Wearing the Word Brave: a guest post on Mudroom Blog

IMG_3766

It’s dark in here, I told him, but all the lights in the room are on. It’s the first thing I can think of to explain my knees bouncing and my teeth chattering, even though I’m not cold.

I am out of control.

I am helpless, at the mercy of my brain.

I am utterly terrified.

I used to run from the fear. But it followed me from church to church, friendship to friendship, argument to argument. I would fall asleep gripped with terror, clinging to anything in reach until I learned to cling to myself, to cling to the hope that joy comes in the morning.

I used to fight the fear. I would bare my teeth and roar, but the cold would still seep into my bones and I’d still find myself shivering. Fear was the great archenemy of my soul, and so I took on every battle and sought everything I could to eradicate the terror like it was a cancer.

I used to outlearn the fear. If I just knew enough, if I read enough books and conducted enough research and found words to explain the panic, it would go away like breaking a magic spell. So I studied history, psychology, sociology, poetry, art, whatever I could to understand the mystery of the human condition. Knowledge is power, I would say, tattooing the word brave on my neck and going on coffee dates with strangers and giving speeches.

You are fearless, they would say in awe. I wish I were as strong as you. And I used to let them say it and not correct them, because it felt nice and I craved their admiration. But if I could go back, I would have stopped them. I would have said, Thank you very much, but I’m afraid you’re wrong.

Read the rest over here.

Missing in Action: Where Are You, Church? A guest post

June 17, 2015 was just an ordinary Wednesday. When twelve people attended Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that night, not one had a clue it was their last. They kissed their families goodbye, grabbed their keys and started their engines.

The shots rang out across the nation as the nine fell, the nine to match the Little Rock Nine, nine taking a stand before nine fell. Five more than the bombing of the four little girls at 16th Street Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1963.

Those of us fortunate to have pastors who are sensitive to these things mentioned them in our prayers, said their names one by one, and prayed for strength and courage and kindness. Our country’s president spoke boldly about America and its pain, these chains of racism that still shackle our feet.

America, for the first time in nearly 50 years, is tentatively opening the door to this conversation once more.

And the majority of white churches across America remain silent.

 

Read the rest over here.

I wish I was black: on racial inequality + white guilt

selfie

Hi. My name is Hannah. I am a white, young, middle class woman living in the Midwest. And for the last 6 months I have been wishing I could be black.

Yeah, I recognize that’s a super weird thing to say. You’d think in light of Ferguson no one would envy black people. It’s a dangerous way to be born these days. But as our country becomes increasingly aware of racial tension, I’m wishing I could be black. Because as awful as they have it in our country, I am still just as lazy as ever.

A privileged white person who would rather be oppressed than do the tough work of advocating for equality.

My university hosted our National Student Leadership Conference last weekend, and Christena Cleveland came and spoke about inequality. (If you’ve never read anything by her, make sure you do because she is AMAZING.) It was moving. And even though I’ve learned so much in the last 10 months about race and what privilege is and the current state of our Western culture, I’d rather point fingers and cast blame at the general white population than recognize my own part in allowing privilege to still exist. Because every single white person who doesn’t actively try to end white privilege is participating in its existence. And that knowledge is convicting, and difficult, and HECK NO I don’t want to have to deal with that. I don’t want to be that white girl who won’t stop talking about racial inequality, because why do I even care so much? I’m not black.

But that’s the point. I’m not black. This is not just a problem for black people. Whenever a minority is oppressed, it is the responsibility of the OPPRESSORS to change – not the oppressed. So it’s not a black people problem at all – it’s a white people problem. Race is a white person’s problem, because we’re the ones responsible for changing it.

And shouldn’t we, the People of the Cross, be leading the charge?

This week I had one of the best coffee dates I’ve ever had on our college campus with one of the funniest, most genuine women I know. It’s one of those friendships that has been so long in the making that I apologized for not asking her sooner. I said it so earnestly that she laughed, but we both knew it was true. And we talked about racism and authenticity and silence and choosing to be kind over “nice”.

And I am learning every day what it means to be responsible for my place in this country, this town, among these friends and in this internet world with you, my friend, reading this.

And I hope you ask those questions too: What am I responsible for? In this town? In this community? In this country? In this world? What am I responsible for changing? What am I responsible for giving? And don’t wait until you’re older or married or wealthy to do those things.

Do them now. Because there is an urgency to equality that can’t afford to wait until your life has fallen into neat little rows. Because people will die for this while you have the privilege to wait until you can pay rent. And that’s not really a fair toss-up.

So we who fight for equality will continue to do so until we lay in our graves. And this is the work we take up, the cross we carry, for those who do not have the power that we do. That even though only 13% of the U.S. population is black, they make up 26% of people killed by police in 2014. That the city of Cleveland decided a dead 12-year-old black boy is responsible for his death because he didn’t avoid being shot, and the police force is in blind support of the officers who did it. And so many more that the list would take up an entire blog post by itself.

I hope you’ll fight with me. Thanks for doing that tough work. And I hope we’ll carry each other, when we’re weary and frustrated and discouraged. Because that’s what community is for, after all.

Still Feminist: A guest post from Esther Emery

DeathtoStock_SlowDown7

Esther is a new friend of mine, and I am so excited to have her on the blog today! You can find her blogging at www.estheremery.com and tweeting @EstherEmery.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

My feminism has been through the weeds. I dragged it through my conservative phase, discussing female Biblical heroines with complementarians and trying to dive into the sisterhood.

And then I dragged it through a crash course on intersectionality.

It had become impossible for me to ignore the ways in which white feminism as an entity (through the actions of white women) has been violent towards people of color, especially women of color and queer or trans people of color. Hashtags like #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen were hurtful but also eye opening. I stopped writing about feminism for a while. I tried writing about allyship, and even the troubles with allyship, but that didn’t go very well either.

I’m not going to tell you how and when this happens. Because that’s a really good way to get into fights. I’ll just tell you that when you are ready to see it, you will see it.

And when you see it a little – this is my experience – that’s the beginning to seeing it a lot. I was rocked right off my feminism. I lost my grounding. I felt like maybe I should just stop, because maybe I’m doing more harm than good.

There is a lie to this, of course, but there is also a truth. There is both a lie and a truth in the voice that says, “You can’t work on justice issues, because you don’t have enough of the characteristics of the oppressed.”

The lie is this idea anyone is unable to work on justice. Anytime. Ever. I can always do something. The truth is that I can’t assume that the interests of justice line up with my own interests. Anytime. Ever. I can always be the oppressor as well as the oppressed.

The lie wants you to lie down, be quiet, go away, shut up. The truth wants you to be transformed. The lie wants you to settle for the way things are; change nothing. The truth wants you to simultaneously seek change within yourself and within all the structures you inhabit.

It is necessary that I locate myself in systems of oppression, as accurately as possible. But this is not because the work of liberation is owned by some certain band on the pyramid. This is because exposing these would-be invisible structures by which humans are tracked differently from one another is the knowledge that unlocks our possibilities. When you can see the structures that divide, and the powers that oppress, then you know what the hell it is you’re trying to change.

From where I am located – as a white, Christian activist – I have to do the really quite unpleasant work of interrogating the systems which I inhabit.

This is unpleasant because people’s feelings are everywhere. This is unpleasant because if I communicate my concerns about/to someone who is particularly not interested in hearing them, I could be identified as “angry,” or “a troublemaker” or just silently shut out.

But I’ve been a feminist since I was fifteen. And I’m thirty-five. So that’s familiar.

Choosing/learning to speak from a more intersectional perspective is all the things that feminism has always been for me. Destabilizing. Invigorating. Humbling. It’s the end of a sentence I started with my own angry/beautiful cry twenty years ago.

This journey has never been exactly safe. But it has made space for breathing. It has never really been clear. But it has been a dialogue with truth. I guess the only difference is that in the teenage version I felt only one step away from the promise, while now I know it is a long, and dusty road.

I can’t be unseated from the truth of my own story, even as I open and yield to the revelation of experiences that are not my own. I have a source. I have a real life context. I have a place where I live. And right here, in that place, I can be taught to listen better to the truth of the whole world.

So I guess I’m still a feminist after all.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

estheremerywriterEsther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. Now she is pretty much a runaway, living off grid in a yurt and tending to three acres in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at www.estheremery.com. Connect with her on Twitter @EstherEmery.

 

I am Jacob: wrestling with God

IMG_1805

IMG_1762

IMG_1804

 

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.

–––––

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.

–––––

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.

IMG_2732

photo cred (above): Logan Evans

From apathy to empathy: why we must press on

61343f6898b8aea23f9f4f47aea793ad

There is so much to be discouraged by in our world right now. Can I get an amen? Child brides, terrible education systems around the world, racial and sexual oppression, the economy, the Church…we have every reason to feel disheartened.

The Church has not been good to us. And we find ourselves in these same circular conversations, over and over. We are not reaching each other, we are not understood, and so we give up and turn inward. The world has been sitting heavy on our shoulders lately, beckoning us into despair. We are tired. It makes sense to throw in the towel.

It’s hard to keep loving and investing in the people who are making the decisions that hurt us so deeply. But we can. not. stop.

In a culture of apathy, it is our job to care. In a world that has numbed itself to the pain of others and ourselves, we must shoulder the burden of feeling. We must claim ownership of the world and do what we can to make it beautiful. We are designed to bring beauty, and so we will bring it with everything we have until there is no more beauty left to deliver.

We are the deliverers of God’s message of love to all the Peoples of every nation, and we must go on fulfilling our call until we are no longer able. We must speak for the voiceless, give to those who have nothing, love the unloved, speak truth in the faces of liars, and we must never give up. This is what we’re made for. We were designed to be disturbed and hurt by injustice. Our hearts were made to break with the dying, we were meant to feel the hunger of the starving, we were created to share in the pain of the wounded as a motivator towards change. If we bury our compassion, we bury what makes us humans and not monsters.

Oh, it hurts, to care. It hurts when people think you’re too passionate, but what other appropriate response is there when you read about a woman selling her body to feed her family? When you see the faces of thousands of starving children?

There is no appropriate response other than the ache. And so we must lean in and bleed together, because discomfort is always at the root of change.

We must never stop trying to be understood and to understand. We cannot afford to let the conversations die.

 

photo cred: Bill Phan

Bruises + being grateful

IMG_0625

I have a hard time reading other blogs. It’s not because I’m bored or disinterested – I just get so envious of their lives that I have to close the page before I burst into a tearful self-rant, about how college has me all bogged down and I just want to leave the university utopia and get on with my life.

Let me tell you, the struggle is real.

It all started with Monday. I was biking innocently to class when I found myself skidding on the concrete sidewalk, leaving myself with surface scrapes from the knee down. Later, I got kicked by a girl wearing cleats in soccer, leaving some nice cleat-shaped bruises and scrapes on my thigh. All in the span of 3 hours.

It wasn’t awesome.

External circumstances have a way of moving inward, leaving your insides bruised and sensitive. Frustration, confusion and self-doubt have all reared their ugly heads in the last 24 hours, tugging at the roots that keep me grounded. And reading the blogs of other people reminds me of all those things – frustration with how much I wish I could graduate and get out into the world, confusion about whether or not I’m making the right choice for my future, and doubt that I’m capable of doing what I want to do with my life.

Then it occurred to me that I blog, too. And all the things clicked.

I’m one of those people. Out in the world somewhere, there is someone who is wishing they could have a life like mine. And that blew my mind. It’s so easy to forget how lucky you are, you know? It’s hard to live my life when it doesn’t give me the space to write as much as I wish, but then I remember there are people in the world who have never even held a book. People who wish they could stop writing and start talking. People who wish they were too busy doing life with people to have time to write.

I remembered how lucky I am, to live this life. To have these delightful people who walk on and off my pages, letting their footprints tread letters in their wake. And I tell myself I can never forget how lucky I am. I can never take my life for granted, because the minute I do I forget about the people who would pay to live it.

We, the fortunate, middle-class, perfectly average communities of America: we are so lucky. Let our gratitude reflect our reality.