Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is Pink Skin Better? Who Decided That?

(today's post comes from Christina Davillier, someone I had the honor of teaching and learning from in New Orleans years ago, someone who is still teaching me today.)

This video is really sad and depressing and unfortunately a world wide view of darker or just browner skin. You don't have to be extremely dark to be seen the same way.  And people wonder, why the low self esteem?

How can a woman who isn't white feel attractive or beautiful? She can't even date whoever she wants and be found attractive by any man, it has to be one type of man and even those men will find the latter more attractive. In one way your self esteem might survive longer being single. This starts in young ages and sticks with people for life and the ones it doesn't have any affect on don't care nor do they try to wise up and make some sort of difference.

It makes me wonder if the parents are only buying White dolls or if its just simply society and what we all see on TV.  Or what is happening in schools.  Like how do these kids, black or white, get those thoughts automatically in their minds at such a young age?

Men, don't believe the movies. This what we look like when we first wake up in the morning lol. Greasy face, no make up, and lion's mane lol. This is what all Barbie dolls should like. Normal people lol.
A few months after Hurricane Katrina

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Just The Way It Is.....

Recently, in conversations, some of you have asked about ways to more directly engage in discussions on racial reconciliation, cultural sensitivities, and how Christians can be part of a march forward instead of remaining stuck and saying, "well, that's just the way it is."   One option is to apply to be a Dweller in Los Angeles through the Presbyterian Church's Young Adult Volunteer program, though you do not have to be a Presbyterian to sign up.  If you are a young adult between the ages of 18-30, would like to spend a year directly engaged in questions of economic and racial injustice while living in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, sign up by June 1.   The new director, Elizabeth Leu, is passionate about reconciliation and cross-cultural ministry.  

Elizabeth Leu, Director of DOOR Los Angeles
If you've ever been told, "that's just the way it is," but that doesn't sit peacefully in your gut, then this opportunity might be perfect for you.

The experience in Los Angeles, from the heart of Hollywood, is profound and life-changing.  A stone's throw from Paramount Studios, one of the strongholds in the storytelling capital of the world, serves as a stark backdrop to the lives of our neighbors living on the streets.  God will challenge you to ask questions of the American Dream: who is it for?  Who might it be stepping on?  Why are the demographics of homelessness and the prison population so similar?  What does Matthew 25 really mean?  Are we supposed to serve "the least of these" so we can feel good about ourselves only, or is there something we need to learn?  Do the perspectives of those living without material or social wealth have something to teach us about following Jesus?  After all, Jesus is there, amidst them.  Can we see Him?

Changes, by Tupac

The Way It Is, by Bruce Hornsby and the Range

Lyrics to The Way It Is (incidentally the first pop song I ever learned to play on the piano!)

Standing in line marking time--
Waiting for the welfare dime
'Cause they can't buy a job
The man in the silk suit hurries by
As he catches the poor old ladies' eyes
Just for fun he says "Get a job"

That's just the way it is
Some things will never change
That's just the way it is
But don't you believe them

They say hey little boy you can't go
Where the others go
'Cause you don't look like they do
Said hey old man how can you stand
To think that way
Did you really think about it
Before you made the rules
He said, Son

That's just the way it is
Some things will never change
That's just the way it is
But don't you believe them

Well they passed a law in '64
To give those who ain't got a little more
But it only goes so far
Because the law don't change another's mind
When all it sees at the hiring time
Is the line on the color bar

That's just the way it is
Some things will never change
That's just the way it is
But don't you believe them

Lyrics to Changes

Come on come on
I see no changes wake up in the morning and I ask myself
Is life worth living should I blast myself?
I'm tired of bein' poor and even worse I'm black
My stomach hurts so I'm lookin' for a purse to snatch
Cops give a damn about a negro
Pull the trigger kill a nigga he's a hero
Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares
One less hungry mouth on the welfare
First ship 'em dope and let 'em deal the brothers
Give 'em guns step back watch 'em kill each other
It's time to fight back that's what Huey said
Two shots in the dark now Huey's dead
I got love for my brother but we can never go nowhere
Unless we share with each other
We gotta start makin' changes

Learn to see me as a brother instead of two distant strangers
And that's how it's supposed to be
How can the Devil take a brother if he's close to me?
I'd love to go back to when we played as kids
But things changed, and that's the way it is

That's just the way it is
Things will never be the same
That's just the way it is
Aww yeah

That's just the way it is
Things will never be the same
That's just the way it is
Aww yeah

I see no changes all I see is racist faces
Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races
We under I wonder what it takes to make this
One better place, let's erase the wasted
Take the evil out the people they'll be acting right
'Cause both black and white is smokin' crack tonight
And only time we chill is when we kill each other
It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other
And although it seems heaven sent
We ain't ready, to see a black President, uhh
It ain't a secret don't conceal the fact
The penitentiary's packed, and it's filled with blacks
But some things will never change
Try to show another way but you stayin' in the dope game
Now tell me what's a mother to do
Bein' real don't appeal to the brother in you
You gotta operate the easy way
"I made a G today" But you made it in a sleazy way
Sellin' crack to the kid. " I gotta get paid, "
Well hey, well that's the way it is

That's just the way it is
Things will never be the same
That's just the way it is
Aww yeah

That's just the way it is
Things will never be the same
That's just the way it is
Aww yeah

We gotta make a change
It's time for us as a people to start makin' some changes.
Let's change the way we eat, let's change the way we live
And let's change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn't working so it's on us to do
What we gotta do, to survive.

And still I see no changes can't a brother get a little peace
It's war on the streets and the war in the Middle East
Instead of war on poverty they got a war on drugs
So the police can bother me
And I ain't never did a crime I ain't have to do
But now I'm back with the blacks givin' it back to you
Don't let 'em jack you up, back you up,
Crack you up and pimp smack you up
You gotta learn to hold ya own
They get jealous when they see ya with ya mobile phone
But tell the cops they can't touch this
I don't trust this when they try to rush I bust this
That's the sound of my tool you say it ain't cool
My mama didn't raise no fool
And as long as I stay black I gotta stay strapped
And I never get to lay back
'Cause I always got to worry 'bout the pay backs
Some buck that I roughed up way back
Comin' back after all these years
Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat that's the way it is uhh

That's just the way it is
Things will never be the same
That's just the way it is
Aww yeah

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Concrete Jungle Psalms, by Antonio Lucero

While coming from a gathering this past week there was a block of time devoted to discuss diversity. Diversity is always a tough issue to discuss as it has so many layers. In most, if not all circles I find myself in, it is my experience the difficulty usually manifests itself in two areas: where to begin the discussion and establishing the actual goals of the discussion.

Antonio is the DOOR Denver Director
In this particular discussion these two areas where unclear.  Despite the murkiness, the discussion organically seemed valuable.  A couple of wonderful stories were shared and trust was established. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to continue to other business in the agenda.  However, we were encouraged by our facilitator, if we were interested, to continue the diversity discussion during lunch in a small group setting.

I am a small group type of person and always appreciate the discussions that occur on an intimate level during lunch, break, the end of the day, or later in the night.  I am an internal processor and, if I am interested, I usually process at an overwhelming level (ADHD!) i.e topic of discussion, who is speaking, who is not speaking, demeanor, deference, difference, similarities, energy of the room, etc. etc. 

During lunch there were a few of us at the table where we continued the diversity discussion. In this particular setting I mentioned when talking of diversity in an institution we must look at the power, leadership and systems from the top.  Essentially the DNA of the institution.  If this DNA is functioning from a dominant culture perspective then we need to understand this institution is functioning through a ‘white supremacy’ lens.  I continued by saying in order to be a diverse program you must also be a diverse institution.  Which requires changing the DNA of the institution.  She quickly replied by saying isn’t ‘white supremacy’ a little harsh?  I responded with a few examples and it seemed like she understood.

This was a few days ago and again as I processed this internally for a while I came up with a lil’ somin somin ..

Concrete Jungle Psalms:

Why White Supremacy? Is it too harsh???

white supremacy is the world we live in, it is what we read and learn.

white supremacy tells me what is beautiful and what is ugly, it is the cultural norm

white supremacy tells me how to talk and be respectful.

white supremacy is the code of ethics!!

White supremacy is a group dominated by itself.

white supremacy is a murderer while smiling at you.

white supremacy is what runs in the veins of this country.

white supremacy LOVES when I’m tired of talking about racism

white supremacy wants to be my friend to be cool.

white supremacy doesn’t work hard. Only if it means to keep me down.

white supremacy will never give up its power. It loves it’s power.

white supremacy is cunning and deceitful and comes in forms of gifts, hugs and pats on the back. It’s kind and nice.

white supremacy knows and doesn’t know its white supremacy.

white supremacy ALWAYS wants to be safe.

white supremacy changes definition of words, traditions and culture.

white supremacy speaks for me.

white supremacy is hypnotizing

I’m f*cking tired of talking about white supremacy!

DOOR people, though.  Some of the most courageous Christians I'll ever know.  Antonio on the right.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tearing Hate Off the Wall

Today, waiting on the city bus after school, C saw the n-word Marvin taught her a few weeks ago. Without a second thought, she started to peel it off. I went to stop her, and she sternly said, "well, we can't just leave it up!"

Too true. Some people write about dismantling white supremacy, in all of its overt and subtle forms. Others take more direct action.

+Matthew John Schmitt

Thursday, May 19, 2016

I Am Going to the Polls, I Have a Voice

Dear Matthew,

It is being so many years since I came to this country.
I came here for help.
My aunt, Graciela Rangel, met Nancy the founder of The Hollywood Urban Project [now DOOR Los Angeles]
She told Nancy her story and Nancy took a stand.
She had good heart and said, "They are here, let's help them, here."
She knew we could not go back without help.
You work with them now.  They are from all over the world.
And Many of them do not have a voice.
I have a voice now.  I remember Nancy saying, "you will be the bridge,"
but I will say let's help them here first.
They need a lot of help.

I am going to the polls. I made my decision 22 years ago.
I did not have a voice nor peace.  Now I have both.
We must pray for peace in this world, but in order to pray, we must have
peace in our mind and hearts.  I came for justice.  I got God's justice,
and justice by the law, but we need justice for all. 

You are white, and I am both; Indian and white and black, too.
Obama has deported many Hispanics. Some were good, and some were bad.
There so many of us here, but we cannot go back.  We have been replaced.
People go places you know.  Technology is here. "All the Places You'll Go'';
Jennifer Whitman gave me that book. 

We need to walk through the non-prejudice door.
Nobody has ever done that. We need social justice for all. 

I am going to the polls.

Maria Isabel Tinoco Alejandre

Seasons Along 8 Mile

soon....we may leave Los Angeles, this place that has fed us and burned us and loved us and hurt us and humbled us and strengthened us.  we have been sensing a potential call to move to Detroit.  please keep us in your prayers.  one of the biggest changes will be the re-introduction of seasons in our life, which also means shoveling snow.

our friend, Billy, aka the Wrestler from downtown Detroit, sent me this encouragement of how seasons can be harnessed and appreciated as the gift they can be. 

Winter's a time for our energy to retreat from the leaves, waving to everyone, and return to our innermost, our root system.

When it's sunny, we feel compelled to be outside 
and guilty if we are not. 

When it is cold outside we feel compelled to be inside, 
and crazy if we are not. 

There is something to be said for the balance of the seasons. Sure cold and dark can be sad and lonely, but it can also be reflective, cozy, familial, and honest. 

I've come to a place of not fighting the seasons. when its muggy, I submit to stickiness. When it's cold, I gravitate around the warmth of home, I stop trying to be something I'm not. I work with time (and not against it) and in the process, gain from its power.

WRESTLE is an ongoing, collaborative story of a wrestler's preparation to face the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places on eight mile in Detroit. His journey will culminate in a match taking place on May 28th at 3:02 pm 2016. As the match approaches the wrestler is being trained by four coaches experienced in physical and spiritual wrestling. The training program will gain direction from the WRESTLE community. Training partners are anyone willing to contribute their thoughts, prayers, time, artistic expressions and talents as material to be used as the wrestler prepares.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Then maybe he does look like me, by Rowena Zuercher

*Some context to this post: As part of the DOOR Los Angeles Dwell ministry, every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 6:30-8:30, our property is open to the community, particularly to the neighborhood kids. A few of them come to have homework help, but most just come to make crafts, draw, paint, play games, and just be kids. We have anywhere from 10-20 on a given night, and most come almost every evening we are open. It's given us a chance to really get to know the children in our community, and feel that this is our home too.*

Click here to follow Rowena
I was playing a game in the living room with a couple of the kids one recent Thursday evening, when one of the other girls in the room called my name. She was hugging one of our four year olds who comes to community hours every night. He's smart, unbelievably adorable, and can outrun kids twice his age; his little legs pumping double time and taking off like a jet. I was in the middle of my game when J called out to me, "Rowena, look at your son!" She was hugging 4-year-old G, trapping him in her 8 year old arms while he both smiled, and tried to squirm out of her hold. "He's your son," she said again, "He looks like you!" I started laughing, because other than us both being humans created in God's image, that little boy doesn't look related to me. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I was curious. "Really?" I asked her, "You think G looks like me? You think he could be my son?" She started nodding emphatically, and one of the boys I was playing the game with nodded too before they both chorused an enthusiastic, "Yes!" I saw the sincerity in their faces, too pure for me to continue laughing, and so long after they had gone home, I pondered this conversation.

It ended up bringing to mind a memory from my own childhood, when I was the same age as J.  I was 8 years old, and some family friends were staying with us for a few days to visit. I remember playing with their son who was close to my age; we had fun, and I made a new friend who was kind and full of enthusiasm. Even now, those are still my memories of that family; of their kindness, of the comfortable way that my family and theirs shared time and space and fellowship. In fact, it wasn't until years later that I even registered their family being Hispanic and mine being White. Not that those differences aren't important as their own identity, but to 8-year-old me, they weren't important at all. Why? Because to a child, the way someone looks holds almost no significance compared to the way that person treats others.

I started wondering if maybe the kids at our house have that innate perspective as well. To J, the motherly love I have for G: the way he seeks me out first every night, the way I help him with homework, and crafts and games, how he reaches for me to carry him when he's tired is enough in her mind to make him a child of mine. "Would anyone even believe that you're all my children?" I asked J a couple weeks ago when we were in a group walking to the park. There were 10 kids with me and she had decided that they all belonged to me. "Yes they would," she replied. "We could all be your kids."

What would it be like to live in an adult world that views people the way children do? What would it be like to never lose the innocent love that we have for each other simply by living life together? Kids love so completely, something that we all begin to lose as we get older for many complicated reasons. We are raised in a society, a world, that conditions us to fear what we don't know or understand. We are taught that fear is a viable reason to withhold our love from anyone we see as different from us. While thinking about this, a passage came to mind; pieces from 1 John 4: 7-21. ”Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love....Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another...if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us...There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar...And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”

I for one, have grown up hearing this passage read a lot in church. It got stale to me after a while, as scripture can tend to do unless we allow it to have context in our lives. But this passage came back to life for me, and frankly, it speaks as a warning. There's a lot of talk about love and warmth in these verses, but in the end there is a command from God. Not a suggestion. A command. A command as insistent as any that God has given. “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister,” and right before that is the warning: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar...” A liar. A sin as sinful as any. A liar.

I stumbled on a horrifically racist “joke” posted by someone I'm “friends” with on Facebook the other day. It had been shared by multiple other people I know as well. I've seen my share of ignorant and politically skewed posts from individuals who seem to be infected with the unfortunate “small town, small mind” affliction. But this post shattered them all. It broke my heart. And made me angry. And afraid. The people I'm afraid of aren't the ones who look different from me. I am the most afraid of the ones who do; the ones who look like me and come from homes like mine and live in my town and have never once wanted to open their minds to the possibility of a world that exists beyond their prejudice and fear. But I digress. If I choose to love, I don't have the option of discriminating based on my disgust or pain either.

God has never asked us to love conditionally.

What would it really be like to love as a child loves, with eyes bright with trust and hands outstretched with grace? If we chose to put aside race, gender, sexual orientation, politically charged opinions long enough to choose to know someone as more than just one label? If we looked at each other within each other instead of through? If we could always see someone and say, “They look like me,” because we are looking at the heart instead of the physical image?

What if we simply decided to not be afraid to love?

The kids in our neighborhood see a lot of diverse people in and out of our home, many ages, cultures, races and personalities, and they have never once questioned it. They aren't looking at the appearance. They are looking at each person as a person. A fellow human, another person made in the image of God.

So in the end, through the eyes and heart of of a child, when J says, “Rowena, he's your son. He looks like you!” maybe he really does.

Choose to love and be loved! <3

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Should Christians Engage in Community Organizing?

(This post is a response from my Faith-Rooted Organizing course at Fuller Theological Seminary.)

My elevator response to the question posed in the title of this entry would be: “a hesitant yes,” as I’ve found it is critical to have these kinds of responses of late.  Sitting down over a meal, though, I would start by considering Robert Linthicum’s distillation of Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Transforming Power, provided that our definition of Christian means follower of Christ.  If we claim Jesus as our model for living, then we Christians should also tirelessly work to set captives free, recover the sight of the blind (in both a sense of physical healing and the metaphorical sense of blissful ignorance vs. authenticity), set at liberty those who are oppressed, and proclaim the good news to the poor by reframing systems towards Jubilee economics.  Community organizing practices, as Alexia Salvatierra notes in class, are historically proven to achieve systemic change, and if we are to disrupt modern slaveries and get to the economic roots of poverty, we will not do that by praying alone.   

If, however, by Christian, we are referring to a dominant culture group of the United States, a label insidiously touting religious superiority, and one of the shorthand terms often used in the media to reference conservative legalists, then my answer becomes far more complicated.  The way the word "Christian" itself has fluidity, as well as how we see ourselves in that range of definitions, truly matters.  Are we organizing to win political points on hot-button issues and just “get our candidate” into office by any means necessary?  Or, are we actually invested in the welfare of the whole, the work to find all of the lost sheep, to recognize that we, too, are lost sheep without our entire flock together?  Can we rise to the challenge of living into the 3,000 verses by Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel’s count in Faith-Rooted Organizing, or 10% of the entire text of the Bible, calling us towards a Shalom sense of justice for all?  For almost 20 years, I have struggled with the potential difference between being a Christian (too often a form of taking the Blue Pill, à la The Matrix) and following Jesus (the Red Pill) while I wrestled to understand the purpose of my own white-centered privileges.  Thus, before one steps into faith-rooted community organizing, especially one who hails from a place of economic and social power, it is necessary for deep awareness building and listening before jumping into the audacious role of working for systemic change.  To shed light on my personal walk, I will employ Adam Taylor’s framework in Mobilizing Hope for public narrative and testimony by touching upon a story of self, how that connected to a story of us, and a story of now.   We must understand our authentic selves, which I believe is best achieved in vulnerable community, what Salvatierra might call familia justicia, and then we must work with others to see how that is linked in a greater modern story. 
I grew up Catholic in suburban Detroit.  With some important exceptions, most church-goers in my community seemed comfortable with a country club model.  I avoided being misused by any priests, but I did have a babysitter who inappropriately explored his sexuality on me.  With an angry alcoholic grandfather, a veteran of the front lines of both campaigns of WWII (who did make wonderful changes during his final years, noted in my last post), and a father who seemed too quiet for my liking, I grew up more or less detesting men.  I also was teased by an African American classmate who saw my vulnerable sensitivities as a clear indicator that I was a “faggot,” and he found no lack of opportunities to publicly declare that after cornering me in fight after fight.  Fast forward to college, where I figured, well, since many people think I’m gay anyway, might as well test out the theory.  Maybe I hated men because, deep down, I actually was in love with them.  What followed was not all bad, and in many ways unearthed some really important sides to my personality.  Though it also became a sort of sex addiction, which brought its own baggage of degradation and despair.  God was an afterthought at best, and when I thought on God actively, I was mostly angry and certainly couldn’t stand the Christians on campus that kept telling me I was going to hell. 

Adam Taylor recounts a forced mountaintop moment where he screamed out to God in anger, and as I read this in on the bus today, I laughed out loud with full recognition.  A decade after my college days, the dread of my desperate need to find love through sex, which I had come to see as a need to love myself, as a man, had found too many dead ends.  Before I knew it was a religious cliché, or at least a motif, I climbed up to the top of Runyon Canyon to ask God where the hell had he been all this time?  Immediately upon uttering the words, I fell on my knees, and forevermore understand being slain in the Spirit. 

A vision shone like a slow lightning bolt, a thread of memories divinely organized to make sense of a swirl of emotional narratives.  This would be the start of moving my story towards a story of us.  First, I saw my bully, but it was that odd moment in 9th grade where he approached me, one-on-one, to apologize.  At the time, I was afraid he was luring me close to trick me, but he was absolutely sincere.  In fact, he told me that he was having a hard year at home and he was looking for people to blame.  A moment of repentance and reconciliation from my bully, as he never threatened or bothered me again.

Then I saw Levi and heard his huge belly laugh, the lifer in a maximum security prison in Michigan who I now see is like my Paul, and I am his Onesimus.  In college at the University of Michigan, my friendships started to gel around activism.  I grew up very disturbed by the reality of the dividing line of Detroit and my hometown 5 miles away.  Some, but not all, of our neighbors were exceedingly racist, and often talked about what “black people do when you give them nice homes like the ones in downtown Detroit,” (the implication was that they burn them down or board them up.)  So, along with declaring my gay status, I started volunteering with the Prison Creative Arts Project.  I came to fall in love with this work, and if I’m honest, it first came from a sense of defiance and becoming a sort of white savior.  When I explained to friends, Christian friends, about regularly visiting prison and doing improvisational theater work, they all looked at me incredulously and said that, “Jesus didn’t mean you actually had to visit prisoners, that was more of a metaphor.” A metaphor for what, I always wondered?

It was Levi who hugged me every visit; Levi who always asked how he could pray for me; Levi who loved me unconditionally and took it upon himself to be my vocational advisor.  Levi entrusted me with his story, a new layer every visit, and told me to become a teacher.  He also asked me to share the good news of who he actually was, the Vietnam vet who came back with PTSD, had trouble holding a job, resorted to selling drugs, ended up a lifer because of a manslaughter that occurred on a season of parole when he was protecting his niece.  Levi who said that Jesus died for him as well as me, and that the world will be the ones who suffer more in the end if they can only see him as “murderer.”  Levi, the man I missed most when the Michigan Department of Corrections shut us down and ensured I could never communicate with him again. 

From there, I tasted the gumbo and Pho, the meals I had with families in New Orleans upper Ninth Ward.  Because of Levi’s guidance, I joined Teach For America.  While I didn’t fall in love with the rigors of academic administration as a sixth grade teacher, I did fall in love with hearing the stories of families in New Orleans East.  I thought I was coming to help them, and in many ways, I did.  The joy of Facebook is that many of my former students, now 26 years old, keep in touch and cite my love of teaching poetry as pivotal in their lives.  But I intimately learned the reality of the school to prison pipeline.  I became a natural advocate for parents who were too often blamed for “not caring” because I had personally heard story after story of parents, many of them single, needing to hold both a job at Wal-Mart alongside multiple weekend cleaning gigs to make ends meet.  Attending a parent-teacher conference very likely meant that they could lose a job.  I started calling parents on a regular basis to hear their concerns, their hopes and fears for their children, and from that, was often invited to dinner.  Many parents made me a special pot of “vegetarian” gumbo (I had become vegetarian to impress a girl in college, and I carried that with me to New Orleans), because their children remembered that detail from my classroom introduction.  Of course, in the deep South in 1999, vegetarian meant it only lacked red meat or sausage; chicken and shrimp were still plentiful.  This is not the hospitality of a people who “do not care”, and God reminded me that I made a choice to eat what was before me, not to raise an objection to the technicalities of vegetarianism, and how that moved us to deeper relationship.  How they prayed for me, often, by the light of a television on mute, and how I had never fully understood community before those meals. 

So I came down from my mountain humbled, open, and ready to learn more, much like Taylor describes.  Who were the most profound incarnations of God in my life?  Folks from the margins, clearly, in both an economic and a social sense.  A black bully who taught me about repentance and reconciliation.  A lifer who taught me the truth of the Gospel.  A chorus of African-American and Vietnamese families in New Orleans East, the area that would become most decimated by Hurricane Katrina, who took southern hospitality and launched it into a glimpse of the Beloved Community.  And yet, even with all these moments that God reminded me precisely “where the hell he had been,” I still had years ahead of me of coming to terms with the privileges of my particular whiteness.

That began, of course, by realizing that I had been trying to do it all alone, that I was proudly going to figure it all out without anyone else.  Because God also sent someone to help me process all of those visions, a Christian man who, for all intents and purposes, might be called gay by some (in the most basic, shorthanded modern definition).  Also African-American, I believed myself to be in love with him, though he framed our relationship around addressing my privilege and my codependencies.  He wanted me to pay attention to my pride.  He wanted me to be honest and own my frenetic self-righteousness and self-centered determination.  He told me that, from his point of view, he saw a white kid trying to save the world but deeply unable to love his own self.  He called my sexual explorations with men a form of narcissism, that at heart, I was trying to find myself as lovable and attractive.  That conversation, another moment of being slain in the Spirit, quite literally saved my life.

I learned of ex-boyfriends who fell into lifestyles completely revolving around crystal meth.  I learned of ex-boyfriends, whom I may have sought to reconnect with, contracting diseases that may never leave.  And, I was encouraged to explore my attractions to women again, which led to my beautiful and complicated marriage to Darcie, and the chance to start the lives of two amazingly sensitive justice-seeking daughters. 

So when I finally read the Bible, cover to cover, in four unique translations, I realized the sheer breadth of what all the books and notes are concurring: God deeply cares about the link between justice, love, compassion, mercy, and redemption. Each of these concepts requires a separate, but related, call to action. God cared about all of this in the Old Testament, and Jesus creatively adjusts it all to fit the contexts of the New Testament.   And God cares about that as much now as in ancient days.   So what do the marginalized folks in downtown Detroit have in common with my gay brothers, especially those who engage in a slow obliteration-through-massive-medication?  How is the school to prison pipeline functioning now, as my connections to former students through Facebook gives me access to joyful moments along with news that many classmates are in prison just like Levi.  How am I to use my privilege to reveal the misuse of the Gospel and the vital value of the perspectives of the many folks God has put in my path?

  Linthicum’s celebration of the "end of the story" reminded me of a moment during my eight years with DOOR where we heard from the Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE).  He preached that Revelation 21 comes to a moment in the glorious new city, the penultimate beloved community, where all the nations gather together and celebrate, not losing any of their unique splendors, the victory of God achieving true justice, true reconciliation, the fullness of Shalom. If that’s the case, then our diversity must be valuable and purpose-filled to God.  And if that’s the case, then what Salvatierra and Heltzel point out, that the dominant, often wealthiest sectors of our modern society will view sacred texts through a very limited lens, so that we might truly need the perspectives of those who don’t benefit from privilege to really understand who God intends us to be.

In my life, those perspectives have directly saved my life while slowly reshaping my limited mindsets.  I believe, wholeheartedly, that actively working to practice justice will heal us all, as Taylor concludes.  Community organizing, especially faith-rooted organizing, has the potential to open us up to these critical perspectives, open our eyes and ears to grasp the reality of the times we have been given.  This starts though, especially for those of us who could easily slip back into the privileged bliss of “taking the blue pill,” in the humbling process of listening to people as they are, not as we predefine them.  It also demands that we learn from them, that we trust that they might have the best ideas to achieve their own liberation, and that those ideas might actually have implications in our personal liberation from oppressive systems.  It requires that we see Jesus as much more than our personal Savior, but that our salvation’s purpose is to be active agents in marching toward the ultimate vision of God’s Creation.  Yes, Christians must engage in actively seeking justice.  Yes, some may be front-line protestors, and some may be writers working hard on challenging oppressive mindsets.  Yes, some people may need years of coming to terms with the inherent comforts of their privilege, and, yes, that might mean having to own their ineffectiveness until they do so.  Yes, it is not work rooted in personal prosperity gospels, but it is the patient and painstakingly long haul work intended for the prosperity of all. 

Yes, Christians should engage in faith-rooted community organizing.  By coming alongside a diverse community of Christians doing the very same thing.  Together, we march forward towards the Beloved Community.  - +Matthew John Schmitt @matthewjschmitt

Friday, May 13, 2016

For Maxine: Listening to My Elders

Martin Luther King Day, 2009.  Darcie and I had just learned some pretty exciting news, so we decided to call my Grandma, Maxine Burmeister Cloutier.  Here's how the conversation started:

Hi Grandma, how are you today?  

Oh, Matt, what a great surprise to hear from you, how are you?  

Really good, so, uh, Darcie and I wanted to call and ask you how you feel about becoming a Great-Grandma?  

Oh, thanks Matt (I would learn later what she thought I said was, "you're great, Grandma.")   Now, can you believe this?  I never thought, in all my years, I'd live to see this day.  

Yeah, we're pretty excited too, it's gonna change everything. 

Oh Matt, oh Matt, doesn't Beyoncé have such an amazing voice?  I'm so thrilled. 

(Wait. What? What is she talking about?  Does she expect us to name our baby Beyoncé?)  You see, my Grandma wasn't really paying attention, too distracted from watching a live event she had on in the background.  While I thought she was referring to her first great grandchild on the way, she was lost in another moment of history, the inauguration of Barack Obama and his first dance with Michelle as the First Lady.

I'm so thankful for that misunderstanding, because Maxine launched into a 5, maybe 10 minute, discussion about how happy she was to witness our country's election of Barack Obama actually moving into the day he was to become President.  She opened up about being afraid that something terrible was going to happen to him between November 2008 and this day, but she'd been praying for his safety.  She talked about the Depression, JFK, MLK, Robert Kennedy.  In all my years, in all my years, she kept saying.  At Last, at last indeed.  She was beside herself with joy, and I can picture that smile of hers, those deep eyes taking it all in, lost in a moment of miracle.

What a gift that was to me, and Darcie was watching me get lost in the miracle of her story, taking it all in.  Because, up until that moment, I had assumed that Maxine was, more or less, just quietly racist.  Years before, at another family member's funeral, we were driving to the cemetery in downtown Detroit.  I happened to be in the same car as my Grandma and some other family members.  As we drove past homes, similar to the ones shown here, someone launched into a diatribe, "will you look at that?  Black people.  Tsk.  You give them beautiful homes, architectural masterpieces, and look at what they do to them?  Such a disgrace...."  The blood in my teenage body started boiling, but I didn't know what to say, and I looked up at my Grandma.  Her response was a tight-lipped nodding, saying nothing, only looking out the window with those deep eyes, taking it all in.  I deduced that she just agreed with the rant, and that was that.

I never brought it up, having sized up my family in one fell swoop, and that day lives on as a moment of definition.  I am not of one mind with these people.  And of course, that was true for some of us in the car, but as in most human stories, the fullness of the truth was far more complex.

I lament the assumption I held for 20 years.  I lament that I never confronted her on that moment, because I may have learned that she and I had more in common than I ever knew.  I lament that, I too, have nodded wordlessly at Generation X/Millennial gatherings when someone says, "you know, sometimes progress means waiting until the racist old guard dies off."  Because that's real, in many ways, but it's also not fair and a bit delusional.  We all know that, sometimes, on death beds, old family members can make us swear to terrible, terrible things.  And then what?  The "old ways" might stay alive, it's how 400 years of systemic oppression keep churning.

Just waiting for old ways of thinking to die off is not what Jesus did.  He confronted power, turned over tables in the den of thieves, he confronted wrong-thinking and wrong-living, he died knowing that people could change, that deep within, they wanted to change and move back towards God, and God's plan for humanity's best.   I am grateful, too, for the lesson of my grandfather's ending of life.  Maxine's husband, Bill, was an angry alcoholic for most of the time I knew him.  However, once he began his two year decline with liver and lung cancer, he changed.  He started showing up at more of our sports events, started having reconciliatory conversations with family members.  From my 14 year-old perspective, he was a completely new man.  And I'll never forget that either, it fuels some of my hope.

One year ago, on Good Friday, we learned that Maxine, at 91, had developed an acute leukemia.  A few months before that she was still driving, still very lucid, so it hit us pretty hard.  Doctors gave her weeks to months, and a board member with DOOR told me I needed to go see her.

I decided to take Charlotte, my oldest, as we couldn't afford everyone, but with Rapid Rewards and a little privileged help from my mom, she and I could go.  At the time, she was five.  I realized the blessing of having a great-grandmother who could still tell stories, could still recognize us.  So we went.  With my grandmother, a kind of back-and-forth storytelling, we told Charlotte of Barack Obama's inauguration on MLK Day, the day we learned that she was developing in the womb.  We learned that Maxine had a neighbor named Ruby who we never knew about before.  We learned that my grandmother was not angry about her upcoming death.  She knew where she would go.

Her last words to me, as she held my hand sitting in her chair, were this.  Matt, I'm tired, is it wrong for me to sometimes wish that God would just take me tonight?  I'm ready.  I know where I'm going.  But I want you to know: keep doing what you're doing.  You and Darcie are raising those girls well.  Keep going.  

And Charlotte, who tells me that we are orangish-pink, not white, said, Grandma Max, I don't want you to die.  And Max said, well, dear Charlotte, I understand, I don't want to leave you, but I have had a long, good life.  I'm ready to go be with Jesus.  And you will grow up and a be a strong and kind young woman and know that if I can, because I'm not really sure how it all works, but if I can be at important things, I'll be there for you.

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. - Philippians 1:23-24 (NIV).

I am so grateful for Maxine.  She wanted to go, but she sat up to tell us a few more stories, and did this for all of her grandkids.  Grandma Max died on May 13, 2015, exactly one year ago today.

She was human, of course, and had many failings.  An only-child, she didn't know how to teach her nine children how to manage conflict very well, and some of our family fights are pretty downright childish.  I would disagree with her often, and looking back am frustrated anew at the all-too-common remaining silent about conflict from the past (which is what she did in the funeral march twenty years ago).  But, I have to remember that she lived through the Depression.  She watched her own father struggle with remaining strong while he was unemployed, and once they started achieving stability, they never wanted to look back on those hard times.

I was recently at an all-black church, listening to the pastor ponder how the Civil Rights leaders of old failed to adequately transmit the stories to their kids, and he was calling on young people to seek those stories out, and urging the elders to share, share, share before they pass on.  We need a balance of lament and praise to make us whole.

Because it matters, it really matters, the entire book of Psalms lifts this up.  Lament and praise together, not getting lost in depression but also not being lost in delusional celebration, gives us greater depths of understanding and fuel to keep going.  Maxine's stories gave me the hopeful courage, a few weeks ago in Marion, when a white woman in her seventies declared herself to be, proudly, color-blind.  I said, "what I think you mean, is........" and at the end of it, I believe she understood the more important value of working towards Color Bravery.

I miss you Grandma.  Thank you for giving me a complex and hopeful base to build from.  Until we meet again,  @MatthewJSchmitt           +Matthew John Schmitt