ experiences.  We can share the stories we’ve been given permission to share- not our story of someone else’s story that you may or may not have received permission to re-tell. We can share people’s photos- not our photos of “poor people” in branded catalogs with captions like “voiceless” and “poor.” Photos that some of us aren’t as familiar with—like the stories of forgiveness in Rwanda. We can offer people new ways to see themselves: not as poor, not as voiceless, not as victims, but as strong and tenacious, as victors, as having a voice. And with that voice we can teach each other how to use it for speaking up about love and equality and for building each other up until our hands meet the hands of all our brothers and sisters and know, deep in our core, that each person is being seen as a unique, loved individual, no more, but certainly no less.

 

voice for voiceless jewelry

Photo: Christy Robinson Jewelry

The Words I Could Never Understand Then, That Could Only Be Understood Now

ImageI binged on 90s music last week and rediscovered some of my favorite gems. Among them, Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Primitive Radio God’s “Standing Outside a Broken Phonebooth,” and The Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine.” I sung them freely around the house, delighting in the early evening spring sun shining through opened blinds, grateful to be in the present moment, yet overcome with nostalgia and wisdom from time’s past.
I think that’s one of the gifts music provides. That no matter your musical history, the words and melodies will find a way to speak to your heart. My small brush with musical talent began in first grade when I got to play the glockenspiels for three years in a row in the winter concert. The best part of all— my music teacher would let me come practice in the music room during lunch time. I figured out what mallet to hit based on sound and never learned how to read music. FACE, Every Good Boy Does Fine— that was a foriegn language I could never understand. In fact, I only made it through high school chorus by knowing that when the music notes flipped upsidedown, that was my part to sing, being a soprano. Needless to say, it’s a talent I never possessed but appreciate like no other.

Music’s gotten me through training practices, heartache, amplified my best days, and softened my worst days. It’s provided me clues of my past and offered wisdom for the future. So as I was singing the familiar harmonies of “Closer to Fine,” I was struck by all the things I missed while singing those words back in the 90s. Things I could never understand until my heart developed into a melded mess from beating fast, and being held after brokenness. Things I could never understand until my memories included those of pain, uncertainty, doubt, big decisions, hard breaks, tough calls, and the freedom of the open road and hostels. Experiences, in other words, that my young heart was too naive to understand until it went through the hard process of growing up and maturing.

I think much like music, pictures or stories speak to us in different ways throughout our life span. As a kid, The Giving Tree was an awesome book about a boy and a tree that fell in love with each other, and now -call me jaded, but- it feels like a story of a selfish little boy who manipulated a codependent tree. I’m still a sucker for Oh The Places You’ll Go, though, and will forever wonder what a zizzer-zazzer-zuzz is in Dr. Seuss’ ABC.

Similarly, much like pictures and stories, parents and friends speak to us in different ways throughout our life span. I learned the joy of what it feels like once you finally see your parents outside of an authoritative role and into the role of an old friend, finally understanding the sacrifices they made to bring your little life into existence. I learned the great sadness it feels to see a parent sick in the hospital, as you question their mortality, and yours as well.

And much like parents and friends, faith/God/a Maker/Creator, can speak to us in different ways throughout our lifespan. That’s one of the things The Indigo Girls reminded me of last week. While I relate to the Indigo Girl’s description of what it feels like to take life less seriously and to search for the things that will fill our heart with peace, perhaps what sticks out most to me is the refrain, “The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” And how true is that of life, or faith, or getting older and “growing up?” Why does it feel like my human nature to tighten my fists, muscling through things the way think they should go, when perhaps it really would be easier to turn my gripped fists into open palms? Why do I look at paper applications and beg for certainty that everything in my life will all turn out ok, and then lay on my front porch, stare up at the stars, and suddenly don’t care anymore? Don’t care about career. Don’t care about when to get married, if/when to have kids. Don’t care about my sh*tty salary. Don’t care how I’m perceived. Don’t care if I’m understood. And, most freeing of all, don’t care about certainty anymore. And the less I beg of God for answers to life’s questions, the less I feel like I need to explain or defend why I don’t really go to Church anymore because of the way I experience Church when I ride my bike, when my sister smiles, when I feed the chickens, and when I sing old 90s songs alone in my room that feel less like pop culture and more like hymns. 

I’ll stop asking for certainty.
And trust that the God that got us this far can get us the rest of the way.
I’ll linger under stars.
Stand up on my bike pedals when going downhill.
Do headstands in the grass.
Get fresh Earthen dirt under my nails.
Learn from the birds, the bees, and the beats of 90s rock. 

Because I’m closer to fine than ever before
And we’re all gonna be ok. 

 

A Long December (And There’s Reason to Believe.)

It’s been a shitty day, a shitty week… Hell, it’s been a shitty year,” a friend shared with me recently. “I’m just ready for a new year, a fresh start,” a patient solemnly disclosed to me. Isn’t it easy to … Continue reading

Finding My Voice (and a little pep talk for the young girls out there)

keep the earth below my feetI had a professor in college who taught us about the “principle of leaving and entering,” i.e. one cannot move forward to the next [life stage, opportunity, job, city, destination, you fill in the blank] without making peace with what you’re leaving behind [be it college, your hometown, you get the idea]. At the time, I was dreaming about volunteering abroad after college, and ready to leave behind the America I knew. But what I didn’t realize at 22 is that the next stage of life would be just as much about putting things behind as it would be about pursuing new things.
A couple years after college, I burnt out.
I. simply. Couldn’t. keep. Up.
I lost myself and become bitter and cynical towards much of what I saw around me.
It wasn’t until 2011 that I realized just how many voices of the past were still lingering in my head, like flies in desperate need of a fly swatter. Voices of a spiritual community that said women were to be submissive, to “let their husbands lead.” Churches that said males were to be “pastor, provider, and protector” of his wife. Voices that said being a female pastor was a sin. Voices that made sure everybody knew what Christianity stood against, but left the world puzzled as to what we actually stood for. Voices that tried to rescue souls from hell, while ignoring the literal hells and Gehennas in the world going on right now. Sexual slavery. HIV/AIDS. Extreme poverty. Orphans without homes. Should I keep going?

In 2012, I began a journey towards freedom- freedom of religion, of dogma, of other people’s demands, of paved paradises- into a personal journey of development and enrichment. It’s looked like lots of open spaces, lots of gathering ’round the table over wine and sweets and savories, lots of finding and losing myself on bicycles. In this freedom, it’s as though God took me by the hand to lovingly, but firmly, (because the lesson was too important to miss out on) teach me that the thing about the past is just that. It’s in the past. It cannot hurt you again. It cannot continue to hurt you or frustrate you unless you let those voices zap your energy from the present moment.
For far too long, this woman’s listened to voices of the past that were squelching life, joy, zest for the moment. Alas, I looked myself in the mirror, a good ol’ stare yourself down, straight-up-talk, with a little bit o’ lovin’, and a lot of bit of firmness. I looked in the mirror, and noticed a cynic. Ugh. I hate that word. To me, it’s synonymous with a passive, complaining, do-nothing-to-change-anything kind of persona. So I asked God to silence those voices, the ones that were slowly, painfully, hauntingly taking away my joy, my peace, my resolve, and silence them one and for all, to free me from the people and places and noises that were no longer helping me become the person I want to become. I asked God to change me from cynicism into activism. Hurt into compassion. Bitter to better.

Somewhere in the process, I learned that I don’t need to fight anymore.. not against those voices, at least. A little whisper breathed into my heart,
You’ve been freed.
Let your load feel lighter, your burdens from heavy rocks to little pieces of shiny yellow sand.
Put the boxing gloves down.
Breathe.
You no longer have to defend, nor strive, nor try to make yourself understood.”

I thought it would feel easier. But then I realized that that’s not quite the way it works. The moment you stand for something, there is something you are implicitly standing against. The more and more you become the person you want to be, the voice that isn’t God’s will try to steer you off course. When you become YOU, not someone else’s version of you, you will disappoint people. But let me tell you something, you will become the person you were made to be. The more you will realize that the very people still standing beside you are there because they really do love you, they really do care, and they really do desire God’s peace and love and blessings upon you, not out of pity, nor spite, but out of a selfless kind of love that has found its way through the broken chains of redemption, giving voice and beauty to the very fact that you and I are both humans, composed of flesh and blood, and you and I have both been created in the womb.
I am freed now from what’s been zapping precious energy, and I can’t wait to learn, and love, and do, and grow, and experience with this new found freedom what God can finally place in my life in the thoughts and corners and crevices of my heart that were once holding onto hurt, bitterness, and a seemingly endless desire to be understood. I am free. I can only imagine what will go in those pockets of my heart now. I can love without mountains of expectations or fears of being hurt.
I can express bona fide joy—my smiles will no longer be a veil, hiding a voice that’s afraid of being mistaken as impolite, too afraid to speak up.
I can operate out of a place that points to the horizon and feel alive in my soul, and my bones, and my eyes; to live the story, full and raw, not dependent upon things be one way or another, but ever confident that this risk of living a better story is so much better than living in the choking weight of others’ voices that try to drown out the one true voice of who you want to become.

Go point to your horizon.

MOVE.
You don’t have time to respond to your critics.
You simply don’t have time.
Be you, the REAL you, ALL of you… that’s what the world needs.
Go seek.
Go ask.
Because what I hope that the girls of new generations come  to realize is this: that if ever there was a time for women to rise up and unite, the time is now. Oh yes, I’m thankful for my sisters who gave me the ability to vote. For women who went to college and challenged typical professions. But there is so much work we still must do.

Advocate.
Preach.
Lobby.
Dream. Louder.

May you listen to that one constant in your heart.
May you give voice and flow to all that longs to leap inside of you.
May your songs be peace, may your dance be love, and may your love bring freedom.

Because you have a voice that’s no one else’s.
We’re ready to hear it.

For all “Mankind:” Promoting Gender Fair Language In Everyday Use

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wise,” I read from my morning brushing-my-teeth book: “The Daily Book of Positive Quotations.” What about women? I think to myself.

It’s remarkable how accustomed we are to hearing “men” used generically to mean both “men and women” that we forget how exclusionary is to not include women in our word choices. 

I bike to work and see a man in a white coat portraying a doctor on a billboard for a healthcare company. I turn the other corner, and there is a car parked outside of a gentlemen’s club advertising the club with several  half clad women in bikinis. I cringe, frustrated that often when one stops to scrutinize advertising, you’ll encounter gender mores that give us hints as to how we grow up to believe or assume certain qualities of genders.

It’s amazing how customary it is to see, at times, distinct, dichotomous portrays of male and female “roles” or activities. 

IMG_2514

My Ironman backpack I use each day for my commute- and yes, I did use permanent marker to say “IronWoman.” Photo: MO 2013

Ironman. Savageman. Eagleman. Quarry Man. Hammer Man. Chesapeake Man. These are just six of the many “man” triathlon races in my state. With a name that includes “man” in it, we are subtly suggesting that men are more so the targeted audience for these multisport races than women. We can be hopeful, though, for more gender equity in the sport, as women continue to be a key growth component in the sport – 55% of newcomers identified in this study are female.

When we use the word “man” and correlate it to a typically male-dominated activity (sports), we propel the stereotype of men being encouraged to play sports, while women can simply tag along if they feel like it. 

I hope that these critiques can point out the need for gender-fair language.
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has an excellent resource which provides great food for thought on how to make language word choices more gender equitable in our everyday conversations. I pass this along not to chide anyone for not being “feminist enough,” rather, to offer a platform for discussion about gender fair language. After first reading this, I became acutely aware of examples every single day in which we hear “gender-fied” words which subconsciously divide the two sexes. When we use gender fair language, we affirm the inherit dignity, worth, and value of every person, female, and male. We inspire children to realize that they can be a nurse, doctor, law enforcement officer, teacher, irrespective of one’s biological sex. No one gets left out. Everyone is included. And we realize there is room at the table for all of us- men, women, transgender, rich, poor, black, white, tan, or in between, all loved, all valued, all respected.

www.ncte.org/positions/statements/genderfairuseoflang

choose inclusionary alternatives

Comment below with your questions, comments, or thoughts.

When is the last time you heard someone use “man” or “men” to mean both “men and women?”
When is the last time you heard someone challenge stereotypical norms, such as citing an example of a nurse as male, or an example of a police officer as a female?
Do you think that if the media portrayed men and women in occupations or roles that aren’t “traditional,” we would inspire young girls or boys to pursue their interests (and not what they think they should pursue as a male or female)?

What Friedrich Nietzsche has taught me.

Nietzsche

Lately, this Nietzsche quote keeps resurfacing in my brain; I’m completely engrossed by its imagery and eccentricity. I imagine a crowd of dancers, celebrating life, knowing deep within their core that beauty, light, love, and freedom are completely possible. You just might have to separate yourself from the naysayers. The crowd who could not hear the music reminds me of people who dwell in the rigidity of black and whites, who can’t live with the grey of life. People who can’t dance; they’re too busy going to board meetings and cubicles, keeping busy with the “right” images to bear, people who have settled for regularity instead of extraordinary. So one crowd is viewed as insane; the other as refusing to hear. I know which side I want to be on. I want to dance in open fields with the free, the eccentric, the dreamers, those on the fringes…

This quote got me wondering what else there was to Nietzsche’s persona. One time, I saw some cheesy (ignorant is probably more accurate) Christian t-shirt for sale that said “God is dead”-Nietzsche. “Nietzsche is dead.” -God. I can’t stand most Christian t-shirts (minus my pastor’s awesome “What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?” t-shirt in which Jesus is hang-gliding). This one especially irks me because it suggests that as Christians, you shouldn’t listen to anything Nietzsche says. But Nietzsche has the imago dei (Image of God) in him. And I’m discovering just how beautiful this image is. Stunning. Makes me want to invite him on a hike to muse about life, light, and darkness. Too bad he really is dead, though (circa 1900).

I imagine Nietzsche’s persona to be an intriguing mix of light and darkness; a mix we all have, perhaps, but looks different in each one of us. Some of his words, for example, leave me breathless in beauty:
“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”
“What else is love but understanding and rejoicing in the fact that another person lives, acts, and experiences otherwise than we do…?”

Others make me want to shout, “Amen!”
“I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.”
“In truth, there is only one Christian and He died on a cross.”
“I would only believe in a God that knows how to dance.” (I’m a big believer that there will be dancing in Heaven. And if God isn’t dancing, I imagine s/he’ll at least be DJ-ing)

Others seem dark:
“The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.”
“Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man.”

And others make me scratch my head in confusion, brewing up possible ideas for what he meant:
“Does wisdom perhaps appear on the earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion?”
“Kalau diinjak cacing akan bergelung. ini cerdik. dengan demikian berkurangnya peluang diinjak lagi. dalam bahasa moral: tahu diri” (I might not be so confused if I understood German).

-Nietzsche-is-dead.-Vector-Design-T-ShirtsIt makes me mad that at a young age, I was presented (in the name of Christianity) with the notion that I shouldn’t listen to this guy because he has beef with God. And having beef with God is bad (unless it’s the ram you’ve just sacrificed) (more not-so-funny sarcasm). All of these quotes remind me that we can never completely understand the soul of another. I’ve been asking friends and family if they’ve ever heard about him or read any of his literature, hoping somehow I could figure out who this guy is and what he really meant by some of his elusive words.

All of this makes me realize how quick I am to want to compartmentalize people, as if codifying them in boxes will somehow make me be able to understand them better. But people don’t live in boxes. Most of us live in homes, yes, but we go into the outside world and dance and play and work and sing and write and dream and run. Nietzsche was no different. Nietzsche wasn’t meant for little ol’ me to place in a box. He’s a person with a story. A story that I don’t have figured out. And that’s ok. Sometimes mystery and wonder are just as much inspiring traits to have as honesty and candidness. 

I see such beauty and inspiration dripping from his penned words. And I see darkness too. A bit of hopelessness. That suicide is somehow a consolation. But each of us display hues and shades of darkness and light; some of us are just more willing to acknowledge both the light and darkness within us. I had a conversation like this in an open field on a spring afternoon with a beautiful soul. The two of us, laying in the grass, mused about what it means to love the darkness and the light. I don’t have any answers. Just some thoughts… That darkness and beauty do coexist within me. I need not be afraid of the darkness, for it is human. But I have nothing to fear. The light, the beauty, the imago dei that fills our souls with life. That will never leave.

Thanks, Nietzsche.
Thanks, Colleen, for lying in the fields.
Thanks, Needtobreathe, for teaching me about the juxtaposition of darkness and light.

1. T-shirt photocredit: spreadshirt.com

When You Don’t Know What You Believe Anymore. (Finding Community in the Midst of Uprootedness)

I was on the phone with a friend last night who was describing, through tears, the confusing, sometimes lonely, often uncertain journey of re-evaluating your faith. When you’re figuring out what you really believe versus what you’ve been taught to believe. When you have more questions than answers. When you see more grey than black and white. When you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere. I found glimpses of my story in my friend’s story and thought back to a time about a year and a half ago. It was quite a lonely time and I felt this innate desire to be understood; for just one person to say, “Yes, I’ve wondered about that too…”
Eventually, I would come to understand these feelings better through Ed Cyzewski’s “Divided We Unite” (free PDF version found here).

“For some of us who have been rooted in one spot for a while, sometimes the old answers and ways of doing things stop making sense. ‘Transplants’ are often in vulnerable positions, as they don’t feel like they fit anywhere, their beliefs have been shaken in some way… [One problem transplants may have] is they sometimes rush into something new without dealing with their previous hurts and disappointments. I saw this a lot with folks who were disappointed by the church and then jumped right into house churches or emerging churches without seeking healing first.”

Transplant! A-ha. It was the word I had been looking for but couldn’t put my finger on. A season of uprootedness is where I’ve been since my senior year of college, when the teachings of the Evangelical world didn’t fit in with how I understood gender, sexuality, salvation, and social justice. I’m still in “transplant.” And that’s ok. It’s nice here; I’ve finally found some fellow flowers in the field and know I’m not alone anymore.

This conversation with my friend brought back visceral memories of the past year and a half, when I was just beginning to verbalize my discontentment with “Christianity as usual.” I was only just starting to write out my truest feelings through a new outlet I created- this blog. I was only just beginning to speak up and share my truest feelings and opinions around other believers, as I didn’t want to ruffle too many feathers; rather, I just wanted to somehow arrive at a semblance of settledness and peace about my faith and wanted to get there as placidly as possible- you know, just kind of slide out of the back doors of former Churches and Christian groups and enter into an unprecedented dawning of a new era in my faith: freedom. Of having a voice without fear of being choked for voicing a different perspective, another way of living faith, another way of trying to love a God I can’t understand completely, but long to know deeply; a God I revere, but will no longer appease with praises and prayers that are null of the complete struggles I have with the Bible- with its violence and oppression of women– and gender, and Heaven and Hell and all the other stuff that I needed to be freed from and hash out with none other than my Maker.
Somewhere during this time span, God gave me an invaluable gift of freedom that I’m still exploring. The girl who finally left the “non-denom world” (Christianese for Churches that aren’t affiliated with any particular denomination and usually consider themselves Evangelical) for the United Church of Christ (and trembled the whole way, wondering when an Evangelical was going to tell me that denominations were bad or that the UCC is too liberal). The girl who was almost too afraid to post “6 reasons why I support question 6” for fear of retaliation from former conservative acquaintances became the girl who would speak at the UCC about how the church can be proponents of recognizing the imago dei in all by supporting marriage equality. I have much work to do on this road to freedom, but the familiar tears of my friend reminded me of the faith metamorphosis I’ve been through this year, as God brought some fellow stumbling, bumbling (whatever that means anyway) folks who love God and love people and don’t care for the dogma of anything else that takes away from this love. In my desperation, God brought such people into my life and they have shown me that I’m not alone; that there are more of us out there than we think.

So where are you right now? Have you ever been in a place where you weren’t sure what you believed and struggled to reconcile what you’ve been taught about Christian faith with what your experiences have been outside of the confined walls of doctrine and “shoulds?” Are you in that place now?
Hang on.
Reach out.
Speak up.
And find us out here in these open spaces…

Have you been through uprootedness before? Go reach out to someone who’s currently experiencing this. You remember how vulnerable and shaky it feels when your whole faith world gets thrown upsidedown. So go have that conversation. Go get that coffee. Go on that walk. And find a way to remind a fellow brother/sister/soon-to-be-friend that they aren’t the only one who feels this way.

Because no matter where we are in our faith journeys, we need each other. We need to know we’re not alone with our thoughts. With our questions. With our inability to sit still, hands folded on our laps, seated at our pews, secretly dying inside to a faith that is out of touch with reality, that’s not listening (just shouting), and that’s not loving (just pointing fingers).
We all need to know that we can love our God even if we want to release some of the things we were taught to believe about Christianity. And may we always come to know, deep, within our core, that there is and always will be room for us all at the table.
Come.
You may have heard you won’t belong if you doubt, or you won’t be “in,” if you question the way you do. But hear it crystal clear: you do belong. So come; have a seat. Or, if you’ve been sitting for way too long and need a fine place to stand, find your space to stand. Or run. Or cartwheel upon these endless fields of freedom. Come. There’s room for you. You’ll figure out what you believe in time. You don’t have to have it all figured out now. In the meantime, we’ll be here, in the muck and mire and mess and in the starting over and the joy, with you, beside you, learning with you, growing with you, questioning with you, passing around the cup and the bread and the Kingdom will Come, oh if but a taste of it in the now, and also in the forever and ever. Yes, yes, amen.
go out into the highways

Turning Chain Linked Fences into Open Fields

“loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
   set the oppressed free and break every yoke” ::isaiah 58::

  

“Proclaiming freedom to captives” and “where the spirit of God is, there is freedom” are beautiful gems strung together like pearls throughout the Bible. Here’s 68 more of those. I’m sure there’s more.

But what do you do when this very same belief, Church, Christian faith, doctrine, enslaves you?

What do you do when you’re told “you’re wrong?” When you cringe at the idea of voicing up a question, sharing your experience, or your opinion for fear of retaliation? What do you do when you aren’t accepted by some? What do you do when everything in your heart tells you one thing but your head is full of voices that drown you in disapproval?

What do you do then, when you discover yourself straight in the arms of God, away from those restraints and fears and arguing, as s/he places you in his loving arms beside still waters? What do you do after a good heart to heart talking-on-down from your maker proceed by an introduction to children of the same God, playing in a big open field, beckoning, inviting, waving you on in, urging, “come on in, there’s room for you!?”  When someone invites you to cartwheels, to running barefoot through this wide open field, heel against moist Earth and cushy, verdant grass? When someone sits beside you, blowing on wishies, talking about the Ancient of Days, and love and grace as they share their kite with you, untie the noose around your neck, and replace that choker of dogma with wings to fly? I know, they feel a little funny at first, right? But go on. Those wings are yours. And you can choose which direction you fly. Trust me, babe, these wings are made for you, by your Creator. He longs for you to give yourself permission to let your feet off the ground and take flight.

Suddenly each of you will have flown to a place. A place with this big, big table, with some grape juice and wine, some bread and some wafers, and you realize that everyone you’ve ever known and everyone you’ll ever know is gathered here, around this same table, and none of us are bickering or arguing or correcting or any of those other forms of speaking you can do with your mouths… just the kind of speaking that comes from our hearts, as we hold one another’s hands in reverence of the great big God who brought us all together. What do you do then, gathered around this love feast of saints and sinners, the “wrongs” next to the “rights,” brushing hands and elbows until surrender takes over and those hands are squeezing each other’s? Oh the downtrodden and weary suddenly finding their soul lifted as an inexplicable joviality takes over, cobwebs of depression and never-being-good-enough flinging and zinging up into the atmosphere, slowly dissipating into the cosmos, exploding into stars, bringing light to darkness, and beauty, too.

I don’t know what you do.

But worship the Holy.

And forget the rest.

And decide that this little bird’s gonna leave the cage, open up, and sing, along with all the other birds on trees, calling out to one another from Evergreen to Evergreen, and telephone wire, and, if you’re not ready to fly just yet, we’d still love to hear you, even from your nest.

We’ll celebrate all that’s bright and beautiful and good.

And try to live everyday in that field and around that table.

And create fields where it seems like there is only cracked pavement baking in the mid-afternoon sun, litter bunched around the chained fence.

And we’ll stock our fridges with bread and wine, ready to whip them out whenever we’re stuck in a moment that’s far strayed away from that meadow, those still waters, these gripped hands that are desperately ready to be open palms, clasping your hand, as you hold someone else’s, like dominoes mellifluously falling into sea billows of grace.

I’m ready for this.

I’ll head out to the grocery store now and make my way to those fields.
And though late autumn has settled in, I’ll bring nothing but a lightweight jacket, knowing my heart will grow warm from all of the love and the hugs and hands holding other hands.

Love letters with God

Dear God,

I lay here tonight, alone, in the quiet of my room, the only light shining being that of glowing candle casting flickering shadows against my mostly undecorated walls, a peaceful ambiance bringing closure to a busy day.

I’m breathing peaceful, sleepy breaths here in this moment, and all I can think about is you, God.

How I so long to know you.

How I so long to be close to you.

This innate desire to near you.

I hear so many things of you, God, from Churches and books and radio stations, that seem so unlike what I’ve experienced of you, God, experienced with you, God, together.

It’s enough to drive me crazy. Or at least frustrate me.

But you, God, your Spirit has captured my soul.
So I offer you this. My love letter to you.

It’s not a prayer per se, although it is the cry of my heart.

I’m not going to quote any verses.

Or mention hell. Or re-pray the sinner’s prayer, although I wonder if that’s what you even had in mind when you said that you wanted us to have faith like a child.

I just want to express a raw gratitude for every single thing you’ve spoken to me, given me, helped me to enjoy, everything you’ve used to help me grow, God. It all comes from you; all of this leads me back to you. Even if I were to purposely try to not look for you in it, God, I would still find you.

Oh how I love you, God, and Jesus, who marvels me into simplicity when he urges us to learn from the wildflowers and the birds of the air. Did you do all this to dazzle us, to beckon us closer to you, our Creator, through the beauty that drips from the works of your hands? Some artists use watercolor, others use charcoal, paint, or yarn, but you, God. You swirl sunsets with your hands. You design waterfalls miles wide. You hang gaseous luminaries in the endless twilight, composing Pleiades and Orion, while we forage around with plastic ornaments on fake trees or rearrange stiff, staged portraits on crème colored walls.

We are far too easily entertained by the baubles of manufacturing while the whole outside world screams your name in iridescent hues and highlights of every magnitude and height.

I wonder, God, if the next time someone tells me I’m wrong about my view of salvation or homosexuality or any of the stuff that some Christians seem to get so vehement about… I wonder God, if I can go back to your artistry and sunburst and pluck one of your Black Eyed Susans from a field, and talk with that person in a lush meadow of cattails and clover, birds in flight. And I wonder if in that moment, all of that chatter and shaming and “righting” and “wronging” can dissipate, God, as you meet us there and offer us this cup and this bread and we delight in it, so we pass it around for all to taste this… this love, this light, this indelible connection to the one we come from.

Oh, Lord. I’ve been taught to take my faith so seriously, take the Bible so seriously, as if my entire life hangs on the thread of “correct” interpretation and pedantry. Truth is, I don’t think you’re as serious as they’ve made you out to be. I think you’re a lot more fun than that. You have a sense of humor, and that wasn’t discussed in our bible study lessons. Instead we memorized words on pages, not once being encouraged to explore the endless ways in which we can experience you outside of the pages, the text, the words.

Please keep showing me how to “unlearn” some of the things that I’ve been taught about you, the aspects that are hampering my freedom in you. Tonight, that might look like the juxtaposition of how to let go and how to hold on, and the wisdom for when to do which, as you show me what my hands should pick up and what they should put down as to have room enough to embrace such experiences when they come.

Please keep being patient with me, and thanks for letting me muse questions and for allowing me to show up to Church wet and dirty from stomping in mud puddles on those rainy days in which I’m stir crazy indoors and want nothing but to taste your rain on my tongue and feel music in my feet.

I can’t wait to see you when I wake up. Only you know the ins and outs of what’s to come, but I just thank you that I get to experience it all with my mouth and my toes and my ears and my nose and my eyes to let in more light, love, beauty, wonder…

I love you.

       •••••••••••

Dear Child of God,

When you feel a closeness trickling from your heart, up to your chinny chin chin, going up to your ears, that will be me tucking you in tonight.

I’ll see you when you wake up to the fresh dawn of a new day, a blank page that you so love to embrace in  possibility, unsullied and smooth, that is, until you’re ready to create words and lines and stories with each person you’ll meet today, footprints running all over the page in new directions. I’ll see you, and you’ll see me through the wind kissing the tree tops of the forests, a soft breeze brushing through early autumn leaves of faded green, yellow, crimson, and orange. You’ll see me through the smile of your sister, the open road before you, and oh yes, those wildflowers and birds you seem so blithely fond of.

I know you don’t understand me all the time, or other people either. And that’s ok. I don’t expect you to. I only ask that you love that much harder when you encounter voices that drive you crazy. Whatever you say about them, even if no one is listening, remember, I hear. And they are my children too. You don’t have to listen to the hyper critical voices. But do take a look inside and examine your words too. Will you bring love and hope with your words, or cynicism and criticism? Together, I hope you’ll make the time to take some bread and dip it in the cup, together, and feel free to dance, too- play the hokey pokey or the macarena and come together on the dance floor, unencumbered arms moving in and out and over to compose the letters “YMCA” above your heads. After all, you can’t argue and dance at the same time… Pretty soon the two of you, or this group and you, will be out there, on the dance floor, laughing, like old friends at a wedding reception, and all the bickering and “righting” and “wronging” will fall to the wayside as you let yourselves go fly free into the night, souls so alive and abandoned. Remember, I meant it when I said there will be dancing and merriment when you make it to the other side…

I am so proud of you when you hang on to me through faith when your world is shaking. Remember, though, that your world will shake time and time again. But I am right here where I’ve always been, as much as I’ve ever been, beside you, inside you, inside each person you meet and in all that your eyes encounter each day. I created all of it, and long to walk together through it with you, Child, even in the midst of confusion and struggles that you cannot make sense of. But I hope you trust long enough to experience the ways I grow you in these times, so that you can smile and know I’ll use even your saltiest tears as the gateway for goodness, sweet, genuine goodness. And I will watch you, I mean, take a step back as to really take you in, all of you, both your body and your soul, as you soar, as you dance, as you hop, skip, jump, and as you sprint ahead, never once looking back over your shoulder, into the life I have for you.

I love you; I love all of you- your questions, reflections, and even your muddy feet.

Transplant.

2/15/12

I couldn’t find the word for it, until I came across it in something I was reading. The author1 was talking about faith stages of being rooted, in transplant, or sprouting. Transplant was exactly where I landed, both spiritually and developmentally- I’m quickly finding the post college world is, well, real…

I’m in a season of life where the old answers and ways of doing things don’t make sense anymore. A season of faith where I have more questions than answers. And. I. love. that. It’s a season of shedding old beliefs and being convicted by new ones. A time of kicking voices out of my head that have done nothing but exhaust me. A time where easy answers and shallow,deduced solutions frustrate me. A time where I feel like a bent puzzle piece, a complete enigma to the Evangelical world. I don’t fit there anymore, at least not in the typical sense of the word. A time in my faith where I can shake my head, and feel frustration, pain, and confusion with verses in the bible (Have you ever read Deuteronomy 22:13-21? I pose a challenge for those who say, “I just do what the Word says”). I can wrestle with each word and its Greek and Hebrew translation, syntax, hermeneutics, and etymology; and then, in the same breath, celebrate with the Psalmist some of my deepest praises and mourn my biggest, “my God, my God, where are you?” moments. It’s a time where I can get so stuck in my own head, my own life, my own self-centeredness, that God will find a way to humbly take the attention away from myself and my life by leading me into wonder and awe— “Do you know who created the Earth? Do you know who chose its size? Can you make the sun rise or the night fall? Have you ever knitted together a snowflake? Can you make the rain fall or the wind blow?” (Job 38) I read that chapter and feel an appropriate sense of smallness, a tiny speck in the midst of grandeur, like looking at the night sky on the clearest of nights, involuntarily dropping my jaw, and whisper a barely audible, but completely appreciative, “WOOOOOWWWWW!”

This is a time where I wrestle with the balance of speaking out about convictions or trying to make peace. I am determined to figure out how to do both, accepting the fact that you can’t please everyone. Stances aren’t everything; relationships are better, and I believe that Jesus’ intentions were for us to be “one” (John 17).

But.

Simply put, I am tired and tired and tired of seeing headlines about the next Christian politician who is outspoken against abortion and homosexuality, as if those are the cruxes of the Christian voter, but silent on the waging of war and global suffering. It’s a time of my life where the only thing I want to pledge my allegiance to is the God of faith, hope, and love. I’ll pray my biggest hopes for this America whose freedoms I’ve come to appreciate and whose priorities I’ve come to question.

It’s a time in my life where I cannot read one more article, or catch one more clip of a radio preacher about women needing to be submissive to their husbands, that men are the only leaders, that women shouldn’t preach/read scripture/have any position of leadership in the church (http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-god-gave-christianity-a-masculine-feel-68385/). Imago dei. In God’s image. We are all created in God’s image, not just half of us. We were all created to be a part of the Kingdom of God and to bring God’s will on Earth as it is in heaven. Not just those with an x and y chromosome. I want my faith journey to be filled with teachings shaped by many colors and dual genders. I want my faith to be shaped by people who don’t even have seminary degrees— the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed. Sometimes I learn more about who God is when someone shares their testimony of finding God in this midst of an HIV diagnosis, or in the gut-wrenching journey of a young woman’s long-awaited freedom from sex trafficking, than when I’m in a Bible study or church service. So while the white man is shouting, I will join other women and I will write. I will pray. I will speak. I will listen (there’s certainly some white man pastors I really dig.) I will ask questions. I will need others to be patient with me. I will need to be patient with others. I will learn. I will be wrong sometimes. I will confess cynicism. I will ask for forgiveness. I will be inspired into action.2

It’s a time in my life where I would sit behind this woman reading the Torah on the subway and think about how I could have just as easily been born to Jewish parents instead of Lutheran. I always smiled at this woman when I used to see her on the way to work. She might have thought I was weird because if there was a seat near her, I’d try to sit there. But anyway, I felt like I had this connection with her— that her God was my God, and my God was her God. That our prayers are heard by the same deity. There is something holy and mysterious and connected about this and I love it. There is so much that we share, I think, ignoring the voices in my head trying to convince me to be a good Evangelical and hand her a tract and explain in four easy steps why, blatantly, her religion is wrong, mine is obviously right, and Jesus proves that.

It’s a time in my life where I cannot read about one more suicide of a young boy or a young girl being bullied because of their sexual identity. I cannot then read about a Christian politician who openly denounced homosexuality in that same town, just a few days prior to a string of suicides. (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/one-towns-war-on-gay-teens-20120202). It’s a time in my life where I see “Is homosexuality a sin?” pamphlets inside subway cars and realized that Christian tracts are now not only trying to tell people how to avoid hell, but how to love the correct gender. “Build love, not walls!!” I want to shout. I look at the cover one more time. “Can it be cured?” I read. I wonder where along the way certain Christians have developed a mentality that’s decided it’s acceptable to treat people like they have some despicable disease, and ponder if we’ve forgotten the dignity Jesus gave to the Lepers with His divine touch. But it’s doesn’t matter since you’re right, I’m wrong, God said it, and that settles it.

It’s a time in my life where I need to stop proclaiming that Evangelicals have logs in their own eyes and accept that I have some two by fours in my own. I hope that together we can take these logs to the lumberjack yard and feed some beavers the grandest feast they’ve ever eaten.

It’s a time in my life where I muse about the mystery of love and marriage. This divine human connection between two people. That we have to learn how to love the other man/woman. It doesn’t come completely natural to pour out true, deep, unwavering love. Love itself to me becomes this holy mystery/experience. Being raw and open and letting someone into your life, forever, deciding the paltry, “so, how many pillows do you sleep with, honey?” to suddenly having this little tiny creature to care after forever. If I’m honest, marriage scares me a little. I’m in no rush to get there. But I do want to get there eventually. It almost seems odd to me. Call me selfish, but from age seven onward I shared my room with a just few stuffed animals and the occasional slumber party friend. In college, my horizons broadened a bit as I had girl roommates who shared everything from make up to Gatorade and swim caps (thank you, Lady Tigers). We would dance to “Single Ladies” while getting ready to go out, and now my current roommate and I have these sporadic nighttime chats and prayer about life in inner city Baltimore. I treasure such moments. But one day, you get married, and it’s like all of that disappears. “Hey honey, it looks like you’re coming home with me tonight….” …And tomorrow night. And the night after tomorrow’s tomorrow. I hope to still go out at least one night when I’m married and still have a sleepover with my best girlfriend; I don’t want to completely lose that sense of laughter and togetherness that comes with pillow talk and a best friend. I hope that when I get married there will be singing in the shower, guests around the dinner table, and a goodnight kiss every night (but please don’t snore!). I hope to learn how to love unselfishly, to build something together, to give everything I have because I want this person to experience all the love, joy, and happiness an imperfect human being can offer. All of these profundities and longings make me smile, as I think about God watching from above and seeing into each house, all of his little creatures, just living life the best way they know how.

It’s a time in my life where I realize that trying to figure out the future will only drive me crazy, and, not to mention, whatever I decide is going to happen in the future, will, in turn, take a twist and throw me something entirely unexpected. I’ve spent months wrestling in my head with career choices, graduate schools, and living abroad. Taking it one step further, the wrestling match explodes into some kind of WWE Smackdown, as I grapple, mull over, and daydream about which country my adopted kids will come from, and how they will be parented, and which country I can move to when I retire, suddenly realizing that I had taken my brain to the year 2036 or some strange number that looks weird on paper, making me scratch my head and think, that cannot possibly be a year. But alas one day that calendar will turn, and New Year’s will ring in 2037, and I’ll be shaking my head wondering where all this time has gone. Bringing myself back to today, the present moment, I unleash myself to God. I stop demanding a cradle-to-the-grave itinerary and when my brain starts to run into years unseen, I remind myself of what I have been promised: a future and a hope.

And so this is transplant. I’m not sure when I’ll be “rooted.” But never the matter. I’m here. And, though I get confused and cry and apologize later for things I shouldn’t have said, I also laugh and smile and make ruckus. I am content. I am happy. I don’t belong with the crowds telling me who I can’t become as a woman; I don’t belong with the crowds who try to convince me what my family, marriage, and faith should all look like (as if God hasnooriginality and forgot to make us all unique). So I’m ok here. I’m ok with where I am. There is freedom here. The door is opening; it’s barely ajar. But I can see it. I can taste it. I can hear it, smell it, breathe it, and it is beautiful. You see, I grew up swimming long, laborious laps in the swimming pool, and there’s this daring in my heart to dive into the deep end and feel cool water and sunlight swirl on my face. So today I think I’ll head out to the ocean instead of the natatorium, and make some waves, because the “no-wake zone” is far behind me; in fact, I can’t even see it anymore. All that’s ahead of me are new sights to see and more shores to swim to. There is plenty of wide open space here, and you can paint with any color brush you choose. Yes, come on in, there’s room for you. And as we run through open fields, I know one day our feet might take to a certain patch of grass in which we will blossom and sprout and plant our flowers. But for right now, I’m in transplant. And I am more alive than ever before.

1 Check out Ed Cyzewski’s Divided We Unite: Practical Christian Unity, available free to subscribers of In.A.Mirror.Dimly.Lit’s Women in Ministry blog: http://inamirrordimly.com/the-women-in-ministry-series-home-page/

2 I’ve been inspired into such action by Sarah Bessey’s post, “In Which I am Done Fighting for a Seat at the Table.”Check it out here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2011/12/fighting-for-a-seat/