Kingdom Vision

My last post was seen by a few as being somewhat divisive. Division is not my hope for my blog, for my voice, for my life. One of my deepest desires is for unity in the Church, for us to look more and more like the kingdom, where people from every nation and tongue and people stand shoulder to shoulder and worship God together, where we see ourselves as one people—God’s people—together, and THAT is our primary identity, where there are no poor, no mentally ill, no addictions (other than the supreme, life-giving one of being addicted to our God!), no wars…

All right—clearly, the Church can’t do all of that now. That’s a beautiful, Revelation picture of the future when the KING is visibly reigning, but that vision of the Kingdom should drive us now. If that’s what God’s love fulfilled in all our lives looks like, then that should dominate much of the work of the Church. Think of what a picture that would give to the world—to those in our communities who have no eternal hope, who have no community, who recognize a longing deep in their soul.

I think the division in my last blog post came because I was lamenting the election of our new president, and some reading it concluded that I would not have been writing it had Hilary Clinton been elected.

They’re right. I wouldn’t have. But nor would I have rejoiced. She wasn’t my candidate either. I didn’t have one. I don’t think either of them gets us closer to the Kingdom of God vision.

Truth is, they’re not supposed to.

That’s the vision for the CHURCH, not America. The Church is supposed to look different, is supposed to BE different and winsome and beautiful (though messy).

So why did I “rant” about Trump if I wouldn’t have about Clinton?

My answer follows, but, please, before/if you read any further, please know that what I write next comes from years of the Lord moving in my heart, comes from a place of personal repentance and not finger-pointing. It comes from a growing-ever-deeper love for the Church—and from the understanding that I, too, have recognition and continual repenting to do following this election.

So why did I “rant” about Trump?

Because the white church in America (of which I am part) hasn’t done a good job of working with all its might for the Kingdom vision. It hasn’t crossed racial and ethnic divides; it hasn’t encouraged humility and lament for past sins; it hasn’t stayed in the places of greatest need; it hasn’t continually welcomed the stranger and shabby and needy ones.

And because that is the history of the white church in America, and the current white church (I hate that it’s still so divided that this adjective still very much applies) hasn’t made serious steps to heal that history, we must take some ownership in this very divided America, an America in which a lot of marginalized people are seen as “other” by the white majority, an American in which a lot of marginalized people feel they are seen as second-class and not completely welcome among the white majority, not as equals at least.

But, white church, we must go beyond this because this is true inside the Church as well. Inside Jesus’ church here in America, our brothers and sisters who have a skin color other than white often do not feel that the white church at large sees them as equals—they do not feel that the white church fully welcomes them—particularly not in leadership positions. Many see our separateness as a way for us to continue to have our own worlds. Many feel they are welcome to visit or even be in our worlds, as long as it’s not in such large numbers that they affect our culture or have some element of authority. Many have deep wounds of mistrust caused by centuries of supremacy and oppression both outside the Church as well as within it.

With these feelings and this viewpoint, can we understand, have we tried to understand, what it must have felt like when the white church turned out in large numbers and voted for a candidate whose rhetoric and proposed policies support a form of white supremacy? Have we tried to understand why some of our brothers and sisters feel so hurt and so threatened by his election? I understand that many of us voted for Trump for totally unrelated reasons, but now it is time–in the humility Christ calls us to–to look at the other side of it, at another’s view.

We have not progressed beyond separate-but-equal thinking in the white church (there are times I’m not sure we’ve progressed that far). And if you’re reading this and you’re part of the white church and you find yourself thinking that separate-but-equal church sounds okay, if you think, What’s wrong with that? Or if you can say, Well, we have some minorities in our church, and I think that’s great—but no person of color is in a position of leadership in your church and it would be a little surprising to have a person of color in leadership… well, I would say there is work to do, vision-casting work—and acknowledging there is work to do is a wonderful first step.

I know the last few days have put many white evangelicals on the defensive, that they’ve been accused of racism and sexism, and that’s hard. But it’s nothing—nothing!—compared to what our brothers and sisters of color collectively have endured—for centuries—and are enduring even now. As followers of Christ, we must not go on the defensive; we MUST empathize; we MUST try to understand; we MUST listen and learn. We must practice stillness before God and allow the Holy Spirit to give us supernatural insight into the pain of others.

I am not saying this is easy. I am not saying there are any quick solutions (far from it, in fact), but we must remember that we will not be segregated in the kingdom.

And we are called to start practicing the kingdom now.

Treasured sons

PJ's preschool picIs lament possible without identification? We white mothers must come to the point of understanding that we cannot say, “This could happen to my son—for no good reason—through no fault of his own—through no action of his own,” and really mean it, BUT nearly every African American mother CAN, and with these words a little surge of real terror spikes in her heart.

That is an example of white privilege.

I know it is, because as a white mother of a black son, I have a hard time really believing those words. Though I know my son’s risk factors are high (he is black, very dark-skinned in fact, and he has pronounced ADHD and high impulsivity), I don’t have the history that makes his danger REAL to me. I don’t have the from-birth distrust of a system, of a majority group that sees me as inferior (though they don’t come right out and say so). My skin doesn’t ripple with a subtle prickle of fear when I see a man in uniform. Even though I am truly “in the shoes” of other African American mothers, my white privilege keeps them loose in the day-to-day. They’re not pinching my every step.

I remember, several years ago, driving through rural Indiana with a Latina friend. As we approached one city-limits sign, I remarked, off-hand, casual, “This is a pretty town, but it was a KKK hotbed until just a few years ago. It’s more hidden now, but it’s still here.”

Her response was immediate, and it wasn’t just emotional. Her breathing quickened; her face went pale, and she was unable to relax until we were miles into the country on the other side. I couldn’t identify, but I “got it.” She’s experienced “difference” her entire life. And I, except for when travelling in Africa (and the “difference” I experienced there brought, for the most part, privilege), have not.

This morning I woke early. We are preparing for a move to one of those very neighborhoods where the other mothers in it live everyday with this fear for their children, where I, too, will experience it more, simply because of location. Because of this upcoming move, our house looks like a picked-over junk shop. It is at the stage when everything formerly “in”—cupboards, closets, drawers—is out, and all knickknacks are off shelves and ledges, revealing hidden dust.

Late last night I moved the verse plaque from the windowsill above my kitchen sink. Behind the plaque I found a picture of my black son taken several years ago when he was in preschool. At some point I’d tucked it behind the plaque and forgotten about it.

This morning, up before anyone else, I read updates on the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. I cried. I prayed. Then I went to the sink to fix myself some tea. And there was the smiling face of my beautiful son, like a treasured photo of a lost loved one, placed in a spot where one sees it several times a day.

And for one moment, the shoes tightened, hard, and I remembered the words I’d read just a few minutes earlier in one of the news reports. Philando Castile’s mother, speaking to a group of African Americans mourning the death of her child, told them, “This could be your son.”

If one is truly to grieve, lament, repent, this is what we must understand.

The Body, Broken and Whole

I have a short story up on The Redbud Post. It’s titled “The Body, Broken and Whole.”  Here’s an excerpt. If you want to read the whole thing, just click on the link above.

Ming moved down the line of Eucharist ministers, her pastoral robes swaying gently each time she stopped. “The body of Christ, broken for you,” she said, pressing bread into the outstretched hands of the minister in front of her. Another pastor followed behind her, carrying the cup, the two of them serving communion to the ministers so the ministers could then serve the rest of the congregation. At the far end of the line, Leah dropped her head and stared at her hands. One laid over the other, they formed the shape of a cross, ready to receive the bread, but without realizing, she’d pulled them close against her stomach. She noticed her fingers were curled, ready to close tight, ready to refuse the offering.

“Leah?”

Her head jerked up. Ming’s face was next to her own, and Leah could read concern in Ming’s dark eyes, in the expression on her almond-brown face.

Leah’s hands clenched shut. “I can’t, Ming,” she whispered. “I can’t take Communion.”

Ming looked at her a moment longer. Then she slid her arm around Leah’s shoulders and led her away from the others. Inside the small prayer room off the sanctuary, Ming nudged Leah into a chair, and then sat in one herself, pulling it close enough their knees almost touched.

“What is wrong?” Even after years in the U.S., faint traces of accent from her childhood in Cambodia still colored Ming’s voice.

Leah couldn’t meet her eyes. “I got angry with Bree this morning.”

Ming waited. When Leah didn’t say more, she asked, “What happened?”

Leah swallowed. “It was all little things. She didn’t do her homework from two nights ago, took some gum from my purse without asking, left clothes all over her room, and then, when she was supposed to be getting ready for church this morning…” How could she tell Ming what she had said?

The rest is at the Redbud Post. And while you’re there, check out some of the pieces by other Redbud writers–there’s some fantastic stuff! 

A family, a people

Small Carolina town

Throwback general store

Both my boys looking at the comics

Side by side

Yet the sharp “What’chu doin’, boy?”

Is not directed at the two,

Just the one,

My child with dark skin.

Years before,

Sitting in a crowded Ugandan church

Watching his tiny self

Dance in the aisles,

I wondered,

What are we doing—

Giving him a family

But displacing him from a people?

When he was small, our conversations about race

Were easy.

He called himself chocolate,

The rest of us vanilla,

In high summer, I became

Milky coffee.

Now, though, they are harder.

How to explain to him,

To his sisters and brother,

That the odds facing them

Are not exactly equal?

That what we’ve told them—

Human is human. Period.—

Is not a reality out there

And King’s dream

Is still a dream.

And underneath all this,

Even now,

the question haunts me:

We’ve become a family

But what about his people?

~~~~

I thought this post could use a little lift. This was a fun, impromptu moment in Target when PJ saw this awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jacket!

I thought this post could use a little lift. This was a fun, impromptu moment in Target when PJ saw this awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jacket!

Our fourth child was born in Uganda. His mother died of AIDS; his father was estranged and never met him till we began the adoption process. In many miraculous ways God made it very clear that we were to adopt our son. But even as I worked in Africa to get legal guardianship, I wondered about the issues he would face growing up as an African child in a white family, in a predominately white area, in a country where the color of your skin still determines a lot. Racial reconciliation takes on a whole new level of importance when you have a child who is a different race. When I read about the horrifically high numbers of African American men in prison; when I learn that five times the number of African American babies are aborted compared to white babies; when I hear that an African American college professor in the town just two over from mine has been stopped by police more than 20 times in the last couple years just so they could “see what

I couldn't resist posting this one, too!

I couldn’t resist posting this one, too!

he was up to”… I think, “This is what’s facing my son,” and I ask God how I am meant to draw attention to this injustice, how I am meant to fight it—both for my own son and the sons and daughters of other women.

And under all this, I still fear the effects on my son of growing up without a community that looks like him.

“Just like me”–seeking greater understanding, unity, and love

Sometimes you've got to get really close to see the beauty.

Up close, you get to see incredible beauty.

Someone recently told me about a young member of our military who shared with his mother some of the trauma he’d experienced on deployment. One time he was told to clear a building. He entered a room and discovered a man with a gun. The man moved to shoot, but the soldier was faster, and the man was killed. “We found his wife and children hiding in another room,” the young soldier told his mother.

She saw his distress and tried to reassure him, “Sweetheart, you didn’t want to kill him. It was kill or be killed. You’re not at fault.”
But he didn’t want to debate fault. “Mom, he was just like me. His wife and kids, just like me. They’re not any different.”
I don’t share that story to make any judgment on our armed forces or its members. (I’m not even making a statement on our police forces and their members, other than to say this: all our police need to have the same attitude as that young man; it should rank as a requirement well above a person’s ability to handle a weapon. I’m very thankful for the many police officers who DO have that attitude, who treat people—no matter the color of their skin or their background—with dignity and respect, but we cannot excuse those who do not).
I share that story to make this personal: I need that attitude. I need it with those in my neighborhood who look different than I or parent differently or work different kinds of jobs; I need it with the wealthy moms at my kids’ private school; I need it with the members of my own household.
But I need it, too, with those whose lives or perspectives seem so different as to be polar opposite mine.
butterflyI work with an organization that reaches out to women involved in the adult entertainment industry. Some of these women have been trafficked, but not all. The leader of our organization is adamant that we don’t make a distinction. Here’s her point: We know—through both statistics and stories—that the vast majority of the women we reach out to have really good reasons for doing what they do. When we look at their backgrounds, we think, “Yes, I can see why this looks like a viable option to them—or their only option.”
But what if that’s not the issue? What if a woman is simply involved in adult entertainment because she makes more at it than she would at another job? Does that mean I’m allowed to say, “That’s some messed-up, sinful thinking!” and write that woman off?
I don’t think so. In fact, I’m beginning to see that it’s not my right to know why a woman is in the life; it’s her decision to tell me or not, and if she does, it’s not my business to form any sort of judgment based on what she tells me. I can’t even say, “But for the grace of God, that could be me” because that still sets me apart. It makes me different. It implies they didn’t receive grace; that there was some reason I “got grace” and they didn’t. It sets up and subtly reinforces a difference between us.
I need to see and know—deep, deep down—that woman is just like me in all the ways that really matter. I’m human; she’s human. I’m broken and bent by sin; so is she. I need a Savior; she does, too.
When I talk and text with women who are in a life that looks so very different from mine, this is what I want to remember. This is what I want them to know: you and me, we’re alike in all the ways that matter.
I’ve found it interesting that the more I work with the issue of adult entertainment, the less inclined I am to write about it. Every statistic, every story, every generalization is becoming more personal for me. The women our team members talk with, text with, hang out with, pray with, eat with—they’re not statistics; they’re women.
I rarely write in-depth about my family members on this blog, and when I do, I generally don’t use their names. I don’t want them to become an example or a generalization or even simply a character. I want to protect them; I want to maintain their dignity. I want them to own the rights to their own stories.
That’s how I’m beginning to feel—and not just think—about the women I meet who are in the industry. I need to maintain their dignity as people, and they need to tell their own stories.
I’m winding through several points in this blog post to get to a final one: though I don’t write much here on the impact of the adult entertainment industry on women and on our culture or on the issue of racial reconciliation (one that is very personal for my family), that doesn’t mean I don’t care passionately about them. I’ve felt convicted of late that I don’t share this passion enough through my blog. So, even though right now I don’t plan to do more personal writing on these issues, I would like each week or so to share something I’ve encountered about these and/or other issues. The perspectives of the authors/speakers may be very different than mine or yours, but I am praying that as we read and listen, we will be able to let go of our fears of “different”; that we will empathize and step into the shoes of others; that we will be drawn into greater understanding, greater unity, and greater love.