Here. It’s Where I Am.

 

nomonday
downtownlongmont.com

Rain Valley newcomers pretty much fell into two groups: people running away from something and people running away from everything.  -Kristin Hannah

Growing up a pastor’s kid means you move around a lot. People used to ask why we relocated so frequently, often assuming my father was in the military. Correcting them, I’d say with fake confidence, “My dad’s a pastor.” It was not the most popular excuse.

Until age 17, we moved every one to five years, with stints in California, Missouri, Idaho, Washington State, and back to California. The four of us, from our first mom, were born, not only in different cities, but in different states. We knew how to pick up, pack up and leave town. We knew how to get out of the way while the parsonage was stripped. We knew how to get out of the way while the next parsonage was filled and organized. We knew how to explore a new home and church.

There was grief. A couple of the moves were poignant for me, the ones that occurred at major milestones in a teen’s life: moving in the middle of sixth grade, again in twelfth. Our shallow roots yanked to begin again.

I do not turn to look back in regret. I do not wish for different. Each departure offered a new adventure. Each arrival offered fresh opportunity. The greatest difficulty involved starting the new schools, determining the systems and the people, the coursework and lunchtime.

A nomadic life still whispers my name. When things get difficult or uncomfortable, or I become disillusioned with my community, I dream of picking up and finding another place to contain my life. When disagreements and discomfort arise, I want to leave. I want to pluck my children out of their grounded comforts, beginning again with the shallow belief a new place will insert adventure and wonder and excitement. While on vacation Eric and I will play the Can You Imagine game, placing ourselves like Monopoly pieces on the board of a new land, pretending where we might live and how we would make a living – carrying on the ruse until we check Zillow for home prices. The fun tumbles to a firm stop.

A few years ago, in an attempt to downsize and reduce our financial liabilities, we embarked upon a massive housing transition. In our decision making, we determined the kids and I would move to our small house in Gunnison for a year. We’d pay off debt and try the “simple” life (whatever that means). I suspect you are beginning to see the fallacy of our thinking, piling three growing children into a small home in one of the most frigid locations on the United States map, but let me continue.

Our hearts were set, the plan was made. Eric would commute back and forth, I would stay with the kids while they attended school and we took a stab at integrating into the Rocky Mountain community.

Reality set in when we took stock of the goodness of our life in Longmont, when we catalogued the hours we had poured into friends and friends poured into us. We were loved with solid and generous systems in place. We had roots and knew without doubt we had people who had our backs. No longer did it makes sense to run. No longer did it make sense to want more.

We abandoned the plan and settled for good in this beautiful dot on the globe, our little corner of the world.

When things get hard, it’s easy to abandon ship, it’s easy to fantasize about the next place or the next thing. I can be lulled into thinking the problems are not unique to me, that I am immune from the difficulties of a new location. That somewhere else is just perfect. But don’t we take ourselves with us? I don’t get to divorce from myself to begin anew.

I’ll be honest. I’ve been in a hard period for awhile now. As my eyes open to the injustices around the world and in my own community – the disparity of wealth, the rule of privilege. I want to cut and run. I want to focus on the next life, the eternity promised to believers of Jesus. I want to erect my wall and live in my compound of like-minded individuals where we all sing Kumbaya while dreaming of our ideal utopian society. I want out of the abuses of power, the male-dominated systems, the money. I want to create my little world and live by and by.

But this is not the dream. And this is not our work. Our work is to seek justice, to walk in humility, to strive for mercy. Our work is not to sequester ourselves away in some perfect idea of a life, but to live and create community, and in creating community we learn to love.

So, I carry on. I partner with people who see the world as I do. I partner with people who see the world differently than I do. I partner with people who strive to bring justice in the ways that we can. I want to know people and bring the light and love of Hope to the darkness.

In these days with discussions of walls and deportations and refugees and racial injustice, may we take a look around our neighborhoods and towns. May we seek to love in the ways that are comfortable. May we take risks and love in the ways that are difficult. May we aim to understand how we’ve been equipped and provided for here, for now.

Sometimes the temptation grips to dream of the next world. Sometimes that’s fine and it’s fun, but let’s not lose sight of our here-ness and our now-ness. Let’s unwrap the present and seek to live fully in our moment as we are placed, finding the goodness and the gratitude around each corner.

Here. It’s where we are.

Why Kaepernick Sits.

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When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it? 

-Eleanor Roosevelt

What do we do with our anger? This heavy, holy anger that simmers and bubbles, a cauldron of hot and red and fire.

How is another death justified? One man, one stalled car, one fateful night in Tulsa. How is another death justified? Shouldn’t he be able to yell at police and still be alive? Shouldn’t he be able to brandish a weapon and still be alive? Shouldn’t he be high or drunk or black or brown and still be alive?

We wait for facts, we need details before we speak up. We want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this guy didn’t deserve death. Frankly, no one deserves death by another human whether that human is entrusted or not to take a life. It just should not be this easy  – to kill another person. It should not be this easy to assume guilt when we are commissioned to assume innocence. And in case we forget, once the person is dead, it’s too late, guilt or innocence is a foregone conclusion, useless.

I am honored to be part of a church planting initiative through Highlands Church in Denver. Our goal is to establish churches throughout the local and national landscape that offer full membership to the LGBTQ population. The first half of our monthly meeting this past Sunday began with a visit from a local African American pastor, Jasper Peters. Peters was invited to discuss with our mostly white team how, in the future, we can plant churches that are mindful of our whiteness, creating avenues for greater diversity.

The most important word he used, that reverberates like a drum in my head, was painstaking. The process of seeking equality is painstaking. The rooting up, the staring down, the admission of guilt, the confession and repentance of superiority is ugly, dangerous, painstaking work. He reminded us of the sin – this inherent and buried notion that we, being white, are somehow more valuable or superior to another who is not. He discussed the reality of a double consciousness, where he, as a black man, perceives the world through his lens. Concurrently, he must also anticipate and perceive the world through the lens of the dominant, white male culture. Sounds exhausting to me, for as a woman I understand this concept.

After the Dallas police killings, we witnessed an upsurge in police appreciation. Yes, I know it’s important. I’m aware of the good ones, the ones who are doing their work and protecting our communities and offering justice, assistance and relief while exhausted and overworked. Many churches held moments of silence and offered gratitude after the horrific events, as they should have. Yet, I wonder what it must feel like to the black and brown constituents, when churches praise the efforts of police but fail to do the work of racial reconciliation. Are these same churches asking the hard questions from the pulpit?  I would love to hear my local police department respond to a church’s kind invitation with, “You know what? I appreciate your gesture, I do, but until our minority neighbors feel safe in their own community, our work is not done. Would you please partner with us in bringing equality?”

For Christians, the crucial task of seeking equality, of identifying and overturning the dominant systems that oppress our neighbors, is ours. We must do the painstaking task of churning up our sin of Christian white supremacy. Terence Crutcher should not be dead. He should not have been shot because of a broken vehicle. He should not have laid in the roadway, dying, for minutes while his nearest aid hid behind a police cruiser. Terence Crutcher should not be one of hundreds of black and brown bodies whose blood oozes across the asphalt because of fear. Fear of questions, fear of upheaval, fear of honesty, fear of answers.

I’ll start and you can join in: I am a Christian. I am a white supremacist. I am a racist. I like my comfort and I like that my kids are white. I have benefitted from the structures that favor my whiteness. I have passed judgment on another, believing they have not done their fair share, using words like “get a job” and “bootstraps”. I have been afraid of black people, I have been afraid of brown people. I have suspected guilt of a black or brown person over a white person. I have believed that I have my life because I did so many things right. I have expressed gratitude in the quiet of my space that I don’t have to have the conversations with my boys. I breathe a sigh of relief when my sixteen year old drives away, knowing he will not be profiled. I live on the right side of town with the best schools and I deserve this for some reason.

I am not pleased. I am disturbed and troubled by these thoughts I have. I am aware, more than I ever have been of the inequality that plagues our nation and world. I confess and repent today. I will confess and repent tomorrow until the work of uprooting and eradication is done. I will confess and repent for a lifetime, I suspect, as I do this painstaking work.

What about you?

Curious in Chicago

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Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.          -James Baldwin

Two years ago, Eric and I traveled to Chicago for a gardening convention. He and his business partner had a booth, advertising their latest product. The convention was held on Navy Pier, an enormous touristy landmark jutting into Lake Michigan.

The booth was located at the end of a long hall, adjacent to the rear doors. The vendors were allowed into the show before and after hours to set up and collect themselves before the buyers arrived. Security guards manned the entrances, assuring only paid attendees entered. With our proximity, I figured I’d introduce myself to our guards, since we’d be together for the next two days. Wade, our favorite, was a mild-mannered black man with an eye that had a mind of its own. His answers were Yes, Ma’am or No, Ma’am. As much as I tried, there wasn’t a lot of information I was able get out of Wade.

The final day, the doors opened later than the previous morning, catching a few attendees unaware. While Eric and I were preparing, we heard a commotion coming from Wade’s direction. A woman alongside her silent co-worker blared obscenities at Wade for not allowing them entrance. Of course, he had to take it, there was no placating the woman, she cursed and railed at him while he with his polite and courteous manner had to softly say, Yes, Ma’am, No Ma’am.

As she wound down and huffed away, I approached Wade inquiring how he was. Resigned, he shrugged his shoulders and sighed. In his patient, soft-spoken manner he replied, “Ma’am, I just have to take it, there’s nothing I can do. I need this job.” I shook my head, clucked some ineffective words of condolence and outrage, while internally seething at the injustice and cruelty delivered to an innocent man, working his best to garner a paycheck.

This trip to Chicago happened just a week after the events in Ferguson. My understanding of justice changed forever when I learned of the circumstances surrounding Michael Brown’s death – the horrible end to his life nothing I, nor my family will ever experience. I awakened to the injustice of my privilege and the passivity of my white culture that continues to remain blind to the consistent tragedy and terror black and brown people face in this nation. I had no comprehension of the rampant racism that claims the lives and dignity of so many American citizens. I still don’t.

In a recent interview with Krista Tippett, Elizabeth Gilbert detailed the beauty of inviting curiosity. She stated curiosity is a gentle and forgiving friend. Curiosity is intimate, lightly tapping us on the shoulder inviting us to take a closer look. Often the invitation seems random, haphazard, yet the acceptance of curiosity renders a spirit of inquisitiveness and interest. “Interesting people are interested people”, she concluded.

Our final evening in Chicago, Eric and I meandered the Chicago River walkway. The stunning, illuminated architecture was reflected in the calm water’s surface, while all manner of people basked in the summer’s evening. My head and heart were full of curious questions and observations about the city, the clear class distinctions, the challenging of my own privilege and good fortune. I felt my gut flip, a hesitation, as we approached a group of five young black men sitting on the concrete steps. After we passed, I turned to Eric and wondered out loud what these guys must think of Ferguson and Michael Brown’s violent death. I wanted to hear firsthand their opinions and thoughts. Eric shrugged and with nonchalance said, “Let’s go ask them.” Surprised, I agreed and we turned around.

With rattling nerves, I stood before the group, a tentative and wide smile on my face. I started, “Hi there. Do you have a minute? I have a question.” They nodded and encouraged me to continue. “Clearly I’m white (chuckle chuckle) and this is all new to me, but I would love to get your thoughts on Ferguson.”

For the next half-hour we were educated and entertained by these intelligent and aware young men, all close friends in their early twenties. They discussed the police violence in Chicago and how they each owned unique but similar tales of being profiled and treated violently. They didn’t agree on everything, some gave more grace and understanding to the police departments in both Ferguson and Chicago, some didn’t even know what happened.

What if we approached people different than us, first with kind interest and curiosity? What if we instead of adopting stereotypical thinking, motivated by bias, we sought to understand another? What if we were curious of our own reactions, paying close attention to the flips of our gut, choosing to override our fear (assuming we are in a safe space)? I know it is easier said than done, and sometimes we just don’t have the time or opportunity, but I wonder if we were open, if our eyes were open, we might see more opportunities than we realize. I suspect our curiosity through well-timed, compassionate and humble questioning, while listening with intent and interest for answers, might allow for those of us with good fortune and privilege to be able to empathize and relate a bit more.

But before we do anything, we need soft hearts and generous souls. The onus is upon us, the white and privileged, the heterosexual and cis-gender to educate ourselves, to seek understanding, to gain empathy.

These days are filled with stories of the misunderstood, people who are on the receiving end of great brutality that comes from the narrow mindedness of the afraid. If I’m able, I want to do my work now, to check my fear, and to do this work to the best of my ability. I want to be curious.

Do you?

Answering My Hardest Question – For Now

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The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.

-Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

That week after I defended my Master’s thesis, the day where my armpits ringed with the sweat that rolled across my burgeoning belly, I welcomed life. That week, the college and graduate degrees didn’t seem to matter, my life was now devoted and given over to this child, this creature that brought as much joy as he brought confusion and boredom and exhilaration and terror.

The next seventeen years held the birthing and raising of growing people, in the early days their needs and wants and hopes all pinned upon what we, their parents, could do for them. Their developing bodies and minds requiring the guidance and protection necessary for each stage they moved across, some stages more welcome than others. I stared at the ceiling, awake many nights, wondering if I did enough, wondering if I was enough, as their mother.

As mom, I’m not needed like I was. I recognize the importance of my presence, for those decisive conversations and events. I understand the place parents hold in accountability, determining their children are safe and protected and making decent choices. I know all of this. I believe all of this, but it does not negate the hours of the day that lie before me. I’m not complaining, it’s just time to start figuring out who I am – not as mother, not as wife, but me, as Jen, a woman, a lover and contributor to the world.

Last night we sat around the table with new friends, exploring the potential future venture we get to embark upon together. Questions were raised and answers were wondered. This endeavor may be some of the most wonderful work I do outside of my marriage and keeping these kids alive. In our time together, it was made very clear that we each, on this future team, need to know ourselves. We need to know our giftedness, we need to know our strengths and we better damn well know what our weaknesses are. I nodded, agreed, and admitted, “Guys, to be honest, I’ve been doing this mom thing so long, and before that I was a good girl, and before that, I can’t remember. I don’t know who I am. I don’t want to mess this up.”

The road to deconstruction is long and windy, fraught with doubt and awe. The deconstruction of my faith, of what I thought was true has been brave and gut-wrenching. Moving from this place of should to desire is not for the fainthearted. How do I separate who I should be with who I want to be? How do I separate how I should act with how I really want to act? How do I separate what I should want with what I truly want?

These answers do not come without blood and fear and angst. Sometimes accomplishment of the should makes me happier, more relieved at the day’s end, because I did what I didn’t want to do. I overcame.

Should’s ugly demons can wrap their tendrils around my soul’s core if I let them, especially when I’m feeling extra doses of vulnerability and less-than. The heinous siren song sings the melody of exhaustive effort that earns bowls of ice cream and TV, that earns heads on pillows and dreamless slumber. The chorus chants accomplishment and earning over being and resting, a never-ending refrain on repeat.

For some reason, want can seem dangerous, sinful, greedy, lustful, lazy. Selfish. Somehow we became distant from ourselves. Somehow we forgot how to trust our insides. Somehow in all the obligation and the work and the busy, we lost our desire, we lost who we are and what we love.

Sometimes we have to do hard things, but is it possible to desire the hard things?

Is it possible to not be motivated by some relentless guilt, and instead be motivated by want?

And can that want be good?

I am discovering who I am, knowing more about me than I care to admit or want to see. I’m grateful for trusted friends and family, people who love me, who know me and will cheer me toward fullness in this one delicious life I’m given. But ultimately, I have to believe who I am. I have to love who I am. I have to accept who I am. Enough.

Who am I? First and foremost I want to be someone that carries my curiosity and desires, that holds my wonder and questions, that reminds me of my humanity and my need to give and receive abundant grace, generous mercy, and boatloads of love with room for imperfection and a lifetime of learning.

This next adventure beckons as I stand atop the precipice contemplating my leap. Casting caution to the wind, the calling whispers and I respond. Will I know myself completely before I take that jump?

Probably not, but I’m willing to learn as I fly.