Recipe Sharing

It was once recommended to me to walk into a room and consider myself the worst sinner there. Not to paralyze or dismantle identity or purpose, but to deteriorate the pride and pretense, and diffuse the human condition of anger and judgment.

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Social media is the room these days.

 

I raise my hand as the first among sinners in this room. I will say that I have done all the talking and none of the listening. I have engaged when I should have ignored or just watched. I have been condescending and used my privilege and power in unproductive ways. I have experienced the remorse that comes after speaking online, and after not saying a thing.

I confess this even as I brazenly share what I wish to keep in mind going forward (I know, I have some nerve…), because this environment isn’t ending anytime soon for most of us. And self-correcting, changing our minds and resetting is what keeps us human. I collect and share these things not as a teacher but a learner–humbly, acknowledging my blunders and gaffes. For some of you, this is too conservative advice; for others, you just wish everyone would return to their recipe sharing and crafts, me especially. For the two of you interested, here is where I am working from right now. I am still writing mid-way. This is the recipe I’m interested in and tinkering with and trying to crave.

None of these are original thoughts (obvious considering your unreliable source)…They are conglomerates of advice and note-taking and scripture and reading. Take what you will to your reflection in the mirror, or in the screen; lay whatever sticks before your God and test. I’d also like to hear your approach as we strive to live into this space with integrity.

 

7 Practices in Internet Hospitality

  • Identify truth as holy. Any little blip of it. Celebrate the holy. Dwell on the holy. Proliferate the holy.
  • Bear in mind your relationship with the person, and how much you value them. Affirm this if you can, whenever you speak. We are sensitive people, changing, reacting, hiding. Keep the humanity and personhood of the other in view. You may be doing all right today. Someone else may be at their worst. Don’t compare your best to their worst. Review your relationship. Get nostalgic about the other.
  • Pray about a response. Name what you want to say or not say before the Lord. Ruminate if this is the Spirit prompting or permitting you, or if the problem is a tickling in your sense of identity or pride or fear. Consider the Beatitudes. Would speaking put you closer to one of the groups mentioned that are blessed? Would sharing align with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (Eph. 1:6-11)?
  • Consider who has the least power, both in the conversation, and in the topic at hand. Give them extra room. Pass them the mic. Share their stories if you are speaking on their behalf. Accept that narrative or point of view and sit with it for a day or two. It may be packaged in something you could tear to shreds, or in a way you fundamentally disapprove of—the powerful get to walk away and define what is respectful, what is appropriate, how something should come up, and when something should end. Defer to the less powerful. Practice Jesus’ downward mobility. This is terribly uncomfortable and divine.
  • Excuse yourself from the binary tug of war that says speaking is wrong, silence is right or vice versa. Turns out social media is a place where people have to share the Good News, be the light, fight the good fight, apologize, forgive, shut up, laugh and connect over tough stuff. Hospitality looks a lot of different ways and when we make space for another person, we make space for their approach and consider what responsibility and Love look like within that. We don’t control it. We ride it. We avail ourselves here to someone else. “Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves.” – Joan Chittister
  • Self-assess your limitations. How is my anxiety today? Am I in a self-preservation mode? Is my conclusion already set? Does this person remind me of someone else that I have unresolved issues with? Do I believe I am an established expert about this and therefore have no space to hear, and, maybe would have been invited if wanted? Some other great questions from Christena Cleveland specifically:
    • Am I believing the lie that if I don’t say it, it won’t be said?
    • Am I believing a lie that this person is bigger than God?
    • Am I remembering all humans are like grass?
    • Am I confusing taking up my cross with placing myself as a martyr?
  • Give and receive grace. What is your heart here? What is their heart here? Conduct yourself with integrity; there are no points. This is not debate class. Remember a time when you believed something wholeheartedly differently than now. Be prolific and sincere in your apologies and vulnerabilities; overlook whatever you can that is offensive and skip the vain defenses. Forgive yourself, and sit with the Lord to receive His forgiveness. Pray for the other person, the other pilgrim. Mercy is poured out each new day over us all. Grace is glory.

 

May the God of hope dwell within you richly.

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Wherein I Say Nothing About Any of the Things

I went to high school in East Africa. Nairobi in fact. Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes it’s like a dream. Because, in many ways, it was.

While in said high school, I had the opportunity to fly back to the US and attend a youth leadership conference in Washington, D.C. It was one of those programs made to look very prestigious, bringing young leaders from near and far. Eager to build college admittance resumes, we were attending our first overpriced conference, strategically and suggestively set in the nation’s capital. We dressed up in professional garb as though we were not sixteen years old, wore lanyards, and stayed in a college dorm. Not a parent in sight. I was very fortunate to go, with people sponsoring my trip and registration. The theme for the week? Medical Ethics.

Never once did I consider a medical profession, mind you. But nonetheless, that was the option that fit best with ticket fares and summer travels and so why not. There I was surrounded by high school students who had set their pubescent sights on med school, or at least their parents had. I was headed towards an English Department somewhere, glad to have finished my high school (and lifetime) science credits with Environmental Studies.

The Thai food in D.C. was incredible. But one other thing was especially impacting (…other than the Korean guys who were interested in me, yes me, the nerdy girl in the permanent friend zone back at home in Kenya…). We all watched a movie one night, as a part of this Medical Ethics Conference: Wit, starring Emma Thompson. I was moved deeply by the film, but very soon after couldn’t quite describe why. It was obscure and no one had seen it apparently, except that select group of lanyard-clad young leaders, that I knew of. Its title stayed with me all these years and I finally watched it again yesterday, a mere 15 years later.

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Wit still touched my soul, the first taste nostalgia, the rest merited profundity about the human condition, life and death. I had forgotten the strong elements of poetry, language and academia which would have been intriguing that week, way back when. I had forgotten the nurse, who always cared and rubbed lotion on the hands of the lonely patient. I had forgotten the pretentious rigor of the researchers and attending doctor. I had forgotten the main character’s journey towards both death and kindness, by way of suffering.

Wit likely watered my love for writing and studying poetry and Donne. It probably loosened some fears of the hospital, 7 years before I would work in one for a summer, and it probably planted a seed about bedside manner that made rubbing lotion on a dying woman’s back when she asked not that strange, but rather, a privilege. It tickled my appetite for academics, words, and the deep respect for women who become experts. It still speaks today to the value and pain of suffering and the great equalizing force of health and illness and endings.

Endings, health, ethics, and maintaining people’s humanity are themes that weigh on my mind these days. Also, always the thoughts and feelings about identity, my work, my worth, my gender…how I am changing and how I am not. These mazes are human and however difficult they are, whatever conflicts they may rise, and cloudiness they waft…they show life. The awareness of my own fragility, mortality even, however upsetting, is also an indicator light that my heart is beating and compassion is still kicking.

And maybe 15 years later, something will make sense. Or maybe along the way there will be a connection that leads you to give thanks, or a theme you recognize as directive, definitive, and distinctively tender. A theme God’s been showing you, patiently, relentlessly. We are alive, and yes, we are struggling, but the long game is still afoot. Our kindness, our attention to people’s humanity, our memory—these are of utmost importance now and our hurt may be the best indicator that these things are indeed on the rise. I must remind myself: the illness isn’t the story. It is the filter. Refining. Focusing.

Continue, sister and brother: forward.

A winding, long way around

It has been such a long pause, and so much has happened and not happened.

Tonight I’d like to speak to something that has happened: a major job and career change for Ryan–an unexpected grace.

At first I was incredulous and then was doubtful it would work out, but, lo and behold, he is going to be a social studies teacher and administrator, grades 6-8, at my old stomping grounds, Los Angeles Christian School. This time we are not missionaries, but we remain dedicated, just as clear about our desire to be here, in this neighborhood, with this community, and he is thrilled. To him, this is a long-term decision. He wants to take classes himself, and recalls wondering why he didn’t major in History in college, taking the seemingly safer Business route instead. Life is funny.

The last job was helpful. It gave him confidence. It made him appreciate things he had before. It afforded him the opportunity to offer friends jobs, who still continue with the company. It made us miss him and him us and it made him grow in the art of saying no… Ultimately, he had to say no. It was a big, big job and he did it well, but there was no end in sight to the rigorous demands and it was not what he had agreed to–so less than a year later, he was applying to all kinds of places, closer to home, closer to his heart, and we ended up very close indeed.

This afternoon the family spent a few hours in his disheveled classroom, sorting through posters, wrestling with staplers, and (the youngest amongst us…) playing with clay and computer games. Down the hall was where our time with World Impact and this urban context first began, 10 years ago when I volunteered as a creative writing teacher as a senior at Azusa Pacific. Next door was my Language Arts class–I wondered today if I’d ever return. The timelines of his classroom do not catch my eye like the materials next door, even though I deeply respect and admire the students of the subject. We want this school to thrive, and more importantly, the students in it. He’s excited for the opportunity to encourage that.

A while back I read this:

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord; Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one and I blessed him and made him many. The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.*

What a wonderful thing to know the rock from which you were cut. To know the grander story that yours springs from, no matter how convoluted and shadowed, how inequitably privileged or under-resourced, no matter how unknown the next step is—the direction from which you hail, the people to which you most belong. The great privilege of teaching Social Studies in a Christian middle school is to offer this footing, this framework, to the developing story of 11-14 year olds. Look to the rock from which you were cut, you who are unsure, you who are lonely, or grappling for someone’s approval. Look to your way, way back family — and know you have been blessed and included.

Get your bearings, young men and women, in history and heritage and build hope for the joy and gladness promised.

This is our scripture too; this is our history lesson. Over a year ago, he was applying for another job. He wanted to be in schools back then and a disturbed and powerful man was set on keeping him from being hired–a man I have not been able to write about because of the risk. We then were spun into a tornado of lies and grief, becoming acquainted in new ways with suffering and injustice. It did not really resolve; it has not yet resolved. But today, Ryan is in a school, working with kids in the city, affirmed and appreciated. It isn’t justice, but it is grace–that despite everything, he’s employed, at a school, doing something he loves, and our family is still intact.

Tonight, we may not have the homework, the class periods, and the teacher that used to substitute under the name “Mr. Razzle Dazzle”–but we have the rock, we bear the family promise. May we find our bearings in the quarries and deserts of our days, and feel the Lord’s compassion on the ruins.

Publicly Mistaken for the Arrival of a Stranger – My Story

“I do not understand. Where are you from?”

He was a scuba instructor and we were in a pool, about 90 degrees cool, on the east coast of Africa. His English was heavily accented in that clipped Kenyan cadence I never mastered. I was maybe 15. There were no other Asian tourists that I can recall but then again, I was technically a resident. And though I was racially Asian, I was ethnically white, with an increasingly amount of ethnic space under construction. Thus his confusion. He thought he knew me, and the words “adopted” “Nairobi” and “American” did not compute without further explanation. I thought I knew myself too, but that, I would learn, would never be the whole story.

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I am adopted from South Korea. I was raised by and primarily absorbed the white suburban middle class culture of the Pacific Northwest. At age 11, I went to South Korea and the Philippines and I felt more at home in the Philippines. Soon after, we were headed overseas as missionaries, in a state of constant travel and transition until landing in Nairobi at age 13. I attended an international school there, the 2nd largest nationality there being South Korean. My white parents adopted my three youngest siblings, who are racially black but ethnically a blend of the international sub-cultures they lived in and white suburban middle class. For university I returned to the States but a region I’d never spent time in before: Southern California. I attended a school that was committed to promoting multi-ethnic awareness and was proud of its diversity in a crowd of Christian colleges typically monocultural. I struggled as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) reacclimatizing to the United States after formative years away.

Out of college I began living and working in the diverse urban center of Los Angeles that reminded me in many ways of Nairobi. I married a white man whose family has lived in the same white suburb for generations. I also attended a seminary that forced me to continue to interact with and study from people with different racial, ethnic, cultural and theological backgrounds, by text and in person. We became certified to foster and adopt through the county and took cross-racial and cross-cultural parenting classes. I am watching my younger siblings make the tough transition across the ocean that I did, in the opposite direction, still not matching their surroundings, racially or ethnically. I daily interact with people who have had completely different experiences than me, partly due to their familial culture, their economic and geographical history, and partly due to their race. I love my city and my family and I am a career student of the stories therein.

These are the bullet points to a lifelong continuing journey of learning about race and reconciliation.

I am no expert. I don’t hold any keys or any exclusive rights to this conversation; quite the opposite. I happen to like writing and talking. I make a lot of mistakes.

From walking through sewered pathways in the Kibera Slum of Nairobi to reading Gustavo Gutierrez’s On Job to finding my heart ashamed as I realized deep, unfounded fear of another race in college to seeing the Gospel in new ways in the housing projects of Los Angeles, I am convinced that despite all my blindspots and all my mistakes, I will continue to learn from and talk about people with different levels of privilege than me. I am dead set on keeping in touch with the margins in this issue because I believe that Jesus is there and when I insist that the strangers to my life are strangers, I miss truth. I accept an under-developed level of compassion and understanding that will hurt my community, my siblings, the Church, and my own children. There is ample opportunity for this story-exchange and learning in today’s world; in tomorrow’s, it will not be optional.

It is my privilege that this is a choice. That I could choose to go through life without talking to people who are not white and not of the model minority race with which people secondarily attach me. It is a privilege that I grew up seeing leaders, authority figures, illustrated Jesus and the disciples, and heroes portrayed as the race I primarily identified with (though not the gender). Constant translation of pervasive icons and messages was unnecessary to me as a child because I so strongly accepted my white ethnic identity; my ethnic identity was normative and dominant so I did not have to be actively aware of my race or ethnicity. For others, translation and accommodations and making room for the stranger, the other story, the social norms that don’t correlate with your own identity and experience, are constant. That is called being a minority. And I tend to think that those who have been cognizant of their race and racial relations all their life have more to teach me about the subject than I them.

When Ryan first went to our local Costco with me, he left with a stark realization of his white-ness. Did it define who he was? No. Did it explain all of his behaviors, mistakes, idiosyncrasies and worldview thenceforth? No. But the fact that he had never been in a public place in the United States and been forced to think about being the only person of his racial background spoke to his racial privilege. This isn’t an indictment; this is a fact.

I speak and learn about race not as a victim or as an intrinsically conflicted adult TCK with adoption issues (both of which I’ve been accused of). I speak and learn about race as someone who has enjoyed a great deal of privilege and knows it. I do not feel guilty about that; I feel more informed about that than I used to be. That’s all. I wish more people would learn about this with me, correct me and listen to my limited stories. I wish that more of my brothers and sisters in Christ would be vulnerable and humble online and in person, sharing their stories, their questions, their fears, and listening in this arena.

I sincerely apologize to those that I have rubbed the wrong way in this journey for the things I have said and tones I have used that have inadvertently excused you from the conversation. I am truly sorry for the part I’ve played in separating us from connecting and engaging with this topic to the degree that your response has to do with me. I am not going to stop talking about race and listening to and highlighting the voices of the underprivileged, but I am hoping to do it better. I am new to this topic; for those who have not been racially or ethnically privileged, they do not have that luxury.

In international communities, it is normal to acknowledge race and nationality and celebrate the differences. It’s not the basis from which to understand people but it is a useful description that is not taboo. Current events in our nation continue to raise the issue of race relations, which are incredibly relevant and important to my family and local community. Yet this has struck a good/bad false choice in people that jars my heart deeply. I had forgotten, after many years in an international community, the academy and now in international Los Angeles, that debating racial issues could be an abrasive topic from the outset in circles where the very subject of race is politely avoided (out of often good intentions). I recognize that in bringing up solidarity with the race-based experiences of other races, I have threatened a white solidarity unspoken norm at times. As a result, I have been rejected from circles to which I used to belong. I can see my own past and current tendency with what has been termed “white fragility” in avoiding acknowledging any privilege or dominant influence my ethnic category has had on society as a whole. I almost daily recognize knee-jerk reactions against these hard, awkward conversations and situations in an attempt to make myself feel more comfortable and innocent. I get these postures. But I want to move away from them. And if this is a constant source of alarm and offense to you, perhaps we should unfriend and step apart for a time; I deeply hope to reconvene later.

At the end of my life, I hope that I was able to be a public learner–which is to say, a public, apologetic, messer-upper. I’ve said before that part of my purpose in this blog is to write part-way–to disclose weak and deconstructed parts of my journey in order to normalize and invite the secret struggles of others. Part of my purpose as a parent and older sibling is to show them why Jesus matters in every context and to model being brave and broken. This matter of race and reconciliation is of utmost importance to me and, I believe, central to an understanding of the Christian faith. For this reason, I’m willing to have awkward and fruitless conversations and go there. I’m okay with being publicly embarrassed and discredited along the way. I’ve accepted that I’ve made mistakes and I’m going to make more and I know that the people I need most in life are going to still track with and love me through those blunders.

I yearn for companions on this journey. Would you let me know if you are on this path too? I know that you are strong enough and there is courage in numbers. I love the black women who reached out to people with different hair and capitalized upon racial curiosity. I love that now that I live south of Koreatown, I am learning about my own hair for the first time! There is such freedom in talking about our differences, from hair to how we define respect. All I am saying is that I am listening to new accounts and it is changing my own to be more truthful. It is opening wider places of understanding and humility and while it is hard and frustrating, it resonates in my soul as right and He is near.

This is my story with this collective story of our country called race and ethnicity. This is why I care and why I keep talking about it. May our lifelong pursuit of wholeness (shalom) bring us ever closer to each other and our Creator.

Matthew 25:38-39
“And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? ’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Wherein I introduce main speakers but take all their time.

I ramble and I should not ever introduce a main speaker because I will take their time, nor follow because I may not shut up. I intend to work on this. It’s like when the worship leader with the closing song does a lengthy “meh” recap of a perfectly good sermon when the service has already gone too long… Guilty.

Because I have some speaking points myself, btw. Always swirling about like loose phrases to a song I don’t fully know. I envision myself writing some ideas and dreams down one day… in a woodsy coffee shop (…I dunno) for days with focus powers I’ve misplaced the past 9 years and lots of room to spread out and no diapers in my purse and a suddenly adult-sized bladder so I don’t have to get up every 45 minutes and wonder if I should gather my things…no, I don’t want to lose my spot…but that’s my stuff…but I can’t decide cause I have to pee….is there a code for the door…seriously. The struggle is real.

Tonight, I wanted to share with you two things that say things better than I can (though I’m obviously going to keep trying-typing while I have you because that’s what I do) and speak to chords of my not-yet-sung heart.

The first is on Anne Lamott’s Facebook page. She posted it 13 hours ago, like she doesn’t make a living off of selling books, and just go read it. If you haven’t liked her yet, I honestly don’t know what you’ve been doing. If you are better than Facebook, congratulations, but just have a moral failure and silently join to like her and others like her and find the best of the Facebook. We’ll never know.

The second is much harder to read, but is related because Ashley Judd is also a strong, informed and admirable woman. She talks about using disagreement as an online invitation for our worst selves, our most impassioned insults and fearful (i.e. angry) places. She talks about suffering violence and finding help. She talks about self-care, much like Anne Lamott, and she is standing up against coupling disagreement with hate crimes, which has become quite popular in our typey world.

I’ve been thinking about this charming human trait quite a bit, most recently because of something that happened at my extended family’s Shack in the Woods. (I say this phrase with reverence and longing because it is very precious, well-kept and loved and I have not been there for years and years despite trying–living overseas and now in LA doesn’t help.  Said family’s values of procreating and outdoorsyness collide to make staying at the Shack in the Woods a very competitive event from what I can surmise.) In short, one of my younger siblings walked in to the cabin, out in the middle of no where, where one gathers buckets of water from the river, and found a “funny” or cartoon on the fridge with a very racially charged joke about Barack Obama. The sibling then returned to the car, violated and jarred by the posting, especially in a “safe” place, used by “safe” people.

This particular scenario was incredibly unfortunate and wrong, but also easily and directly addressed by my parents. The rule-makers of the cabin, as well as many family members, affirmed love and regret to my sibling and family for the experience and set new guidelines for the shared space. Other scenarios are not so localized. This story simply highlights the fact that in my experience, having a president who is black does not speak to our national progress as much as it has shown our propensity to publicly condone and proliferate racial prejudice under a facade of political right-ness. It has dumbed down republican sensitivity to racial bias because of the gradual and prevalent nuances that involve our president’s race with his political decisions and views. I see people liking, repeating, posting, and propagating sentiments that I believe they would not have formerly supported simply because their fundamental disagreement with the democratic party or Barack Obama has led them into arenas of biased media that far surpass politics. Perhaps it’s more honest. Perhaps they’re actually becoming more racist. Whatever the case, it’s entirely possible to respectfully disagree with Obama without racist innuendos but, clearly, it’s okay if you don’t do the work of sorting through all that critique.

I see the same thing in bias against women, which brings me back to the Ashley Judd essay. I watch women in leadership be treated like they are crabby bitches instead of wise and learned people with a unique and viable perspective. I see outspoken women torn down by comments and questions rooted only in their sexuality and physical beauty, or, at best, their role in the family. I hear affirmation of women rooted in physique and sex appeal years before metaphysical traits are honored.  I see women characterized as gossips and clucking hens while men have meetings upon meetings. I see voices of women outside of the academy limited to mommy-ness, homemaker-ness, or in relationship to the other gender, and a reluctancy to engage women in other subjects like, say, anything else. Meanwhile, our male counterparts can often enjoy respectful dialogue about anything from the bad call in the championship game to immigration reform. I notice that just like racial prejudice being coated in political rhetoric, it doesn’t take much for people’s sexist paradigms to come out under the guise of moral superiority or emotional maturity. And that’s if we’re lucky. Otherwise downright degrading comments and jokes are sure to get some laughs and shut her up.

That’s a long introduction to a graphic and powerful account offered by Ashley Judd. It’s not for the faint of heart but it’s true and it’s wrong. To me, it relates to the tolerance of racism as well as the abuse and discrimination of women; they are not the same but I am sick of their terrorism. They are both alive and well and socially acceptable in many convenient varieties.

I believe in people’s ability to be more diligent, more intolerant, and more like the 21st Century. I believe that the bullies on the internet should be shamed by the majority of us who know better and at times, yes, reduced to criminal sentencing. I hope she figures out a way to call an online apple an apple. I hope that my children grow up in a more equal and just world,  and I’m glad that strong and hard-fought voices like hers are helping.

Thanks for your time, especially you, Anne Lamott and Ashley Judd.

Sharing: Just for Kids?

It seems like adults all agree that kids should share but I’m not so sure if we all agree that WE should share.

After being a vocational missionary for about 8 years, attending a seminary and university that are leaders in their circles in promoting social justice and diversity, and living overseas, I have a pretty warped perception of privilege and power. Specifically mine.

While I would really like to think that I have given up a lot of privilege and power, I haven’t. It’s more than touting living simply, practicing incarnational ministry, and soaking up lessons from those who are underserved. You might be surprised to find out that living in a developing country says nothing about your detachment from worldly comforts and privilege. Sadly, I haven’t really scratched the surface and that is extremely hard for me to admit.

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No matter what lengths I go to separate myself from luxury or power that I was given by my upbringing, I could basically reclaim any of the things I have managed to lie down (not many) at any moment. And, even more upsettingly, the non-empirical effects of privilege– the way I see my options and time, the confidence and vocabulary I have, the relate-ability to those smack dab in the middle of privilege, the trust I have for authority, and the choice to deny or not deny my privilege–are inescapable.

Since attending Storyline, I have been wresting with how to share my privilege; I don’t want to deny it (thus insulting those with less privilege) and I don’t want to waste it (in thinking it’s mine, all mine, to enjoy). When I first arrived at the event, I was judgmental of the crowds and their privilege and homogeneity. But I knew deep down that that was ugly of me. It was over-simplification and I judge the things I fear in myself. I desperately don’t want to fit in in those situations but ultimately I cannot deny that I mostly do. And no one really cares about that as much as I do.

I’ve since been trying to think constructively about how to translate the culturally-embedded Storyline material to other contexts and what to do with the privilege I simultaneously enjoy and judge. Ideas have been swirling about and were given more substance as I read Christena Cleveland’s eye-opening Disunity in Christ. Despite its negatively-toned title, it bears hope and practical ideas of recovering a commitment to reconciliation in the segregated Church.

I have been grasping around, trying to think of how to share privilege in clear, lifestyle ways. As always, I want company in this. I need company in this. Is anyone else wanting to share some of the privilege you have (class, race, ability, gender, sexuality, age, nationality…)?

At the risk of being found simplistic, here are some ideas. 🙂 My starting lines to sharing better: 

1. Regularly invite people of different cultures to speak at your pulpit, class, and small group or (gasp) write on your blog.

2. Take someone without a wholesale membership with you and divvy up products if they so desire; share in the savings and mitigate the overhead cost.

3. If I were a man in any leadership position, even in a singular meeting, I would invite a female co-leader as frequently as possible and potentially fight for another position to be opened for her.

4. The next time you attend a training event or conference, invite someone to be your guest, who normally doesn’t have those opportunities. I would also like to ask them if there was anything that they are planning on attending that I could tag along to.

5. Instead of vying for position on a bus, in a line, or in a room, use your abledbody-ness to reserve a seat for the differently-abled, the elderly, the shy.

6. There’s always a line outside of our Ralphs for the shuttle service. I wonder if anyone would let me drive them and their groceries home.

7. Swallow the inconvenience of translation, not ending on time, or an adjustment to a 7-course church service or meeting to allow for a more inclusive time together that allows for translation without feelings of embarrassment or time strain.

8. Invite others to use your computer and internet for online job applications.

9. Go without things. Until you can afford two. Until you can afford four. Until you don’t need it any more.

10. Print text, order books and format powerpoint in large print, with two languages when remotely appropriate.

11. Quietly sponsor a retreat for a family, for a pastor, who does not have the privilege to afford reflection and space.

12. Dress down.

13. Accompany a single mom to some places she is interested in going; help with snacks, get the directions, manage the shopping cart.

14. When the remodel happens at your church or office, fight for a family, unisex, accessible restroom. Or five.

15. Use that camera, or recruit your friend, to take pictures of families, events, engagements and newborns who don’t have a professional photographer budget line.

16. Next time you travel, travel with someone who doesn’t travel.

16 is my favorite number so that is the deep reason I will stop there. Thoughts?

I am coming to terms with the facts that my privilege is not something I can bleach myself of, not something to be shamed by, nor something to soak in. It is a gift, and it can be shared. I can spread beauty and justice and mercy and in doing so, experience so much more Truth.

What are your favorite ways to share? What other ideas do you have for me?

Final Destinations

True discretion is impossible without true humility. – John Cassian

It is not my favorite time to leave the country for six weeks. And it turns out I’m not as awesome at international travel as I once thought.

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Sure I’ve flown to and fro “Africa” (isn’t that specific?) several times without a thought but there have been people at either of my final destinations meeting me at the airport. I actually cannot remember the last time I flew somewhere completely new, let alone with small children in tow. lt is humbling to be in this place. Where I am the one reading books, not knowing if the descriptions and characterizations are accurate. Where I am the one e-mailing a stranger, asking if diapers are available and tank tops are appropriate. Where I will probably be the one changing currency at the worst place possible. Somehow, subconsciously, I believed that living in a foreign country and having many European and Kenyan stamps in my passport would equip me for entering anywhere, including Central America, without hesitation or hiccup. As though bad Swahili would help us find our shuttle in Guatemala City. 🙂

We are going to learn a language. We are going to be tourists. We are going to stay with a family we don’t know.

It is going to be an adventure and I am sure that we will come through it better, stronger as a family, and much improved in Español. I am looking forward to actually being there. Historically, I have loved and embraced going to places less developed than I where live. It is just the actual going–the getting there–that is daunting. While traveling between worlds in high school and college used to be a nice transitional space of sleep and reflection, that flew out the window with the onset of Parenthood. Instead of wrestling with identity in the formerly beloved “transitional space,” I will be wrestling with a preschooler and Lap Child for a couple of plane rides, a lay over, a brief hotel stay, a couple shuttles, a bus ride, and a taxi ride. If we’re lucky.

Until then, I have been plodding away in preparations, not feeling very adventurous at all. Outwardly thinking through packing for a rainy climate and leaving our house. Inwardly feeling through how it would be to not have my friends nearby, whose proximity may deserve credit for my sanity on any given day. I’ve been feeling through what it means to miss some rituals and changes that are happening in our absence. Community events that mark time and grief and celebration. A wedding and birthdays, the birth day of our first nephew perhaps. The departure of our church planting leader and new organizational structures. For some, it would be a relief to miss most of these things. To me, it is disorienting.

Despite the revealing of many fears and insecurities, I am thankful for this Unknown. For the opportunity to study Spanish in a beautiful country that many of our friends here call Home. I am thankful for the adaptability and joy of our children, the blessing of our teammates, and the richness of the cultures of this city that all urge us “Go!” I am thankful that we will have one main task there instead of the five or so we juggle here and for the opportunity to take old friends called Travel and School off the shelf for a brief time again. I am thankful for the privilege and wealth that we enjoy that allows us to invest in Spanish in this intensive way and travel between countries with ease.  I am thankful that no matter how new the ground is, He promises to be there and give me sure footing.

We are not alone and though we are strangers, we are known. In, out, behind, before.  The mysteries and misgivings of this time are only upsetting because I too often deny and cap the uncertainties and wonder in my normal life. In going, I am forced to be conscious of subjecting myself to what may come, entrusting ourselves to His good care. In staying, I can easily convince myself of the myth of sequential, predictable safety and comfort.

I am thankful that this is all reminding me that I am not in pursuit of securing myths as padding around my life. That predictability is not my final aim and destination. I am glad for the reminder that no matter how involved and responsible I feel, time marches on and these are good times to become less entrenched. There is grace here, in the leaving, the packing, the learning. We move on.

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Believe it or not, here are a few things that just had to be done before we go. (I am convinced that if pretty garlands hung around the city, people would be happier.)

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The Man at my Gate

There is much more to being poor than I thought.

I don’t know much but I’ve been watching and learning and bothered long enough to understand a couple things a little. Poverty is more about power than possessions. It is an interesting fallacy that that the poor of America are characterized by the rich largely by their need for goods. If you ask them, they will talk about powerlessness, being voiceless, isolated, diminished. We have actually witnessed visitors going into homes in one of the underprivileged neighborhoods we work in who end up discounting the poor-ness of our host (which, apparently, was very important to the worthwhileness of the visit). Why? Because they had a nice TV or their kids had a new gaming device. If only. If only poverty was just about having stuff. It is about the 11th grader I met with for a while who never, with the help of her involved parent, could get answers from her guidance counselors and administrators about her missing test scores. It is about charges from the power company that are undocumented, unfounded, and unchallengeable. It is about the stark absence of carpool lane access in inner city Los Angeles except for the USC exit and the implementation of a new system that fines drivers if they do not research something online, print documents, and get to a particular office to buy a device.

One young man in our neighborhood explained being poor as having no space to reflect. That’s another thing I’ve noticed about being poor; quiet, isolated times of reflection seem to the culture and rhythm about as bizarre as a passion for curling is to me. A yearly personal retreat to evaluate my accomplishments and struggles the past year and then to articulate some new, exciting goals and dreams for the next? Some daily “me” time? Counseling after I witnessed that traumatic event on my street? Right. After the potholes are filled. After all the school bathrooms have toilet paper.

In addition to poverty being about power and space as much as or more so than any material want, it is also about race. The more I live here, the more I am aware that some of the rhetoric I believed about laziness, or bitterness, or apathy that explained whole groups of people being impoverished while others for the most part were not was terribly wrong. And racist and distancing. I once thought, yes, there’s still some racism, like in the south, and that is oppressive to the poor. But now I see that post-civil rights America is still widely and wildly addicted to racial discrimination and boundaries and that the over-privileged, me included, don’t even see most of the tell-tale signs. Because it hasn’t affected us and we are the standard and we don’t have to worry about contributing to negative, prescriptive, damning stereotypes at every turn. Most (as in 80% of) white people polled by Gallup in 2007, thought that black people got the same educational opportunities as their own kids. 49% of black people agreed. The average white family has 12 times as much wealth than the average black family in this country. In a study released in 2004, black and Latino males are three times more likely than white males to have their cars stopped and searched for drugs – even though white males are four and half times more likely to actually have drugs on the occasion when they are stopped. I know this isn’t fun. I object when I read these things. But I object for all the wrong reasons.

Before I fuel any more pre-existing thoughts that I have become a mouthpiece for the most liberal, Californian, ignorant democrat, social-gospel watered-down Christian and much worse, before I contribute any more to the distance between the privileged and the poor, or suggest that the picture of poverty that I am starting to absorb is all about doom, there are a couple other things I’ve noticed.

Yes, poor-ness is more about power than junk. And junk is easier to drop off at a donation center. But there’s a way to disperse power–to give up what the better-off inherited. There’s a way to share and I have seen it. To disengage from what we have long thought we earned and realize that it was originally taken. All will fade and all is a facade. There is a way to align ourselves with different power constructs and find true power in downward mobility, in crumbling the pyramid, in making small steps away from the trajectory of unjust systems established before us and perpetuated by us. I believe the Church should be the best at this Upset. That local bodies should be utterly confusing because power in the church was originally quite opposite than power in the world. “They had everything in common.” What school you went to or how deep your dad’s pockets are has very little relevance when you are telling all people (most of whom are completely different than you) about Jesus and helping each other administer and experience shalom. It doesn’t take a head pastor. It takes every member ministry. It takes ownership and generosity and messy beyond messy. One young woman recently challenged me with this question: “Do Christians all believe they are really called to live in the neighborhood they do?” Or did they land there. She lives in a community that outsiders say they cannot live in because they are not “called.” And the Upset is better for her.

There is also a method of reflection that those who are labeled “poor” have to teach the rapidly growing, urbanized, plugged-in, crowded world of the privileged. There are deep thinkers, solid hearts and epic storytellers here in the noise. People who remember, who know how to put down roots when the soil is barren and overlooked. People who do not require a beautiful landscape, a new album, or tranquil circumstances to pray, reach out, remember, or worship. They also do not require alone time because they have never had it. This is spirituality that money cannot buy. This is a fine strand – too rare but so precious – that the Christians who are poor have maintained across the globe through turbulent history and a sea of worldly disappointments. With or without the Red Sea splitting, they finger their way across in a real, earthy faith that is not afraid of lamenting and not afraid of premature celebration. It is a strand of tenacious spirituality that those who can pay for annual vacations (that carry the job of “reconnecting” and “renewal” until the next vacation) cannot buy. But the vacationers could worship beside it. They could look for it and ask about it and validate it. They could accept that the poor know a lot about the Jesus life and the Trinity and that meeting them means meeting Them in so many ways.

And there is a way to see people without dismissing their race nor holding it against them. There is a context in which a corrupt history of slavery, oppression, underdogs, disobedience, and all out hatred is part of the holy book of plot-twists, adoption and forgiveness. The Church, which hallows the Bible as its code, ought itself cycle through this story. This is Church. It is a bizarre context and one that is created faultily throughout human history, but it is what we have and how an infinite God has chosen to be displayed to the world, so poorly but unconquerably. There is a way to unlearn attitudes against other races and to challenge definitions our hearts disagree with but our behaviors have blindly reinforced. There is a way to repent, ask for forgiveness, mercy, from those who are still living the hell made by the sins of our forefathers.

I’ve probably made piles of errors and blunders but it is too much a part of Life here and Life there to shut up about because I don’t have things figured out. All I have for a modest proposal are simple questions. Questions we have wrestled with and wrestle with and will wrestle with. Questions I want to model asking for my kids. Who makes up my church and why? What are non-negotiables about my church experience and why? Are we or am I excluding groups of people inadvertently? What are characteristics of the daily life I live and why? What are daily behaviors I want to employ to contribute to the Upset? To ask forgiveness? To divest myself of flat, disconnecting estimations of the poor and align myself with attitudes that reconcile?

One thing I know for sure: the local church that is home equally to the poor and rich because they have lost sight of each other as such is holy ground. That church family is “thy kingdom come” and sanctuary and upset. That body has purpose and relevance for today and tomorrow.

“So tie me to a post and block my ears, I can see widows and orphans through my tears. I know my call despite my faults, And despite my growing fears. But I will hold on hope, And I won’t let you choke, On the noose around your neck. And I’ll find strength in pain, And I will change my ways, I’ll know my name as it’s called again.”

– The Cave by Mumford & Sons

“Yesterday I was alone/ Today you walk beside me/ Something still unclear/ Something not yet here/ Has begun./ Suddenly the world/ Seems a different place/ Somehow full of grace/…There are shadows everywhere/ And memories I cannot share/ Nevermore alone/ Nevermore apart/”

– Suddenly from Les Miserables Movie, 2012

Running

No one really tells you that when you become a mom, you know the heartbeat of your kid. Which means you know what they’re going to say sometimes before they do. Their smallest expression change is pregnant with meaning and it’s the most surreal and humbling thing to see yourself in your child. You don’t think they’ll ever get too big to hold and while you used to think the Mom in that Love You Forever book was psychotic, all of a sudden you feel sympathetic to her. No one explained that even if you’re doing five other things, something deep inside is relieved to subconsciously hear that they’ve stopped crying and let themselves fall asleep at nap time. Like something was ticking in your core, attuned to the crib upstairs without any clock or monitor to remind you. No one can prepare you for the level of empathy your own kids stimulate in your heart, towards them and towards others you never understood before.

No one really tells you what it feels like to carry bulky bags and children wherever you go and to notice those women without drool on their sleeves and who have a slender, cute purse as their only companion to Target. Furthermore, no one tells you when you ARE that solitary woman in Target that the drooly Mom with the brats feels just like she did when she was in your shoes. Only much more tired. (But not too tired to miss that look you threw her.) No one really tells you what it’s like to be perceived first and foremost as a wife and mom, oftentimes a 2-dimensional summation, when you spent most of your life achieving, proving, competing on your own, not defined by a human relationship, toe to toe with the other gender, becoming very self-sufficient and independent. No one warns you that you may be treated, even by yourself sometimes, that you traded in your intellectualism and seminary spirituality in exchange for a ring or cradle. But at some point, it will be important to know and argue that your mind and heart are the ones you’ve carried all your life; they are still active and deep and wanting. It’s not to say that wife and mom is a demotion or a disappointment as it’s the hardest, most complex setting I’ve even found myself in. It’s just that these are marathons with very few mile markers, cheerers, and route maps. And all your formal training was for another race, at least you thought it was.

No one tells you that, if you become a mom through pregnancy, losing control over your body can be painful and disorienting. Eventually freeing, but, in my experience, long after babies are weened. I have heard accounts of the mental trauma that mastectomies have on their survivors and while pregnancy and nursing are not so threatening and long-term by any means, I do have a little more understanding of how difficult it must be to lose a part of your body. Who we are or know ourselves to be is not so separate from the physical forms in which we live.

No one really tells you what it’s like for an entire day’s plans to be hijacked by a person who does not know any words. How within moments your babies will ruin and then make your day. Days take on properties of vapor, while the to-do list remains a heavy marsh. Some mornings I’m just left panting, upset at the clock, confused and disheveled but still terribly responsible for wee ones and our day. Then there are those days that Mercy sprinkles in where you do get to do the things you hoped for, feel like you know how to be a Mom, cook, do your hair (wonders!), have a good vibe with the husband, and basically you should write a book or something. And then the night hits. 8 hours of blurry crying, patting, potty trips, “It’s YOUR turn! I promise I’ve been up…like…ALL night!” and then at dawn, you “wake up” for the next day, properly humbled and reminded of this season’s limitations.

No one can tell you what it’s like to know the responsibility of shaping a little heart and world. How can I guide a soul when my own seems saggy? To feel so invested and so connected and yet so human and young at the same time. And then to negotiate how to do such a crazy thing in tandem with another person, who also has needs and who you expect things of. The ordinary comedy.

No one really told me any of this but I was not a good student previous to this test.  I know I wouldn’t have read this post seven years ago. Maybe I was told, or shown, but perhaps all the foreshadowing was lost on me or in Greek. And along with “when to call the pediatrician,” I didn’t study Greek in college. I admire others who are different, more open earlier than I, a little more gracious, a little less set, a little more reasonable.

I am learning to see differently. To cherish the uncertainty, to make peace with the mundane instead of allowing it to be so insulting. I am hoping to be a treasurer. Though sometimes I have wanted it different, I am surrounded by gifts and more gifts. I am sorry that I have struggled to accept them at times, distracted by other stories.

For what it’s worth, this is part of my race. I am learning to focus less on the aching knees, and faster runners. I am growing in wonder over the miracle of the run itself, of air coursing through the body, a working heart and the grace of stride.

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Children’s Books

One by one, along with toys, they are taking over my home. I do my best to purge and share and stow away when appropriate but gee-willakers, it’s a job. That, along with looking for lost toys, is basically my life. (And now you’re getting a glimpse as to why I would write to no one in particular in random spurts with little feedback…) 🙂

We are so fortunate to have this problem with books. It never occurred to me until I 1) had children 2) visited some of our neighbors’ homes  and 3) learned from some of early childhood education friends that having books around, even being given books as baby shower gifts, was not something to be taken for granted in our country. I remember visiting the home of a family who has since moved away and realizing that the kids didn’t all have pillows or dressers/hangers let alone books of their own. Coupled with the sad state of Los Angeles Public Schools in densely populated communities (as in, no toilet paper, torn books, etc.), was it any wonder why school didn’t seem like it was all that important to these kids?

Children’s books are a luxury and much more than a way to entertain and spend time with your babies. They truly are a stepping stone. I recently read that while middle-income neighborhoods boast an average of 13 books per child, low-income areas have a ratio of about one book per 300 children. I find this fact about our country embarrassing. The absence of books and other literacy-stimuli contributes to these kids entering kindergarten 12-14 months below the national language and pre-reading skill average. First Book is one non-profit seeking to close the discrepancy. I look forward to learning more about what our LA libraries are doing for these statistics and seeing how I can help. Ownership is big though; I am even more motivated to give books over toys now! If you have some extras you would like to relocate to a community like ours, I’d be happy to facilitate that!

As gift lists are constructed I thought it would be timely to suggest just a handful of our favorite (young) children’s books. These are books that Dante has returned to over and over at different ages and that Asher is now enjoying. There are so many books out there and, well, some of them stink. We don’t think these ones stink…

Don’t Touch, It’s Hot by Algrim – this really worked to help him understand HOT!

Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings, by Van Fleet – not your average texture book. Shapes meet animals meet texture meet flaps. Yeah, flaps!

What Do You See? by Krensky – very neat illustrations, made with recycled materials, about endangered animals. Also with flaps. 🙂

Ten Little Ladybugs by Gerth – 3D counting book with rhyming.

I’m a Big Brother by Cole – this truly helped Dante prepare for and understand Asher’s arrival. Girl equivalents exist. 🙂

Global Babies – unfortunately this book was left on the top of our car at one point and was relocated accidentally (I’m sure to a loving family…). Nonetheless, we remember it fondly and it was Dante’s fave. Fun exposure to different emotions and cultural dress.

Let’s Learn Our First Colors by Priddy Books – a magnetic learning book, this one is part game part book with picture magnets of common objects.

Happy gift giving, book sharing and, of course, reading.  🙂

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