My second conversion: how I started caring about racial justice

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December 2014. The one holding the “M” is yours truly.

I am thirteen years old.

Before this point in my life, I have had little to no experience with people who are not white. I am vaguely aware they exist, but in my white bubble of Chicago suburbia, black and latino people live in cities fifteen miles away, where people break into gas stations and wearing your hat sideways is a gang sign. I have never had a friend or acquaintance who was not white.

I have talked my parents into joining a volunteer foster care program, where we receive children from 0-18 years old whose parents only want to give them up temporarily without losing legal custody. I have always wanted a younger sibling, and I see this as my opportunity to have the experience.

Our first placement is a four-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl. They are siblings, and speak very little English. Their mother is an immigrant from Mexico. We have them for one week before we return them to their mother, who lives in a trailer park in the southwest side of Chicago. After we drop them off, my mother cries the whole way home.


I am fifteen years old.

By now we are on our second placement, a beautiful little boy who would live with us on and off for the next four years. His laugh is deep like an old man with a beer belly, and he has thigh rolls the size of donuts. He loves bananas and dancing. He is the third of five children. When I tell some friends this, one says, “Hasn’t she ever heard of birth control?” And the others murmur in agreement. I know this is wrong, but I don’t know why, so I don’t correct her.


I am seventeen years old.

I have recently discovered feminism, and the more I learn about continued injustices in the U.S. towards women, the more angry I feel. I fall in love with Maya Angelou. I hear about the death of Trayvon Martin in an echo, the whispering of mothers as they sew costumes for the musical I am in, discussions overheard at sleepovers between parents of friends.

“Break my heart for what breaks yours” becomes my daily whisper to God, a plea. I have no idea what I am asking for.


I am nineteen years old.

I am starting my sophomore year of college when I see my Facebook newsfeed flooded with news of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice. I don’t know what to say. I see photos of men with their hands up in front of police, who are wearing helmets and holding shields, armed for battle. I go on Twitter and see story after story of attacks, tears, bruises. People of color are screaming to be heard. I realize that I cannot call myself a Christian if I look away.

So I start reading. It begins with a google search, “what white people need to know about race”, and expands to essays by Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Malcolm X. I follow new people on Twitter: Austin Channing, Luvvie Ajayi, A’Driane Nieves, Broderick Greer, Kathy Khang. I am in a class titled “History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement”, and I learn about the names that made the Civil Rights Movement possible—Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Ella Baker. I photograph a Black Lives Matter protest in Indianapolis so I can attend without fear of judgment. Everyone chants as we walk, but I walk in silence, too afraid to say the words—”no justice, no peace.” I am there with two of my friends, and we look at each other and think in unison—we must bring this back to our community.

So we hold up our sign at Silent Night that says “Black Lives Matter”. And in that moment, I am convinced that we are doing God-honoring work in our community.


Author and social psychologist Christena Cleveland once called this discovery for Christians a “second conversion“. It is our eyes being opened, the scales falling from our eyes, a realization of what we’ve done and what we’ve been a part of.

We do not need to rescue people of color from racism—we must rescue ourselves from the sin we are trapped in. We are poisoned by the generational sin we are bound by. By freeing ourselves, we free those who are wounded by us.

I don’t have a great vision for a country that will look different—I only have an imagination for how my life can look different. And I try to practice the discipline of continuity—that what I believe affects how I live—as much as I can. I cannot change the world but, piece by piece, I can be a good steward of the gifts God has laid before me.


I am twenty-two years old.

I ask a professor to tell his story about growing up in Apartheid South Africa. And then I realize that we need each other’s stories, so that we can learn from one another’s experiences. So we can learn why it’s so important not to repeat the past. So we can have examples of how to climb out of our pitfalls.

And so I decide it’s time to tell my story.

Breaking up with my future husband

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Dear future husband,

I started writing to you when I was 12 years old.

I had never been boy crazy or interested in dating at my age, but I was fascinated by the future. I always dreamed of college, of moving into a tiny studio apartment in New York after graduation, of graduate school.

And I dreamed of you.

I wondered what you looked like, whether you were short or tall, whether your voice was light and cheerful or deep and rumbling. Whether you and I would like the same TV shows, whether or not we would fight, whether or not you were saving yourself for me.

I was always saving myself for you.

I didn’t know better, really. I was handed books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and When God Writes Your Love Story, telling me I should write you letters and knit you scarves whenever I felt the urge to date someone. Because if there was anything worse than not saving your body, it was failing to save your heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life,” I was always told. So I obediently tucked away my letters, listened to Rebecca St. James and dreamed about how one day you and I would be together forever.

Somewhere between the driver’s tests and college applications, I started to get impatient. I tried to project you on each boy I met, wondering does it fit? Is he you? But each time I was disappointed. And when I went off to college I put you on the shelf, vowing that you would come along after graduation, in the real world.

And then I met him.

He sits with me when I’m weary. Sometimes he has things to say, and sometimes I have things to say, but when we don’t we sit in companionable silence, just grateful to be near each other. He does silence so well—it fits him like a comfortable sweater. He is the most loyal and caring person I know.

But he’s not you. And I know why.

Because you’re not real.

You’re a figment of my imagination. A straw man built for me to believe in. You don’t actually exist. You’re too good to be true, and a sweet fantasy is no substitute for the rich bittersweetness of reality. You, a one-dimensional trojan horse, cannot bear the weight of who I am. You were created to keep me obsessed, to keep me hesitant and second-guessing and I’m done with you.

 

I don’t miss you.

I pulled out the journal the other day. The one written for you. I thought it would be sweet and meaningful, and it wasn’t at all. It felt hollow, and kind of embarrassing. I couldn’t believe how much time I’d devoted to a person who doesn’t actually exist, instead of loving people who actually do exist.

I wish I hadn’t feared giving my heart away, because that’s not even possible. There is no heartbreak that hasn’t been worth the pain; no lost love that hasn’t been wisdom gained.

 

This is the last letter I’m writing you.

I don’t ever plan on writing you again.

I’m respecting myself and others enough to know that perfection is not a fair standard to hold. So if settling is accepting that people are broken and messy but still worthy of love and connection and belonging, I guess that’s what I am.

 

But I don’t mind. I actually kinda like it here on the ground.

Not a dick: a man’s perspective on modesty

There is so much to be said about modesty – more than what can be summed up in one blog post – and after my post about modesty and yoga pants, I realized there is so much more to the topic than what I can address as a woman. My dear friend Austin has offered to share some of his thoughts, and I’m so excited for you to read them. You can find him on Twitter at @LindnerAustin and Instagram at austincarrmusic.

 

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I’m a man. And I generally like to think of myself as more than a penis.

As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s honestly how I feel whenever a heated conversation about modesty begins. The two sides of the debate form opposing lines, ready to attack the other side with thrown words or rocks at the drop of a hat. And without a doubt, whenever the “modest is the hottest” team steps up to defend turtlenecks and floor-length skirts, one of the first things out of their mouths is “Do you want men to lust after you? You know guys are more visual creatures. You know they can’t help looking. You don’t know how hard it is to be a man.

Bullshit.

This argument is used to justify too many things in today’s society. Assault, sexual harassment, rape, really anything can be pacified with a good “boys will be boys” mentality. And as one of these “boys” myself, this logic has always seemed offensive.

It implies that I am little more than an animal. That I will uncontrollably lose my cookies at the slightest mention of the word “sex,” or if I walk past a girl in a mini skirt. That my hormones and sexual instincts control my life on a day-to-day basis and I am constantly resisting the urge to mate with anything that moves.

It implies that I am stupid. That I don’t know lusting after a woman is wrong, because I haven’t been taught not to. I never had the chance to attend “Human Decency 101”, so I get a hall pass. It’s okay girls, I didn’t mean to grab your butt- I’m just an idiot.

It implies that I have no restraint. That I have no power over my body whenever a girl with yoga pants walks in the room. That I’ll turn into an unhinged rapist if a girl’s shirt slips a centimeter too low.

And the part that bothers me the most about these statements is when I hear guys saying the same thing to excuse their own behavior.

Living on a college campus, I hear things like this all the time.

“If you wear yoga pants, how can you expect me not to stare?”

“Girls should really consider how distracting they can be before putting on stuff like that.”

Growing up I understood these sentiments. Yeah, why does she have to wear that? If she dresses like that, she’s obviously a slut. Which means I can stare. Because she wants me to stare. Right?

Society told me that I wasn’t responsible for these feelings. It told me that when a girl trespasses some invisible line in the modesty department it is suddenly okay to judge her. To view her as less than a person. To objectify.

But after maturing a little more, I realize how selfish this line of thinking is, to demand that someone slap some more fabric on her body for the sake of my own comfort.

Lately I’ve heard a lot of guys comparing “immodest” women to food (go figure). These pro-modesty dudes say things like, “When you dress like a slut it’s like you are turning yourself into a big mac, and then asking us not to look at you or touch you. How can you expect us not to try something?”

Look. I get it. Big macs are the bomb. And I may instinctively want to snatch a big mac out a stranger’s hand if I’m in public around lunchtime, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to. And it definitely doesn’t mean that I have the right to complain about all these strangers walking around with their slutty, unwrapped hamburgers. Or request that everybody around me refrain from eating big macs in my presence because of my own issues and preferences.

I may love a good burger, but I’m not an animal running on pure impulses. I’m a human, and so is the burger-woman. And we both deserve to be treated as such.

And maybe a good place to start would be to stop comparing the opposite sex to inanimate junk food.

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Something that Hannah has mentioned before that I wholly support is the idea that lust is a choice, not a reaction.

I may be instantly attracted to a woman wearing a bikini walking past me at the beach. I can’t stop the quick rush of those feelings, it’s biological. But that isn’t lust, which seems to be where a lot of guys get tripped up.

Lust is turning around to get a better look. To imagine what’s underneath the fabric. Lust is shying away from her face so you can see her only as a body, an object. Lust takes time and active thought.

Since I’m not a woman, who are the ones most affected by the modesty debate, I honestly don’t know how to address this issue as a whole. Modesty is a complicated topic, dealing with things like self-expression, cultural standards of respect, public decency, and freedom of choice. The answer isn’t as clear as society often tells us, with nasty sluts on one side and respectable women on the other.

All I know is I plan to view members of the opposite sex as people, even when it may seem easier to objectify. Even when I have a society-supported excuse to act like a bundle of sexual impulses.

But I know that as a man, I am more than my genitals. I don’t need to be coddled because of my sex. And one day, I plan to teach my future sons the same thing. Not to see themselves as boys being boys, but as men who respect the people around them, no matter what they are wearing.

 

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_MG_0601I’m a college student studying journalism and music. I try to tell the truth in a funny and genuine way. I love fast walks on the beach and collecting sharks’ teeth to throw at my enemies. Also I Boggle. 

 

I am Jacob: wrestling with God

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We gathered on Monument Circle in the dripping rain, hoods pulled up over our heads, bright umbrellas popping up like daisies. There was something electric about the atmosphere, buzzing with the passion we all shared for change. You don’t go to a protest if you don’t care about change.

And so we marched. And I found myself listening to their chant, the sound of determination over and over. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” Was repeated until it branded itself into my mind.

I find myself here, drawn to the passion, still not sure what we’re begging for, but knowing that the pressure will give one way or the other and I know where I want the rocks to land.

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I have found myself inexplicably drawn to different people from the Bible in my life. I have been David fighting his Goliath, Gideon as he doubted his worthiness, Ruth as she laid herself vulnerable before a man she trusted. I have been Peter screaming over the waves, Noah as he prepared for rain, Mary as she treasured up all these things in her heart.

But this season. This season is different.

I have always known what I believed. I have never been one to hang around with uncertainty for very long. I like to know what I want. And for the very first time in my life, the world has been grayer than I have ever known it to be and I don’t know to do. The uncertainty makes me feel shifty and conflicted.

And I think about Jacob. The leader of God’s people. Israel. The man who wrestled with God. He and I, we wrestle with what it all means, with the problem and the solution and the how do we bring change for those who feel unheard? What is the right answer here? What do I do if I’m wrong? And what do I do if we’re right?

I see people on both sides of this fight that I deeply admire. I have seen people I respect up to their ears in bias, and others so heated with the anger of injustice that they couldn’t see straight. And I knew I didn’t fall in either party. I was going to have to pave my own way.

And so I march anyway, even if I’m not sure, because people are hurting and that’s enough. That’s a good reason to support them. I can’t afford to wait until I know it all, because I know the most important thing: black lives are always going to matter.

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We marched with the people, John and Zack and I, until we turned to each other with conviction and John said: we need to go back. We need to be at our university tonight. We need to start this conversation in a place where we can see it through. And Zack and I nodded, knowing our voices were needed most where we were known the best.

And so we went back. And we showed up. And we stood, holding a banner – some of us white, some of us black – proclaiming that black life matters. And no matter what happens with each individual case, no matter who happens to be responsible in Ferguson or Staten Island, black life is always going to matter. Always.

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photo cred (above): Logan Evans

Your heart is not your enemy.

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My greatest enemy is not a weapon I was born with.

The church culture that condemns society and its methods of connection and tells us to live a better way, is also the same church culture stripping us of our ability to do so.

I read an article today, like many out in the blogosphere, about how we should be dating differently. The world tells us we should be getting in each others’ pants pretty quickly, physical love before emotional connection, the tangible over the spiritual. Christian articles tell me that this is bad, and I agree. It’s the wrong order. The emotional and spiritual should come first as the largest priority.

But from there, the messages get ambiguous and I’m left thinking do you even get what you’re saying? We’re told we shouldn’t settle for someone who isn’t doing it right, even though the one in the temporary will make us happy. We should wait for the one in the long term, even though we’re going to have to fight our nature to do it. And I think this is wrong.

Not a single bone in my body has ever found the world’s system of connection appealing. It looks heartbreaking, and lonely, and lots of people walk away feeling disenchanted. And I think to tell us that what we’re craving will end up like that is a lie. Teaching us to ignore our gut instinct is such a dangerous thing to teach people. Because it wasn’t until I learned to go with my instincts that I really found people that were worth loving. To get to that point, I had to go through years of un-learning the message that my spiritual culture taught me: I can’t trust myself.

This argument is typically founded on the belief that we are born inherently sinful, and I think that’s true. We are born with the curse of humanity, the illness that sentences us to eventual death. However, this illness is cured by the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, leaving us free from our inherent sin nature. We are no longer bound by the flesh, which means our thoughts and feelings are no longer tied to our sin nature. If the Holy Spirit lives in us, working as a “conscience”, how is that any different from our gut instincts? I have often found that my instincts align with Scripture.

Ignoring our inherent conscience that was designed by the One who made us has not given us a benefit that is worth the self-trust we lose by burying it.

If you’re like me, and you’ve stopped listening to yourself: your feelings matter. You’re never going to understand yourself until you start listening. And even if your instincts aren’t 100% accurate, it’s still important to know why you feel the way you do.

Put your head and your heart together, and make love a team effort.

Redefining fierce

Since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be known as “fierce”. As a kid I was as feisty and stubborn as they come, but I was also short and blonde and had a huge smile that I wore daily. I was “cute”. Always cute. Sometimes adorable, occasionally even pretty, but never fierce. Fierce was reserved for taller, slimmer women who were tan and wore lots of eye makeup and lots of black dresses.

That was never me. That could never be me. I would never be tall and slender, I would never have high cheekbones, and I was not the kind of girl who wanted to spend much time in front of a mirror.

I was taught that you earn words like awards, trophies you collect and frame for the world to see. And words like Fierce, Sexy, or Strong were not words I had earned. I did not look the part, so I could not play the part.

I was so, so tired of being cute. I grew resentful for my unintentionally naïve appearance and sweet smile. So I decided I would smile less, with the hope that I might be taken more seriously. But it never works to try to embody someone you are not, and I quickly realized my end did not justify my means. No single word could bear the weight of all I want to become.

So now I wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and tell myself that I am fierce and sexy and strong. It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing gym shorts and soccer cleats or 3 inch heels – I am a force to be reckoned with. And when I give myself this power, I don’t shrink anymore. I don’t feel small. I can stand tall in the strength I have taken for me, because I stopped waiting for permission to believe in myself. It was in me all along.

The one where I decide it’s worth it

I’ve been conned.

I was driving to work like any other day, and the realization hit me like a load of bricks. I’ve been conned.

My whole life, in every relationship I’ve ever been in, I’ve been conned by the system. The dating system. He woos and he pursues, and so I let him in. I let him tell me he wants me. I let him tell me I inspire him to be better, that I am the woman he dreamed of.

And I believe him.

And I’m always the one to take the leap first, to stop wasting time dipping my toes in and do an enormous, unladylike cannonball right in. I’m not afraid. I know the risk will be worthwhile.

But the boy has never leapt in with me. He will walk around the pool, study the color of the water, ponder the consequences of getting wet, shrug his shoulders, and wait as I attempt to convince him hey, the water is great!

But no amount of worth has ever convinced him. And so he walks away, leaving me sopping wet and embarrassed that I cared too much.

I wholeheartedly believe my reality TV show would be a romantic comedy, but if my life was ever a tragedy the plot would follow: girl falls for boy, boy doesn’t follow through, girl faceplants, girl picks herself up, repeat. I am permanently the one who gets in too deep. My affection is literally overwhelming. And I am left ashamed, ashamed that I am forever the one giving and never the one taking. And this shames me into reluctance to open up again, believing that I will be too much. That my fault is I love too deeply.

I have been incredibly naïve to forget the dating game: the one who is less invested wields the power. Pretend to be less interested than you are, and you’ll make him want you. Play hard to get, and he’ll come after you. The less interested you appear, the more he’ll be interested.

This system has never worked for me. (Does it work for anyone?) I don’t want to play games. I don’t want to pretend his smile doesn’t make me feel allllll the feelings, and that his touch doesn’t make me cry sometimes from the sheer tenderness of it all. Because I feel deeply, straight down to my core, and I don’t think that should be a crime.

I am fierce, and I am fiercely loving.

And this boy I love now, with the enormous brown eyes and a 500 watt smile, I will not be afraid to love. Because this time it is him in the water, coaxing me in.

I think I’ll join him. And maybe, together, we’ll swim deeper than I have ever swam before.