My Brother and Me

It is an angry time and anger is my signature vice, according to the enneagram, and, maybe everyone, so I’m kind of in Anger TAG. Nbd.

I’m finding it is not an opportune time to be a Christian, a proponent of power/class/race reconciliation and civil discourse, and an outspoken woman because, aside from the obvious perils, there are many opportunities to just fall flat on my face in a puddle of hypocrisy and/or feel like I’m dying trying every. single. day. And I am likely judging people as I go down, disappointed, but I’m on the top of my own list. It’s not opportune because it’s excessively challenging, but maybe easy was never the point.

It’s not an opportune time to preach grace when there are so many landmines, mistakes, envelopes pushed and lines in the sand. I’m praying that in the midst of all this reckoning, we will regain our souls, our North, and forge a new identity as Christ followers. It hurts, like tearing off a bandage of superglue, but necessary for healing.

But in the meantime, we are human, and he is wrong, and I am hurt, and many of us are all doing it as openly as possible because we care and push has come to shove.

My brother and I have one of the most infamous and observably difficult familial relationships on Facebook that I know of. We have had periods where we decide it’s best to not be connected on that medium, present included. We have had other seasons where we respect one another’s corners and pay each other no mind…but there is a tipping point and undoubtedly we strike up a “conversation” for all to eavesdrop and weigh in on. We do this knowingly. Our dear parents try to busy themselves elsewhere, like kids do when the parents fight. Our conflict-avoidant family members grimace. Our younger siblings, who often have stakes, watch quietly. Our respective fan clubs help. It’s all very beautiful and sagely and calm, in the way mud wrestling or Black Friday doorbuster shoppers really just uplift the senses.

I have a point.

My brother and I have a tremendous amount in common. What we lack in shared DNA, we make up for in common experiences such as being adopted from South Korea as babies, living in Montana and Oregon, and then moving as pre-adolescents to equatorial Nairobi. After some international travel and a revival of sorts in our parents’ faith, we found ourselves in the low-key church public eye as missionary kids. We went to every sort of school, and ended up attending an international Christian school in Kenya, he for 7 years, me for 4. We were joined by three significantly younger siblings there, and watched the news of 9/11 from BBC reports and Kenyan news in a not entirely sympathetic student body. We’ve walked the sewered paths in urban slums; we’ve ridden through the savannah on roof racks, facing a herd of elephants. We’ve also both had the unique experience of moving back to the west coast of the US, attending private colleges and re-connecting with extended family, sending churches, and one another, while our parents and younger sibling remained overseas. Growing up we couldn’t agree on how to fold a shirt, or what should be packed to Kenya or where to go out for dinner, but no one has charted the same path we have traveled but for one another. And that has been a good gift and a wonder as we consider our unconventional stories thus far. It’s good capital to have in the bank as we navigate relating in our present political tumult.

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As adults, our experiences have diverged. He’s rural, I’m urban; he’s Air Force, I’m non-profit. He’s Wyoming, I’m California. We have spouses, kids, bills, wrinkles, and Facebook now. And we’re still growing up.

After a week of recent conflict, which first occurred on Facebook (as we do) and then behind the scenes through texting, my brother called me–aggressively. Like actually wanting to speak aloud. The typing interactions were not ugly but they weren’t exactly congenial. I had called (and by called, I mean I stated via text) for another Facebook break up, and he apparently doesn’t try to avoid the phone as a talking device like I do. I groaned as I answered.

He pursued. We talked and had a productive conversation. He understood more. I understood more. Fists were not raised. There were no one-twos or referees. There was a brother and a sister, who online, and in many other regards (for example, folding a shirt like a nincompoop or not), are opposites. In practice though, we both care an awful lot. I remembered his caring, loyal self. His investment and sympathy towards his community; his sacrificial work for a few, who’ve had a rough go. His reactions are mirroring my own undying commitment to a few, who’ve had a rough go. I told him I didn’t like his sources. He told me he doesn’t see the problems I do. We talked about Christmas.

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It reminded me of a recent Bible study I was a part of. The Sheep and Goats parable was discussed and one person had a different understanding of the passage than I have carried; the feeding, the visiting, the inviting, wasn’t as much a social and determining instructive to this man’s understanding as much as a natural fall out of being sheep already, and first and foremost the movement was towards those in the flock, the “brothers” of the ESV. This person is learned and wise, and while I differ from his interpretation, I let the tension be. I know the habits of this man. He is loving, sacrificial, and spends extra time in prisons, with the least of these, opening his door to the poor in spirit. Truly, naturally, he is practicing in the way of the sheep of this parable, of those who the Lord recognizes as His. By word, I may feel more comfortable with twenty other Christians’ read but their actions may show nothing. I’d prefer the first arrangement.

Like him, my brother’s life, in practice, is not opposite in character than my own. We have seemingly opposing environments, lifestyles, and definitely opposing media images but I am comforted by his love for others. For all that is behind the scenes, for all the similar that no sharing of articles can confirm nor deny. And not because he’s more like me than I thought, but simply because he’s striving to be loving to his people, including me. And in doing so, he helped me develop better empathy and understanding. And gave me the opportunity to do the same. Cheyenne to Los Angeles. Seoul to Nairobi. Who knows what the future holds.

The truth is tangled. Our anger gets misrouted. People are usually much different than in the 2-dimensional spaces we observe them, and this is generally a good thing. Our relationships are really at risk. I wanted to share these stories with you because I can talk in broad strokes about faith, and loving others. I can champion the underdog in my way, promote civil discourse, and preach giving the mic to those with less power… but I’m in the trenches of this too. If I lose the ability to relate with people closest to me in the midst of activism, I have missed the mark.

In case it wasn’t clear: I mess up all the time. I’m still writing midway. I’m making mistakes, I need grace, and I am learning and falling, and learning too. Despite all the errors of the past couple weeks, heck hours, there are good things about push coming to shove. Anger and discourse are necessary for there are a lot of things to be vigilant about if our faith matters a bit. In the midst of the fight, pushing in, like my brother did, is better than writing off. Pushing in will help us get there, without losing each other.

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(This was posted with my brother’s blessing.)
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An Untethered Courage

Courage, courage
Is what the Life and Deaths
Of Faith
Require.

There have been times in life that make us feel courageous, that we are courageous people, perhaps by the grace of God but also perhaps by our own virtue.

These are rarely the times of true courage.

It seems that true courage, or the next courage, feels crappy. It is not when the mission is utterly clear, when the sacrifices are distinct, and the rewards are quick to the tongue. Sure we were exhausted, sure those were good callings and brave steps, but we were comforted by many assurances that this new courage may leave behind. I suspect that true courage is found in its purest form in the ambiguity, in the dry mouth of shock and the straining eyes of “what is next?”

In and around me, I see the battle cries. The ones dismissing people from faith, from understanding Scripture, from their circle of trust, because it’s all too foreign. The ones setting a church over another, handing out excommunication slips with the slip of the tongue, freely and full of pity. The ones buckled to a certain position on a temporal issue, that is of course higher in the heavenly rungs of Babel than the next. I hear the scraping of lines being drawn, in the sand, on the cement, in people’s flesh and blood, raw with passion, rightness and self-aggrandizement. And blood, blood, is everywhere. Under a shoddy understanding of courage and conviction, we enclose ourselves in echo chambers that murder any shred of a will we had to understand and be curious about the Other. And I can’t find eternity and I don’t know a Divine voice.

I have been in the debates. I have defended my view, easily attacked the opposing side, dismissed a fellow Christian, felt full of my own rightness and bravery, thought my choices were all probably going to trump theirs whenever the scoring took place. I care very much about many of the “issues” at hand and many of the rights and wrongs worrying the Church today. But I have lost the courage I knew before—the courage that emboldened me to argue much, for long, in the face of the echo chambers. I have gone through enough (dare I hope?) disappointment the past two years to have to face a different type of courage I must learn. For me, it is one that requires more faith, more silence, and less stability.

This courage is less rewarding. It is a grueling morning of dragging one’s body awake, into the naked air, squinting at the abrasive, unrelenting Light, and slowly, resigned and resolute, adding “well” to the “it is” of the night before.

This is the new, next courage.

A courage that is craved and imitated poorly.

From the looks of it, this courage is less likely to call a person an enemy and less likely to be productive in the ways I’ve practiced. It seems that this courage is going to ask me more about Forgiveness and less about Rightness. It may mean the death of some discussions and the start of better ones. It’s going to scoot my actions and activism to the side, not to expire them but to bleed out the toxins of loyalty to any one culture above one Kingdom.

And in this new courage, I recognize that old friend grace—that soulful desire for embrace and being embraced continues, a metaphor Miroslav Volf explains by “the will to give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, prior to any judgment about others except that of identifying them in their humanity.” And speaking of identity, this courage does not rest in any resumé entries, from schooling to fostering to missionarying to mothering to developing. It just is. Alone. Without promises, untethered by the things to which I like to tether.

Perhaps you too are deflated from the night, from the pile of “it is”-s of the past. All of those debates and deaths and doings that have left us undone. And daylight is awakening a profound discontentment. If this courage makes sense in your new year too, if the morning is also brash and there are a lot of untethering things, not least of all your self, that you’re wanting the Divine to make well, let’s ask together, What is courageous in this place? What deaths and no’s or new-life yesses does a new-courage faith ask?”

“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1:18b-20

Quote from Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p. 29.