Confession

** In the wake of the marches on Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11th and 12th I have decided to write about my journey (still in progress) of divesting myself of whiteness, and some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Before getting in to discussions explicitly pertaining to race, I believe it will be helpful to begin here – with a conversation on confession. 

I am a child of the American church. I was born into a United Methodist Church. I spent midweek mornings as a young child in an Evangelical Presbyterian Church while my Mom attended Bible Study. I spent evenings during elementary and middle school attending AWANA clubs at a Southern Baptist Church. The karate class I took was housed in a Pentecostal Holiness Church. My youth group years were smattered across time in Evangelical Presbyterian, Southern Baptist and Willow Creek-inspired churches. During college I was involved in Baptist Student Union, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Campus Crusade for Christ. I have history in U.S. evangelical Christianity. It birthed me, it raised me and it gave me many gifts.

One such gift, is understanding the place for confessing sin. I heard about it every Wednesday night without fail during the Bible study portion of AWANA. Whomever was speaking would end their lesson with an “invitation” – as any good Southern Baptist would – some more jarring than others. The consistent theme in all of the invitations was the opportunity to confess ones sins to God and receive forgiveness. I did this when I was twelve. I was too embarrassed to even raise my hand, as the speaker had requested. Having established quite an excellent reputation at church throughout my elementary school years, I felt like I would be letting everyone down if they knew I had been doing this from a place of self-service rather than obedience to God. So I confessed quietly, in my heart, in my own chair and never said anything to anyone.

I shared a similar practice of confession with people on the beach in Panama City, Florida during spring break in college. Armed with a colorful packet of artistically shot photographs, I marched out on to a beach full of college students to invite them in to conversations about spiritual things over a beer. Except, they were the only ones drinking. I remember sitting cross-legged on a beach towel while debating the existence of God with a guy a few years older than me. His face pink and warm from the sunshine and alcohol. In my head, I silently judged him for his drunkenness and the profanities he wove into our conversation, and I prayed in my head he would confess his sins. He didn’t. And neither did I.

I had forgotten that sitting in a place of self-elevation and judgement of another isn’t the Way Jesus showed us to live either.

My experience of church has always been one where confession was something we talked about a lot, but practiced very little. The unspoken message beneath the weekly invitation was that if you had prayed the words of confession printed on the back of the bulletin once, then you were set for all of eternity. There was also little need for being specific about what we were confessing either. I learned to view humanity through a lens of “total depravity” which, at that point, I understood to mean that I and everyone else was completely sinful and broken and needed total forgiveness. When you believe everything about yourself is wrong and sinful and ugly, you don’t have to practice discernment or be specific when you confess. I had prayed and confessed that I was terrible and wretched without specification silently when I was twelve, so there was no need for further practice of confession as far as I knew.

Five years ago I stumbled upon the Book of Common Prayer, which records prayers and liturgies Christians have prayed and followed for hundreds of years. It gives a structure to a persons’ prayer life and guides a persons reading of Scripture. One of the prayers I discovered in the book was the prayer of confession, to be prayed – according to some – daily:

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.”

Confession for things I have left undone? Confession as part of my daily rhythm of prayer? This was new to me.

Slowly though, I began to develop a sensitivity to the things this prayer spoke to, the ways in which my life does not line up with the example of Christ in the things I think, the words I say, the things I do and the things I fail to do. As I began to come to an awareness in myself of those things, I also began to be able to articulate them to others.

As I begin to look at the ways in which white supremacy is interwoven in to different aspects of our culture and worship in the U.S. I want us to begin here, with confession. Discussions around race and justice are challenging, and can often leave us feeling paralyzed. Confession is one of the paths out of paralysis. In Twelve Step programs, the first steps are to admit powerlessness, seek a Higher Power, turn ourselves over to God for God’s care and then to take a “searching and fearless” inventory of ourselves.

For many who, like me, grew up in evangelical Christian traditions, our faith called us to the first three steps. We realized we were powerless to sin – in such ambiguous terms – and called upon God to save us. Many of us stopped there though, because our sin often tore apart our lives in subtleties and we believed ourselves recovered because our brokenness was not as visible as some. In these tense times though, we are invited to continue working the process. To take a searching and fearless inventory, in this case of the ways in which we are complicit in the system and practice of white supremacy.

May we continue to show up fearlessly to face injustice and evil wherever it lies in wait whether in our country, our cities, or in our own hearts.

 

Photo credit: Bored_Grrl.

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Riding in on a donkey

“It just all seems so…divided.”
The descant rolls on and on from so many of my friends and peers; believers from all walks of life.
The words are paced with shocking consistency. They are set to a meter like a metronome, the rise and fall undifferentiated.

And it’s true, I can’t remember a time in my short life when things seemed this hotly debated and starkly contrasted in the “big C,” universal Church.  We can barely even break bread with one another any more, and you can just forget about even suggesting we discuss some topic of significance while we feast on the bread and wine.

But maybe, just maybe, Jesus knew it was going to be like this all along.

Perhaps this is why He took the time to pray that we would be one and He and the Father are one.

Perhaps we need only to look to the coronation procession of our King to see what kind of march His kingdom would have.

Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey…”
Declares the prophet Zechariah as quoted in the book of Matthew.


Image

Photo: Sea Turtle via Flickr

Have you ever seen anyone try to ride a donkey?

Or just watched someone try to lead or direct a donkey to a certain location?

It’s comparable to herding cats or catching chickens or getting small children to stand in a straight line, only it’s slower, smellier, more awkward and you may get kicked.

Can you imagine how long it would have taken for Jesus to parade into Jerusalem?

Did the donkey balk at the crowds, stubbornly refusing to budge in any direction?

Was the animal braying loudly as the people cried “Hosanna!” nearly drowning their praise with its own contribution to the chorus?

I’ve heard people talk about the significance of the donkey multiple times, how the donkey was a sign that Jesus was coming in peace, not with the political, militaristic take over they expected the Messiah to have.  That the donkey shows us Christ’s humility.  And these things are true.

But as Christ marches into the city, a royal procession to ring in the new and yet coming kingdom, He chooses to ride in on the most awkward, misstepping, stubborn creature possible. (Which sounds incredibly liken to another creature I know of that has been commissioned to carry Christ to the masses.)

Maybe as He rides in on a donkey, Jesus isn’t just making a statement of peace or humility, maybe He is once more poetically, prophetically declaring “The Kingdom of God is like…”  as He did so many times before.

The Kingdom of God moves painfully slow…
Like a kingly procession mounted on donkeys.

The Kingdom of God is awkward and wayward…
Like a colt not yet ridden.

I imagine the entry into Jerusalem looked less triumphant and more gauche.
The Word that called the donkey into being now coaxing it one deliberate step forward at a time.

Isn’t this what the Kingdom of God is like?

That Jesus coaxes us forward, one step at a time?  Slowly, graciously, with heart wrenching patience.

This Kingdom does not come swiftly with domineering power and prestige, but slowly, with obstinance binding each move.  The King gently nudging us along.

As we step into a week of remembrance, I think back on the things I would rather forget in the history, and deny in the present, of the global Church.

The oppression and violence of the Inquisition.

The Crusades.

The Salem Witch Trials.

Culpability with slavery and genocide on several occasions.

Our affinity for segregation of many kinds.

Yet, even in remembering the seemingly irreconcilable mess of misguided worship and injurious evangelism of my Kingdom, I find hope.

Because the King is riding in on a donkey.

This slow, awkward, reluctant gait is how Jesus chose to usher in the Kingdom in the first place.

So we live in anticipation of the coming King and His beautiful, terrifying, upside-down Kingdom.

The lament of division and tension rolls on while we cut down our brothers and sisters as though they were palm branches to wave on high, creating a spectacle. But even now, in the midst of all this, we join in the ancient chorus “Hosanna! God save us! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We raise a ruckus and lay down the very clothes off our back because we can see in a distance the King is coming.

…But He is riding on a donkey.

#Justice: A Peek into Urban Violence w/ Megan Westra

“Do you feel safe?”

Well, not always.
I’m getting used to it now. The wide eyes and once-in-awhile gaping mouth. “Where do you live?”
I live in the inner city. On purpose. And I have no plans of leaving.

I have been robbed five times. I have witnessed a drug deal while sitting on my front porch. My block has been taped off with police line while the cops hunted down an armed assailant.

This is the inner city people think of when I talk about where I live, and they’re right. That is part of it.

There is violence and corruption in the inner city, but that’s not all there is…

Read the rest at A Sista’s Journey. 

Owned (A Lenten Meditation on Excess and Simplicity)

fashion

Photo: 28 Dreams via Flickr

I’ve found myself altogether discontent lately.

Maybe it’s just that I’m tired of wearing snow boots and my sub-zero parka every day.

Maybe it’s just that the sunlight never seems to come bright enough, for long enough.

Maybe it’s that as I pound out miles on the treadmill, unattainable images of which to measure beauty by flash on the TV in front of me.

I turn it off and toss my sweatshirt over the display, but the images still play through my mind.

Nothing is right.

My clothes seem stained or outdated.  The sole on the toe of my boot is coming undone.  The circles under my eyes hang heavy, despite the amount of sleep I get.  The curve of my body seems altogether not right.

My first thought is to update.

What new product can I buy?  What piece of clothing is my wardrobe missing?  How can I cover and change and contort the curves of my body and lines of my face?

How can I hide?

I am told, over and over as my feet pound on and on that this or that or some other thing will fill the hole, will make it okay.

The treadmill hums beneath me while an immaculate blonde woman explains the trends for this spring.  How eight simple pieces can carry you through the season.

I take mental notes.

hummmmmm. hummmmmm. hummmmmm.

Discontent and dull.

Like the snow stuck on the side of the road for too many months now.

I click and browse after putting Cadence to bed.

New lines, new fits, new colors, all promising what I’m lacking.

I find myself in a store.

I go through and try on shirt after shirt, a dress and new jeans.  I check the stickers and can’t justify it.

Pesky numbers.  I know how many children that sum would feed.  I know that the price would help a woman my age anywhere else start her own business, or send her child to school.

I check the tags and know the way laborers are treated in those factories.  Bangladesh. India. Thailand.  I think of the women and men and children who likely won’t see a cent from the sale of these articles of clothing they – quite literally – slaved over.

I put the items back and leave the store.

Going home, I empty my closet.

Shoes and skirts and pants tossed into paper grocery bags.

I head to the mission immediately, before I can reconsider.

Before I can talk myself back in to “maybe wearing that sweater someday.”

Before I think of an excuse to keep those shoes around “just in case.”

Dropping the bags, the sun seems brighter.  My own parka and snow boots don’t seem so bad.

I find myself thankful for their warmth and protection from the biting wind in late February.

It make me wonder…

If I’m told a million ways each day that what I wear and look like, what I paint my face with and what fills my closet, that these are the things that bring me happiness.  Yet, they leave me empty and only wanting more.  If I’m told that I am worth what I purchase and ultimately what I own, yet feel lost with these things, then who, really, is the owner?

It’s a constant battle.  I work continuously at convincing myself that the discipline it takes to live simply is worth it.  Keeping up with the Jones’s would be much easier in some many respects.

I know this though, that I am worth – we are all worth – more than sparrows and fields of flowers, more than any splendor in nature or made by the hands of humanity.  We have been bought with the highest, greatest price and ascribed worth beyond measure.

Why would I settle to be owned by anything less that the Creator and Sustainer of my very being?

A slightly more empty closet, and a few less knick-knacks about the house, and I find myself seeing things through a mirror slightly less dim.

I realize I am owned by the things I think belong to me.  That more often than not, I am possessed by my possessions.

But this is, of course, what Lent is for; it’s why we are called and commanded to live simply.

And like so many things in this life following the servant Messiah, the way out seems awkward and against every intuition.

Contentment lies not in finally obtaining that which I long for, but in seeing unveiled all I truly have and perhaps (more often than not) sharing much of what has been entrusted to my care.

Because I am the owner of nothing, and it’s only in realizing this that I find freedom from being owned.

Heartbroken, Yet Still in Pursuit of Justice

I am an eternal optimist.

I look for the best in people. Always.

My greatest bent in life is to look for the ways in which things and people, systems and structures may be restored.

I just see hope and potential everywhere.  Brokenhearted people, antique furniture, neighborhoods crumbling under the foreclosure crisis, students who have fallen through the gaps in the education system.

It is through these rose-tinted lenses that I encountered Gary Haugen’s new book The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. 

In The Locust Effect Haugen paints a sobering picture of the effects of violence on the world’s poorest residents.  As the former director of the United Nations Special Investigations Unit on the Rwandan Genocides and current president of International Justice Mission, Haugen is confronted with heartbreaking stories and harrowing realities as often as I am confronted with the challenge of navigating a two-year-old melting down in the grocery store.

The Locust Effect digs in to the nitty gritty of global development, the decidedly unsexy side of addressing poverty.  There are no no quick fixes or easy answers to be found.

“Indeed, for the global poor in this century, there is no higher-priority need with deeper and broader implications than the provision of basic justice systems that can protect them from the devastating ruin of common violence.  Because as anyone who has tasted it knows, if you’re not safe, nothing else matters.” 

I’ve heard campaigns and bought t-shirts, music albums, pairs of shoes and coffee served in red-colored cups all in the name of doing justice in the developing world.

Buy this shirt and help build a school!

Buy this brand of water and help dig a well!

Your paper-bead necklace supports a small business owned by this widow in Kenya!

This red-colored coffee cup will help cure HIV/AIDS!

It all fit so well in my rose-colored, hope-in-any-circumstance, glass-half-full kind of world.

But then I read about the village of La Union in Peru, where in just one week a medical examiner may see as many as 50 rape victims between the ages of 10-13.

I read about the 27 million slaves kept in bondage in the world today, and how their owners are not lurking in dark alleys.  They are announcing their fierceness and violence toward their slaves unabashedly in the streets.

I read that the most common crime committed against children in South Africa is rape.

I read that, horrifically, schools in the developing world are often places of sexual violence toward the girls who attend them in hopes of gaining an education.

As I read, my half-full-glass began to crack and seep.  A slow, sorrowful trickling from the glass and from the corners of my eyes alike.

I had all but convinced myself that magic bullets exist.

I moved into the inner city of Milwaukee four years ago, and fully believed that if we only moved closer to the pain and suffering of others that our proximity would bring restoration.

I read Half the Sky and believed if we could only educate children – boys and girls equally – around the globe, then our communities would be stronger and our hope for the future would be realized.

But there are no magic bullets.

There are no quick fixes.

Our t-shirts, bottled water choices, paper bead necklaces and red-colored cups of coffee cannot ultimately change the world.

They can help.

But as Haugen points out, unless there is a functioning justice system in place in communities in the developing world, any efforts to improve education or access to water, to jumpstart small businesses for single mothers or address health concerns like HIV/AIDS will ultimately be consumed by violence, like locusts bringing havoc on a field ripe for harvest.

“We need to fundamentally change the conversation.  Whenever we speak of global poverty, we must speak of the violence imbedded in that poverty…
In every forum, conference, classroom, policy discussion, think tank, blog, or dinner table conversation where global poverty is center stage, the problem of violence deserves equal time with hunger, dirty water, disease, illiteracy, unemployment, gender discrimination, housing, or sanitation because for the poor, violence is every bit as devastating and is frequently the hidden force undermining solutions to these other needs.”

WIth such overwhelming statistics and gut-wrenching stories The Locust Effect left me wondering a bit about what I could practically do to engage – and hopefully change – such dire circumstances for people around the world.

I’m all for starting conversations and raising awareness, but what more can I do?
(Since, let’s be real, I’m not going back to law school and moving to Peru anytime soon.)

I was encouraged, though, to hear in an interview discussing The Locust Effect Gary Haugen sighting the influence and importance of Millennials in the fight against injustice.

“I think this actually can be the generation that eliminates this epidemic of slavery that we have in the world. This could be the generation, but that will require their capacity – our capacity – to be committed to the stretch of our lives to see that this problem is dealt with.”

The step right now in the journey toward justice?  Adovocate.  Tell the stories. Make the conversations happen.
This may not seem like much sometimes, but this is our role at this moment and we must be faithful to it.
The journey we’re embarking on is a long one.  Slavery and oppression and the stripping of human dignity have been around for centuries.  But rather than be discouraged by the magnitude of the problem, let us be encouraged in the steps we personally can take today.  To open our eyes, to lean in, to let our hearts ache, to tell our circles of influence what we have seen.
The path to freedom and wholeness for humanity is a marathon, not a sprint.  I’m training for a half-marathon right now, and some days all I can focus on is putting one foot in front of the other mile after tediously long mile.

This is our call, generation.  My millennials, in the house.  That we would be faithful, step after step, mile after mile of this journey.  That we would not grow tired of running the race.  That the stories of the victims and the freed would ever be on our lips.  That we would be “committed to the stretch of our lives.”  Every last breath given in some way to seeing dignity and wholeness granted to each person on earth.

Your turn.

You can start to make an impact on the epidemic of violence against the poor today.  How?
1) Read The Locust Effect and get informed.  If you purchase a copy of the book by tomorrow, February 15th, a partner of IJM will donate $20 to help fight violence against the poor.
2) Spread the word.  Link to this blog and to http://www.thelocusteffect.com to help get the word out and inform other people.
3) Stay engaged.  Let your heart break for this daily.  Do not grow tired of speaking up and getting the word out.  We need you in this for the long haul.

I’m giving away one free copy of The Locust Effect to a reader, just follow the instructions below for your chance to win this paradigm shifting book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

#Justice: A War Cry Against Gender-based Violence

I grew up idyllic and carefree in a valley just beyond the coal fields in West Virginia.

I heard about abuse, I read about it, I knew that it sometimes happened. That sometimes a woman would get beaten by a boyfriend or husband. I knew about rape, but it never happened in my world. It was a far off “other” thing that you only thought about when you were already sad and needed that one more gut-wrenching thought to push the tears over the brim of your eyelids.

I never would have imagined the scope and magnitude of violent acts committed against a person simply because she happens to be female.

Read the rest of this post over at A Sista’s Journey.  

Weekend Reading

Rape Culture in the Church
We Christians care a great deal about modesty, but we teach it in a way that is completely backwards.
I want to tell you that it is not a woman’s responsibility to prevent men from lusting. Not to mention, telling women to “cover up” for the sake of helping out their brothers in Christ is demeaning to both sexes…
Men, I don’t know about you, but I’m highly offended by the implication that your brain is next to your balls. If men become animals and lose all self-control at the sight of a suggestively-dressed woman, and seemingly have no ‘choice’ but to either lust after her, or assault her, then what we’re saying is that the default status of all men is ‘rapist.'”

Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21
“teach your child that his or her ‘no’s’ are to be honored. Explain that just like we always stop doing something when someone says ‘no’, that our friends need to always stop when we say ‘no’, too.  If a friend doesn’t stop when we say ‘no,’ then we need to think about whether or not we feel good, and safe, playing with them. If not, it’s okay to choose other friends.”

Friendly Fire
“So, angry, debating ladies… here’s the thing. My daughter is watching me AND you to learn what it means to be a woman. And I’d like her to learn that a woman’s value is determined less by her career choices and more by how she treats other women, in particular, women who are different than she is. I’d like her to learn that her strength is defined by her honesty and her ability to exist in grey areas without succumbing to masking her insecurities with generalizations or accusations. And I’d like her to learn that the only way to be both graceful and powerful is to dance among the endless definitions of the word woman… and to refuse to organize women into categories…”

Protecting Children from Toxic Stress
“Almost all of the parents that Child First works with (mostly single mothers, but sometimes fathers or grandparents) have experienced trauma themselves. They’ve grown up with limited models for understanding their children’s behavior. ‘What often gets missed,’ observes Judy Adel, one of Child First’s clinical directors, ‘is that every mother says, ‘I want something better for my children.’ They just don’t know what it looks like.'”

Milwaukee: A Hub for Child Sex Trafficking
“about 15 percent of men nationwide have purchased sex. He cites a study from the Shapiro Group in Atlanta in which about four percent of would-be johns asked for an adolescent prostitute – but about 42 percent accepted one when offered.”

Dear Patriarchy
I see girls running, free and loved.

I see women, their full size. Not shrinking, not over-compensating. Not hiding.
Not cowering. Not covering.
I see women taking our place where we belong. Owning our power.

Not power at the cost of another. Not your kind of power.
Not your kind that takes, starves, cuts, diminishes, demeans, hates, wars, orders, chokes, enslaves.

I see a power that brings, enlarges, serves, sees and loves.”

 

5 (Dead) Women Every Egalitarian Should Know
“‘Above all else, it places the current trends of the church in historical perspective…While the feminist movement has had a significant impact on the more liberal churches that have in recent decades granted full equality to women in ministry, it has not necessarily been the motivating force behind the Evangelical women who have sought ordination and leadership positions. Women in Evangelical churches have a long heritage of seeking (and sometimes obtaining) meaningful positions in the church for the purpose of serving God more effectively.'”