Not An Ally: Getting to Work

3378vangoghvine_00000002657I didn’t come into an awareness of my racialized self until late college, and didn’t really engage the issues around it until seminary, and even then wrestled with whether there was a third way beyond the black-white paradigm of racism because it felt like there wasn’t space for me. For my parents. For my siblings and cousins. Stories of picture bridesVincent Chin and the LA Riots haunted me. Where do we fit in? I would often ask myself. We’re not white or black but the whites treat us like we’re black unless we “act” white and the blacks treat us like we’re white unless we “act” black. It wasn’t until the murder of Trayvon Martin that I began to realize that it is undeniably, in Jon Stewart’s words – “black and white.” That anti-black racism is alive and flourishing. 

It took me a while to get there but it’s all a process, right? To realize that it’s not oppression olympics and that there’s no way to compare the impact of antiblack racism and simply, white supremacy. The three pillars of white supremacy are intertwined but separate and distinct – the one thing in common is the notion of white heteropatriarchy and supremacy as the norm. It’s the center. Bottom line. Full stop.

I woke up the morning after the #ameshooting in Charleston to my Facebook and Twitter covered in photos of the terrorist killer and stories about the nine dead and … whining, screaming kids already going at it outside my door. I couldn’t take it. I did my own crying and screaming all the way down to the kitchen trying to get breakfasts and lunches together, trying to get them to stop shoving each other, trying to get them to put clothes and shoes on and get ready for camp.

After I yelled at them for the 518th time to stop hitting, stop pushing, stop crying I stopped and took a breath. I pulled out my laptop and queued up the newscast video from NBC and told them:

“Last night a bad man (Should I have called him a bad man? Should I have called him a white man? Should I have called him a bad white man? A troubled man? An angry man? A mean man?) walked into a church with a gun and shot and killed 9 black people.

It was a church like our church (Should I have compared the church to our church? Should I make any comparisons even for the sake of understanding? I shouldn’t have said like our church) that we go to every Sunday. The people were sitting together praying and reading the Bible and he walked in and killed (I’m not sure they know what kill means? Should I have not brought up guns?) them. Now there are people who won’t see their mommy or daddy or brother or sister or son or daughter anymore (What does this even mean?).”

They were quiet. Commercials about body lotion and luxury cars came on in between videos of the newscast that derailed the conversation. The twins asked questions. Anna asked, “Did the man shoot Jesus?” Desmond said, “Your hair is black.” Anna said, “Is the man going to shoot our church?” Desmond asked, “Can I have pretzels?”

Ugh. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything?

Eventually, they figure it out, assures Seth, a writer-friend of mine, who shared a story with me about his eldest son asking about the confederate flag, what it is and why it’s all over the South. He basically walked his son through the Civil War. Thinking through the ideological conflicts and what the flag represents even today, the son asked: “The people who still display these flags – aren’t they traitors to the country?” Seth replies, “That’s a really good question, isn’t it?”

This is the work. With my own kids. Even if I have no idea how they’ll respond and what kinds of questions they’ll ask me. Even if it means taking them to protests and demonstrations and have them shout “Black Lives Matter” with me when they don’t totally understand the words. Even if they fall asleep in my arms as we stand in vigil for lives that were lost this past year. Even if we sit in the pews of an unfamiliar church in town to pray for a similar church in Charleston, South Carolina.

We tell them the right stories. We tell them the real stories.Click To Tweet

We show them how we live and love and what we believe by speaking up and pointing out that those flags need to come down. Now. Why? What we say or do or pursue – it matters.

Because part of the work is yes, making space and listening, but now is also the time for so much more as Rev. Tawyna Denise Anderson calls us to in this movement. Now is the time TO SHOW UP (yes, I’m shouting). Now is the time for not cringing and shying away from the “awkwardness” of race conversations, now is the time for calling it EXACTLY WHAT IT IS then talking and questioning, now is the time for the messy work of tearing down and building back up again. As my sister Austin says, “I need you to know those are the only two choices. There is no such thing as neutrality. You are either nurturing love or hate. There is no middle ground, no third way, no alternative.” Austin, Micky, Darnell, Broderick, Denise, Laura, Chanelle, Michelle, Christina, Monica, Bridgett, Mashadi, Nyasha, Grace, Kimm, LeQuita, Tara, Cheni, Erick, Derrick, Kesha, Kwame, LaMont, Jessica – I’m in this with you.

So, right now, for the kids, “it’s the bad man who shot the nine people.” Later maybe it’ll be “the white man who shot and killed nine black people.” Then maybe it’ll be “the white American terrorist who murdered nine black people in a church.” It’s a process for me. It’s a process for them. And by God they will get there, and they will be working right alongside us. And it’s going to be in the church where we learn these stories and perspectives, too.

It is, precisely, because race and racism is a reality, and because of everything that has come out of those constructs are ongoing, that we need to talk, write and catalyze these conversations in order to become aware of the depth of this disease, even as it has infected the church. – Ruth-Aimee Rosario-Belonni

No more talk of allies. We’re hitting the ground running every single day. We’re going to see it and call it out every single day. We’re getting in the trenches with our brothers and sisters every single day. I don’t care if people question my motives or methods, or question my platform, or question my mistakes because fuck, I’m going to make a ton of mistakes a long the way but that’s no excuse, or question my expertise or background or my investment because I’m not black. I don’t have time for that – you’re either in this now or you’re in the way. It starts now every single day whether I’m in college, seminary or the mother of three children who aren’t even five years old.

KEEPING IT REAL: Jon Stewart on Charleston Church Shooting! It’s like Jon Stewart is the only white dude with a name who keeps it real and has the back of the wrong doings happening to black people.

Posted by ROCK-SOLID on Thursday, June 18, 2015

Do Justice: Reclaiming Mission Trips

I have lately had my doubts about church mission trips.

But it’s been a while. Like 4 years and 3 months, to be exact – which is how old the twins are at the moment – finally after this long stint away I went to West Virginia with the lovely good folks from First Presbyterian Church. My mind was all over the place with stories about #dejarriabechton and #racheldolezal and #freddiegray and #tamirrice and then we were helping with VBS at the local Presbyterian church where the main verse was the familiar Micah 6:8. Do justice. How do we do justice? I kept turning this over in my mind. I’m thinking about restorative justice and transformative justice and racial justice and reproductive justice and social justice. All really important. Still. As much as I theorize and criticize the white savior complex, the nonprofit industrial complex, the christian mission trip complex (might as well throw that in right now), I had forgotten about the complexity of feelings and dynamics that happen on these kinds of trips. Like:

The feeling of the sun wringing the sweat out of my skin so that no matter how much water I drink I never have to use the restroom. Because it’s just so dang hot. But, that feeling of sweat and dirt and sunlight mingling together so deep in my cells so that no matter how hard I scrub in the shower at the end of the day, I still feel it all right under my fingertips.

Like a different kind of baptism, and one that doesn't wash it away but makes it a part of me. Sweat. Dirt. Sunlight. And a little bit of Gatorade.Click To Tweet

It’s good to embrace these moments.  But,  we need to thoughtful and critical along with being hopeful:

We have to be self-reflexive. We have to constantly check our privilege. We have to check our language. We have to check the work that we do and make sure it isn’t about our agenda and what we think is necessary. We have to realize that we’re not necessary, in the long run.

We have to be sensitive. We have to listen. To each other. We have to see. The people we’re working with and for and around on the work site. We have acknowledge our insensitivities.

We have to be sincere. We have to be open. We have to be honest. What we do means nothing if we don’t embrace our bumbling and clumsy way of doing this work.

Ultimately we – and I’m preaching to myself – have to remember that nothing is perfect. None of these endeavors are ever going to be void of the social, historical and institutional problems that make such work necessary, but even our theologies are lacking, too, our faith language is faulty and we will fall short. It’s okay. The Holy Spirit makes up for it. The Holy Spirit fills in the holes. The Holy Spirit takes cares of the gaps.

So we trust, we follow, and we strive and struggle to make God’s kingdom known, yes, – but not just in a cerebral way, we want to taste God’s kingdom and share and be nourished by that same food at the table with all, so we taste, we drink, we pass, we break bread and pour out the cup, and sometimes that looks like tortilla chips and granola bars, sometimes it looks like hammers and nails, sometimes like riding a bike with training wheels, sometimes like taking photographs  and selfies with a little black girl named Evaline.

Because this is how we do justice. We show up. We aren't above digging holes and moving dirt. We get our hands dirty. We acknowledge our mistakes and flaws. We give thanks. We keep showing up.Click To Tweet
Justice: On Performative Faith

Justice: On Performative Faith

20140628-134830-49710558.jpgThis post is the eleventh in our series this month on the spiritual practices of activism
that are rooted in and enhance our faith lives.

Confession: Many outside my inner circle don’t know I gained most of the skills that have made me a successful activist through my experience in ministry first. Ministry work was how I learned to build community, increase membership, shift people’s understanding, and mobilize for action.

But it was also in the church that I learned to get very comfortable with being unpopular for my beliefs.

Link to the rest of the amazing story here on Suey’s blog here.

20140628-135407-50047356.jpgSuey Park is an activist and writer.

Justice: On Dignity

Justice: On Dignity

 

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This post is the tenth in our series this month on the spiritual practices of activism
that are rooted in and enhance our faith lives.

Dignity—the quality of being worthy of honor and respect. -Merriam-Webster Online

***

We stood in the center of the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, Italy, the square that sits a few short blocks from the Duomo. The local guide pointed across the square to a long, majestic, eight-columned building. “That,” she said, “is the Spedale degli Innocenti, which means the ‘Hospital of the Innocents.’ It is a prime example of Rennaisance.”

Piazza della Annunziata à Florence / Ospedale degli Innocenti de Brunelleschi

Our guide delved into the history of the building, informed us that in the fifteenth century, orphaned and vulnerable children were exploited and uncared for. “Unwanted babies,” she said, “were either pitched into the Arno River under the cover of night, or were otherwise left to the animals in the countryside. So, in 1419, the Florentine silk-guild commissioned the design of the hospital from renaissance architect, Filippo Brunnelleschi.” She claimed that the hospital was the first orphanage in Europe, and there, abandoned or orphaned children were equipped to rejoin society.

One asked how the orphanage received abandoned or relinquished children. “Ah,” she said, pointing her finger upward. “This is most interesting.”

There was a wheel attached to the outer wall of the orphanage, the “foundling wheel.” One half of the wheel was on the inside of the orphanage, and the other half protruded through the outer wall. There was a hole in the wall, which was only large enough for a baby. As it’s said, a Florentine mother who could no longer care for her baby could place the baby on the outer portion of the wheel, and spin him discretely into the orphanage. This kept the identity of the mother concealed, guarded her from the stigma of relinquishing her child. She looked at us, squinted for emphasis, and said, “this was about protecting the dignity of the mother, see.”

*****

If the work of justice and mercy is worth it—and I believe it is—questions of dignity and mercy rise to the fore. Yes, there are vulnerable children to protect; there are human rights worth championing. But the ways in which we engage in social activism are important.

We are champions of dignity.

Those of us who adhere to the Christian faith follow the teachings of Jesus, who said, “[b]e merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) This, I think, is less of a pie-in-the-sky request, and more of a dignity demand. And the mercy, I think, is not just relegated to those who are the direct recipients of the justice-effort, but also to those well-acquainted with the plight of the recipient.

When you work with orphans and vulnerable children, consider the dignity of a relinquishing mother; protect her dignity and be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

When you consider bringing Christmas cheer to impoverished children in your community, remember the dignity of the parents and be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

When you raise your voices and fists for the plight of the oppressed, consider less the solving of perceived (or real) social-blights; consider more the humanity behind the ill and be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

This is, I think, a lodestar principal of justice and mercy work. Perhaps this is a given, a sort of “duh, Seth” moment. But let me suggest a sort of exercise. Grab a pen and scrap piece of paper (a journal is even better). Consider your particular efforts toward justice; consider your activism. Now, write the categories of each person affected by your work. For instance, within the context of orphan care, you might write the following: the child, the relinquishing mother, the child’s original community, and the adopting parent. Now, consider the following question—how do we extend mercy to each group while working for justice? How do we engage in the work bearing dignity?

You are the champions of dignity. Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.

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Seth Haines is a prolific writer. In addition to the thoughts on his blog, he is the channel editor of A Deeper Church, which is a part of A Deeper Story. He is also a regular contributor at Tweetspeak Poetry, and currently working on a novel.

He is husband Amber Haines, also a writer, and the father of four boys. He enjoys good sentences, good music, good food, and good fly fishing.

Question or comment? You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you. – See more here.

Justice: On Acts of Loving Kindess

Justice: On Acts of Loving Kindess

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This post is the eighth in our series this month on the spiritual practices of activism
that are rooted in and enhance our faith lives.

“Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof” (Justice, Justice you shall pursue) – Deuteronomy, 16:20

“The world rests on three things, Torah [the Bible], Avodah [worship], and Gemilut Hasadim [acts of loving kindness].”
Pirkei Avot  [Ethics of our Ancestors] 1:2.

I believe that the pursuit of justice is not found merely in the grand fights: the fight for racial justice; the fight against unjust war; the fight against hunger and poverty. I believe that the pursuit of justice comes in the myriad decisions that fill our lives and in realizing how those decisions affect others.  Justice for me means Tikkun Olam—repairing the world—or leaving the world a better place than when I got here. And while there are differentiating views on what it means to repair the world, I believe strongly that it means to fight against oppression and to walk lightly and be conscious of the affect that our choices can have on people and the environment.

My religion, Judaism, is not the one I was born into. Yet it is the one I chose, in great part, because it provided me with a basis in faith for fighting for justice and righteousness in a way centered in, though separate from, my relationship with God. I struggle with my relationship with God. I do not know what my concept of God is, but I do know that if God exists and if God created this beautiful world, then God would want us to care for it and for one another.  This is my faith, and it is the basis for how I live my life.

My maternal grandparents modeled for me how to live one’s faith through acts of loving-kindness. My grandma is what I would call a Pope Francis Catholic. She doesn’t live her life as if praying and belief in God were enough to get her a pass to heaven. Rather, she and my deceased grandfather focused on good works. I remember well as a young child accompanying them to deliver food and gifts to the poor for Christmas. And later, during school holidays in junior high and high school, I would join my grandmother in feeding the hungry at the local soup kitchen, where she volunteered every week for years.  My grandfather, who was a civil engineer and professor, volunteered at Head Start as a math tutor for young (often single) mothers studying for their GEDs.  They were outdoors people, who took me on long hikes and camping trips and taught me to appreciate and love nature. They never bragged about these works or did them for the praise of others. They helped because they believed that it was important to care for those who had less than them.

While I did not choose my grandparents’ faith, like them, I did choose to live my faith by acts of loving-kindness and by pursuing justice.  The Torah (the Christian Old Testament), Psalms, and the Books of the Prophets (together called the Tanakh), and my faith’s traditions provide me with the spiritual resources and guidance to work for justice.  My faith commands me to welcome the stranger and care for the orphaned and widowed. My faith commands that I ensure that the hungry have food. My faith commands that I yearn for the day when “war and bloodshed cease,” when “water will flow to the thirsty as a stream.” My faith commands me to pursue justice. I live my daily life in accordance with these commands.  I buy food from local farmers who use sustainable practices. I buy clothing from companies that have good labor practices. Most importantly, I try to teach my children empathy and love for everything and everyone.

Every Friday night before we light the Shabbat candles, my family puts money into our tzedakah box, which we give to the hungry. Tzedakah, which is related to the word tzedek (justice) is often compared to the act of charity. We hope to teach our children the importance of giving thanks for what we have and of giving to others who have less.  On Shabbat, we recite Psalm 92 (A Song for the Sabbath), in which we remind ourselves that “the Righteous will flourish like the date palm; like the cedars of Lebanon they’ll grow.” We even gave our second son his Hebrew name from this Psalm (Adam) Erez–both in honor of the nature-holiday he was born nearest (Tu B’Shevat/the Birthday of Trees) and in the hope that he will be a righteous man in faith and works.

My career as an immigration attorney I chose after I chose my religion. I wanted to be a lawyer to work for justice for the vulnerable. But it was through intense prayer and searching that I realized my place was working for this particular population.  Only a daily basis, I fight the good fight for the oppressed and persecuted.  But I know that each individual I help is merely a drop in the bucket. This is why I do not stop fighting for justice when I leave the office.

Like my grandparents modeled for me the importance of the small acts of loving-kindness, I try to do the same for my children on a daily basis. In the end, I believe that my pursuit of justice and my faith are worth nothing if the work ends with me. They must be taught and passed on: l’dor v’dor—from one generation to the next.

IMG_7349Christie Popp is an immigration attorney in Bloomington, Indiana, as well as a wife and mother to two young boys.  In her spare time, she exasperates her husband by worrying about all of the terrible things that are happening the world or that could possibly happen to her children. She recently began to channel those worries at overwroughtmom.wordpress.com.  The rest of the time, she can be found at www.poppimmigration.com.